At Query Roulette 2016, a writers rough query letters are given review, suggested edits and helps towards a successful publishing by top agents! Even registrants—writers of novels, memoirs, anthologies, cookbooks and more—meet one-on-one with several agents in one night and get advice on their query letter and current writing project.
To get to know participating agents better a little better, I asked some questions relating to their genres, background, query letter preferences and the opportunity to offer other additional information that would pique the interest of our readers and writers.—by Rachel Feldman
EMILY BROWN (Foundry Literary + Media)
Emily is building an enticing, diverse list of romance and new adult authors. Before joining Foundry, she worked in editorial at Penguin Group, then Harlequin Books. She seeks out dynamic and surprising plots, vibrant voices, and epic love stories. Actively seeking new projects, she is particularly interested in all subgenres of romance, young adult, and speculative fiction. Her authors include romance writer Gail Chianese (West Side Romance series), New Adult writer Sarina Bowen (The Year We Fell Down) and YA writer Carrie Mac (10 Things I Can See From Here).
Speculative Fiction is a genre that “speculates about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways…”(Goodreads). It overlaps sci-fi, horror, fantasy, utopia/dystopia and post-apocalyptic worlds. What trends to see in this area, for YA and/or Adult?
I do think it’s a very exciting time to be writing speculative fiction in YA. Books like Grasshopper Jungle by Andrews and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby have met with a lot of success and proved (what everyone who works in children’s publishing as long known) that young adult books can be just as nuanced, beautifully written, and important as their adult counterparts.
Can you tell us about an upcoming author/title you have recently sold and/or signed to worth with?
One of my favorite projects of the last year is 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac (Summer 2017). It deals with mental illness in a compassionate and hilarious way and the writing is out of this world beautiful. It’s got an LGBT main character, but it never strays into the realm of being an “issue” book. I really look forward to seeing more stories like 10 Things where the main character’s sexual
orientation is a nonissue.
What are the major advantages of a writer–published or otherwise–in joining the RWA or a similar association?
Writers can get huge benefits from joining their local professional associations. You get much greater access to industry professionals and insider info on how to get published. But most importantly, you get to spend time with smart, passionate, and creative people.
TINA WEXLER (ICM Partners)
“To my wonderful tireless agent Tina Wexler. You have provided me with countless words of support and wisdom, and have made me smile more than I can say. Thank you for changing my life,”—Jessica Lawson, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, Acknowledgements (Simon & Schuster).
Tina has been representing authors for over 15 years. She began at the Ellen Levine Agency, and eventually joined ICM in 2003. She represents authors in the children’s and adult marketplace, with a focus on middle-grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. Award winning authors of Tina’s include Shane Burcaw of Laughing at My Nightmare (2015 YALSA Award for Excellence finalist); Laura Ruby of Bone Gap (2016 Printz Award Winner, National Book Award finalist).
What trends do you see in LGBTQ for YA and/or Adult? What are you current favorite books in this category?
Thankfully, publishers are acquiring more and more YA titles with LGBTQ characters as protagonists. Recommended reading: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera; and from my own list, Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann.
What do you NOT want to see in a query letter?
I’m not a fan of queries that disparage published books or publishing trends (often those favored by teenage girls) as a means of complimenting what the querier has written. I get a lot of “I wrote a YA, but don’t worry. It’s not some silly vampire love story.” This sort of snobbery and thinly veiled sexism drives me bonkers!
Anything you would like to tell attendees beforehand?
Have fun! Yes, Query Roulette is a professional opportunity, but it’s also a chance to spend time with likeminded people, people who love the same things you do: strong characters, great writing, compelling stories, books. Enjoy it! Tina is particularly interested in modern folklore, non-linear storytelling, magical realism, humor, weepies, and most anything with a feminist slant.
JIM McCARTHY (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management)
“Many thanks to my agent, Jim McCarthy, who picked out of the slush pile and didn’t blink and eye when I sent him this book, even though it was completely unlike anything I’d written before.”—Robin Talley, Lies We Tell Ourselves, Acknowledgments (Harlequin Teen).
Jim McCarthy has been with Dystel & Goderich since 2002, initially starting as an intern. He represents a wide range of fiction, adult and young adult, commercial and literary. His clients include New York Times bestselling series writers Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy), Victoria Laurie, Morgan Rhodes (Falling Kingdoms), Juliet Blackwell (Witchcraft Mystery) and Denise Grover Swank (Off the Subject), and many others.
You’ve a great list of successful Paranormal Romance and Fantasy authors. How did you fall into those genres? Who was your first paranormal romance author and how much have he/she accomplished today (i.e. is their book now a series, made into a film, etc.)
