Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Caroline Trussell Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/20/2024
  • Jenna Satterthwaite Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/10/2024
  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Happy Monday Everyone! I'm excited to have agent Peter Knapp here from Park Literary & Media to answer some of your questions.  You can read his updated Agent Spotlight to learn more about what he's looking for in submissions.

1. What's the first thing that turns you off in a query letter?

Hopefully nothing! In truth, though, when a query fails to excite me, it is usually no one problem but instead an issue of the pitch failing to come together as a whole. It’s similar to how I evaluate manuscripts that I am considering: I’m not looking at any one area of craft (just world building or just pacing or just characterization, etc.) but instead how all of these work in concert with one another. The elements of your query need to coalesce in a similar way: are you giving us a character we can care about; are you defining the core premise of the story in a way that is compelling; are the stakes clear; is the tone of the query exciting and fitting for the premise and genre? I know, I know: agents are hard to please (it’s our nature—and certainly one of the reasons we are in the business of negotiating), but so are readers.

If I do have specific query turn-offs, they are: opening with rhetorical questions; too much space spent on talking about the themes of the story or the inspiration behind it; a lack of focus to the premise (aka, lots of plot threads are dropped into the query but it’s unclear what’s at the center of them all or how they braid together).

2. What does 'I just didn't love it enough' really mean? 

I’m not sure how helpful this is, but it really means just that.

Think of your own reading tastes. Do you remember that book that everyone was saying they LOVED and you can hear the caps in their voice? But then you bought your copy (they wouldn’t lend you theirs—it was too precious) and with great excitement jumped in, only to think: really…this? Or think about a novel that is so near and dear to your heart that you carried the paperback around like a talisman for weeks after finishing it. But when you asked your friend what they thought of it three whole weeks after telling them they HAD to read it so that they might understand you better, your friend answered, “I’m only on chapter three but I’m liking it so far,” and all you can think is, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” because it’s clear they will never finish it, it’s clear that they don’t get it—what’s worse still, that they don’t get you.

I’m sure hearing from an agent that this business is subjective can sometimes feel like they’re just finding a way to be kind while turning you down, and perhaps they are, but it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong: this business really is rooted in the opinions of individual readers. One agent’s “I didn’t love it enough” is the next agent’s, “This is my heart in book form.” I’ve passed on manuscripts that have gone on to sell in big deals and that are beloved by readers. I’ve been the only agent to offer on manuscripts that have gone on to sell in big deals and are likewise beloved by readers. Keep writing, keep querying, and don’t worry if one agent didn’t love it enough – they’re just not your reader, and that’s okay.

3. World building is a huge category. If an agent says, 'work on world building' What are they most likely talking about? 

World building is a huge category, and so they might be talking about any number of things within it. All I can say without reading a specific manuscript is that two of the big issues I frequently see with world building are too much world building that isn’t rooted in narrative, or world building without clear and consistent rules.

The first issue—too much world building that isn’t tied to story—has to do with info dumps and too much exposition, especially in the beginning of the book. Often, writers feel the need to tell too much about their world in the first chapters before it is relevant to the story and its characters, and so it begins to feel like our story is being interrupted by little encyclopedia entries. This is a problem for a few reasons: first, it can kill the pacing in the beginning of the book, before you’ve fully hooked your reader, and so you risk losing them; second, it makes it so that the reader is overwhelmed with information and receiving it in a way that doesn’t “stick”. In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gotschall talks about how people’s brains have evolved to learn through narrative: we remember facts when they’re part of story better than when we get them in isolation. So, if a reader tells you that they “don’t understand how that spell works in chapter 15,” you might be inclined to defend the manuscript by pointing to a long section in chapter three where it is explained in detail, but don’t be too quick to dismiss the reader as inattentive; the problem may be that you didn’t deliver the information in an exciting, narratively driven way such that your reader is more likely to retain the information.

