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.”

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10 thoughts on “Pointers from the Pros: Agent Michelle Brower Offers Query Tips

    • Thank, C! It was a GREAT session! She spent the rest of the time doing “query live,” where everyone with a query letter read it, and she “dinged” them when she would stop reading and told them why. Very cool! I was very impressed with her the entire conf–very knowledgeable and down to earth to boot.

  1. I would loved to have attended this conference. Sounds like it was a winner; especially this session. Her name rang a bell with me for some reason, I think maybe I’ve jotted her name down as a possible query victim. Anyway, as usual you have a great blog post, Ricki! Lots of good info to read through.

  2. THanks for this! I did not get to JRW until late Friday morn and missed all of this. It would have been invaluable too, as my pitch session was with Ms. Brower. Nuts. 😉 I knew I was not really ready to query, but was so happy to get good feedback and tips from her in less than 10 mins! And I loved the First Pages panel she was on. Can only imagine how good that 2 hour workshop was. *Next time*

  3. Such good info, Ricki! I love that you share all the things you learn at your cons. Michelle seems like a great, knowledgeable person, too. Her tips are really useful. And I love knowing the specifics about an agent’s preferences, too.

    How funny that you used the Twitter whale for Moby Dick. Seriously, that’s cracking me up over here.

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