Agent Monday: Which Agent? Part 2!

Red Old Garden RosesHappy Agent Monday!  After a weekend of lazy reading out in the sunshine and smoky barbecues on the patio, it’s time to get back to work. Today I’m excited to present to you some details about two more agents at our firm. And, yes, this is a part 2 post. For part one, the post which has both agent Stephen Fraser and I answering these same questions, just click here.The first post also has some important caveats you need to know about subbing to our firm, or to any literary agency for that matter, so be sure to check that one out.

As I said in the first Which Agent post, one of the biggest challenges of submitting to agents is figuring out which are the right ones to contact. So for those of you looking to submit to The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, here are few insights about agents Linda Epstein and Roseanne Wells. Thanks so much to both of them for visiting here!

Note, before subbing to any agent at our firm, first do some research. Go to jdlit.com and click on The Agency and Who We Are, then click on Submissions for specific guidelines for each agent. And here are a few more details that might help:

LPE headshotLinda Epstein:

1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?
I’m looking for smart, very well-written MG and YA projects that stop me in my tracks.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
I’m especially interested in feminist and gender issues, racial equality, and environmental concerns. Plus I like magic, dragons, and outer space. And stories where people learn something about their self. So you know, I’m the liberal, weenie, tree-hugging, nerd agent.

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
I’m seeing a lot of good ideas where the writing just doesn’t cut it. It’s so frustrating.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
If your writing isn’t excellent, awe-inspiring, and near-perfect, I’m going to pass on it. I won’t necessarily be happy about that though.

FYI, Linda runs a cool annual Yoga Writing retreat. This year’s starts August 14th, and I believe there are a few spots left. For info about this, click here. And you can follow Linda on Twitter @LindaEpstein

Roseanne Wells copyRoseanne Wells:

1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?
I’m looking for a wonderful story with diverse characters who experience the world in a unique way, no matter the story. I would love a good heist/con story, either YA or adult, and I want to see a retelling with a fresh perspective or spin–and I want to see the author’s stamp on the familiar.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
I love pop culture! I have a dance and theater background, and I love cooking and baking. I love poetry and beautiful language, but not at the sacrifice of the other elements of a story. I was a proofreader, so I am very exacting when I read, but I also like to partner with my clients to improve the work, not dictate demands. I also love fresh laundry, tasty food, a good wine, and good company. And cake.

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
I’m seeing a lot of white girls from the suburbs who suddenly discover/unlock/inherit a magical kingdom/superpowers (especially telepathy or healing or empathy powers). I’m also seeing a lot of bland fantasy and sci-fi without strong world building.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
I do read every query, and I respond to every requested manuscript. I make full requests because I don’t like having to wait to read page 51 if I want to read it! (Exception: if I’m requesting through part of a contest or online/Twitter event, and they have separate page requests.) Most importantly: I am rooting for you! I want to love your work. Give me some reasons to love it, and I will take the leap with you.

FYI, Roseanne is critiquing pitches (with Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Agency) before the Writer’s Digest Conference. For more details, click here. You can follow her on Twitter @RivetingRosie.

So that’s the news! Have a great writing week, 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 Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: What it Takes

MP900387360Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Like I do on most weekends, I spent some time this past Saturday and Sunday going through queries that landed in my inbox. Now I’ve done a bunch of Agent Monday posts on the many crazy things that writers do over and over again when they query that result in the proverbial shooting-oneself-in-the-foot. But today I’d like to assume that if you have landed on this website that you are a cut above those people. That you actually research an agent’s guidelines before you hit send. That you’ve learned the ins and outs of how to query and how not to query. (Bless you!) So today I want to give a closer look at a much smaller group of queries. Queries that do, in fact, get me to read those pasted-in opening pages. Why the heck do I still do reject so many of those? What’s a writer gotta do to get me to request a full manuscript? Here’s what it takes…

1. More than a well-targeted tight query. Too often the query is awesome. The writing, not so much.

2. More than a cool concept. Too often the concept sounds exciting. The writing, not so much.

3. More than great credentials. Surprisingly often, the writer has some amazing credits to their name.The writing? Not so amazing for me. Seeing a trend here?

