Best of Ask the Agent: Kindly or Creepy?

Plus Podcasts, Pythons, and so much more!

Welcome to another edition of Best of Ask the Agent: The Newsletter, in which I tend to the wild rose garden of my #AskAgent Tumblr and cut the best of blooms for you. But first, a couple o’ links:

In Case You Missed It

  • I spoke to the awesome book publicist Tracy van Straaten on the latest episode of the Literaticast — she answered a LOT of questions, some of which I didn’t even know I had! You can listen on my website, or via Apple Podcasts, etc.

  • If you are interested in Kate Messner and Adam Rex’s upcoming nonfiction picture book THE NEXT PRESIDENT and want to get a behind the scenes look at the illustration process, head over to 7 Imps and check it out.

Best of Ask the Agent: Kindly or Creepy?

“Is it good to personalize a query to the agent based on interviews and website information, or is it creepy and stalkerish? Where is the line? Is it better to stick to a template-letter?”

Depends how you do it, to be honest. A template that goes to everyone is just fine, but if you want to personalize it with a line or two at the top, that’s good too — and, when well done, can be eye-catching. (When poorly done, of course… yikes).

GREAT: “We met [at such-and-such event] and [we had a great conversation about gelato / we chatted about lemurs / you asked about my ms]; I was the one with the [booming voice / bottle cap earrings / picture of a cat around her neck].”  If we actually met and spoke, or even had a fun twitter convo or something, please just refresh my memory about it. It is by no means necessary, but if we actually made a connection it would be silly to pretend we didn’t, and if I asked about your ms, I promise you, I was genuinely curious, I will remember, and I will be interested to see it in my inbox.

(But of course — I haven’t met MOST people who query me, so don’t feel like this is a requirement in any way!)

GOOD: “I read and loved [amazing book you repped] and [compliment about it]” or similar. The fact is, I LOVE my own client’s books, and I find there is something really compelling about people who have sincerely nice things to say about them. :-) Flattery? YES! But please, only if it is truly meant. (And do make sure you aren’t pasting some OTHER agent’s flattery into my email!)

It should go without saying, but, DO NOT LIE about this. Seriously. I will have uncharitable thoughts if you tell me you read a book that is not yet available, or you say something blatantly false about it. (YES this has happened.) Please, if you haven’t read or don’t like my client’s books, or just don’t feel like gushing, you can skip this, it’s more than OK.

FINE: “I [read an interview / saw your talk] in which you mentioned [something important] and that resonated with me because [something important]” – absolutely not necessary, but fine, if true.

MEH: “I noticed in your bio that you are always on the lookout for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction with unusual and unforgettable characters and vivid settings!”– Well, yes. I wrote that. You don’t need to tell it to me. I would rather you just leave out any personalization if you are only parroting my own website bio back to me. I mean, I’m not MAD about it or anything - it’s just space you could be using to dazzle me about your own book, and you’re wasting it instead.

MEH: “I’m querying you because you represent middle grade fiction.” — OK. I mean I know that about myself already, you’re right, so how about skipping to the part where you tell me something I don’t already know - like what your book is about!

NO! : “I read [that book you repped] and I [hated it / just don’t get it]. Surely the author [could do better / has done better]?” Please for goodness sakes don’t tell me what you DON’T like about the books I rep. (Yes, THIS has happened, too!) “Negging” will 100% backfire — if you don’t like one of my books, you can keep your nonsense opinions to yourself, thank you.

NO! NO! NO! : “I read online that you love reading a good book in the bath. I can picture you soaking in a steamy bubble bath with MY book …”  CREEP ALERT. A colleague of mine got this one several times before she had that piece of information taken OFF the internet. I think you can probably see why! Steer away from topics that could possibly set off the creep-o-meter, even if it is something you read in an interview or that the agent has joked about on twitter.

People who are nervous lose their cool sometimes, the querying process is anxiety-provoking, and social media can lend a false sense of familiarity to a lot of interactions. I get it. But reality check: despite how you might FEEL about an agent based on following them on twitter, listening to their podcast, or doing other research — you probably don’t actually know one another at all. That query you’ve been honing and worrying over and perfecting? It isn’t a marriage proposal. It isn’t a natural step forward in an ongoing relationship. It’s not even a blind first date. It’s just a professional introduction. You don’t get intimate during a professional introduction.

Topics that fall into the Too Intimate category include, but are not limited to, personal life (details about children or significant others, dating, sex); politics (who their preferred candidate is, why they are wrong); the body human (illnesses, armchair psychiatric evaluations, anything invoking body functions or nudity); their age (“you look so young, what are you, twelve?” “you look great for your age!”); their appearance (“your picture is so serious, you should smile more!” “the sparkle in your eyes makes me sure we would get along great” “you seem relatable - some of your colleagues are too pretty!”) (Uh…. Thank… you????). I’m a casual person, but I can get snippy REAL fast when the creep-o-meter goes off. Keep it professional.

New Releases

If you have science-loving kids in your life, consider these new books from Kate Messner, both of which will be available in early March from booksellers and libraries.

TRACKING PYTHONS: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem, by Kate Messner

Coming March 3 from Lerner/Millbrook

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, so when one showed up dead along the side of a Florida highway in 1979, scientists wondered where it came from. No one knew the snakes had launched a full-scale invasion. Pet pythons that escaped or were released by their owners started breeding in the wild, and these enormous predators began eating every animal in their path. Today a group of scientists at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is tracking Burmese pythons to find ways to stop their spread. Page Plus links lead to video clips and photos of the scientists working in the field. Delve into the science of pythons and their role as invasive predators.

SOLVE THIS! FORENSICS — Super Science and Curious Capers for the Daring Detective in You, by Kate Messner and Anne Ruppert

Coming March 17 from Nat Geo

C.S.I. meets National Geographic in this forensics-filled adventure. Examine the evidence and consider the suspects to put your crime-solving skills to the test.

Calling all budding sleuths! Solve your way through each entertaining, imaginary G-rated mystery to explore the forensic science of investigating and analyzing evidence. You'll study smudges on a computer keyboard, dust for fingerprints, examine bite marks on a discarded snack, analyze toxicology tests on blood samples, and much, much more. Piece together the clues to see if you can solve each case.

Fans of true crime dramas, escape rooms, mysteries, and preeminent author Kate Messner will love this introduction to forensic science.

If you liked this newsletter, you can share it, or subscribe to get it straight to your inbox! See ya next week. xo JL