Agent Monday: Toss Me a Hook!

??????????????????????Happy Agent Monday, folks!  I’m back from a sun-soaked weekend filled with overdoing it in the yard work department. I’m a touch sun fried and sore, but what a great switch from those mounds of Northeast snow we had to dig out of… I also spent some time this weekend digging through queries filling my inbox, and some of them made me want to cry out: Writer, PLEASE toss me a hook!

Yup, today we are talking about hooks. See, sometimes I get queries with opening pages that are written beautifully, truly. But I find myself wondering what the story is about. Who is the audience? How the heck would I pitch it? These questions, if unanswered, make me worry that this book won’t fit into the marketplace. I’m a literary agent, and my job is to fit your work into the marketplace. So you see the problem.

It’s not just an agent issue, either. Just last week, I was chatting with an editor at one of the traditional publishing houses, asking her about what she’s looking for in a submission. After she shared what sort of genres she likes and her personal tastes, she added: “And I need a hook so I can pitch it.”

You might be scratching your head right about now wondering why an editor needs to pitch your book too. It’s because the editor, once he or she falls in love with a book, must then convince folks in that publishing company that it should be acquired. The editor in a smaller press might go right to the publisher and have a chat, or, as is the case in many of the bigger houses, may have to present the title at an acquisitions meeting. That meeting could have fellow editors, sales people, the publisher, all sitting there wondering what this book is about and where it’ll fit on their list and in the marketplace.

So, please, help yourself and formulate a great hook for your book.  A one-liner… Something along the lines of: TITLE is a READERSHIP/GENRE about THE UNIQUE INTRIGUING PROBLEM. Here’s one for one of my recent client sales: ELIZA BING (IS NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER is a contemporary middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end.

From this hook, we know the title, the demographic it’s pointed toward (middle grade), that it’s a contemporary novel (vs. sci-fi, thriller, etc. etc.), and we see the unique hook. A book about a girl with ADHD. Cool!  And we also see that there is a problem, a plot attached to it: proving to others and herself that she has stick-to-it-ness.

Eliza Bing jktI used this hook when pitching it to the editor. I’ll bet the editor used a version of this while pitching it to the publisher (it just came out through Holiday House). And the author, Carmella Van Vleet, uses a version of this all the time, I’m sure, when a reader comes up to her at a signing and asks, “What’s your book about?” Heck, our foreign rights rep even uses this hook when talking to publishers around the world.

So YOU should figure out your own book’s hook. Include it in your query. Toss us a hook, and hopefully it’ll help your novel catch on.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Updating Your Image

????????Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I feel renewed after a weekend when there FINALLY was some sunshine and warmth. Just being able to clear debris off the planting beds and pull some weeds and plan what new plants to put in felt so invigorating and forward-moving.  And readers of this blog may notice something fresh and new here as well – a new blog format!  So today’s post is all about how writers need to update themselves!

Got a pokey online image that isn’t you? What about that ancient author photo (are those SHOULDER PADS I see)? And, most importantly, what about the writing you are currently promoting?  Is it, well, current?

As an agent I often see submissions that feel dated. One form of a dated submission is the novel that feels like it would have fit in well in the 1960s or 70s, or in an Early British History Fiction class, or in a study of classic children’s literature. But today? Not so much.

I think this comes from the writer reading and falling in love with books from their childhood, or from when they were forming their passion for writing, and THAT is what they hold up as the model of great fiction. But here’s the truth: really great fiction of our time reflects today’s sensibilities and your experiences as who you are right now. Even if it is a historical novel. So that means that you can’t write Jane Eyre today and expect today’s publishers and readers to respond the way the original audience did. Writing from a place that only takes in what fiction once was like too often just feels pokey.

You need to evolve and update your sensibilities. That’s why, when I advise writers to be familiar with the books in their genre, I tell them they MUST read successful CURRENT books. Not just the classics.

