Backspace Panel “Why Queries?”



On November 3, 2011, I attended the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar. I’m a meticulous notetaker so I thought I’d share what I gathered from the first session on queries.

The panel moderator was: Paige Wheeler
The panel participants were: Sandy Lu (SL), Jason Yarn (JY), Josh Getzler (JG), Janet Rosen (JR), and Emmanuelle Morgen (EM)
Genre abbreviations: MG=Middle Grade, YA=Young Adult

Paige opened the panel by having each agent on the panel talk about his/her areas of interest and saying something unique about his/herself?

PW is interested in commercial fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, she’s particularly interested in women’s fiction, romance, crime, suspense, and upscale commercial fiction. She is actively looking for new clients. She was on the Forensics team in high school which was not CSI related but involved public speaking/debates.

EM does not like mystery/crime. Some thrillers, but not who-dunits.

JR likes non-fiction and is branching into fiction, specifically literary and historical noir. She also did stand up comedy.

JG is interested in fiction for adults and YA with some MG. He likes crime stories and loves mysteries. He’s also into historicals.
For the YA market, JG is into darker boyish things. Back in college, he used to dj at the radio station on Sunday nights and played lots of jangly guitar music.

SL prefers fiction. Loves historicals and crime. Is beginning to get into sci-fi and horror (but more suspense not gory horror). She takes on some non fiction. She is a PhD student in social psychology and plays piano.

JY does fiction and non fiction. In fiction, he’s into thrillers (spy), sci-fi, fantasy, YA and MG. He just passed the Bar exam this week.

PW then asked the panel: What do they see too much of in queries?

EM mentioned vampires and werewolves.
JR said midlife spiritual memoirs.
JG said YA for and about young girls who are abused (usually by dads) and cut themselves and are deeply unhappy and don’t get out of it.
SL said derivatives of Twilight and Dan Brown wannabes.
JY said strive counterprogram to vampires.

PW asked what the panel would like to see and what is on their wishlist?

EM mentioned that she makes out a quarterly wish list. She’d like to see more YA. She’s branching into MG and is looking for funny/fantastic realism.
In adult fiction, she looks for women’s fiction and romance to upmarket. She wants something amazing that you have to read.
She’s also interested in a thriller team of people battling nearly insurmountable odds–ala an early Stephen King.
In non-fiction (which is 1/3 of her list), she looks for memoirs with an incredible hook to it, great author platorms, psychology experts.

JR is interested in nonfiction with a fantastic bio. Someone people want to know about and do not have much info about them or a fantastic milieu.
A literary and women’s commercial fiction combo. Mystery and thriller. A spy novel.

JG loves MG contemporary ala Judy Bloom. In mysteries, he prefers a foreign country setting and a female sleuth would be great.He’s into historical fiction including the Henry the 8th Tudor books, French Revolution or Russian Revolution.

SL is looking for historical mystery/thriller, gothic horror, something Victorian period, a spy novel set between 2 world wars and taking place in China. She wants something literary with commercial potential.

JY likes thrillers. In YA, he leans toward puzzles and conspiracy books.He loves sci-fi but it’s hard to sell.

PW loves wish fulfillment books, where people are crazy enough to quit job and do stuff. Loves high concept book in fiction. Loves historical mysteries especially something you can build a series on and create branding around.

PW asked Why should clients sign with you? What’s unique that you as an agent bring to the table?

PW was an editor and did revision letters. She created her company to help authors.

EM thinks it’s all about the fit. Great agents rep different types of books. Also working styles need to click. She is the best champion for your work.

JR is expanding her fiction coverage and is very editorial–she can take apart and put together a book proposal.

JG mentioned how his office divides up roles. One person handles foreign/subsidiary rights, one is more administrative, JG is more broadbased in his work. Their desks all dace each other and allows for them to talk to each other and stay in constant contact. They discuss right editors for a project.

SL mentioned her agency also has a great deal of interaction among agents. When you sign with one agent you usually are getting the abilities of two.

JY mentioned his firm is big but tightknit. They also have a film division, but he focuses on books.

PW asked: How many new clients do agents take on in a year?

EM said it’s roughly 1 author every three months.

JG said there are good periods and slow periods. He took on 13 clients last year. None in the last few months.

JY has 5 developing clients right now.

PW was closed to queries until Nov. 1. She usually takes on 2 new clients a year.

An audience member posed the question: Are there absolutes of what should be in and not in a query letter?

PW referred them to websites for this type of information. SHe also wrote an article on querying which can be found online.

JY mentioned that it’s WRONG to include your life story in the query.

JG said to hit the high points in the query and do it quickly. Make sure you address the query to the correct agent–name and gender. Check it before send it out.

EM mentioned that Barbara Poelle has a great query concept–the hook, the book, and the cook in 3 paragraphs.

JR said to mention if it’s a referral and make sure great credentials are on top.

Don’t thank the agent for reading the query in the first paragraph.

Another audience question was posed: How important is blogging for writers?

The general consensus was that for non-fiction, a popular blog is helpful (meaning 16,000 hits a month). For fiction, it’s really all about the story.

They closed by saying that all agents want to fall in love with a book that is also sellable.

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2 Responses to Backspace Panel “Why Queries?”

  1. berry says:

    That is a lot of notes. Criticism never easy. Good luck. What doesn’t kill u makes u stronger.

    • I’m as close to a stenographer as you can get in a notetaker. 🙂 Years of interviewing people. Criticism is rough. It can take time to sink in and make sense. But if you don’t get criticized, you can’t get better.

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