4. More than strong writing. The query is tight, the concept is cool, the writer even has strong credentials. And the writing is strong! But…it’s not for me. Something in the tone or point of view or voice turns me off, signaling to me that I am not the right agent for this writer. Hey, it is a subjective business, and I need to feel fully committed to the writer and the writing to take a piece on.

So, while you can’t control the subjective side of things, beyond trying to target agents who will “get” you, you can keep working on your writing to make it the strongest it can be. Strong beyond the obvious grammatically correct, spell checkiness of it all.

This weekend alone, I passed on queries that were well done but the writing quickly veered into paths I do not enjoy going down. Overly violent. Overly romantic. Misogynistic. Religious. Not for me, folks.

I also passed on plenty of writing that, while showing promise, was laden with too many problems. I’m only seeing 20 pages pasted into my queries, but if in those pages the writing is already burdened with things like meaningless dialogue, way too much telling or backstory, flowery purple prose, and an overall lack of timing when it comes to storytelling, well, I’m going to pass. Why? Because I have to ask myself do I really want to wade through several hundred pages of these same sort of mistakes? Do I love this enough to have to deal with the countless edits it would take to get it up to submission quality? The answer in 99% of these cases is no.

CB063448I’m busy. I have a list of amazing authors I spend a lot of time on. If I’m going to take on a new writer, it has to be someone who comes to the table with mad writing skills. This goes far beyond doing your homework with queries, and having a sharp concept, and even beyond being pretty darn good.

So continue to challenge yourself to get better and better at your craft. Write tight and with honesty. And I’ll look forward to seeing that in my inbox.

 

*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: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

half shyHappy Agent Monday everyone!  I hope you are all coming off a very restful 3-day weekend sated with too much barbecue and lots of feet up on the lounge chair time.  Fun summer fact about this literary agent: I love to spend summery hours working on a way-too-hard puzzle, glass of iced tea with mint sprig in hand. I love puzzles in general (but don’t send me puzzles, please…), but here’s something that gets my puzzler sore: why don’t so many submitting writers seem to have a clue of what I do and don’t want? Why don’t they cyberstalk agents…in a good way?

Here’s what I’m talking about…Look me up anywhere online and you’ll see that I do not represent genre sci-fi or genre romance. So what do I get in my inbox? Yup. Queries for science fiction romances. I also do not represent Christian fiction or non-fiction. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of queries for this. So I tweet that I do not represent this…and I get a bunch more.

Folks, this is all sorts of bad. Bad for you the writer because it’s a red-flag to anyone you wrongly submit to that you haven’t bothered to even look up the bare minimum of info on the agents you are subbing to. Also bad for you because instead of focusing with laser-eyes on the right agents and getting yourself closer to representation, you are spinning your wheels and wasting your time. It’s bad for agents because so many writers are clogging up agent submission inboxes with stuff that is wasting their time. That means it’ll take even longer for them to get to the queries that might just be of interest to them…and that query just might be YOURS!

So, writers, spread the word and help yourself…You and your fellow authors should be cyberstalking agents…in a good way!  A week or so ago I was at the NJ SCBWI annual conference with my wonderful client and amazing author Tracey Baptiste presenting workshops about the author-agent relationship. Each time we did the workshop,Tracey mentioned that before she queried me, she cyberstalked me. And each time some writers in the audience took notes as if it were something they hadn’t really thought of before.

Now, what is cyberstalking in a bad way? Messaging an agent on Facebook. Please don’t do that. Commenting on their family pictures and putting odd comments all over their blog about your manuscript. Also not good.

Cyberstalking in a good way is much more behind the scenes. You are gathering info, not putting yourself in front of people you are going to be contacting. So google the agent you are submitting to. Read their submission guidelines and follow these. Now look beyond those guidelines.  Google the agent’s name in quotes followed by: agent (especially if that person has a common name…you don’t want to drown in useless info about people who are not that agent). For example, in the google search line you would type for me: “Marie Lamba” agent.

Now, what turns up is likely more than a static agency website (though that’s a good starting point – you won’t believe how many people clearly don’t even look at that for guidelines). Like with me, you’ll find my twitter feed – with that note about Christian fiction, about other current likes and dislikes. You’ll also find interviews I did that highlight what I’m looking for, my interests, my style. After reading through these, you may discover that I really don’t want to see anymore paranormal romance novels, and you’ll cross me off your list. Or you will see that I’m searching high and low for the next Bridget Jones in woman’s fiction, something smart and funny but ORIGINAL and not a Bridget Jones knock off. And you just happened to have written something that might be a fit… Hey, now you can query me and say something along the lines of “I saw in your interview with xyz that you are searching for the next Bridget Jones…”

Now you’ll have my attention. This is a query from someone who has done their homework and carefully targeted a submission.

