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: 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: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

*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: Why You Should Build Community

three american cocker spanielsHappy Agent Monday everyone! Coming off a weekend here that was a mixed bag of gloomy rain followed by glittering sunshine. The bright spot in Saturday’s gloom was spending time at Philadelphia Stories Magazine’s annual fab Push to Publish Conference. Live anywhere near the Philly area and never heard of these folks? They are a great regional resource, plus they run this kick-ass conference, so…  At the conference I sat on a beginning marketing panel for authors with brilliant folks Don Lafferty and Janice Gable Bashman. And one of the best bits of advice that came out of it? Build your community.

Here’s why… First of all, writing can be a lonely business. Don’t you want to talk with people who share your passion? And who get where you’re coming from? Yeah you do! Second of all, you can learn so much from others that you can’t get from a blog post (not even an Agent Monday post). Third of all you can and should support each other. Sharing information to boost your careers is one way. You can crit one another’s works. You can meet more people through each other. You can show up at each other’s readings and signings, and help promote one another, too. You can find your people, connect with your audience, and grow your reach.

That’s marketing stuff, and it’s also career stuff, and human well-being stuff, too. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and it’s something you should begin doing the moment you decide you are a writer (or, like, right now after reading this post). What you should NOT do is wait until your book is going to come out and then be like, Hey, girlfriend, nice to meet you! Help me! Promote me! Look at me! Buy my book! Okay, bye!

Liars_Club_Logo[1]NOPE. Build community. Think long term. Give and take. And reap long-term benefits. That’s what I’ve been doing as an author/agent for years. Including belonging to an amazing author group The Liars Club. Together we have promoted indie bookstores and libraries and literacy, and we’ve done panels and joint signings, we hold monthly free writer’s coffeehouses, and we’ve helped each other through thick and thin. Hey, we even put together a short story collection called LIAR LIAR. If you want to know more about us, you can follow The Liars Club on Facebook by clicking here.

Interested in building your community? Here are some suggestions:

1. Start in your region. Local publications? Grab em. Read em. Submit to them if appropriate. Local conferences or writer’s organizations? Attend. Meet folk. Volunteer. At any writer’s conference you attend: don’t overlook the most important people you’ll meet there! No, not the agents and editors. The folks sitting next to you in the audience or at lunch. Meet your fellow writers. Share your interests and struggles. Exchange contact info. Friend online. Stay in touch and support each other!

2. Support the reading and bookselling community! Visit your local bookstores and libraries. Borrow books. Buy books. Attend events. Chat with folks because they love books — you can learn from them. Don’t do it because someday you want to GET something from them.  Do it because they are part of your world and you do have something in common.

3. Support your fellow authors every way you can.  Read a book you loved? TELL PEOPLE. Review online, post those reviews and ratings wherever you can. I try to take the time to cut and paste the reviews I do onto sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and Shelfari and Barnesandnoble.com. Show up at author events and readings. Share their good news online with others.

4. Get involved. Volunteer at a conference or for a literacy organization or to help out at a book fair. You’ll meet people on many levels. Join and volunteer for organizations related to your interests and writing. Groups like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or International Thriller Writers, or Romance Writers of America, etc. have tons of events and benefits and conferences and information, and above all, people in your writing space who you can support and learn from.

5. Think beyond the writing world. Have sustainability issues in your novel? Then you should be familiar with the magazines and organizations and happenings related to that. That is your community too.

Start now. Get involved. Build community. I guarantee you that even two years from now you’ll find you’ve built a support system that reaches far beyond just you at your computer and your few friends and family. You’ll have learned a ton, made meaningful connections, supported and received support in countless ways. Oh, and that all just might help you impress an agent, and market your book someday, too.

 

*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: Conference Tips for Introverts

MP900386035Happy Agent Monday to all! Right now we are in the thick of writer’s conference season. I myself will be on the faculty of two in the next few weeks: The Push to Publish Conference on October 11th, and the SCBWI Mid Atlantic Conference October 25-26th. I really enjoy meeting writers and editors and agents at these events – but as writer myself, I well remember the first few conferences I’d attended. I was nervous and shy and searching for that EXIT sign! That’s why I’m so excited to welcome my client Erin Teagan here today, who will be sharing ways that even introverts can enjoy writer’s conferences.

Conference Tips for the Introvert
guest post by Erin Teagan

You’ve signed up for a children’s writing conference. You know it’s the perfect place to recharge the writing bug, learn from the pros, and make some writing friends. But now you’re panicking because — if you’re a shy-writer-type — the very thought of going to a conference crawling with real-life authors, agents, and editors is enough to make you hyperventilate. Maybe networking or small-talk isn’t your strength, maybe this is your first conference and secretly you’ve already emailed the conference coordinator begging for your money back.

