Pointers from the Pros: Agent Michelle Brower Offers Query Tips

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond, Va., in October.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

This was the first year JRW offered workshops (they usually have panels only).  Here is what Folio Literary Management agent of awesome Michelle Brower had to say about queries during her (fabulous) two-hour workshop.

ON THE HOOK

  • She reads queries for about 20 seconds, so speak with authority, panache and charm to hook her immediately.
  • It’s all very subjective, so do your research.
    • She tries to be all over the Internet, letting people know what she wants to see.
    • She likes when writers say they’ve targeted her—they have read her client’s work or interviews, etc.
  • The purpose of a query is to make anyone want to read it—like the back of the book cover.
  • She notices too many queries are too vague.
  • She likes to see market comparison (“It’s like Ahab’s Wife meets The Time Traveler’s Wife“) because she has to do this comparison when she pitches it to editors. What would it be next to on someone’s shelf?
    • However, avoid comparing your work to Twilight, Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code, the classics—or two things  that just don’t fit together.

ON STRUCTURE

  • Set-up
    • Where does the book start?
    • It should be interesting and different in some way.
  • Conflict
    • She doesn’t see many queries with this, and it’s important.
    • It should not just be EMOTIONAL—that’s a pet peeve of most agents.
  • Bio
    • Why are you the right author for this book?
    • Awards, conferences, publications, life stuff that makes you an authority on the subject matter, etc.

Example:

Moby Dick

Set-up—Ishmael, a man who has never been to sea, signs up to go on the Pequod.*

*We can see there is conflict even in the set-up.

Conflict—Ahab is crazy and wants to get the white whale; Ishmael is caught up in this madness.

  • For nonfiction proposals, it’s about:
    • The idea
    • The writing
    • The platform—your bio applies 100-fold here.
      • Do you have TV or radio connections? A mailing list? Media access? Social media, etc.

ON NONFICTION AND MEMOIR

  • The stronger your platform, the less of a NF book you have to write for the proposal—you still submit the proposal and tell people how you will sell it.
  • Memoir is “a weird mix”—like a new genre, she says.
    • You write the whole thing before you send the proposal/query.
    • You need a GREAT platform or a literary presence (like with fiction), and your book should be good
    • It’s the art of fiction but the business side of NF.

OTHER WORDS OF WISDOM

  • Querying is tough, but remember that not every agent is for you—you want your agent to be energetic.
  • It’s to your detriment if she took on the book and didn’t love it.
  • Keep the faith—one of her clients was rejected 80 times!
    • Now he’s sold two books and one is being optioned as a film with Coté de Pablo!

Click here for more “Pointers from the Pros.”

In the Blogosphere: 10/19-10/22

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have over 100 links saved, dating all the way back to the summer (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

At yingle yangle, in one of Paulo Campos’s awesome 20 questions installments, he offers 20 great main-character-shaping questions for you to ask your hero.

On her blog, author Janet Fitch gives 10 writing tips that can help writers of any genre.

Looking for markets to sell your writing?  Susan Johnston over at the Urban Muse suggests 8 alternatives to magazines.

If you’re looking to start a writers’ group, here are 7 questions Colorado writer Molly Anderson-Childers says you should ask yourself in her guest post over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Here, made of awesome up-and-coming YA author Michelle Hodkin gives the 4-1-1 on 3 of what she calls the best industry blogs you may not be reading.

ASK AN AGENT

Here on her blog, author and D4EO agent Mandy Hubbard lays out the process of getting a book published from “the end” to book in hand.

Over at Kidlit.com, Andrea Brown lit agent Mary Kole talks boy protagonists in young adult lit.

On Rants & Ramblings, agent Rachelle Gardner dishes on what the author is responsible for paying . . . for.  (Yeah, there was no great way to write that.  Or, there *was*, but my still-stuffy brain couldn’t find it.)

A subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds lately: Querying a series.  Here, Linn Prentis of Linn Prentis Literary weighs in.

TIME MANAGEMENT

Think you’re busy?  Author Jody Hedlund offers suggestions on how a busy mom can make time to write.

Here’s an interview Andrea Zimmerman over at Babble did with hella-awesome author mom Jennifer Weiner.  It’s more about parenting than it is about writing, but it’s a fun read and good for all the author moms out there.

WILL YOU MARRY . . . I MEAN, QUERY ME?

Here, another GLA guest poster, author Christine Fonseca, gives her take on writing nonfiction book proposals.

Over at Aspiring Mama, Pauline M. Campos likens the query process to finding love.

WHAT YOU NEED TO SUCCEED

Here at Write for Your Life, writer Iain Broome answers the question many folks have asked: Do you need a degree in writing to be a good writer?

On his blog, the Bacharach Blog, Samuel B. Bacharach talks about the three must-haves for proactive leadership for any successful artist.

CONTEST!!

And . . . don’t forget to enter my “Scare Me in 1,000 Words or Less” contest—ends Sunday, Oct. 24, at 11:59 PM EST.  Click here for the details.

Have a great weekend, everybody! 🙂