Being in the Query Trenches by Agent/Author by Chloe Seager and Brianna Bourne + You & Me at the End of World & Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Brianna Bourne and her agent Chole Seager here to share a guest post to celebrate the release of Brianna’s YA romance with a speculative twist You & Me at the End of the World. It sounds like it’s got a fantastic premise and compelling characters, which makes me excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

This is no ordinary apocalypse...

Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The entire city around her is empty, except for one other person: Leo Sterling. Leo might be hottest boy ever (and not just because he's the only one left), but he's also too charming, too selfish, and too devastating for his own good, let alone Hannah's.

Stuck with only each other, they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school and realize that they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. Hannah doesn't have to be just an overachieving, music-box-perfect ballerina, and Leo can be more than a slacker, 80s-glam-metal-obsessed guitarist. Leo is a burst of honesty and fun that draws Hannah out, and Hannah's got Leo thinking about someone other than himself for the first time.

Together, they search for answers amid crushing isolation, but while their empty world may appear harmless . . . it's not. Because nothing is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don't figure out what's going on, they might just be torn apart forever.

And here’s another blurb: “An altogether lovely book about human connection and taking second chances—even when they might come on the heels of an apocalypse. A stellar debut. I’m already eagerly waiting to see what Bourne does next.” - Emily Henry, #1 New York Times bestselling author of  Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation

Here's a link to the trailer: 

Brianna Bourne and Chloe Seager Guest Post

BRI: Thank you so much for having us on Literary Rambles, Natalie! When I was in the query trenches, this website was such a cornerstone resource for me, and I hope Chloe and I can share a few fresh insights with those of you querying.

For context, I’m from Houston, and YOU & ME AT THE END OF THE WORLD was published first in the US by Scholastic (The Hunger Games publisher!) Chloe Seager is my incredible agent, and is part of the team at Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency in London.

Chloe being in London is convenient for me because I’m currently living in England, but don’t let location put you off querying the agency! Chloe and her colleagues rep many American authors, and they have the same connections and relationships with US editors that US agents have (and they also have valuable connections with European publishers, which comes in very handy for foreign rights!) Now that you have an idea of our agent-author relationship, let’s get into our conversation.

BRI: Chloe, I remember when I was in the trenches, there was a lot of advice going into my head, but I didn’t fully believe all of it, or really “get” it. When you’re querying, it’s so easy to think that an agent’s job is primarily about reading submissions, but there’s SO much that you do for the clients you represent, and that’s the priority of your work week. This is probably the question you get most frequently - how many submissions do you receive in a typical week? And what percentage of your work week would you say goes towards reading submissions, versus supporting the clients on your list?

CHLOE: Yes, indeed, this is a common misconception! I suppose it's the only part of the process that unagented writers hear about, but this is actually a relatively small part of our job and something we usually have to do in our own time. We are guiding and managing every aspect of our existing authors' careers and our loyalty/ commitment is with them. Of course finding new authors is something that every agent is excited about, but unfortunately it can't be the priority in our day-to-day working lives. On average I would say the children's department at MM receives about 200 submissions a week - but this can reach double that at peak times (for instance, post lockdown!) I would say that I dedicate a few hours a week to the submissions inbox and if there's something I love in there, I will carve out an evening to sit down with a full, called in manuscript, but the rest of my time has to be spent on my existing clients. 

BRI: Can you tell people a little more about the agency itself? It’s quite a large one, with 10 agents plus many incredibly knowledgeable people supporting the agents and authors. It’s one of the things I love about the agency.

CHLOE: It's funny that you say we're large as, although we've grown a lot recently, I would always have said we were small to medium size, but we often give the impression of being large!! I think that's one of the nice things about working at MM - it has a big impact and a global reach, yet retains a family feel. Our motto is to take on less authors but do more for them, which is why we do everything in-house - film & TV, foreign rights, with agents who are experts in different areas.  Rather than film & TV rights or foreign rights being sold to publishers or by external agencies, we aim to keep rights in one place with each deal and it allows for high levels of communication and coordination when it comes to building authors' careers in every aspect.

BRI: I was recently on the other side of the table, reading through a towering stack of queries, and I couldn’t believe how intense it was reading 70 entries in one week. (I mentor for WriteMentor, and I’m mentoring for PitchWars this year as well - you should absolutely consider submitting to me!

Reading my own one-week slush pile drove home all the advice I’d heard surrounding the query letter—it really does need to be so tight, and the book’s concept does have to be fresh and immediately gripping. What are your thoughts on what makes a query package stand out?

