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: 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: Poor Mom

MP900446418Hi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  With Mother’s Day approaching this upcoming weekend (a big happy Mom’s Day to each of you!), I thought I’d pose this question to writers submitting to me: What do you have against moms?  Or dads?  You seem to have an obsession with killing them off.  Poor mom and dad.

It’s one of those weird things I see in numerous queries every day – the protagonist is an orphan. The parents died in an accident (sometimes the protagonist feels at fault), or from an illness, or one died and the other had already left the family years before.  So many orphans.  We’re talking about middle grade and YA novel submissions here.

If it’s a contemporary novel, then this orphan has been shuffled off to live with a weird relative – an eccentric, usually.  Perhaps they return to their mom’s home town to live with an estranged grandparent and begin to learn more and more about their mom’s past – full of surprises and secrets.

If the novel has any sort of fantastical element to it, the child – who lives with an eccentric relative now – discovers that mom didn’t just die from a disease, it was actually all a coverup for something bigger – an epic war is at hand and mom died fighting the good fight with whatever powers she had (magic, was a mythical being, could shoot lightning bolts out of her eyes – you get the idea).  Said orphan learns that he or she has those powers too, was left some talisman that will help with the fight, must figure out what’s happened/will happen or the entire world will come to an end, or something along those lines. Cough cough, Harry Potter, cough, cough.

And sometimes, in the fantasy scenario, mom isn’t dead for good and the child’s actions can bring them back.

Now hold up.  I can almost feel you folks ready to comment with a whole “It’s a fairy tale motif,” “It’s a classic fantasy trope,” “It’s a way for a child to embark on their own autonomous story,” “It’s how classic stories for kids have been shaped forever!”

I know, gang.  I’ve read those stories. Studied ‘em.  Even took several courses on the fairy tale when I was at Penn.

But here’s the thing: how many orphans did you know growing up?  How many do your kids know right now at this moment? Maybe it does tap into some dark fantasy in a resentful child’s mind or some “I’m on my own” desire ala My Side of the Mountain… But (and this is a big but, I can not lie!) it is done and done and done again and again.

Sometimes finding this all too familiar scenario makes me sigh aloud and I just can’t read yet another word.  Do you think editors might feel that way too?  Can you recast your novel to play out differently and thereby make it stand out in a fresh way?

And, couldn’t a parent, sometimes, be a part of the story?  Part of the humor? Part of the heart? Part of the conflict (without it going straight to abuse, which I see a lot of as well)?

I’m just putting this out into the stratosphere, because it just might result in more realistic reads, even in the fantasy genre. And it just might make your story stand out.

So go honor your mother!

 

*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: Best Part of Being an Agent?

Recently I did an online interview where I had to answer the question: What is the best part of being an agent?  That was an easy one to answer: Making a talented writer’s dream come true.

Writers are huge dreamers.  They dream up stories, forming tales from wisps of ideas, fragments of memories, touches of creativity. And their dreams for their future should be huge, too. Finishing that novel. Getting the right agent. Creating something an editor will feel passionate about. Seeing that novel published and set into someone’s hands. Touching a reader with their words. Perhaps even changing a reader’s life.

I’m so grateful to play a part in making those dreams happen.

IMG_0462At the start of this month, I was thrilled to meet my client Carmella Van Vleet in person.  But really, I felt like I had met her the very first time I read her wonderful middle grade manuscript ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER. The novel is about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the end. I found the author’s voice strong and funny and warm. I fell in love with this manuscript immediately, and connected with the writing. When Carmella and I spoke on the phone when I made “the call” to her, we connected right away, too.

So no surprise that she and I had a great time when we finally met up in New York. And for such a happy occasion. Her debut novel has been accepted for publication by Holiday House, and we got to meet the publishing staff.  Carmella and I chatted with warm and welcoming Mary Cash, the editor-in-chief, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone who works so hard to make Holiday House a high quality press.  And everywhere, there were books. Shelves and shelves and shelves of glorious titles.

Shelves and shelves of dreams come true…  Dream big, everyone. Make your own dreams happen.  And congratulations, Carmella!

IMG_0459

Marie Lamba, Literary Agent

I know that lots of my posts are tongue in cheek, but this time I’m actually serious. I’m pleased to announce that I am now an associate literary agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York.

Actually, I’ve been doing this for a few months but as a “secret agent,” reading manuscripts on the sly…maybe wearing black leather boots, dark shades, and slinking about clandestinely, who knows?  But now it’s finally time to fess up.

Yeah, I’m still an author, but being a writer plus an agent feels like the next natural step for me. And I’m hoping to bring my years of experience as an author, an editor and an enthusiastic book promoter to the table in a way that will benefit future clients.

I’m especially thrilled to be a part of Jennifer DeChiara’s firm.  Jennifer has been, and continues to be, my literary agent, and she’s an agent of the best sort.  She doesn’t just represent a book, she represents and supports an author over that person’s entire career, through all the peaks and valleys.  When I take on clients, I plan to do the same, looking beyond just the one title the writer presents to me and onto the entire career of that writer. It’s about making smart moves for that writer, about mentoring, and about building their future successes. It’s exciting stuff!