You might also see something in your cyberstalking that you like about a particular agent. Their philosophy, the authors she represents, her humor, whatever. You can point to that in your query. Or you might find something you really don’t like. A site with numerous complaints about unethical practices? An agent saying things that seriously rubs you the wrong way? Is this someone you want to go into a business partnership with? If the answer is no, then cross them off the list and move on.

Cyberstalking in a good way can yield the most current agent guidelines and help you narrow your list of agents to the best and most-likely fits for you. Start there in your query process and you’ll find yourself closer to the yes you seek.

I know that I’ll pull up my agent inbox today and find it full of queries from people who don’t have a clue of who I am or what I do or do not want. Sigh. But I know that you won’t be clueless, right? And because of that, you will stand out. Of course, there is no guarantee an agent will offer representation, even if you target them well. But, like chicken soup, it definitely wouldn’t hurt.

 

*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: When I Won’t Respond

recycle binHappy Agent Monday… What?  It’s TUESDAY?  Okay, I know that. But I just spent a wonderful and very busy three days at the NJ SCBWI conference, so Agent Monday turned into Agent Recovery Day.  (BTW, if you are looking for a great writer’s conference for kidlit, keep your eye on your regional SCBWI conferences. They always do a phenomenal job.) Today, I thought I’d cover something you should all know: I ALWAYS respond to every query I get, except for when the person querying me has made some serious errors. Errors that merit a delete instead. For example:

1. They have mass mailed the query to me
Signs of this? There is no Dear Ms. Lamba. No greeting at all. The entire query is generic with no reference as to why they specifically sent it to me. The email has clearly been sent to multiple agents at once (sometimes every agents’ email address is even there in the send-to field). Delete.

2. The query is sent as an attachment or has attachments
And I haven’t requested an attachment from this writer, as I might if I’d met them at a conference. Would you open this? I won’t. Delete.

3. The writer has sent this query to me before
Sometimes the writer changes the details of the query, or the title, or even the email it is sent from. I’ve even gotten the same query 3 or 4 times from a writer. Guess what? I remember. Delete and block sender.

4. The query has a greeting that is generic and/or wrong
Recent queries that have been sent to me have been addressed to Dear Sirs, Dear Agent, Dear Mr. DeChiara, Dear Publisher. Delete!

5. The query and/or querier scares the bejeebus out of me
Threatening language, creeps, etc. Delete, block and wash hands!!!

You get the idea. So, if you have queried me and haven’t heard back in a few months, and you haven’t done any of those crazy ass things I’ve mentioned here, then check your spam folder. Chances are you’ll see my response there. Because if you are not a crazy-ass querier, I will respond.

FYI, if you are querying me and I’ve met you before or you have a personal reference, then I might take a bit longer to respond to your query than the average time you’ll see on a site like querytracker. That’s because I know it will take a more personal response from me and I need to set aside time for that.

Happy July!Tropical Drink by a Swimming Pool

 

*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: Which Agent?

MP900321197Hi everyone!  Happy summery Agent Monday to you all. One of the biggest challenges of submitting to agents is figuring out which are the right ones to contact.  So for those of you looking to submit to The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, I thought I’d  offer a few insights about two of us to help you out.  Thanks so much to wonder-agent Stephen Fraser for popping by!

First a few caveats. One: never submit to more than one agent at our firm (or at any one firm) at the same time. It’s unprofessional and you don’t want to put two agents in the same firm in the odd position of both offering representation at the same time. Two: always address your submission to the agent.  We often get generic mass-emailed queries addressed to no one (not cool). Every once in a while we get submissions addressed to every agent in our firm at once, or to every agent that exists in every firm (not kidding). Bad. Don’t ever do that.

