Three YA Authors Chat about Writing and the Biz

Hi everyone!  I recently had the privilege of speaking on a panel with fellow young adult authors E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott. We volunteered our time to speak at Haverford High School as part of the PA Authors Speak Up for Libraries campaign.

Happily, the school taped our talk for their cable station, and I’m giving you all the link here because the panel covers so many interesting points about the writing process, the writing life, and I also answered questions about what I’m looking for as an agent when it comes to young adult submissions. Plus we each read a bit from one of our own novels — in my case, I read an excerpt from my YA novel DRAWN. The bright audience of high school creative writing students asked some very smart questions.  I hope you all enjoy watching this talk. Just click here for the link.

Talk with E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott 2014

 

Agent Monday: Q&A, Plus Boundaries Writers Must Respect

MP900386132Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Thanksgiving is nearly here. And that means shopping, cooking, and HOUSE CLEANING! I hate housecleaning, but I love a clean house. Whatchagonnado? For today’s post, I thought I’d tidy up by dealing with some miscellaneous nagging questions before they get dusty on the shelf. And some of these deal with boundaries – stuff writers MUST know when dealing with agents.

But first I want to give thanks to the many of you who have been faithful readers of my Agent Monday posts. *If there are any topics you’d like to see me cover in future posts – just add a comment about it to today’s post and I’ll consider it! I also am so grateful for everyone who has made my job as an agent not just a job, but a privilege! The many writers who think of me and query me with their creative work (and who follow my guidelines!). My wonderful team of interns who help me keep my work flowing. My fellow agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – such a supportive group! The many editors I’ve been in touch with, who are not only smart, but also exceptionally lovely to talk to. The many awesome conference coordinators I’ve worked with, and the fun folks I’ve encountered at those conferences. And, of course, my fabulous clients. They are brilliant writers AND very cool people. I do love my job!

Okay, so let’s clear the lingering questions off the shelf, shall we?

Q.: I never got an answer to my query. Are you a no reply = no kind of an agent?
A.: I answer every query I get. I’m currently up to August 1st in my query inbox (yup, you read that right…I get a LOT of queries). If you’ve queried me before that date and never gotten a response, there may be a few reasons for that. 1. It may have gotten lost in cyberspace – filtered into spam. Resend. 2. You didn’t follow my guidelines. Example: putting the query letter in as an attachment – I won’t open that. Would you? 3. You were disrespectful in some way. Believe it or not, sometimes writers are rude and insulting. 4. You mass-mailed your query and didn’t bother to address your query letter to me, or you addressed it wrong. Dear Sir or Madam = delete.

Q.: It seems that you answer queries immediately, but mine was sent 3 weeks ago and hasn’t been answered. What does that mean???
A.: It means that I’m not scientific about stuff. As queries come pinging in, I like to take breaks throughout the day and eyeball them QUICKLY if I get a chance. (I don’t always get that chance.)  If I immediately see that they are absolutely wrong for me, I’ll shoot out a quick rejection – that’s fast to do. If I get so pulled in that I find myself eagerly reading the pasted-in opening pages and dying to read more, I’ll quickly request the full. If I see the query might need more time than I have to figure out if I want to read the sample pages, or I just don’t have time to get to it yet, yeah, it’ll take longer to get back to you.

Q.: My full manuscript was requested when I met you at a conference. But two weeks have passed and you haven’t responded yet. Why?
A.: In addition to taking care of all of my clients (first priority, of course), and all of their full manuscripts, if I’ve been to a conference, or a number of conferences, then chances are pretty good that I have a good number of full manuscripts in my inbox at any given moment. So patience is required, thanks!  Right now, I’m up to August 1st with submissions.

Q.: I’ve received a form rejection letter. So that means I suck as a writer, true?
A.: FALSE! It just means that if I sat down and wrote every query letter response individually, then I would be more than a year behind in answering you. I think you’d rather have a quicker answer, true?

***And now for some frequent questions that reflect a lack of understanding when it comes to boundaries:

Q.: I’d love to meet and pick your brain about the business, and I’ll even pay for lunch, okay?
A.: Sorry, but no thanks. I get this invite from people who are not my clients and not my close friends more than you can guess. For the price of a lunch, people expect me to take off 2 hours from my business day and offer them what would amount to several hundred dollars worth of information. Would you do that with a doctor? I also won’t be able to meet you for coffee, or chat on the phone, or help you shape your idea or edit your book.