As a shy-writer-type myself, I have some tips to get you through this:

1. You belong here. You may think your writing stinks or feel like everyone around you is sporting two book deals and more qualified to write than you are – turn that voice off. Half the people in the room will be thinking the same thing. The writing community is warm and welcoming and supportive. Even the multi-published/award-winning authors feel inadequate at times. They still get rejections. They still have to revise their books a thousand times. They are just like you.

2. Volunteer. Before the conference, find the ‘volunteer here’ link or the email address of the volunteer coordinator on the conference website and sign up for a job. Can you show up the night before and stuff folders? Can you unload books for book sales? By conference time, you’ll have twenty new friends and a dozen more familiar faces.

3. Take advantage of the free activities. If the conference offers peer critiques, a first-timers meet up, or a cocktail party, pick an activity where you’ll feel the least awkward. These will be smaller groups and another good way to make a few friends. And nothing makes a conference less stressful than going with a friend.

4. Memorize a one-liner about what you’re working on. Mine is: ‘I write humorous middle grade for girls.’ Chances are while you’re waiting in that bathroom line or finishing up your bagel for breakfast, someone will ask you about your work. Chances are this will happen several times throughout the conference. Maybe you’ll find someone writing in the same genre. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or at least someone to sit with at lunch.

5. Don’t hide during breaks. You know what I mean – introverts are great at hiding in bathrooms or bookstores (I did that once) or even in plain sight by not making eye contact with anyone. Put your phone down. Make yourself available for random conversation. People are going to want to hear your one-liner. They’re going to want to vent about their awkward (I didn’t say there wasn’t going to be ANY awkwardness) manuscript consultation or their new pen (like me – I love talking about pens).

6. If you see an author that you absolutely adore, say hi. Authors are so nice. Even the ones that have a thousand books published and a hundred awards. And the secret truth is, most people will be too scared to talk to the big-time author. Tell her you like her book. Ask her if she’s working on anything new. When you become a big-time author, won’t you want people to talk to you?

7. Don’t pressure yourself to mingle with the agents or editors. They will be bombarded with conference attendees, critiques, and speaking responsibilities as it is. They probably won’t remember every conversation they had at the conference. So, if introducing yourself to your dream agent is giving you hives, I give you permission to sit it out. When you send her your query letter, compliment her on her talk or the wisdom she shared on a panel. This will probably make an even better first impression than, ‘remember when I met you in the bathroom and I told you about my vampire zombie romance idea?’ (Also, don’t do that.)

8. This conference will not make or break your career. Do what you can. You don’t have to pitch your book to one of the industry guys. You don’t have to pass out business cards. You can wear something comfortable. You don’t even have to buy a new set of fancy folders (unless you’re me and then you HAVE to). Without even trying, you will learn a ton at the conference. And you will still be able to submit to the editors and agents on the faculty when you get home, even if you didn’t talk to them personally.

9. Eat the afternoon coffee-break cookies. Because for some reason cookies at a conference taste so much better than cookies anywhere else.

10. Get to work when you get home. Revise with all the new tools you’ve learned. Follow up with new friends. Go over your notes. Make a goal to submit to the faculty when your work is ready. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to a conference. Putting the conference name in the subject of your query or in the cover letter of your submission will get you out of the dreaded slush pile. And let’s face it – you earned it!

 

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 ConferenceSTANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES will be her debut middle grade novel. Erin is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Writing a First Draft

Jumbies cover small

Happy Agent Monday! Now that everyone is back to school, this is a great time for writers to get serious about tackling their muse and getting thoughts onto paper. But ugh that blank page. Are you staring at one today? Then this guest post by my client, the fabulous Tracey Baptiste, may be just what you need.

WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
guest post by Tracey Baptiste

Here’s the thing you need to know about writing a first draft: You just have to get through it. There are no other rules or tricks. A first draft is basically quarrying rocks. You go, you grab the ones that seem about right, you put them in a nice pile, and then you figure out what that pile is supposed to be later on. But being the creative types that we are, we stumble over every word, beat ourselves up over whether a plot arc or twist is working the way we want it to, and wonder—seriously wonder—why certain strings of words look as awful as they do. I’m better than THAT we think. True. We are. But not today. Today is a draft day, and you can whip that horrible string of words into shape in a little thing I like to call rewrites.

If you think I’m imparting this wisdom to help you out with your writing, or to keep you from stalling out, you would be wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Mostly, I impart this wisdom to help myself, because right now I am stalled in a first draft, wondering why everything looks so horribly bad, and seriously reconsidering my sanity for ever having considered I could write as much as a thank you note.

So this is to remind me (you too, but mostly me) to relax already and not worry so much about which words exactly get put on the page, so long as words that mostly approximate the thing that you think you’re trying to say get on the page. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to write an entire draft of the word “and” or anything. It has to make some sense.

OK, deep breaths. We can do this. We just need to remember that there is only one thing a draft needs to be: Done.

 

Tracey Baptiste - headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR). You can find out more about Tracey at her website, www.traceybaptiste.com, by following her on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or by connecting on Facebook at TraceyBaptisteWrites.

