Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your patience. Here are Tina Wexler's most excellent answers to your questions. I definitely think they were worth the wait. Her answers are in bold.
S. Kyle Davis asks:
When you're submitting to agents, there's a fine line between staying committed to your work and living in denial about the marketability of the manuscript. I know that there is no fast and true answer for how long you should query. However, in general, how can an author know that the book is not going to find an agent, or, even if it did, would be unlikely to sell to an editor?
For good or ill, there is no real way to know whether or not your manuscript is going to find an agent, but it may prove helpful to ask yourself the following: Have you received any requests for partials or fulls? If not, take a good look at your query letter. Are you presenting the manuscript (and yourself) in the best light? How does your manuscript fit in with what’s being published today/what agents say they’re looking for? I’m not saying you should write to the trends (please, no!) but you should be mindful of the market, reading what’s being published in your genre. Are you targeting your search to appropriate agents? If you’ve sent out pages, what kind of feedback did you receive? To that end, how many people have read your work? If you’re your sole reader, why not join a writer’s group? No one can tell you if you’re manuscript will ever find a home, especially without having read it, but I would start by trying to determine whether it’s the query or the manuscript that’s preventing you from snagging the eye of an agent, and then act accordingly.
Sharon Roat asks:
Tina - What is your favorite part of being an agent? Least favorite? And what aspect of your work takes up the most of your time?
My favorite part of being an agent is helping my clients fulfill their dreams of being published and keeping that dream going for years and years. My least favorite? Delivering bad news.
Email takes up most of my time in the office. Out of the office, my time is spent reading manuscripts, which takes up the most time overall.
Natalie Aguirre asks:
I know you aren't looking for high fantasy manuscripts, but can you advise me of the word count range for an upper level middle grade high fantasy with twelve-year-old characters?
I think 35,000-65,000 words is a good range for upper middle grade, be it high fantasy or not.
Let's say an established agent requested a partial on one manuscript and you are about to finish 2 others and get them ready for submission. Do agents like to see that potential clients are workhorses? Or is it better to just focus on getting an agent for your ONE finished project? I am always thinking, hey, I want to show this agent how multitalented and diverse I am, look at this great portfolio of work I am doing, but I also know some agents say just focus on one. What does Ms. Wexler recommend? What is the most "professional" way to go about this?
I like to focus on one project at a time. If that project strikes my fancy, I’ll talk with the writer about the other projects she has in the works. That said, you can always mention (briefly!) whatever else you’re working on in your initial query: “I’m currently at work on a paranormal YA featuring mummies and a dystopian middle grade set in Portugal.” If the agent is interested in reading them too, she’ll ask.
You have said in various interviews that you "tend to shy away from high fantasy". What would make a fantasy novel stand out to you? What kinds of genres within the umbrella term "fantasy" appeal to you?
I know everyone says it, but it’s all about voice. If the narrative voice pulls me in, I’ll follow it most anywhere. I also want characters I connect with—love ‘em or hate ‘em, I want to feel something toward them. Lastly, I want to enter a fully-realized world, with rules and boundaries. That goes for all fiction. The world needs to have limits; that’s what gives us conflict. Within fantasy, I like urban/contemporary, dystopian, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy hybrids…
Carolyn Flower asks:
When you have a writer on your hands you are thinking of representing, do you read his/her past tweets/blog posts/web content, etc.? If so, do you ever find that material actionable? As in, if it's good it tips you into offering representation, or if it's crazy/offensive/otherwise bad you decide against that writer?
I do like to see what I can learn about a client before I sign him or her, but if I’m so-so about a manuscript, I won’t sign that client, even if she writes a really stunning blog or a particularly witty tweet (though I’ll probably work with her on revisions, in the hope of falling in love with a later draft.) I could see myself not signing a client because of particularly offensive online content, but I’m not exactly easy to offend.
My question or Ms. Wexler is about the market. Not as in trends (vampires are out, editors are looking for selkies, etc.) but the overall mood. Are editors hunting to buy or still very wary because of the economy? And I was also wondering about what seems to be a glut of new agents after all the layoffs in the industry and if that makes it harder for established agents and writers to get their work/clients noticed by editors?
The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Editors need to buy manuscripts or they don’t have jobs, so they most definitely are hunting to buy. At the same time, they are being more selective about what they buy. And while there are certainly more agents sending out manuscripts, established agents have long-standing relationships with editors and most have strong reputations for sending out quality material, and so the manuscripts they send don’t have to fight to get noticed. (This isn’t to say that signing with an untested agent means your work won’t get the attention it deserves; we all had to make our first book deal at some point.)
Rob Kent, middle grade ninja asks:
Were Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao of HERBERT’S WORMHOLE an established team of writer/illustrator when you agreed to represent them? If so, did this make the submission process more difficult? Would you consider an established team of writer/illustrator for future clients?
Yes, Peter and Ro were an established team right from the start, but that didn’t complicate the submission process. I’m certainly open to considering established writer/illustrator teams.
Suzie F. asks:
If someone is writing for a tween audience how should that person introduce her genre in a query? Would it be okay to label it as a contemporary Upper Middle Grade novel in a query? Thank you for sharing your time and expertise with us.
I would go with upper middle grade. The age of the protagonist and the word count will also help signal to the agent that you’re writing for a tween audience.
How do you feel contemporary YA fares in a market rich with paranormal and fantasy?