Q.: I’ve self-published my book. Here, take a copy for free!  I’ve already signed it to you. Can you read it and turn it into a best-seller?
A.: Stacks and stacks and stacks of books have been handed to me like this at events and conferences and pitch sessions and cocktail parties. I honestly don’t want to take a copy. I don’t want to be rude, but, again, I have to read a TON of stuff. If you want me to consider a project, follow my guidelines and submit the traditional way. There is no spiffy clever shortcut to that. Handing me your book puts me in a very awkward position. I either have to tell you no thanks, or politely lie to you and say thanks, and then recycle the book. *Same goes for any printed material handed to me – flyers, bookmarks, press kits, partial or complete manuscripts, anything beyond a business card. Honestly, if you were to empty the trash after any agent or editor left a hotel room following a conference, you’d find all of that print material plus stacks of signed books. Are we supposed to pack that stuff up and lug it on a plane, and then read it, bypassing all of our clients’ manuscripts, and requested full manuscripts in our inbox, along with all the queries waiting for us that have been honestly sent? Please be fair and thoughtful.

Q.: You’ve just rejected me. Can you tell me why and how to fix things?
A.: No. That’s not my job. I’m not saying this to be mean. It’s really not my job. If you pay a developmental editor, that might be their job. My job is to find the best writers with the best manuscripts and to then manage the careers of those writers. That’s that.

Okay, folks, I’m thankful I got those questions cleaned off the shelf.

Sometimes it’s tough for agents to not sound rude in answering questions like these, ya know? The majority of agents I’ve met over the years are really nice people. But nice people who have a job and who are really busy have to draw lines. You writers can help us out. Understand what an agent really does and does not do, and respect that. If you understand these things, then you won’t back us into a corner where you’ll find us saying things that are kind of blunt and that we do not enjoy having to say. Like, no I won’t meet you for lunch. No thanks, I won’t take your 6-volume set of autographed books home with me on the plane. No, I will not take your call for a little chat about your book idea. No, I will not fix your query/pitch/book.

Pumpkin Pie with Pastry Leaf CrustSo please be understanding of us agents. We love books and reading and writers. We work extremely hard to take care of the writers we represent. We are looking for new talent that is ready to hit the commercial market.

Respect that, and I’ll be thankful for you!

I wish you all a Thanksgiving full of blessings.

 

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

Kid-lit Writers! Sign-up Now for Online Boot Camp with Agents…

yes - notepad & penAttention writers of picture books, middle grade and YA fiction! Writer’s Digest has just opened up an online Boot Camp taught by agents of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency… The Boot Camp includes an online tutorial, a dedicated message board where agents will answer your questions, plus a critique by an agent.

Literary agents participating include Jennifer De Chiara, Roseanne Wells, Linda P. Epstein, Stephen Fraser, and me – Marie Lamba.

The boot camp runs December 5th – 8th, so sign up is NOW. Details can be found by clicking here.

Agent Monday: Query Questions

Rear view of class raising hands“Happy Agent Monday!” I say, shivering over a steaming cup of coffee. Every conference I go to, every time I chat with new writers, folks want to know stuff about queries. They are so important — that first connection with a potential agent. They are so dreaded — because they are so important. So today? Some query questions answered…

1. What HAS to be in a query? The title, the audience/genre, the length in words, a one-liner describing it, a brief paragraph with a bit more detail about it, your brief bio, why you sent it to me, a polite thank you for considering, info on how to contact you, plus (for my own personal guidelines – other agents will be different) the first 20 pages of your manuscript pasted in below the query letter, NOT attached.

2. How should the query be addressed? You can say Dear Ms. Lamba, or Dear Marie, even.

3. What makes a good book description? One that gives me a clear idea of the character and the conflict in a way that reflects the book’s tone as fitting and intriguing for the intended audience.

4. How long should the query letter be? Short. Like one page if it were typed.  (That doesn’t include the pasted-in 20 pages, of course.)

5. What should and should not be in that bio paragraph? Your writerly credits, things in your experience that make you the right one to write this book (if relevant), things that show you are serious (member of pro organizations, of a serious crit group, studied fiction writing, several other novels written or in the works, etc.). If you have a cool day job that’ll make you interesting to the press or that would widen your contacts for future sales, or that’s just really interesting you can add that too, but don’t tell me all your pets’ names or that you knit really well or that you love gumbo. This is a professional letter.