Another sort of dated submission is caused by the writer who hasn’t evolved. I see this with authors who had some success say 20 or 30 years ago with their fiction, and are still trying to write in that exact same style to that exact same audience. But reading styles have changed a bit. Pacing, language, plotting has morphed into something fresher and more of our time. There will always be room for excellent writing and characterization on the shelves, but if the book feels like it’s been done before, whether in style or plot, chances are good that if your audience has left you behind, you need to rethink your approach.

Another thing that I see in submissions that feel dated in a way, is the author who has written that ONE MANUSCRIPT, and they have been trying to sell it for years and years and years. Okay, I know that we writers need to be stubborn, and there are those wonderful tales of success about authors who did stick it out and then were finally rewarded with a publishing deal and rave reviews. Excellent! But, if your one manuscript hasn’t evolved over the years of submissions – meaning you haven’t changed a word even as you’ve improved your skills as a writer, or you haven’t responded to valid criticism about your work with sharp revisions, well, you aren’t evolving.

So, to those writers, I say – be persistent, never give up, but evolve as you move forward. Keep improving your existing work and submitting, but most of all, work on the next book in the meantime. I’ve been this writer myself and made the mistake of perhaps being a bit too determined about my first novel. And guess what? When I finally resolved that it wasn’t giving up (after 10 years of determined slogging to sell it) to move on to another project, I wrote a new novel and within a year landed an agent and a book deal with Random House. That first novel? It’s hiding in the drawer, and, really, it’s not that bad. I could just do better once I gave myself the chance.

So it’s springtime. Evolve and grow. Look at who you are as a writer. Your image. Your voice. Do your words you are sending out reflect the person you are today? Are they the best you can write TODAY? If so, they will reach today’s readers and connect.

Dare to plant new seeds of inspiration and let them grow!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Award Nominations!

Author_Profile_pic_WinkelhakeSo excited to announce that my client, awesome author Stephanie Winkelhake has just again been selected as a finalist in the prestigious RWA Golden Hearts competition! Her manuscript CARMA ALWAYS is a riveting YA thriller with a scifi twist – about a girl who is cloned and brought back to solve her original’s murder and save the life of the boy she loves, no matter what version she is. A futuristic Romeo and Juliet.

Gregory Frost 1In other great awards news, my client, amazing author Gregory Frost has recently been nominated as a finalist for the esteemed HWA’s 2013 Stoker Award for his excellent story “No Others Are Genuine,” which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Congrats to them both!

Agent Monday: Wait, You Rep What?

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  And HAPPY SPRING. Phew. Somehow this feels hard-won this year.  I honestly can’t remember when seeing snow bells and crocuses in bloom has made me more giddy or brought more relief. Change is in the air, folks!  And something else has made me a bit giddy… so I’m “putting out there” a shift in my agent submission guidelines.  Hence today’s post title of: Wait, You Rep What?

First a wonderful announcement!  I’m delighted and thrilled to now represent picture book author/illustrator Lee Harper. Lee is well-known for creating books which are hilarious as well as breathtakingly beautiful.  He is the author/illustrator of SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) and THE EMPEROR’S COOL CLOTHES (Two Lions) and his most recent book is the lyrical and lovely COYOTE. Lee illustrated WOOLBUR by Leslie Helakoski (HarperCollins), TURKEY TROUBLE and TURKEY CLAUS, both by Wendi Silvano (Two Lions), and LOOKING FOR THE EASY LIFE by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins). Lee equally enjoys illustrating the works of others and writing and illustrating his own stories, and he currently has a number of his own picture book ideas in the works. Yeah!

Okay, I know.  My guidelines say I’m NOT interested in picture books and make NO mention of repping illustrators.  So what gives? Hey, things do change. But before you hit that send button, I want everyone to know that I’m not open to picture books and illustrations from everyone. I’m actually only open to submissions from established illustrators and picture book authors, and to those sent to me on referral, or to folks who I meet at conferences and request submissions from.  If you’d like to see where I’ll be when, my up-to-date appearance schedule can be found here.  Sorry I can’t take submissions from everyone, but if you saw my inbox and my workload for current clients as represented on my very scary spreadsheet, you’d truly understand.