Now a few notes about how our agency operates.  We are a wonderful collaborative bunch. It’s not unusual for us to consult each other and share wisdom about the market or editors or certain situations that pop up. In that way, each agent here shares from a pool of experience that benefits all of the authors we represent. We also operate independently, meaning that if I want to offer representation to someone, I do it. We don’t have agency meetings about each author or need agency approval. It’s not like a publisher, where editors must take projects to an acquisitions committee first before offering a contract. We do, however, share our exciting developments with each other. And if we get a query that isn’t right for us, but perfect for another agent in our firm we will pass it along to them. What I’m trying to say is that this is a very positive group of individuals, and we make a great team.

So who should you submit to? First do some research. Go to jdlit.com and click on The Agency and Who We Are, then click on Submissions for specific guidelines for each agent. And here are a few more details that might help:

Stephen FraserStephen Fraser

1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?
I am always looking for solid, unusual middle grade fiction. And then, of course, anything that is dazzling. I do love poetry, dramatic stories, fascinating nonfiction. For me, it is always about beautiful language.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
Because I used to be an editor, people know that I have an editorial bent. And so they can expect my input on their manuscripts as well as career guidance. Also, my background in theater and music definitely colors my interest in some topics.

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
There are too many ‘typical’ picture books, e.g. monsters under the bed. The tendency to always teach young readers persists; story is what everyone needs. Still too many paranormal young adult novels.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
To persist in following up if they don’t get a response right away. I answer everyone and sometimes it just takes time. A polite nudge is always fine.

 

MarieMarie Lamba
1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?
Something unforgettable that’ll make me laugh, tug at my emotions, haunt me long after I finish it. I want something different from what’s already out there. I love projects which are fun but also have depth, so something that is breezy but without beautiful language or heart is not right for me. I’d love to get women’s fiction that isn’t cliché and that moves me. I’d love a memoir with an unforgettable voice. I’d love a contemporary YA that isn’t overloaded with problems, but that stands out for its voice and its heart-rending truths.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
I have a fine art background, so I love visual writing, and stories involving artists or the art world. I fenced through college. I love ancient graveyards, ghost stories that are not touched with gore (I hate bloody stories or true crime), mythology. I’m a huge world traveler. My kids are biracial and my husband is from India. I adore smart books and films that make me laugh or move me in unexpected ways. I love smart chick-lit and am a romantic at heart, but I do NOT enjoy genre romance at all. So books that tug at my heart but are in no way formulaic or predictable are more for me. I’m an author myself, and have written a number of young adult novels, tons of magazine articles, and other stuff. I’ve also worked as an editor, a public relations writer, and a book publicist, so I approach each project from many angles.

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
Paranormal novels. Someone thinks their life is okay, but then they discover they have a special power or curse and are at the center of a huge mysterious conflict. No more of these, please.

Light fluffy romances. Whether YA, NA or adult, these are just not right for me. I want more depth than the hot angsty guy with green eyes and the heroine who is attracted to him despite her better judgement.

Sad story memoirs without an added dimension. People who have gone through difficult things in life, but who don’t bring anything further to the experience beyond reporting what happened to them. My heart breaks for these writers, but I’m looking for a special voice or unique point of view that will touch readers beyond the “this is what happened to me” part.

YA’s overloaded with problems. While one or two serious issues are more than enough for a lovely YA contemporary, I’m seeing YAs with up to a dozen serious problems facing down the hero. And every character in the story has tons of huge issues.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
I’m looking for writing that is as good or better than what my current clients produce (and they are amazing). I’m looking for manuscripts that make me think, “Jeez, I wish I could write like that.” I want manuscripts that won’t just sell, but that’ll make a difference to readers, which is why genre writing or anything that is too similar to what’s already out there is not right for me.

*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: Trust your Gut

IMAG1006Happy Agent Monday, everyone! It feels like summer has truly arrived. Today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about feelings… or rather, intuition. In a few weeks, my  wonderful author Tracey Baptiste and I will be presenting a talk on the author/agent relationship at the NJ SCBWI Conference. What should a writer look for in an agent? How can a writer know if an agent will be right for her? There are many things writers should consider, but Tracey pointed out one factor that is often overlooked: Intuition. She told me, “As soon as I talked to you, I just knew.” Something about the ease of conversation, about our shared wacky humor…  Um, I’m not sure WHAT she means about that (see our picture here from BEA for clues, perhaps?). So here’s the big question. Are you trusting your gut?