Here’s my agenting bio:

As an agent, Marie is currently looking for young adult and middle grade fiction, along with general and women’s fiction and some memoir.  Books that are moving and/or hilarious are especially welcome. She is NOT interested in picture books, science fiction or high fantasy (though she is open to paranormal elements), category romance (though romantic elements are welcomed), non-fiction, or in books that feature graphic violence.

Some recently favorite titles on her shelf include Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, Paper Towns by John Green, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, Twenties Girl by Sophia Kinsella, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Shug by Jenny Han, and Doing It by Melvin Burgess.  She also admits to watching many many chick flicks.

To contact her, send only a query letter with the first 20 pages of your manuscript pasted into the bottom of your email to marie.jdlit@gmail.com.

…So, if you have something that you think I’d be interested in, please do send your query letter to the above email.  I ask that you use only this email to contact me in my agent capacity. To keep things sane, I will not respond to unsolicited manuscripts or to queries that come to me via other avenues, including other email addresses, social media venues, etc.

Thanks!

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman sucked me in from the moment I opened the first page and saw those amazing illustrations.  I sorely miss the illustrations that used to pepper mid-grade novels. I remember as a kid eagerly reading to the next picture, and then the next…then publishers cut these, and we were mostly left with novels that were solid words. But the illustrations in Gaiman’s book pull you in, wrap around the pages, and add to the wonderful mood. Bravo!

The story, though, is what completely entranced me. Gaiman does an amazing job of saying just enough to creep the reader out. For instance, saying a knife was “wet” instead of describing blood. That really engages your mind.  Starting with the most gruesome and terrifying of beginnings ripped from our own nightmares, the author quickly captures our sympathy for Bod, the baby that escaped, and embraces the reader in an almost charming world of ghosts who raise the boy separate from the dangers of the world, until the world intrudes again.

This book feels like an instant classic. Not too scary, but shivery enough for kids. And well-crafted for readers of any age to fall in love with.

Highly recommended!

Harleysville Books Bash – 18 Authors and Some Wine

Harleysville Books in Harleysville, PA is one of those special independent bookstores that are so dear to my heart.  A treasure of a shop filled with carefully selected titles, and that features a continuing series of great events. At the heart of it all is owner Shelly Plumb, a person who loves books and who also loves to support local authors!  To show her support, each year Shelly has been throwing an author reception, highlighting writers from the region.  Exceptionally cool.

This year you can mingle with 18 published authors at the Third Annual Author Reception, being held on Thursday, March 11th from 6-8 p.m. at Harleysville Books. The store is located at 674 Main Street, Salford Square in Harleysville.  The reception, which is free and open to the public, features something for everyone with food, fun and authors of titles ranging from picture books, to young adult novels, to adult fiction and nonfiction.  And yes, for those who are of age, there will be wine provided by Country Creek Winery.

The informal gathering is full of opportunities for visitors to mingle and chat with all of the authors present. Among the featured authors are a number of members from the Philly Liars Club,  a group of critically acclaimed professional writers who provide events to support libraries, bookstores, literacy, and a love of books. I’m VERY proud to be a member.

Liars Club authors at the Harleysville Books event include New York Times bestseller Sara Shepard (The Pretty Little Liars series, HarperTeen, and The Visibles, Free Press), young adult author Marie Lamba…that’s me…(What I Meant…, Random House), New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, St. Martin’s Griffin, and The Wolfman, Tor), best selling mystery author Merry Jones (The Borrowed and Blue Murders, Minotaur Books), lauded contemporary novelist Kelly Simmons (Standing Still, Washington Square Press), debut crime novelist Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief, St. Martin’s), and historian, actor and storyteller Keith Strunk (Prallsville Mills and Stockton, Arcadia Publishing).

Visitors to the reception can also meet picture book authors and illustrators including Lindsay Barrett George (Alfred Digs, Greenwillow), Rob and Lisa Papp (P is for Princess, Sleeping Bear Press), and Mara Rockliff (Busiest Street in Town, Knopf). Children’s fiction authors will include:  2010 Scott O’Dell prizewinner Matt Phelan (Storm in the Barn, Candlewick), and Michael Townsend (Kit Feeny Graphic Novel Series, Knopf). Young adult authors include debut novelists Cyn Balog (Fairy Tale, Delacorte), Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Knopf) and Jennifer Hubbard (The Secret Year, Viking). Wonderful debut horror novelist C.G. Bauer (Scars on the Face of God) has just been added to this event, and also on hand will be author MJ Ticcino (Valley Forge).  I’m happy to say that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of these authors before, and they are all really nice.  Interested in asking them about writing? About the author’s life? About their books? They’ll all be happy to talk.

For more information about the Third Annual Author Reception, or to reserve a copy of any of the featured author’s books in advance, contact Harleysville Books at 215-256-9311.