If the NYT Bestseller list is anything to go by, contemporary YA remains strong; it’s just not getting the kind of media coverage that paranormal and fantasy are getting right now.
Can you share some opening lines that have grabbed your attention?
You can assume that the first lines of all the books I represent have grabbed my attention, so I’ll pick a few from books I didn’t rep:
“I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure Adam—as in the guy who named all the animals in the Garden of Eden—wasn’t a hermaphrodite.” –DONUT DAYS by Lara Zielin
“We can hear someone screaming as soon as we get off the elevator.” –BLACK BOX by Julie Schumacher
“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” –CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B.White
If you have read a full manuscript, but decide to pass on the project, under what circumstances would you reconsider it, or would you?
Generally, if I’m interested in seeing a rewrite of a manuscript, I’ll provide the writer with detailed feedback and an invitation to submit a revision should that feedback resonate. Barring that, if the writer emails me with details about how the work has been improved and if the overall project still appeals to me, I may ask to see pages again, but I just as well may not.
Lois D Brown asks:
Since you work at a full service agency, I thought you might have some insight to movie rights. How does a book manuscript turn into a movie? Is the author involved with the creation of the screenplay? What sort of royalties are possible? What makes a movie producer interested?
Manuscripts/books get pitched to studio execs, producers, talent, etc. If a party is interested, they will option the property, meaning they have a limited period of time during which they have the exclusive right to purchase film rights. During that initial option period, the party will try to set that property up (securing financing, commissioning a screenplay, etc.) If the initial option period expires, the party may extend the option (usually for an additional payment) or let it lapse. If they let it lapse, the film rights go back on the market. If the party opts to exercise the option, they pay what is called a “purchase price,” meaning they officially buy the film rights to the book and hopefully a movie goes on to be made.
It’s rare that the author of the book actually writes the screenplay for the movie. (Writing a screenplay is a very different skillset.)
Producers tend to want four-quadrant films (movies that will appeal to young and old, male and female), bestsellers, and/or sequels/remakes, but there are always those who are willing to take a chance on an unknown gem, a sleeper hit.
Suzanne Warr asks:
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Ms. Wexler. You often refer to magic realism when listing what you accept, but I haven't seen you list urban fantasy. How would you define magic realism, and does that definition exclude urban fantasy? Are you interested in seeing urban fantasy?
I think of magic/magical realism as fiction wherein something happens that you just have to take on faith. The odds of it happening are slim, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. I classify Kurtis Scaletta’s books this way. In MUDVILLE, the protagonist lives in a town where it’s been raining for over two decades. Raining nonstop. Has that ever happened? Not that I know of. Could it? Well, sure. It could. On the fantasy scale, I put magical realism in the 2-3 range, urban fantasy in the 4-7 range, and high fantasy at 10, where we’re in another world entirely.
Katharina Gerlach asks:
If a project has been rejected by an agent (because the query was not even remotely good), is it ok to re-query after revising the query to perfection and doing another round of revision on the manuscript?
Hmm, this is a tough one. I respond to two things in a query: 1) how well is it written, and 2) if I’m interested in the story’s premise. Rewriting the query (and even revising the manuscript) isn’t necessarily going to make me more interested in the premise. Since there’s no way of knowing WHY an agent passed on your query, you have no way of knowing if they passed because it wasn’t “even remotely good” or because they just weren’t interested in, say, rhyming picture books about polka-dotted ducklings. Given the many, many agents out there, I’d say submit your shiny new query elsewhere, unless you’re truly convinced this agent is THE ONE. And then, well, what the heck? Resubmit it. What’s the worst that can happen? You get rejected twice. There are worse things in this world.
If the manuscript is aimed at the lower/higher end of a genre (like Lower Ya or Higher MG) do I need to mention that in my query, or is it enough when the agent notices that when reading the sample?
Because I get queries for everything from board books to adult fiction, I like it when writers specify the target demographic in their query. As I mentioned in my answer to Suzie, other markers in your query should also help tip off the agent as to what genre you’re aiming for.
Laura Pauling asks:
Is it acceptable to have a murder in a humorous tween mystery if the murder is off screen with no blood or gore?
Yes, I find that perfectly acceptable. Susan Runholt’s MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA has a murder in it, and we didn’t hear any complaints. And Donna Gephart’s AS IF BEING 12 ¾ ISN’T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT has an assassination plotline, and she still won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award from SCBWI.
Paula Kay asks:
If a query is well written and peaked your interest, would you turn it down if the word count was high?
The word count of the query or the ms? Kidding. I’m getting punchy as I near the end of these questions (though I am a bit wary of really long query letters.) In truth, a really high ms word count often gives me pause. To me, it signifies that the writer can’t self-edit, and while I’m certainly what you’d call an “editorial agent,” if the ms is unnecessarily long, I’ll need to weigh how much editorial work I can give it against how much I love the manuscript as a whole. That said, if I love the voice of the query and the premise of the story, I’ll ask to see pages. No harm in dipping a toe in, right? Of course, if it’s crazy long, like 600,000 words long, it’s a pass, but that’s often because the manuscripts with these super high word counts tend to have the worst queries. Go figure.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog. Thank you to everyone for submitting their smart questions. I do hope you’ll be in touch, if your project sounds like a good fit for my list. Good luck!
Thank YOU, Tina, for being so generous with your time and knowledge. Everyone, please thank Ms. Wexler for participating in our Q&A. If you'd like more information on what she's looking for and how to submit, please see her Agent Spotlight profile. Thank you!