At Query Roulette a writer’s rough query letter can be fixed and turned into a gateway towards a successful book deal! Attendees have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with several agents in one night and get advice on their query letter and current writing project. This year, twelve amazing literary agents have donated their time and expertise to advise writers that night.
To give attendees a sneak peak at whom they’ll be meeting with here are more brief Q&A with some of this year’s participating agents:
JAIDA TEMPERLY (New Leaf Literary + Media)
Prior to 2012, Jaida briefly attended medical school, before moving to NY and becoming an agent. She focuses on Adult Fiction (Literary, Magical Realism, Historical, Upmarket, Horror, and Speculative). Jaida also loves stories that shed light on marginalized experiences, and question the “status-quo”. Her authors include YA writer Kristen Hubbard (Wanderlove), children’s writer/artist Eric Telchin (See a Heart, Share a Heart).
What do you LOVE to see in a query letter?
Beautiful writing—a writer either has that talent or you don’t. And when it’s in a query letter, I’ll overlook just about any other mistake to read more.
How did you decide to work at an agency and not a publishing house—working before the books are published as opposed to afterwards?
It was by luck, initially. I didn’t have a traditional “publishing” background or experience to land an internship at the Big 5. I was a biology major with no journalism / editorial / English background. But I was an avid reader and knew how to read critically—and luckily, Writer’s House saw that, gave me a chance with two-test reader’s reports, and offered me an internship. After that, I knew that I wanted to be on the Agenting side of things—you work much more closely with the writer and have so much freedom in terms of what you want to work on.
What authors signed after from other query and/ or pitch sessions or recent writing conferences?
I actually signed (and sold) a client, Malcolm Hansen, after meeting at the Columbia MFA Mixer last year! His novel is about a biracial teenage boy whose life in N.Y.C. is disrupted by childhood memories of growing up in the Deep South during the early Civil Rights Movement (PW Book Deals)
What is the most memorable / engrossing Adult Upmarket book you’ve read in the past year?
It published years ago, but The Time Traveller’s Wife is fantastic upmarket—I couldn’t put it down!
Malcolm’s Hansen’s novel, They Come in All Colors will be published by Atria in 2018. Follow Jaida’s agency @newleafliterary
ADRIANN RANTA (Foundry Literary + Media)
Adriann represents Women’s Fiction and Nonfiction, Science, History, and Craft, and smart, fresh, genre-bending works for children. She is actively seeking projects in all genres and for all age groups, but has a penchant for edgy, dark, unusual voices, unique settings. Her authors include essayist Alana Massey (All the Lives I Want) and award-winning YA novelist Kelly Loy Gilbert (Conviction).
I read about your discovery of Stephanie Elliott and her YA novel Sad Perfect in the Successful Queries series. The book has received great reviews and publicity, as it shines a light on medical disorders many don’t know exist. For those writing Issue-Driven fiction for YA or Adult what do you advise they avoid and what is key?
With all “issue” books, in fiction as well as memoir, it’s really important to think about why a general readership would care about this subject. With books inspired by traumatic events, it’s easy to write as a cathartic exercise, but there needs to be a difference between the writing you do in a journal and the writing you do for the general public. Ask yourself: What is relatable about this subject? Why will readers pay $20-$30 to read this story? How will they recognize themselves and the universal truths in your work? I urge writers to think about the outward-facing value, not just the inward-facing one.
Is there particular Non-Fiction title you recently sold or are trying to sell that you are excited about?
I represent Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who represents victims of online harassment, sexual assault, and blackmail, who’s most well-known for her work on revenge porn. She is a true hero who’s changing the world for the better, and her book will shed light on serious, endemic, wildly underreported crimes that occur on the internet. Her book is a great example of the non-fiction I’m most excited to represent: books that make the world a better place, untold stories about the way we live today, and urgent subjects told by powerful thought-leaders.
What kind of Craft titles are you looking for?