I definitely am. When something is right, I just know it. As a writer myself, I listen to what feels important to me, and I pour my heart and soul into writing that. As an agent, I look for that gut reaction to what is submitted to me. I often pass on projects that I know I could sell, but that just don’t feel right for me. I trust my intuition to guide me to the books that I feel have true heart and importance. Sure, I have a checklist of things that I’m looking for, but there’s something more. That just knowing when it’s right. And when I speak with an author, I’m also tuned into whether or not we are communicating well and whether or not we share the same goals and expectations.

What about you? Do you listen to your gut enough? When looking for an agent, you should do all those things you know to do when researching them. But, when an offer comes in, you know what I’m going to say…TRUST YOUR GUT. Because at this point, it’s not about getting an agent, it’s about getting the right agent. This is a business partnership you want to last throughout your career. You are entrusting your “baby” to this person. Does it feel right?

Many writers are so thrilled to get any offer of representation that they are eager to just say YES! I always tell writers I make offers to that they should wait a few days to let me know their answer. I know I risk that author changing their mind, but I want this to be the right decision for both of us. I want them to think it through and really feel good about our partnership.

So when you get that offer, I advise you to pause. Think, can you communicate well with this person? Do you feel confident about them? Is there something they say that bothers you on some level? If so, don’t brush it aside because you are so anxious to get representation. Pay attention to your gut. Ask questions.

In Tracey’s case, she said she just knew we were a great match as soon as we talked on the phone. Yes, I told her to take a few days. To let other agents reading her manuscript weigh in during that time. And to let me know. I wanted it to be right for her. She trusted her gut, though, and just told the other agents thank you but I have an agent, and then she accepted my offer. It wasn’t the way many “how-to” articles tell you to do it, but it was the right way for her.

I’m happy to say that Tracey’s manuscript THE JUMBIES was then sold to Algonquin Books for Young Readers, and that it’ll come out in 2015!  Here we are at BEA a few weeks ago with her awesome editor Elise Howard.

Elise Howard, Tracey Baptiste and me BEA 2014I knew as soon as I read this book that it was something special. I knew as soon as I spoke with Tracey that she would be a delight to work with. Tracey knew as soon as she spoke with me that I was her agent. And Elise at Algonquin knew as soon as she read THE JUMBIES that this was the right book for her list.

Trust your gut!

*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: Query Letter Crit Time

Holding Blank Score CardsHi everyone!  Those dreaded query letters. Writers need ‘em to approach agents, but sometimes they feel harder to write than an entire novel. They are so SHORT. They are so IMPORTANT. Ugh, right? So today I thought I’d give you a peek at my own writer’s group’s challenges as we spent a meeting going over our own query letters about our own works. Yes, it’s officially query letter crit time!  Woot!

First some background: I’m both a literary agent and a novelist. My novelist writing group, The Rebel Writers, has been meeting for over a decade. The group includes published writers in a variety of genres including YA, memoir, horror, literary, short story, historical. It’s an awesome group. So awesome and unique in structure that they inspired me to do a Writer’s Digest article on ‘em called Plotting a Novel Group.

But just because we’ve been doing this for a while, doesn’t mean that queries come easy. Here are some issues that popped up in last week’s meeting…issues that I often see in queries sent to my agent inbox. (Keep in mind that these points refer to works of fiction – non-fiction proposals are a whole other ball of wax.) See if you recognize any of these query quagmires in your own query letters…

1. Missing the hook
What’s the selling point of this novel plot-wise? It should be within your one-line description of your book, and that should be at the top of your query.  Hook us, then give us the details.

2. Burying the book’s vital details
Like the hook/one-liner, the book’s vital details should be given asap – not buried in the last paragraph of your query. I want to know the title, its genre, that it’s complete, and the total word count (not page count). You could blend this with your one liner and really set things up. Something like this: TITLE (75,000 words) is a ITS GENRE about CLEVER ONE-LINER THAT CONTAINS HOOK.

3. Lack of focus or wrong focus
There is so much that goes on in a novel. But by trying to cover it all, the main plot and hook get buried and there is just too much to take in.  A query letter isn’t a synopsis – it’s more like a pitch.

4. Including background about why you’ve written the novel
In most cases, this isn’t needed. Sure, if there is a lack in the marketplace, or you have special knowledge that you bring to the table, it can support your book’s appeal. But stuff about why you’ve always wanted to write this is just dragging your own backstory into the picture in a distracting way.