6. Do you read all the queries yourself? Yup. Every single one.

7. Do you answer EVERY query? Yup. Except for the few that I delete.

8. What would make you delete a query without responding? If it’s mass-mailed, addressing every agent in the send-to field. If it’s addressed to the wrong agency/agent (see mass-mailed, above). If it’s addressed to Dear Sir or Madam (also see mass-mailed). If it is rude or insulting (I wish I were kidding about this one). If the query letter is sent as an attachment — I’m not opening that.

9. What are some common reasons you reject queries? Poorly written, something I’ve seen many times before, something my guidelines clearly say I don’t represent, just not for me — I’m not excited to read the sample pages, the sample pages don’t excite me enough to see more.

10. What makes you excited in a query? Smart, original writing. Clear voice and strong sense of the audience. Someone who is clearly ready to go pro. Great credentials (though not required). Someone who follows my guidelines. A solid query followed by opening pages that make me eager to see more.

11. Should a writer respond to a rejection? Sometimes writers thank me for my time, which is nice but not required.  If I give you a personalized rejection with some suggestions for improvements, saying thanks for that would be a nice courtesy. Never send a snarky response to a rejection. It’s really unprofessional. And never beg for just one more look. That never works. You want an agent who is on fire about you and your writing. If I’m not that agent, it’s okay. Go forth and find the right fit for you.

That’s it! Query questions answered. No go forth and write. Have a great week, everyone!

 

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

Agent Monday: The Times, They are a-Changing

Autumn FacesHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent 7 hours last weekend raking leaves to my curb. The seasons are changing. Hey, lots of things change. So this week, I thought I’d point out two common questions I get, and how the answers reveal some changes in publishing/agenting.

Do I need an agent? These days, the answer YES is more true than ever for authors who want to have their work published by a top commercial press. The big change that’s occurred over the past 8 years or so is that even more publishers only take submissions from agents. This is especially noticeable in children’s publishing, where many of the top publishers used to have open submissions. But now? Not so much. So having an agent now, more than ever, means access to all publishers.

Because of this change, editors now really REALLY need to hear from agents. That’s how they get most of their new authors. As one editor told me when I pitched a manuscript to her, “Marie, if you like a manuscript, I definitely want to see it.”

Do I need an agent in Manhattan? The answer used to be yes! But now? The answer really is that you want a great agent who goes into the city as needed. My office is in Manhattan, and it’s a great agency with a solid reputation. That reputation travels with me wherever I am. Most agents in my firm live in or close to the city, but personally? I work from my home office two hours away. I do jaunt into Manhattan when needed for meetings and meet ups with editors, but I mostly work remotely on the phone and online. And this is something that is much more common now.

Editors and agents have stronger relationships than ever (partly because of that change mentioned above). I don’t need to wine and dine editors non-stop to get their attention. I don’t need to pound the streets of Manhattan and down zillions of martinis in order to be able to pitch manuscripts to publishers. What I do need is to do my homework and learn what editors want. That always involves research, both online plus me calling and asking the editors, plus building relationships with them through chatting in an efficient yet personable way.

I enjoy meeting editors at conferences, or visiting their offices, or grabbing a lunch with them. But have I sold books to editors I’ve never met face-to-face? Yup. Happens all the time. Editors (and agents) are really busy these days. Editors have less staff helping them, and have to spend more time in meetings than ever handling administrative stuff. Because of this, they appreciate the efficiency of emails and phone calls. Working relationships these days have moved way beyond the requisite martini lunches of yore.

So what does this all mean for you writers? Wherever your agent is based is cool, but you want them to travel into NY as needed, and to reach out to editors in a variety of ways (on the phone, at various conferences, and face-to-face in the city when they can). Because agents and editors rely on each other more than ever, don’t be afraid of approaching newer agents at established firms (like me!). They really do have editor’s ears, plus they are actively building their client lists.

Isolated Martini GlassCheers!

 

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

 

Agent Monday: You’re an Agent and an Author?

MP900384867Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I’m sitting here shivering, clutching a hot mug of coffee in my chilly hands. Yup, it’s November.  Today, I’d like to answer one of the questions I’m most asked at conferences, on panels, by writers, by editors, etc.: You’re an agent AND an author? How’s that work?

I guess it’s not that common a thing? But here’s how it works: usually, pretty great. At age 10, I read HALF MAGIC by Edward Eager, and I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels. That’s that. I don’t think many 10 year olds out there wake up one day and say, “I want to be a literary agent. That’s that.” But here’s the thing — on my path to becoming an author, I actually picked up a lot of skills that are perfect for the literary agent side of me.