Agent Monday: Making the Most of Book Festivals (even if you don’t sell gobs of books)

Eliza Bing jktHappy Agent Monday, and happy September everyone!  Fall, for me, is a time of new beginnings. New books to read. New books to pitch to editors. New things to write… If you are writer, you may soon be staring down at a terrifying new thing: THE BOOK SIGNING. Well, fear not. Today I have some words of advice and encouragement for you from my wonderful and talented author, Carmella Van Vleet. Her most recent titles include the middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, 2014), which features the hilarious and endearing Eliza (who also happens to be coping with ADHD); and the picture book TO THE STARS! co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016).  Take it away, Carmella!

Making the Most of Book Festivals – Even If You Don’t Sell Gobs of Books!
guest post by Carmella Van Vleet

When I walked in the door, exhausted from spending the day at a local book festival, the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “So, how many books did you sell?”
I’m proud to report I resisted the urge to unleash some inner-ninja on him. I knew he was doing his best to be supportive, but it’s a loaded question. Those of us who attend book signings and festivals know that it’s not always about the number of books we sell.
For the record, I sold and signed around nine books that day. I’ve had better days in terms of sales and I’ve had worse. But despite the lower sales, I had a great time and was glad I participated in the event. Why? (I mean other than the fact I spent the day sampling the candy I’d set out to lure readers to my table.) Simple: I focused on all the other successes of the day.

Here are the cool things that happened that didn’t include actual book sales:

I got to meet another writer from the Class of 2k14 (a group of 20 debut YA and MG writers who’ve banned together online to support and help promote each other). This was a first for me.

I spent the day chatting with several writers sitting nearby me. We shared advice and tips for other book festivals, school visits, and promotional materials.

I handed my card to a librarian who was interested in me doing an author visit at her school.

I got to participate in two well-attended panels about writing for children. Not only did I get a chance to do one of my favorite things in the whole world – talk shop – I met an editor who asked me if I would be interested in writing for their new biography series for middle grade readers.

While doing the second panel, I also got to connect with an illustrator I heard speak a while back. Something she’d said in her workshop resonated with me and it ended up being a key puzzle piece that allowed my picture book to finally fall into place. It was such a gift to be able to tell this other writer she helped me and my book sold and is now scheduled for release in 2016.

I was able to help a fellow writer who was struggling with the close-but-no-cigar stage of her career. (I told her the old adage is true – just when things seems darkest and most hopeless is usually when your “Yes” is just around the corner.) And I got to rave about Marie to another writer who queried her.

At lunch, I spent a few minutes hanging out with an author whose writing I deeply admire – and totally experienced the “getting to sit at the cool kids table” thing.

Something really funny happened to me at the festival, too. This boy around ten years old walked up to my table. When he noticed my cover, he pointed and said, “I read the first two pages of that book.” (I was pretty sure he didn’t realize he was speaking to the author.) “Oh yeah?” I asked, all excited. “Did you like it? What did you think?” The boy shrugged. “Eh. It was okay.” His mother turned red and promptly began apologizing. But I waved her off; I thought it was hysterical. I thanked the boy for his honesty and offered him a candy bar.

So, in other words, I got a good story about humility to tell!

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you attend book festivals. They aren’t always going to be rainbows and glitter, long lines and adoring fans. But if you keep yourself open – and remember there’s more to these things than just selling books – you’ll never have a bad day.

My tips for book festivals

* Get to know your book neighbors. Listen to their pitch and give them yours. When they step away for a break or lunch, help cover their table and talk up their books to readers walking by. They’ll do the same for you.
* Standing up at your table is a great way to increase your visibility during crowded times.
* Bring your own water and snack in case you can’t get away or there’s not a nearby volunteer. You’ll need them to keep up your energy.
* Have readers spell out their names and write them on slips of paper before you sign a book. This will help cut down on inscription mistakes.
* Always give a reader more. For example, I have a collection of rubber stamps I like to use after my signature. (Each stamp corresponds to a specific title. For instance, I have an old fashion key stamp that I use in my Ben Franklin book.) Another writer I know personally attaches “Autographed Copy” stickers to her books after signing. An illustrator friend sketches a kid-friendly doodle. These little touches make the book extra special.
* If you’re comfortable talking to groups, volunteer to participate in panels and other activities; the people who plan book festivals really appreciate this and will remember your name when it comes time for the next event.
* Don’t be afraid to connect with people even if you don’t think it’ll mean a sale. Compliment someone on their cool shirt or ask what kinds of books they read. Always be genuine but never pushy.

 

Carmella Van VleetCarmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books. Her debut MG novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) is a Junior Library Guild Selection  about a girl with ADHD who takes up taekwondo. Carmella is looking forward to the release of her first picture book, TO THE STARS! THE STORY OF ASTRONAUT KATHY SULLIVAN, which she co-authored with Dr. Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016). For more information, please visit www.CarmellaVanVleet.com