I love quirky, unusual subjects by authors who inhabit a specific corner of their market and know their audience intimately. I love clever food/cocktail books, humorous anything, mash-ups, or anything with a beautiful, funny, wacky style done expertly.
I find Writer’s Digest addictive and I am not even looking for an agent. What are your favorite online resources for writers?
I love Publishers Marketplace, MSWL, Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents, QueryTracker.net, AgentQuery.com, and AbsoluteWrite.com. Before you start querying, always double-check submission information on the agency’s website to make sure you have the most correct, up-to-date information.
MACKENZIE BRADY WATSON (Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc.)
Mackenzie focuses on Narrative Nonfiction (Adult, MG and YA) and select YA Fiction. She has a great passion for science books, especially if they are historically driven or revolutionize current theory, as well as sociology, investigative journalism, food writing, memoir, health and wellness, and business books. Authors include Margot Lee Shetterly (Hidden Figures), Sara Zin (The Starving Artist’s Cookbook), and memoirist Nina Willner (Forty Autumns).
I must ask about Margot Lee Shetterly and Hidden Figures. This is a dream for many writers—to have their book become a huge film within a year of its publication! Did you approach the sale of this Engineering / Mathematics/ African-American History book to publishers a certain way or did the subject matter and story speak for itself?
My first reaction to the proposal Margot first sent me was “OMG, I LOVE this!” and my second was “How have I never heard this story before?” I let the proposal speak for itself because it was truly excellent and because I had a hunch that someone would have a reaction to the material similar to my own. After sharing it with a series of editors who I thought would love it and who would also see it’s incredible value, we accepted a pre-empt from Trish Daly at William Morrow. Trish understood the project’s importance from the first moment I mentioned it to her at lunch and she fought her heart out to get it. She was and continues to be a real champion for the book, even though she’s now with another publisher.
If a non-fiction / science writer wants their book to sell in the trade market (as opposed to the academic one) what are some things to keep in mind about the writing style? Any specific books or research tools they should use for reference?
Above all: voice and story. There will always be a niche audience for a book on a specialized scientific topic or field, but the majority of readers are looking to be entertained as they are being informed. Ask: what is the story here? Is it a tale of discovery against all odds? Is it a disease epidemic thriller? Is it a triumphant story of environmental activism? Etc. “Characters” help drive the scientific concepts home and show trade readers how those concepts affect them and why they should be understood. Developing an original voice that can be used to relay complicated information in a playful or dramatic way will also help pull readers into a book they might otherwise not think they’re interested in. Classic example: Stiff by Mary Roach. I don’t think most of the people who read that book would’ve thought they’d love a book about cadavers, but in the right writer’s hands anything is possible!
Other great science books are: Emperor of All Maladies, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and The Hidden Life of Trees.
You are programming chair at Binder.Com, which has conferences in LA and NYC. Are there any authors you’ve signed after meeting them through the organization that you can tell us about?
I’ve been doing programming for BinderCon’s NY conference for two years, and I’ve met so many lovely people along the way. I met one client – Dr. Alexandra Sowa McPartland, who is at work on a cookbook – at a Binder speed pitch session at Sarah Lawrence College and I found another – the wonderful poet Shelley Puhak – after putting a call for submissions out into the Binders FB group. Binders has been a wonderful support network for me, and many clients. I’m always happy to hear from a #Binder.
Anything you would like to let QR attendees know beforehand that’s outside your bio?
I am obsessed with the human body and disease. I also can’t get enough of stories that sit at the intersection of history, science, and sociology.
KATIE GRIMM (Don Congdon & Associates, Inc.)
Katie works with Literary and Upmarket Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction, MG and YA. Across all genres, she’s looks for books with a heartbeat. She’s always interested in the darker and weirder side of human history as well as previously under or misrepresented voices and experiences. Authors include sci-fi/fantasy writers Ian Doescher (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars), and YA writer Mindy McGinnis (Not a Drop to Drink).
What do you LOVE to see in a query letter?