Writing, of course. Reading widely. Editing and revision, not only as an author, but as someone who has worked in publishing and with countless magazines as a writer and as a contributing editor. Publishing experience, again not only as an author, but in actual jobs. I’ve been a publisher’s assistant, an editor, and a book promotion manager. Promo skills and marketing skills!  Yup, I’ve been a book promotion manager, but nothing gives you that on the job promo training quite like selling your own book to readers — been there, done that. And I’ve also been an award-winning public relations writer. Just another one of my jobs.

You can see that as an aspiring novelist, I’ve held many jobs and seen many sides of the business. Freelancing. PR. Publishing. Editing. Promotion and marketing. All jobs held while I was writing my novels and trying to get an agent and a book deal. I didn’t think that, “Hey, I’ll do all these things because I want to become a literary agent.”

But I did — thanks to my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara. Jennifer represents my writing, and over the years she saw I had the skills she felt would make for a strong literary agent. So now I also agent for her company. I know, very mirror in a mirror kind of a thing. But it works, and it’s a great fit for me.

I find I can really relate to my authors and their concerns. That I can help them in revision and promotion. That I have a solid feel of what works and what doesn’t across a broad range of topics and genres.

On the flip side, I’ve peeked behind the curtain and now have a more solid sense of what editors are looking for, why they take on certain projects and pass on others. And what stands out in a submission the most: strong character and compelling voice freshly revealed. That helps my writing for sure.

So while you’ll see here posts about querying and tips for finding an agent, plus announcements of deals for my various clients, you’ll also see me chatting about the writing life and fostering your creativity. And, at times, about my own writing. Just over this past year, I’ve had articles appear in Writer’s Digest magazine, in their annual yearbook, and in their market guides including The 2015 Guide to Literary Agents and The 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Plus I just might have some irons in the fire for some of my own creative works. :)

Eyeglasses on Open BookSo how does it work, being an agent and an author? It works the same way that you might be an author and a parent, or a writer with a job in another field. Both experiences feed each other. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. It works. And it’s all good.

 

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

Agent Monday: NY Agent Seeking Non-Cheesy Rom-Com

Man giving woman gift.Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent a great weekend at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference in Virginia (thanks, everyone, for having me!). There, I sat on the Agents’ Panel and was asked the inevitable question: What are you looking for? On my list, as always, is a great women’s novel destined to be the next great chick flick. I’ve put this request out a number of times, but so far? “She’s just not that into them” (to paraphrase a flick). Here’s what I do and don’t want…

First of all, anyone who knows me, knows I love my chick flicks, and lately? There has been a dry spell of new ones worth watching. So, quite selfishly, I’d love to find that novel that could become that movie that I can absolutely love. But, and this is very important to you folks about to press “send,” I do NOT like sappy romance, or category romance. Nicholas Sparks is NOT NOT NOT my thing, at all.

So what do I like? Fresh and funny and spot on. Quirky and relatable and flawed females with strength. Not ditzy. Not all-I-need-is-a-man. Guy heroes who are flawed and relatable and believable. Real stories that could really actually maybe happen! And that bring something new to the genre.

Why haven’t I found this yet? I’m not sure, and I’m kinda bummed, frankly. What I get is more of the same stuff already out there. The Bridget Jones rip off, complete with the clueless why-don’t-you-have-a-man-yet-you-are-getting-old-you-know mother. The ridiculous who-would-ever-be-friends-with-this-person best friend who is super-slutty or otherwise over the top at all times. The Stephanie Plum characters, but set in another town. And, yes, those anguished Nicholas Sparks ultra romantic novels. Plus plenty of those “my life is crap so I relocated to somewhere mysterious and/or exotic and found my groove with the handyman” sorts.

Okay, love is tough. I shouldn’t be jaded and I don’t want to give up hope. I know my “perfect match” is out there somewhere. What’s on my checklist for this? Something that connects with realities TODAY and gives us a fresh look at it in a way that makes us nod and laugh. A real heroine dealing with today’s challenges that we can root for, and real guys that we might actually need to avoid or to give the time of day to more. An original voice and fun and fresh situations. PERSONALITY! Real heart – not oozy fuzzy lovey dovey stuff. NOT that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not “my type.” And, in a smart and funny way, yes, love.

red rose and dobermannSo “if you like Pina Coladas” then chances are you should keep on moving, but if you’re “writer seeking agent” with something fresh to offer, I just might be into you.

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