5. Technical details about how the book is executed
You may have a clever use of point of view characters, and shift tenses in an artful way, and set up chapters in a method that harkens back to novels in the 18th century, but a query letter is not the place to share this. Hook the agent with your plot, convey your tone, and they’ll ask to see the book – then they’ll see all these details themselves.

6. Saying it’s been workshopped by your writer’s group and thoroughly edited
Of course it has. That should go without say. Cut this.

7. Comparing it to other books out there without saying why
Example: saying “This compares to the works of Carl Hiaasen.” Instead, say something like, “With the twisted humor of a Carl Hiaasen novel…”  And make sure that if you make that comparison, that your work really measures up to it.

8. Bios that veer too far off of what an agent needs to know
Tell us writing-related stuff, or stuff that points to experiences you’ve had that’d make you uniquely suited to write on this subject. Like if you are writing a crime novel, I’d want to know you were a detective for a number of years.  I wouldn’t care that you were a golfer or an addict of the Home Shopping Network.  And when it comes to writing credentials, go easy on the details. It’s enough to say you’ve been published in a certain magazine. I don’t need to know that you didn’t get paid for that gig, or that the magazine went out of business, etc.

9. Not asking for what you want in the end
…or asking for the wrong thing, like “I can send you a chapter if you want,” or “I can email you my synopsis.”  Or just saying: Thank you, Sincerely… Say what you really mean: “I’m happy to send you the complete manuscript on request.”

Queries aren’t that long, so they must be focused and to the point. So take the time to get it right – your novel is relying on you.

 

*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: Too Soon?

9781585421466Happy sunny Agent Monday, gang! It’s too soon for shorts and bathing suits here in the Northeast, but the signs are there. Birds singing. Days starting to grow mild. The promise of hot sunny days ahead. But you can’t rush it. Likewise, in my agent inbox, I often see queries of books that are promising, but not there yet. So in today’s post, let’s talk about that important question writers should be asking themselves before submitting: Is it too soon?

To kick off this post, I have to tip my hat to a wonderful book: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Are you an artist of any sort (musician, fine artist, writer, etc.) who isn’t producing work the way you’d like? Or are you enjoying it less and less? Or feeling angry or stressed in some way that is impairing your true creative spirit? Dude, buy The Artist’s Way, follow the chapters and do every single exercise in there that feels right to you. It will change you and free you. I’ve been using this book myself for the past 8 months, and I am definitely different. I am better for it. It’s a gift you can give to yourself. Take it!

Okay, back to the Too Soon point. In Cameron’s book, she states something so simple and elegantly true: “An act of art needs time to mature. Judged early, it may be judged incorrectly. Never, ever, judge a fledgling piece of work too quickly.” She points out that many hits are sure things only in retrospect. “Until we know better, we call a great many creative swans ugly ducklings….We forget that not all babies are born beautiful…”

Some of these judgements come into our writerly minds before we set a word on paper. We think, eh, that’ll never sell. That’s been done. That is crap. And we never write that idea down, follow it to completion. Some of these judgement we inflict on our work after it is written. We say to ourselves, this sucks. No one will give a damn. We tell ourselves that we will never break in or break out. In all of these cases, we are the block between the idea and the possible future reader of our work.

And sometimes we are caught up in the rush of competition. I’ve written it. I’ve made my agent list. BAM! I’ve sent it out. Done!  But wait…no responses. Form rejections. The answer the writer can take away from this? My writing sucks. I suck. I’m done. I have another idea, but what’s the point?

Okay, so nothing promises success when you take your idea from inception and trot it out into the world. That’s the artist’s life. But, as I’ve said, I often see things that are half-formed. That have a good voice and style, but a half-baked idea. Or I see works that need more focus. Or people who are just starting out in their fiction writing and who have created their very first novel. Obvious ideas, mimicking other writers, stories that are really just their own lives told back. All the things that a new writer must work through before creating something more original and unique. In sum, I often see writers who show promise, but don’t have something they are showing me that is in a state of readiness that’ll make me sit up and think – yes! This is ready.

