Thursday, January 5, 2012


It's Thursday! That means it's Ask Agent time. Questions will be open from NOON UNTIL THREE PM EST. Feel free to ask anything.


  1. My question today is about genre. Is there such a thing as straight-up "Paranormal," or is the genre strictly called "Paranormal Romance?" My WIP has romance in it, but no more so than most YA novels. However, the term "Urban Fantasy" doesn't really fit, because my novel is set in a small town in Montana. If I queried something as Paranormal YA, would you think I was an idiot who didn't understand the genre? Thanks!

  2. Happy New Year Ms. Barnes!

    Love this blog, it's filled with such amazing tips and need I say..I love it!

    Without further adieu, here's my question.

    What makes one query stand out from another to you, when reading queries from the massive slush pile? What makes you pick one from the hundreds?

  3. I have a question about genre as well. I have an ms that is what I would consider mainstream fiction with sci-fi elements. Basically, it is a character-driven story and takes place in the real world, it just has one incident of time travel that drives the plot. I have the same issue as Mara Rae -- if I pitched it as mainstream fiction with sci-fi or time travel elements, would I sound like an idiot? Should I pitch it instead as soft sci-fi or time-travel fiction?

    Thanks for opening up to questions today! :)

  4. Yay! I finally caught one of these!

    What is the importance/role of the agency in which an agent is attached?

  5. After an agent requests a full (and the writer delivers), what is the process agency side? What are the steps we writers don't see between delivering the manuscript and getting "the call" or "the rejection"?

    Also, as you read, what factors influence the decision making process?

  6. While I'm querying agents, I'm also submitting my novel to publishers with open submissions. One of those publishers has the full (non-exclusive)... should I mention that in my queries or is it moot until offers are made?

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  8. I keep reading interviews or posts by agents in which they mention that a large percentage of their new clients (the majority in the case of one I just read) come from referrals.

    Where, generally, do these referrals come from? I know some come from conferences, but what about the rest?

  9. Hi Meredith - great name, by the way.

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    Speaking of names...

    The other day my husband and I discussed how I'm going to start marketing myself once I'm ready to submit my historical paranormal ms to agents. Until now I assumed I'd publish (or, attempt to publish...) under my maiden name, Morgenstern. The hubby pointed out that my married name, Lopez, might be more marketable, as there do not seem to be a lot of Latino names in genre fiction. But, I'm not Latino, and my story has nothing to do with Latino culture.

    What do you think?

  10. @Mara

    "Paranormal" means that the book has some supernatural creature in it: vampires, angels, demons, succubae, werewolves. So you're always safe just calling it Paranormal if it fits that bill.

    Paranormal Romance just means that the romance is very pronounced, I suppose. There's no hard and fast rule about where that line falls, so it's really up to you to apply that if you think your romance is hot and heavy and a major element or the book.

    If it's making you lose any sleep at all, just leave it at Paranormal.

  11. @Joey

    It's incredibly difficult to pin point the things that make me pick a query out of the hundreds of queries. There are as many things as there are queries, honestly.

    But I can say that one thing that will always make your query stand out is professionalism. Is the query written well? Does it pass the Query Shark archive test? Is it something I represent, or is it clearly just a spammed-out email (multiple subs, totally fine. But if it's a picture book, it ain't for me and you didn't do your research)? Are my submission guidelines followed?

    You would be astounded at how many queries I get that bear no resemblance to what I request that they look like in terms of pages pasted, subject line, etc. Which all might sound arbitrary to you, but for me it helps organize the masses which helps me answer faster.

    It sticks out in a horrible way if you neglect those guidelines.

  12. Thank you, Meredith! I'll stick with good old "Paranormal" :)

  13. @CherryBomb

    I think you should pitch it as speculative fiction, which basically just means exceptionally light sci-fi or fantasy--so light that to apply one of those genres would be overkill. It can also apply to books where there *might* be a paranormal element but one is not sure (like your protag is a ghost but you don't know it until the last page).

    But, again, if it's making you lose any sleep or stress, you should just call it a novel and let the query tell the rest.

