Today, we continue our interview with Caitie Flum, an ex- agent intern with Hachette Book Group and Writers House, and a proofreader in the medical industry.
I’ll be posting this interview in three parts as follows:
- Part 1 – a day in the life of an agent intern, how to stand out from the slush pile, and thequery assessment process (here)
- Part 2 –evaluating queries (the inner workings of a literary agency) (today)
- Part 3 – the specific things that agent interns report on when assessing queries/manuscript submissions for a literary agent (Monday 18 October 2010)
Question 3 - Is there anything in particular in an unsolicited query/manuscript submission that makes you think, "This might be the one?"
A spectacular hook. The couple of times we requested a full right away we were hooked to the idea in the first sentence. Also, queries that show, not just tell, why the book is so special make a huge impact. And, of course, if it was really well-written.
Rach: Hmm, a first sentence hook. Am onto it!
Follow-on question: What can we do as writers to capture your attention and stand out from the slush pile?
First, don't be gimmicky. That will get our attention but we will automatically think that the gimmick is a disguise for a bad story or bad writing. If you want to stand out find out what the agent likes and make sure you are querying a project they would be interested in. And don't just say you are "like their client x", just do it in an easy way like saying your book will appeal to the same market as client x.
And just write really really well. Be concise but descriptive. Tell us what happens, but make sure it isn't too plot centric (ex. make sure your strong characters manage to stand out). I know it is hard, but that is what stands out more than anything else.
Some of it is luck. Both the assistant and I loved Buffy, Lost, the Dark Tower, etc, so if something sounded like any of these things or if it was inspired by them, we would get excited about it. That is complete luck, but it isn't a bad idea to mention something in pop culture, as long as it fits.
Stating your chosen market helps you stand out also. Showing that you know who your market is shows that you have written for that market.
Rach: What fantastic advice. I love the suggestion that we make sure our character stands out in our query as much, if not more, than the plot itself.
Question 4 - Do interns/assistants/agents automatically read all materials submitted with a query letter (eg, the first 10 pages). Or does the query letter have to generate enough interest to make you turn to those pages in the first place?
That completely depends on the person. If the query was complete garbage, I would never bother reading pages. However, if I had any interest in it at all for my agent, I would read the sample pages. Having 5-10 pages will not hurt, it can turn a N into a M and a M into a Y.
Rach: I’ve been wanting to find out the answer to this question for ages now. I guess it shows just how important the query actually is, even if the agent does accept a partial submission at the same time…
Thanks so much for your time today, Caitie. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this interview…
A final word from Caitie…
I have a book blog where I also discuss the publishing world at caitieflum.wordpress.com. If you look on that blog, you will see I am currently accepting queries/partials from writers who want a critique. I will give you what I gave the assistant.