I’m talking far beyond spell checking and formatting something correctly. I’m talking about a writer not rushing. Taking the time to let a work sit and stew. And to then revisit it with revisions, and have others read and react to it, then let THOSE comments sit and stew, then revise again, tweaking what feels right. Only when you feel your work is fully developed, fully realized, only then should you be sending it out to an agent. And THEN you should move on to create something else. This may be a young novel for you. Maybe your next one will be more developed, maybe the one after that. But you’ll never know if you don’t give yourself the chance to grow.

I’ve said it before in this blog: you must take a long view of your career. That means that you should take the time you need to develop, produce, grow as a writer. — that’s something that never stops for the true artist, no matter how many books you write or even how many get published. You should look at setbacks as something to learn from and move beyond. Thinking that you will write X many books and stories and send out to X many agents and publications and that should definitely lead you to your shiny goal of publishing success is all well and good. BUT you will hit walls and you cannot control what’s on the other side.

Hey, if you as a writer are looking for reasons to stop writing, you will find them. TONS of them. But if you want to write, then don’t look for reasons to stop. Ever. Your ideas are valuable. Your voice is valuable. As Cameron says, “The need to win — now! — is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.”

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t be in such a hurry. Enjoy your creative process and see it thoroughly to the end. That fulfilling creative world will give you endless joy and rewards. And then send it out into the commercial world. And move on to create something new and well and thoroughly despite the outcome.

Slow and steady can win the race. And if that race is artistic fulfillment vs. success, that is a race you can definitely win. And I would argue that artistic fulfillment will open up all sorts of success.

So what’s the hurry?

 

*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: So What DO you Want?

Women Window ShoppingHappy Agent Monday! Just spent the last three weeks pitching out a ton of great client manuscripts. It’s a thrill to see these projects, which began as queries, at last sent out into the world for editors to consider. And now I’m able to turn more attention to my query inbox, which is pretty full. So today I thought I’d talk a little more about the types of things I do and don’t want.

Every editor and every agent, just like every reader, has personal things she’s interested in and things that are just never ever right for her. It’s a lot like shopping – there’s no one size or style that fits all. It’s hard for writers to know everything about an agent before subbing, but knowing some things may help you zero in on the right person to send to. That’s why the first stop should always be the agent’s submission guidelines. These can sometimes be a little general, but do pay attention to what an agent definitely does not want so you can put your efforts in the right direction when you query.

I also really recommend that you at least Google that agent to see if there are any recent interviews or write ups that may clue you in on their interests and how those might have changed. Not all agency sites are up-to-the-minute up-to-date, so that’ll help you fill in any gaps.

Now, as for me? I definitely am NOT the person for you to sub to if: you write category romance, your book is loaded with violence/gore/gag-inducing stuff, you write non-fiction, poetry, short stories. I am also not interested right now in straight up paranormal romance, dystopian, steam-punk, zombies, werewolves, that sort of thing. Just not for me. Also not at all interested in erotica.  I’ve put this info out there before, yet my inbox is loaded up with this stuff anyways. No matter how you dress it up, I promise you I will not be requesting to see the full of your paranormal romance featuring a hot erotic werewolf who slices the heads off his beloveds. PLEASE don’t send me that one!

What am I looking for? Novels: middle grade, YA, adult. Memoir that is important and moving and eloquently written. I like contemporary novels, historical, character-driven and voice driven. I love to laugh like crazy, and bawl my eyes out too, but first I have to care about the characters. I’m not the right agent for genre-based page turners that are all action and plot. I’m also not right for novels in verse.

What about fantasy? Don’t send me high fantasy. Do I like magic? Yes, IF original. Anything with a whiff of fan-fiction or that’s derivative is just not right for me. Across the board, if I can say oh, this is just like HUNGER GAMES (or any other book or movie out there) only the main character is (fill in the blank with something slightly different) – then your project is not going to be original enough to hold my interest.

Ghosts? I do like a ghost story – the sort that is full of longing and atmosphere (check out my novel DRAWN and you’ll see what I mean), but I HATE ghost stories that are all about gore and blood and slasher-like stuff. I hope you see the difference.

I don’t rep romance, but what about plots with a romantic bent? Yup. Love as part of a character-driven non-genre plot, whether it is YA or adult, is great – but it shouldn’t be all there is in the book. Something you should know about me? I love chick-flicks, but Nicolas Sparks makes me barf.  When it comes to women’s fiction, I’d LOVE to find the next great funny and wise woman’s novel that can spin into the next hilarious yet moving chick-flick film. SEND ME THAT! But what I get instead are imitations of what’s already out there. It’s all Bridget Jones and Shopaholic, etc. No been there done that stuff, please.