  14. @Sprunty!

    Good question. Majorly good.

    The agency at which an agent is employed is really important, particularly at a certain stage in that agent's career.

    If you're a young/debut writer and you snag an agent who's looking like they might retire in the next five years or fewer, the agency becomes something of a safety net--if that agent retires, the other agents at the agency will make a bid to keep you in the ranks if possible. So you'd want to consider who else you'd work with.

    By the way, that also goes for young agents, who move a lot. cough. Ask questions in the call is all I can say. :)

    The agency is also important because sometimes agents need second opinions. It's really nice if there are four successful children's agents at a place because you know they're collaborating and reading each other's work. we also collaborate across agencies, sometimes, because we're all friends. But that's not always the case.

    Having an established agency is also important in terms of editor contacts. Obviously, the longer your agent or his/her boss has been in the biz, the more contacts there are and that is ALWAYS a good thing.

    None of this is to say that agencies should make or break your decision to sign with an agent you love. For most author-agent relationships, the author and the agent are the two most important people (or it should be that way, at least).

  15. @Valerie

    Between me requesting a manuscript and it getting signed or rejected, the only thing that happens is reading. If it delivers, it's typically a sign. If not, it's typically a reject.

    I've also been known to go through a couple of rounds of revisions with unsigned authors to see if they can revise, but I tend to do that sparingly and typically I never read a manuscript more than twice. It's risky to be giving out a lot of edits, with all the effort that goes into that process, and risk someone going elsewhere. It's happened.

    What makes the difference? Writing. Characters that are real and loveable or hateable. A premise that is going to blow the market away.

    But mostly the writing.

  16. @Jamie

    Submitting to publishers and agents at the same time is, on the whole, not the best way to go about it, honestly.

    If you land an agent, they're going to want to do revisions even after you're signed (in 99.9999% of the cases this is true). They're going to want to discuss sequels and other future projects. All of this information goes into calculating the editors/houses to which they will ultimately submit your book for sale. And those houses are not going to be the ones with open submissions. Not at first, at least.

    So, interest from a small press is going to be moot in that situation because said small press can't really compete, monetarily/distribution-wise with a Big Six publisher.

    And if you sign a contract with a small press and then an agent comes along and wants to sign you for that book, the agent will probably withdraw their offer, unless there are extenuating circumstances, because they didn't negotiate the small press contract and won't get a cut. So unless your *next* book hooks them as much as the first (and they have time to commit to read the second book), you'll be out an agent.

    Plus, not that small presses don't do a phenomenal job with a lot of books, but if you want to cross back over to the NYC publishing scene, your sales numbers are going to have to be stellar (like 50K+) for an agent to be able to sell your next book or the subsequent series titles to a Big Six publisher. Most Big Six published books don't sell that many. So, small presses...probs not. Once you're published, those sales numbers follow you. Forever.

    Step one, query agents, get a yes or no from all of them.

    Step two, decide why they all said no and if you should be revising the book.

    Step three, if we're all just insane and some publisher thinks your book is perfecto, I guess sign with them. But that pretty much eliminates Big NYC publishing as an option unless something miraculous happens.

    Remember, getting *a* book published is not always the number one goal. You're trying to build a career here, and you have to think very long term (that's why we're here, by the way).

  17. @Susan

    Actually, most referrals come from other agent friends. People who say Oh, this isn't right for me, but at lunch Meredith was saying she would DIE for a ballerina book (true in real life). Then they send it over.

  18. @Meredith

    Yes, great name.

    I think you should publish under whatever name you want to publish.

    There's not really much validity to changing your name to something ethnic just to sound...ethnic, which you're not. In fact, if it ever got out that that's why you did it, it could be...feather-ruffling for some communities.

    That being said, your name *is* Meredith Lopez, because you got married. So you also shouldn't whitewash yourself or consciously avoid sounding Latin.

    Just go with what makes you feel most comfortable.

  19. Thanks Meredith for taking the time to answer my question yesterday!

  20. Good questions, great answers! Thank you.