I’m really excited to enter the world of representing picture book authors and illustrators!  I bring to this not only my background as a writer and editor, but also my fine art background (I have a dual degree from U. of Penn in English and in Literary Art – a major I created there which combined creative writing and all the fine arts classes I could take).  Plus I’ve already sold one of my client’s very cool non-fiction picture books: TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and astronaut Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space (Charlesbridge).

So there are a lot of new things popping up everywhere…crocuses and snow bells included.  I’m also still looking for great middle grade and YA fiction, adult and women’s fiction and memoir, and my guidelines for those can always be found here.

Happy Spring, everyone!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: On Luck

Green CloversTop ‘o the mornin’ to you all!  Happy Agent Monday AND St. Patrick’s Day.  With the luck of the Irish and pots of gold being much talked about, today I thought it’d be a fine time for me to talk about luck and the writer. Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting a good review, getting great sales, even getting that perfect idea for a book at the perfect moment.  Some people are just lucky, and some people never get any breaks, right? Well…

As someone who is an author and an agent, I’ve had my share of good and bad luck. Looking back, the most significant bad luck I ever had as a writer was completely out of my control.  Debuting as an author (after MANY years of struggling to break in) just as the recession was starting? Beyond my control. Being one of the very first Random House titles to not be automatically picked up by Barnes & Noble and Borders (remember Borders?!!!)? Also out of my hands. And, because of being one of those very first titles, my already written and approved sequel was immediately canceled. This bomb was dropped on me just 3 weeks before my debut title came out.  My editor (and champion) left the business at that moment. Seriously horribly rotten luck, right? Terrible. Tragic. WHY ME AFTER ALL MY HARD WORK rotten luck. And all out of my hands.

I’m sharing this with you so you’ll know I get it. I get that sometimes not only do the stars not align, but the planets crash down on your head and whomp your dreams to pieces. But still, luck is in your control. That’s because it’s what you do from that moment on that makes all the difference.

Do you quit? Do you wallow in self-pity and misery? Or do you make your own luck?

For me, I was determined to make sure that my debut didn’t fail and that my sequel saw the light of day. So I took charge of marketing in every way that I could. I pursued every out-of-the-box idea I could think of and worked non-stop. And because of this, my debut YA novel WHAT I MEANT… didn’t disappear, and neither did I. It was embraced by readers, it went into reprint multiple times, this title earned out its advance, and it is still in print as an ebook to this day. That was all hard won. Also, I took charge of my standalone sequel OVER MY HEAD, which seemed to be doomed. And I put it out myself. It’s earned great reviews and reader praise, and it’s available now in print and in ebook.

And while I would never have chosen this hard route for myself, it shaped me and I’ve taken away so much from these experiences. While I started out with some P.R. and book promo experience in publishing, this twist of luck transformed me into a truly informed book publicity machine (and now I pass this knowledge on to my clients), and it taught me where indie publishing really fits into a writer’s life, and it showed me just how awesome my own agent Jennifer De Chiara is when it comes to supporting a client through thick and thin (something I strive to emulate with my own clients now).

You can take your luck into your own hands, and it’s important to, as a writer, see where the control rests. Sure, you can’t make an agent represent you, but you CAN strive to write the very best most polished manuscript you can and to research to find the right agent, and to follow that agent’s guidelines, and to write the most skilled of query letters.  None of that is luck – but it improves your luck, doesn’t it? It leads you to that pot of gold.

And if that path to the gold is strewn with land mines, it is up to you to chart a new path, a better one. To take control wherever you can and to make your own great luck. To write beautiful stories that will inspire people.

MP900314154The real truth about good luck, I think, is that it is not some passive thing that just happens to people. We have a hand in it. Making sure we say yes to opportunity wherever it rests, and that we work hard to make the most of it. (Haven’t we all seen people, even ourselves, screw up something or run away from something wonderful that has been practically tossed into our laps?) Making sure that when something diverts our good fortune, we learn from that and reroute ourselves back to our own good fortune, making an even better path.

That’s what I think dreams are really made of.