And I’ve gone on record as saying that I do not rep science fiction. Yet I rep the science fiction/fantasy master Gregory Frost. What??? Greg writes character driven exceptional fiction that crosses boundaries between a number of speculative genres, and he’s masterful (did I mention that?). So, unless you are masterful and transcend that genre, please do not send me your space odyssey. I will glaze over.

Finally, there has been a big shift in my recent guidelines (our agency website is undergoing a change, so it’s not quite up-to-date yet on this).  I now DO represent picture books, BUT (and it’s a big but, I cannot lie) only from established picture book authors with a track record in picture books at traditional houses. I will also take submissions from folks I personally request pbs from at conferences, or on reference from either a publisher or a client. Other than that, it’s a no go. I can’t open my inbox for pbs beyond this.  What sort of picture books do I like and not like? They must be fresh and original. Hilarious or lovely. Important in some way. Non-fiction picture books are a possibility if they are story-based vs. all facts.  What don’t I like? Books that seem to go nowhere, feel forced or too familiar, and rhyming texts are usually not successful.

I’m also now taking on illustrators. Not as an artist’s agent (meaning I’m not the one to get you into galleries, etc.), but as an agent who will rep you to publishers. For this, also, I’m only open to established book illustrators or those who I either meet and request from at a conference, or who are referred to me from a publisher or a client.

Cheerful Young Woman with Shopping BagsI hope this gives you an idea of whether or not a manuscript you have is right to send my way or not. And, just because it’s not right for me, doesn’t mean there won’t be another agent who is all about that gory page turning novel in verse.

Happy manuscript shopping!

 

*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: So what’s the story?

Lee Harper - snowHappy Agent Monday!  Ready to dive into work after a long lazy holiday weekend? I’ll be meeting today with my client, fab author/illustrator Lee Harper. Lee is a master storyteller and artist. So today I thought I’d talk a little more about picture books. What I’m seeing – and NOT seeing in submissions from picture book authors who are sending me queries.  In one word: story. So what’s the story?

Here’s the thing about picture books: they’re short. I know. Duh, right? And that means two things. One – people might think they are easy to dash off. And, two – they are NOT easy to dash off because every single word really really really does matter. This is why I only take submissions from established picture book authors and illustrators, or on referral. Because otherwise I’ll be wading through a ton of manuscripts that lack craft because picture books are easy to write, right?

Trust me, picture books are complex entities. So complex, that even among the published folks who are sending me manuscripts now, I’m still surprised to find myself scratching my head and thinking, “Yeah, but what’s this book’s story?”

I’ll tell you what isn’t a story. A funny character. A cute observation. A lovely setting. Pretty turns of phrases. A rhythm. Silly language.

Ella up close!What is a story? Character plus conflict leading to some resolution. That means you can’t have an entire book based on, say, my dog Ella.  Ella is so silly. She barks at everything. She runs up and down the stairs. Her ears are really fuzzy…  But then?

So many picture book manuscripts I get have no “but then.” Like a: Ella always… But then… (uh oh, problem).  Now she must… (what?)

Picture books are stories. With arcs. A beginning, a middle and an end. A character meets a challenge and either changes or doesn’t, but something happens.

So your book can’t just be all: Ballet is pretty. Ballerinas are so graceful.  Pink tutus twirl. Toe shoes are silky.

Nope.

And it can’t be all: Mr. Pickle swims in pickle juice and is a pickle puss and sleeps on a hot dog bun at night. Silly Mr. Pickle!

Nope.

What’s the STORY????

Look at your favorite picture books (include recent ones, please). Sit in the library with a huge stack and see if you can answer these questions: What’s this book about? Who are the characters? What do they want? What is the problem? What happens as the character faces this challenge? What is the resolution?  Is there any tension?

Will you find exceptions? Sure. Somethings might be pure nonsense – and that requires a certain level of brilliance. But even those will have a rhythm, an arc, a building of layers and silliness with a payoff. And that’s a story arc too.

Picture books are story books. If you can’t find the answers to the above questions in your picture book manuscripts, then you might just find the key to how you can bring your ideas to a more complete level.

 

*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.