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: Twenty Turn Offs

Farmers Asleep in the HayHappy Labor Day everyone! Hope you do something restful today. We all work so hard – a break is definitely in order. Today, as we honor work, I thought I’d offer up a post on things that are not working for me in many of the queries and manuscripts I’ve received. The hope is that this will help you all be more productive and efficient in the future. Because queries to me include the first 20 pages of a manuscript pasted in, thought I’d list 20, count ‘em, 20 turn offs. Here goes:

1. Misspellings, poor grammar, and misused punctuation.
2. Purple prose. Manuscripts that wax poetic about the fingers of dawn caressing the horizon, blah blah blah.
3. Mundane memoirs filled with “I took a trip,” “I have a weird family,” “I’m so cool and witty” stuff.
4. Manuscripts loaded with too much telling.
5. Queries that are full of unprofessional details – I have two cats. My husband is wonderful. I love shoes.
6. Dystopian stories – they all have this wall, and this underground society, and *cough cough* HUNGER GAMES *cough cough.*
7. Religious agendas or moral agendas.
8. Stories for children that talk down to kids.
9. Manuscripts for children written as if they were penned 100 years ago – as if the author has read only the classics and didn’t notice that kids and readers may have changed.
10. Manuscripts way over 100,000 words – especially children’s books!
11. Gore and extreme violence.  NOT FOR ME.
12. Manuscripts that are just like a popular book already out there, only with a twist. Please be original.
13. Predictable plot lines. If I can read the first two pages and know exactly what’s going to happen, then it’s not for me.
14. Romance novels. While I like a touch of romance in fiction, I do not represent genre romance.
15. Hate-filled points of view, whether in fiction or memoir.
16. I’m weary of vampires, werewolves, zombies, fairies. Not my thing.
17. Weary of the “teen finds out on her birthday that she has special powers and is central to fighting an otherworldly war” thing.
18. Writers who aren’t serious about being pros. The business of getting published is a business – not a hobby.
19. Boring writing. Some writing is just a slog to read.
20. Queries that are simply unclear.  If I read the query and find myself thinking, “Huh? This manuscript is about what???” – then I’m not going to even bother reading those 20 pages.

So that’s it! Twenty turn offs. So what DO I want? Well, you can read between the lines here. And look at my many past posts on this blog. Plus check out my guidelines here.

Wishing you all a very productive writerly fall.

*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: Big Girl Panties

brave little diverHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Summer time is a great time to catch up on stuff, to try new things, and to sip that early morning coffee outdoors while deep in thought. I’m hoping you’re taking some time to have deep thoughts about your writing as well as your career. And so while you sit and sip and think, I want to toss something out there for you to ponder: Do you have your big girl panties on?

What do I mean by THAT??? I mean, are you being brave in your writing? Brave with your writing career? Not reckless, mind you, but BRAVE.

Here’s what’s set me circling around this topic: A writer friend I know has spent the past two years or so polishing up his manuscript and wants to now get an agent. When I asked him how that was going, he said he’s sent out 4 queries over the past few months. He seemed to be done with it.

I congratulated him for taking that step (let’s face it, it can be a tough step for some), but then, of course, I cocked an eyebrow at him. Four? He immediately said he hates querying. The potential rejection. But he says he wants an agent. I immediately issued him a pair of big girl panties to don, because, let’s face it, 4 queries ain’t much and he’s standing in his own way of his success. His fear is blocking him from is goal. Four agents… How long will it take those agents to read his query? Sometimes that can take months. How likely will it be that one of those 4 agents will fall in love with the query and request the full and then fall in love with the full enough to offer representation? Tastes are very individual. The odds are decidedly small. Wouldn’t it be better to have at least, say, 10-15 queries in play at all times? Or even more, if the writer can find a good number of agents that might be a fit?

And what is this author afraid of? Failure? Success? Isn’t the more frightening aspect spending several years on a novel that you then refuse to show anyone, even though it’s really good?

We writers (I’m a writer too, remember) self-sabotage our writing careers in so many ways. Yes, it’s a tough world out there and success is never guaranteed. But it would be so much more likely if we writers would stop blocking our own success.

So I say sip that early morning coffee and think deeply about your own writing goals. List them on paper. And the steps to attain them. And star just where you are stuck. Have you written anything? Have you finished that novel? Have you polished it and let others read it and suggest edits through a crit group, say? Have you taken the steps you need to learn about publishing, about how to query? Have you polished your query? Researched the right agents for your work? Sent out queries? Learned from the responses you’ve received and refined your query letter? Then sent out more queries? And while this goes on, have you then starting your next work?

Are you holding yourself back from your dreams in any way? If so, look hard at how and why. You may just need to go big girl panty shopping. Be brave!

 

*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? 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: 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, and we’re all overseen by the wisdom and experience of our founder, the talented Jennifer De Chiara. It’s not unusual for the agents to consult each other and share info about the market or editors or certain situations that pop up. In that way, each agent here shares from a wide pool of experience that benefits all of the authors we represent. We also 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 agency 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.

*Note: There is now a Part 2 in this series (click here), which features agents Roseanne Wells and Linda Epstein. And a Part 3 (click here) that features founding agent Jennifer De Chiara.

 

*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.