Good luck!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

Agent Monday: Finding the Time to Write

MP900302970Happy Agent Monday to you all! Today, as we enjoy an extra hour of sunlight (you did turn your clock forward, right?), it’s a perfect time to talk about, well, time!  Specifically, finding the time to write. I’m thrilled today to have a guest post by my client and wonderful author Erin Teagan. Erin, though busy over the years with work and raising a family, has managed to write a number of manuscripts and to work hard at perfecting her craft. She got my attention and offer of representation with a sharp and touching middle grade novel called STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES about Madeline Little, genius scientist in the making, who keeps her life in control by creating SOP’s like “How to Fake a Bubonic Plague to get out of a Party.” But when her life flip-flops at the start of middle school, and the SOPs no longer do the trick, it’s up to Madeline to discover a new cure for her newly messed up life.

Here’s a look into how Erin finds the time…

 

FINDING TIME TO WRITE

Guest post by Erin Teagan

 

Finding the time to write is a universal struggle for writers. Day jobs, kids, pets, snowmageddons, to-do lists, books to read…there are a million things that require our time and attention before we can give anything to writing.

When I was in college I wrote a terrible YA novel. I worked on it during holiday breaks and in the summer. I pictured what writing would look like when I graduated, churning out book after book with all the time I’d have. A 9 to 5 job? No studying? What else did adults do with their time? Ha!

It took that first year of working to realize that if I wanted to be a writer I had to make it a priority. Because even though I chose a career that rarely required take-home work, it sometimes meant working late. And sometimes it meant traveling and giving up my weekends. It also meant going back to school for a graduate degree. I fantasized about my old college days. What did I do with those huge chunks of time between classes? Why hadn’t I worked on my novel more?

I researched how other writers fit it all in (I’m a scientist. I research EVERYTHING). Lots of articles talked about the time suck of the Internet and TV. But I loved those kind of time-sucks! After working nine or ten hours, sometimes it was all I could do to just sit on a couch with my roommate or husband or 90 lb lap dog and stare at the TV like a zombie. And if you didn’t surf the Internet for at least a little bit, imagine how far behind you’d get on surprise attack kitten videos or dogs romping in the snow? Sometimes you just had to be part of society, you know?

Other articles talked about writing in the wee hours of the morning or into the dark of night. Some of the most successful authors wrote while the rest of the world was sleeping. And I thought, I should give it a try. I was a night person. I used to study into the midnights, I should surely be able to churn out a book or two that way. Except I found that I just couldn’t turn off my to-do list. Those unchecked boxes that remained from my day haunted me, my brain chatter too loud. Was I even meant to be a writer if I couldn’t find any time to write?

I pictured myself fifteen years older, with kids, a mortgage, real-life problems and complications. If I was going to get writing into my schedule, it had to be now. So I tallied my excuses. Why I couldn’t write at night. Why I couldn’t give up my time-sucks. Why I couldn’t possibly write in the early morning. And what I found was I had far less excuses (though they were good ones, I tell you) about writing in the morning.

I remember the first time I tried it. I set my alarm fifteen minutes early. I was on a business trip which meant long, tiring hours. But there were no more excuses. I knew my brain would resist this new schedule so I treated myself to some new books. Plot workbooks. Writing exercises. Books on writing. The first day was a struggle, but I made myself do one writing exercise. I was groggy, the hotel coffee was pretty terrible, but once I got the writer juices flowing, it wasn’t as horrific as I had feared.

This was a big change for me so it took me months. Each week I set my alarm fifteen minutes earlier. By the end of it, I was waking up at 4:45 in the morning and my brain was forgetting that I was a night-person. I felt so successful! At the end of that first year I had revised my terrible young adult novel (and then put it in a locked drawer) and managed to write a somewhat decent draft of a new middle grade. I felt so accomplished! I had managed to trick my night-person brain to be something that could function and focus in the wee hours of the day.

Nearly fifteen years later, with real-life complications, kids and a mortgage, I’m so thankful I took the plunge and made writing a priority in my schedule. It took some trial and error and brain training to figure out what worked best for me, but now I can be sure to check off that one ‘writing’ box on my to-do list every day.