The second problem—not having clear and consistent rules—is a big one with stories that have magic systems. Magic systems have to be airtight and the rules of magic should be established relatively early in your book. A problem I often see in fantasy is that a character will find themselves facing some dire problem, and lo and behold, suddenly the magic is able to do something new that allows them to escape their situation (often they just have to concentrate hard or access some deep emotional connection to their magic so that they can access new and previously unknown powers). This always feels a little like cheating because it isn’t grounded in the rules that were previously established for the world and so it feels like the magic system is being twisted to help the plot along rather than forcing the character to do something truly clever within the confines of the established rules. It’s just too easy, and it ruins the credibility of the world building.

4. Do you judge the project by the query alone, or do you also read the first couple of pages sent before coming to a conclusion?

Another person asked a similar question: “At what point do you stop reading and hit the reject letter?” I will answer both here: as soon as I decide the book is not for me. Sometimes, this happens with the query letter…the premise doesn’t intrigue me enough or the story doesn’t have a focus or it feels too close to something on my list or there’s no emotional hook to the query (which is really critical for me). Often, I decide to pass once I’ve started the sample pages: the writing doesn’t do it for me for one reason or another. And sometimes, I request a manuscript and read beyond the first ten sample pages but discover that as I keep reading, I begin to lose steam because the plot meanders (this happens a lot in second acts) or the pacing feels sluggish or the story jumps the shark somehow—or often some combination of problems. In any case, as soon as I realize that the submission has lost me, I reject it. This doesn’t mean, though, that as soon as I see a problem in a manuscript, I reject it. If there’s a problem but the manuscript still has me hooked, it is often because I have the editorial vision to know how to fix it, and so I am still excited to be reading it and will even start taking notes to go over with the author.

5. Why might you or another agent request a partial vs a full, or vice versa? If there might be interest, why not just go ahead and request the full?

Honestly, I’m not sure – with my queries, I always request full manuscripts if I’m interested!

Thanks for all your advice, Peter!

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, February 7th I have an interview with debut author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary WHERE I LIVE and my IWSG post

Monday, February 12th I have a guest post by debut author Linda Williams Jackson and her agent Elizabeth Bewley and a giveaway of her MG contemporary MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON

Monday, February 19th I will be off for President's Day!

Monday, February 26th I have a guest post by debut author Kaitlin Sage Patterson and her agent Brent Taylor with a giveaway of her YA fantasy THE DIMINISHED and a query critique giveaway by Brent.

Wednesday, February 28th I have an agent spotlight interview with Carrie Pestritto and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This was a great interview. I've bookmarked it as a guide for issues to keep in mind as I'm writing my present WIP. I heard Peter Knapp speak at a conference last year and was very impressed. He's an agent i want to submit to eventually.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I knew it was all subjective. Just as readers don't all like the same thing, agents don't either. Like he said, it just might not be the right reader for you.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm reading for the Cybil's this year (YA Speculative Fiction), and world building has been either fantastic or wanting. Even if the characters are amazing and the plot intriguing, without convincing world building, the book doesn't fly.

mshatch said...

Excellent Interview!

Carol L. said...

Loved reading the Q & A with Peter Knapp. Very clear answers. Thank you for this post.
Carol Luciano
Lucky4750 at aol dot com

Cathrina Constantine said...

Good and insightful Interview.

Angie Quantrell said...

Thanks for the interview!

Sherry Ellis said...

I enjoyed this interview. I think it is important to make all of the elements of a story work together. That's how you get a winner.

Misha Gerrick said...

Nice interview.

I actually just finished a fantasy book that everyone LOVED and I just can't forget how the writer didn't bother to put consistent rules onto their magic system, so this definitely struck a chord.

Raimey Gallant said...

I'm a huge fan of Peter's advice, so thanks for pulling this interview together. :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great interview. Nice to meet Peter. And it's so true that people are different in what they enjoy reading and what one person likes, another might not care for. Thanks.

Rosi said...

Thanks for this. Your interviews are always interesting and informative.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Loved Peter's interview. I agree with everything he has said. He had critiqued my ten pages and given me amazing suggestions and advice for which I'll be eternally grateful. He had also given me super advice on my query letter.