 CHLOE: It's as you say, making yourself stand out in the shortest amount of words possible. What makes your book different to the many others that agents will be looking at each week? Is there a gap in the market that you've spotted? This also shows me that a writer knows the market and reads current YA/children's books, which is so important in being a successful author. I'll be instantly interested if a one line pitch makes me sit up… Like yours, Bri! I love talking about your book because anyone who hears the premise, without fail, wants to know more. Two teenagers (with bags of sexual tension between them, obv) wake up to a world where they appear to be the only two people left?! I immediately want to know what happens, straightaway I see it's a clever way to talk about big, relatable themes like teen isolation/pressure to conform/working out your identity, and I know I'm in for some seriously swoony moments as well as high stakes adventure  

BRI: Thank you so much! <3 Romantic tension is one of my favorite things to write, and the book is very much a love story with a side dish of surreal suspense, instead of the other way around!

CHLOE: What about you, Bri - what would your advice be, now that you've been on the other side of the querying process?

BRI: After taking YOU & ME out on two major querying rounds one year apart, my “hindsight is 20/20” advice is that I wish I’d kept going. Both times, I stopped at around 30 agents, and I think these days it can take up to 100 agents before you can really shelve a project and know for sure it wouldn’t have been picked up. But that’s just based on my personal experience, and I always caution that you should probably be getting around a 20% full request rate for that advice to apply. If you’re not getting any requests, that probably means something needs more work, or that the concept might not be as unique as it needs to be to stand out from the crowd.

CHLOE: And how do you come up with your brilliant pitches? (Bri's second book also has a stunning premise, although I can't say more!)

BRI: Ideas for novels usually come to me as high-concept “what ifs” right out of the gate - so the specific characters, plot, and setting come after that. For YOU & ME, there’s actually an even juicier pitch underneath the “last girl and boy in the world” premise. I always wish I could shout about it, but it’s a massive spoiler! There are lots of hidden clues as to what’s really going on, but so far only one person has 100% correctly guessed the twist.

I also always check to make sure no one’s written that exact premise before. Then, while I’m building the characters and the plot, I make sure to touch base with the concept (or my “elevator pitch”) often, because sometimes adding layers to a story can dilute its original premise. Nowadays, I start every project by crafting a polished elevator pitch first, then I write a longer pitch that’s very much like a query letter, then I start plotting/outlining. It’s so easy to shift big picture things when all that exists is a pitch; you can make all the puzzle pieces fit in the most dramatic, juicy way.

BRI: Chloe, This is something I worry about a lot - do you think publishing has slowed down during the pandemic? Do you get the sense that editors are even more scrupulous about which projects they pick up?

CHLOE:  I can't speak for everybody but the pandemic certainly slowed me down at first - it was hard to concentrate on submissions, which is such a creative part of the job, when it felt like the entire world was on fire! But after a while I found the escapist joy of books meant that I rediscovered my inspiration and I would say that publishing hasn't necessarily slowed down, but there have been changes in the market regarding what's working and what people are looking for. And of course, it was a tough year for debuts across the board, although I hope that's changed again now. What was your experience of debuting into a pandemic like, Bri?

BRI: There have certainly been some surprises, and some experiences 2020/2021 debut authors have had to miss out on. Obviously in-person launch events and book conventions were off the table, but on the plus side, I got to do virtual launch events with a few of my absolute writer heroes (Stephanie Perkins! Jennifer Lynn Barnes!), and I wouldn’t have been able to do those if the entire world hadn’t shifted to virtual.

Right - last question! For Literary Rambles readers who are querying or are preparing to query, what are some things you’re hoping to see in your inbox?

CHLOE: Relating to the above, I would say more than ever I am in need of some uplifting joy! But I am still open to dark books - especially if they are 'fun' dark, like a thriller. I would say at the moment, anything that feels like a big, interesting concept, with well-drawn characters and pacy writing that can hold my attention and completely distract me from what's going on in the world.

BRI: I love writing stories that provide those much-needed slices of escapism! Thanks again, Natalie, for having us on Literary Rambles, and thank you all for reading!

You can find Bri at: 

And you can find Chloe at:

For submission guidelines and more information about the agency, visit

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Brianna and Chole!

Giveaway Details

Brianna has generously offered a hardback of You & Me at the End of the World and Chole has offered a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by October 2nd. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is International.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, September 22nd I have an agent spotlight interview with Crystal Orazu and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 27th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Vitalis and a giveaway of her MG fantasy The Wolf’s Curse

Tuesday, October 5th I’m participating in the Howloween Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, October 6th I have an interview with debut author Sacha Wunsch and a giveaway of her YA psychological mystery Lies My Memory Told Me and my IWSG Post

Monday, October 11th I have an agent spotlight interview with Kristin Ostby and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

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