Now if I could just apply that to the rest of my life like going through my overstuffed filing cabinet, resolving that toll violation, or exercising. But really, who runs on a snow day? And is that filing cabinet really hurting anyone? So I’ll leave those tasks unchecked on my list for today. At least I got some writing in.

 

Erin TeaganErin Teagan has a master’s degree in science and worked in biochemistry labs for more than ten years where she wrote endless Standard Operating Procedures.  She’s an avid reader and has reviewed middle grade and young adult books for Children’s Literature Database and Washington Independent Review of Books.  She’s active in SCBWI and this will be her eighth year co-chairing the Mid-Atlantic fall conference. STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES will be her debut middle grade novel. Erin is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Digging for Buried Treasure

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved that it’s March. A definite sense of “phew we made it-ness” has pervaded my mind.  A huge snow storm was predicted for today, so imagine my glee when I flipped up the shades this morning and discovered we’d gotten not 12 inches but barely an inch! HA! Take that winter. So instead of wasting time digging out mounds of white stuff I can devote a little extra time to digging for buried treasure. That’s right! It’s time to hunt through my inbox for that query that’ll tempt me to request a full manuscript. Wanna come along for the adventure? Pack your treasure map and your spy glass and follow me. Arrrrrr….

First query – science fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent science fiction. Rejection sent.

Second query – non-fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent non-fiction (aside from memoir). Rejection sent.

(Are you noticing a trend here? If so, here’s the link to my own treasure map, er, I mean submission guidelines.)

Third query – memoir. Something I actually represent. Yeah! Unfortunately, I found this one to not be unique enough, and the sample chapter was stilted. Rejection sent. (For what I think makes a memoir stand out, check out this post.)

Fourth query – YA, something else I actually represent. But this one is not at all ready for prime time. The writer needs to learn a lot more about the market and about writing before being at a professional level and ready to submit to agents. Rejection sent.

Fifth query – Women’s fiction, something I’m looking for. Length of the manuscript is right and the query follows my guidelines, but I’m not drawn in by the premise. I read a little of the sample pages pasted in below the query (something my guidelines allow for) and I’m not crazy about the voice or the writing. Rejection sent.

Sixth query – Category romance. My guidelines state I do not represent category romance. Rejection sent.

Seventh query – Women’s fiction. I found the query letter to be flat and it didn’t evoke anything for me. Rejection sent.

Eighth query – YA. The themes were cliché and the language used didn’t feel like it belonged to a teen. Rejection sent.

Ninth query – Middle grade fiction. Definitely looking for these. But this one didn’t sound unique, and the writing wasn’t up to snuff to me. Rejection sent.

Tenth query – YA. Strong query, except for a cliché tossed in. Opening pages have a nice voice.  I’m still worried about the cliché, though. Hm…  No rejection, but no request for more yet either.  I’m setting this one aside to look at again later, maybe after another cup of coffee.

Eleventh query – YA. I like the query and the plot hangs on an interesting hook. Encouraged, I read the opening pages, but quickly find myself skimming. Lots of back story. Pacing is way off. Rejection sent.

Query twelve – Fantasy. While I like fantasy elements, full-on fantasy is not my thing (as I say in my guidelines). Rejection sent.

Feeling a bit discouraged here.  Will there be any treasure in them-thar hills or not? Shall we shoot for lucky thirteen? Okay pirates, take a swig of rum (or coffee) and let’s journey on to one final spot.

Query thirteen – Horror. Guess what? I’m not at all into genre horror. Plus, I’ve seen this plot before in a very famous novel. Rejection sent.

MP900341872Ah well, fellow treasure hunters. Be not discouraged. The majority of my clients have been found through the query process, so treasure hunting does pay off.  And for you writers, know that crafting an interesting query plus a fascinating manuscript is what it’s all about. And here’s a takeaway that is simple, yet pure gold: read an agent’s guidelines and follow them!

Until next time, me mateys, Arrrr!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.