Lauren Spieller is a literary agency intern who has read more queries than the rest of us even want to contemplate. She has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her job.
First off, let me say THANK YOU for having me! I love talking about querying and writing, so this is a treat.
We’re glad to have you! You’re an editorial intern at a literary agency. Can you tell us what that involves?
I’ve had two internships. The first involved reading the slush—a lot of it—and deciding which queries to forward on to the agent. I loved doing this because it a) taught me how to get a feel for a manuscript from only a few pages, and b) helped me hone my editing skills.
My current internship—with P.S. Literary Agency—is a tad more editorial, which is fabulous. So far my focus has been on reading full manuscripts and writing Reader Reports (half synopsis, half feedback/suggestions). I’m also going to be seeking out self-published authors with fabulous books and great sales figures, in addition to interesting public figures/thinkers who may be interested in writing books. I can’t wait!
What are the most common mistakes writers make in drafting their query letter?
I’m always surprised by how many people don’t take the time to address agents by their names. Silly mistakes like calling a woman “Mr” can ruin a writer’s chances. Aside from that, I’d say my biggest pet peeve is when writers focus so much on world-building that I can’t name the conflict in the novel.
I find that the best way to go about setting up the conflict is by using the WHEN/THEN structure. For example, WHEN Harry receives a letter inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he must [IMPLIED THEN] decide if he can possibly leave his lovely Muggle Family behind. (Ha!) By using the when/then approach, you set up a cause/effect relationship between plot points that makes your summary easy to follow. (For more information on writing query letters, check out my blog post on the subject.)
What is the weirdest thing you’ve seen included with a query?
Oh man, definitely this strange picture. I couldn’t save it, obviously, but here’s a similar image to give you an idea (see right).
Have you ever been part of any success stories?
I unfortunately can’t share anything related to my internship, but I can say that I’ve edited quite a few queries through my own business that ultimately landed the writer with an agent! You can check out my success stories here!
Have there been any manuscripts you’ve loved but had to pass on?
You mean beside“Cat in Space”?
Since the final decision is up to the agent, I typically send those queries I love on, even if there are a few elements holding me back. But still, I have read quite a few queries that sounded awesome, but I ultimately had to turn them down. Here are a few reasons:
- Awesome concept, weak writing.
- Awesome writing, weak concept.
- Awesome writing, awesome concept, but the agent didn’t represent that type of project. This just goes to show how important it is to research before you query—somewhere out there, there’s an agent who will LOVE to represent your manuscript. Make sure you find them!
What are your current projects?
I’m currently reading a bunch of really fabulous manuscripts for PSLA. I feel very lucky to be a part of their team.
In terms of my own work, I’m having a great time critiquing clients’ queries, and I’m getting ready to expand my business to cover synopses and first chapters. If you’d like to hear more, get in touch!
Cassandra Page is an editor and writer who is sad Cat in Space isn’t going to be a thing! You can find her blog here.