Paranormal romance was where my career started, and it came naturally to me. I grew up reading Stephen King and Jackie Collins, so the elements of the genre always intrigued. I believe the first author in the category that I signed was Michelle Rowen for her debut Bitten & Smitten. Over a decade on, we’ve sold more than 30 books together under her name and pen names, in adult and YA, and across the romance, mystery, and fantasy genres. She is now a NYT bestseller and continues to go strong as herself and as Morgan Rhodes. She’s a trouper, a delight, and a fantastic talent.
You also represent many Non-Fiction subjects like History and Pop Culture. was a recent Non-Fiction book/author you’ve sold?
I recently placed Saundra Mitchell’s They Did What?!, a two book series (so far) for middle grade audiences that offer super fun and interesting snapshots of historical figures—one is about 50 remarkable women and the other is about incredible kids. They’re books that were really natural for Saundra who has a deep fascination with history, a ton of experience writing for children, and a real commitment to diverse representations in children’s publishing.
What Non-Fiction subjects are you focusing on right now and for those that write it, what piece of advice do you have for them?
I’m looking for children’s nonfiction of any stripe, and on the adult side, I would love to find narrative nonfiction that fascinates—whether that’s memoir, history, science…I want a story that’s so colorful and interesting that I can’t stop thinking about it. My advice to nonfiction authors is to establish themselves as experts in their fields but write with the freshness of new discovery.
What are looking for with memoir?
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! Partly, the answer is honestly just, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Since that’s epically unhelpful, I’ll add that with memoir I’m looking for distinctive voices who may not be telling a story I’ve never heard before, but who are certainly telling a story in a way I’ve never heard before. I have a memoir coming out this summer called You Are A Complete Disappointment by Mike Edison that details the broken relationship he had with his father which in itself is sadly not a new story, but which is told with such humor and vivacity and understanding that I knew I had to work on it.
Anything you would like to tell attendees beforehand?
I’m game for just about anything excepting poetry. My list skews to fiction and to young adult, but I’m ever on the lookout for something that will snatch my interest in any category.
Along with Adult and YA Fiction, Jim is also seeking narrative nonfiction, particularly memoir, history, and pop culture. Follow Jim at @JimMcCarthy528
TAMAR RYDZINSKI (Laura Dail Literary Agency)
“My marvelous agent Tamar Rydzinski gave me invaluable creative guidance and immediately understood the potential in this character.”—Nina Berry, The Notorious Pagan Jones, Acknowledgments (Harlequin Teen).
Tamar Rydzinski main genres include: Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, and Women’s Fiction. She first worked at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates prior to joining LDLA, where she is now Vice President. She is interested in anything that is well written and has great characters. A fantastic query letter is essential – “you need to make me want to read your book, and be excited to read it,” she says, “with those first couple of paragraphs.”
You represent some fun Historical Fiction authors, including Nina Berry (The Notorious Pagan Jones) and Laura Andersen (Tudor Legacy series). What advice do you have for writers of Historical Fiction, YA or Adult?
Both adult and YA historical fiction markets are small right now, so your concept really needs to shine. Your book needs to have elements that modern day readers will relate to. For example, in The Notorious Pagan Jones, Pagan is a recovering alcoholic. She is an actress and lives in a world where liquor is everywhere, so this is an extremely tough challenge for her. Many teens know someone who is addicted to a substance, if they aren’t themselves. Pagan is also trying to come to terms with who her mother was (I won’t give it away!) and I think lots of teens are trying to understand their parents as people separate from caregivers. Laura Andersen’s novels have themes of overcoming obstacles and trying to become the best person you can, trying to decipher what advice should be taken and what should be disregarded as you forge your way through your obstacles. The subjects of her books may be kings and queens, but we all face those challenges.
What do you NOT look for in a Query Letter?
Don’t tell me about your friend who loved the book — unless you’re promised a quote by J.K. Rowling or another bestselling author, I don’t need to know how great other people think your book is. And, in a somewhat related point, don’t compare your book to a phenomenon (like Harry Potter, The Girl on the Train, or The Nightingale, etc.) as that is unhelpful to you and actually tells me that you don’t read enough in the genre in which you are writing.
Don’t have your query letter be overlong.
Don’t tell me the word count of your novel.
Don’t tell me this is a guaranteed bestseller.
Anything you would like to tell attendees beforehand?
Don’t be nervous! I know that’s hard, but I am here because I want to find great books and great authors. I can’t wait to hear about your book. But do practice your pitch many times beforehand. Because in all honesty, most of you will be nervous (even though you shouldn’t be) and practice knowing your pitch cold will be helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions. I’m happy to tell you anything about myself as an agent, my agency, my process. A good agent/author relationship is built on good communication, and you can test that communication out right from the beginning.
You can follow Tamar at @trydzinski