I LOVE to see confidence in a query letter. First, it’s the confidence and joy in your own writing and knowing you’ve revised the book as much as you can without a new, trusted reader to guide you to the next level (aka your future agent). Secondly, it’s confidence in knowing you’re an avid reader of both recent releases and related titles so you know where your book fits in the marketplace and also what makes it stand out. All the query tips and tricks boil down to showing off your knowledge base, and it’s these confident queries that shine through the rest.
When a writer has a project that could fit into multiple categories, how do you suggest they describe it to agents?
Even after you’ve educated yourself about genres and styles, it’s still sometimes hard to know how to categorize a book – and your future agent and editor might even position differently than you did to get at a different section of the market. I even have debates about commercial vs. upmarket vs. literary designations of published books all the time with other agents and even editors so you can’t always even trust how another book is positioned. The only failsafe is to describe the cross-sectionality with comparison titles. Not that it’s “the next ___” but to say “I wrote a novel that has literary and speculative (but not quite sci-fi) elements like Station Eleven.” Even if you’re not quite right, it’s a much easier jumping off point to start a conversation.
Anything you would like to let QR attendees know beforehand that’s outside your bio?
What you might not know from my bio is that I’m a very editorial agent, which means I’m happy to roll up my sleeves and help you take out an unnecessary plotline or bulk up Act II or add (or more likely, take away) a POV. I probably shouldn’t say it, but I’ve read some of my books 15 times! But as much as I can guide you, I can’t read the marketplace for you to give you the innate understanding of what else is out there, and I can’t edit every single line of your book. I’d like to think of myself more of a teacher or facilitator than a fixer when it comes to edits, and everybody benefits if we have the same level of expectations of the work ahead. I should also mention I don’t love something about reading draft one, I’m certainly not going to have the stamina to read it the requisite 14 more times – as much as editing is about hard work, chemistry is vital too.
VICTORIA MARINI (Irene Goodman Agency)
Victoria works with Literary and Commercial MG, YA, and Adult Fiction, Narrative Non-Fiction, Memoir, and select Humor/Pop Culture. From contemporary to magical realism to sci-fi/fantasy and dramatic suspense, she is always looking for unforgettable off-the-page characters, compulsive stories, and unique voices. Authors include YA writer Corey Ann Haydu (Rules for Stealing Stars), and novelist Castle Freeman, Jr. (Go With Me: A Novel). She is a sucker for weirdness, atmosphere, and secrets, things that go bump in the night, a bit of whimsy, a twist of magic, or a dash of humor.
Is there particular Magical Realism title you recently sold or are trying to sell that you are excited about?
I sold a YA magical realism called The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz about a young artist who must choose between making art in the messy, complicated real world or retreat to a studio in which everything she creates perfect – but it can leave the studio. It’s being published by HarperCollins this July
What was the best Pop-Culture or Narrative Non-Fiction book you’ve read recently, and what did you like best about it?
I’m cheating a bit because the book isn’t out yet, but it’s called The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, about the women in World War I who painted radium in all the clock towers and their subsequent legal battle with the bosses – who knew the radium was poisonous and did nothing to warn the women.
You represent Kristen Radtke, author of the upcoming graphic memoir Imagine Only Wanting This (Pantheon, 2017). What was it about her memoir that hooked you?
I was interested because it was so vulnerable and searing and emotional without feeling over-wrought. It had no pretense. And then I feel for it because the art was fresh and dynamic! It had such a sense of movement!
What should a query for a multicultural title include? Is it a good idea to mention it’s an #OwnVoices title (one with diverse characters, written by someone of that same diverse group)?
Yes, it’s good to its #ownvoices if it is! And as ever, it’s always about the story, so focus on that and include details about diversity or multiculturalism in an organic way!
*There is still time to attend to Query Roulette 2017, go to the Registration Page today. Then get your query letters ready by March 14!*
Our thanks to the Association of American Publishers , for their sponsorship of this event!
To read more about other Query Roulette agents (Part One) click here.