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

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

Stephen FraserStephen Fraser

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agent Monday: Some Words on Writing Contests

file000331550356Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Writing contests are a great way to garner attention. Nab a notable award and it’ll be a feather in your writing bonnet. And even if you don’t win, you might gain the attention of important people. Sometimes, in fact, editors and agents are serving as contest judges — win, win!

Today I’m so excited to welcome to the blog wonderful author Stephanie Winkelhake. In her guest post, Steph is sharing some tips she’s gathered about entering writing contests. Listen to this woman — she knows what she’s talking about! Stephanie has finaled not once, but TWICE in the national Golden Hearts competition sponsored by RWA. For the 2014 GH competition (winners announced in July) she’s a finalist for her awesome YA thriller CARMA ALWAYS, which is about a clone who is brought to life to solve her original’s murder before the boy she loves in both incarnations is destroyed. Take it away, Steph!

Some Words on Writing Contests
by Stephanie Winkelhake

Once upon a time, I was terrified to show my writing to anyone. I mean, it’s still a nerve-wracking thing today, but years ago, it was something nightmares were made of. What if my writing was horrible and I only thought it was decent? What if I had no business writing at all? Those doubts prevented me from handing over my manuscript to people I actually knew (you know, besides my mom).

So, baby steps. I entered contests. Since my manuscript at the time had romance in it, I opted for RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter contests. Imagine my surprise when I actually became a finalist in one! I nearly cried because someone—and not someone related to me—thought my words had merit. And besides that, the judges returned my manuscript with constructive feedback that helped shape me into a better writer.

I entered more contests. I did well in some, and didn’t score high enough in others. In late 2011, I entered the RWA Golden Heart® Awards—the most prestigious RWA contest for unpublished writers. That following January, I signed with my agent (hi, Marie!), and that March, I got another important call—my manuscript was a finalist in the GH! Talk about a nice surprise. Gradually, I gained enough confidence in my writing to find a critique partner and some wonderful readers.

This year, I’m a GH nominee again with my YA thriller CARMA ALWAYS. Getting that phone call a second time was just as exciting as the first. I owe a lot to RWA and those amazing judges I had along the way. (Also, a special shout-out to my agent and my CP/readers!) They all gave me that spark of confidence I needed in my writing to push forward.

Is there a secret formula to wowing the judges? If so, I’d really like to find out what it is. But I do have a list of items I follow before submitting an entry, and in case anyone is curious, I’ve added them below:

1. Always read the formatting directions. Some contests have their own formatting requirements, like what to put in the headers and what font to use. Pay attention, because you don’t want to be penalized right off the bat for not following directions.

2. Decide what happens on page zero, and determine what to include on page one. Okay, so I wish I did have a secret formula for this one. But there are things you can avoid, like spending three pages having a character waking up and describing their breakfast. Dedicating the majority of chapter one to tell the reader about your character’s entire life before now? Also probably a bad idea. Besides, you only have so many pages to show off your characters to the judges, right? So make them count.

3. Determine whether scenes in the entry pages are truly needed. You’ll want to make sure every scene in the entry moves the story along. And here’s something I do: I cut any unnecessary sections. Does this scene only contain stuff the reader only needs to know in pages after the entry ends? If so, CUT. And hey, sometimes I find that this helps pinpoint things I don’t need at all in my manuscript. Sometimes this helps me find a paragraph or scene that takes the reader out of the story. CUT. In this year’s GH entry, I ended up trimming a scene I originally thought I had to have, but turns out, it didn’t add much to the overall story. Say it with me now: CUT!

4. Leave the judges with a nice memory. Contests usually have a word count or page restriction for entries. But I never end an entry mid-sentence or paragraph. In fact, I try to conclude an entry with a finished scene. Sometimes this involves revisiting #2 and cutting more words to squeeze it all in. Sometimes I’ll switch scenes around to leave the entry on something that highlights what I think the judges are looking for. For example, romance is important in RWA contests, so I try to end the entry on a romantic scene between my characters. It can’t hurt to leave the judges with a nice memory before they turn their attention to the score sheet.

5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Judges won’t give you high marks for your writing mechanics and grammar if your entry is littered with mistakes. I find it helps to go over the entry on an e-reader, which forces me to look at manuscript in a fresh way. I’m always amazed at how many mistakes or misspelled words I discover on my e-reader versus my computer screen.

And…that’s it. Easy, right? Sprinkle in some hard work and a healthy dose of revisions, and you’ll be cooking.

Oh, one last (very important) thing: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t final or win. That doesn’t mean your writing or story isn’t great. Not at all! Remember that writing is a subjective business. (Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good thing to remember outside of contests, too.)

Happy writing!

 

GH_2014_thumbnailStephanie Winkelhake is the author of CARMA ALWAYS, a YA thriller recently nominated for the 2014 RWA Golden Heart® Award. Her young adult paranormal FOLLOWING YOU (previously titled THE MATTER OF SOULS) was a finalist manuscript in the 2012 Golden Heart® contest and the winner of the Best-of-the-Best round in the IRWA 2011 Indiana Golden Opportunity contest. Her story DO NOT MACHINE WASH appears in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: I CAN’T BELIEVE MY DOG DID THAT! (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Sept 2012). When not writing, Stephanie is most likely reading, burning something on the stove, or plotting a return to Comic-Con. Her website can be found here. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Agent Monday: In Good Company…with Character

RetirementHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  No matter what sort of fiction you write, it’ll really soar if you include believable characters…people we care about, people we love, or people we love to hate. Without compelling characters, a story can really feel flat, and a story engine can chug to a full stop. Today I’m excited to welcome to the blog Richard Uhlig, who is a terrific author, and who I’m proud to call my client. Richard definitely knows a thing or two about creating compelling characters. Here’s his take on it…

In Good Company
by Richard Uhlig

“This is hell!” my fiction-writing students say. “How can you do this year after year? It’s drudgery sitting at my desk for hours trying to come up with a story someone will want to read.” One writer I know calls his den The Torture Chamber. Norman Mailer said writing was the Spooky Art, “… where there is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where the words are coming from, those divine words.”

Yes, writing an original book, play or screenplay can feel like you’re shoving Noah’s Ark up Pike’s Peak by hand. Then, over your shoulder you hear Cassandra whispering, “All this work is adding up to nothing.”

You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help comparing your writing to Vonnegut’s, Fitzgerald’s and Munro’s, always coming up short. What you thought was a solid idea when you sat down to write it can default faster than the Greek banking system.
There is, however, an opium for this kind of creative pain. I know it’s helped me. It’s easy and close at hand: masturbation.

Kidding aside, write about people who you find entertaining.

Unconventional people. People who stand up to seemingly insurmountable problems. People burning with dreams. People who are their own worst enemy. Exceedingly bad people, exceedingly good people, but most of all exceedingly interesting people who shake up your sense of decorum and expectation.

Ideally, these people should want something desperately, even if, in the case of Shrek, that something is just to be left alone.

Beginning writers often waste months ironing out a concept, or trying to figure out the intricacies of a plot, without having given much thought as to who the yarn is about. Writing a story where the characters are secondary to a plot is like dancing without music. It’s okay for cookbooks and instruction manuals, I suppose, but you’ll never come up an Auntie Mame, Humbert Humbert or Willie Loman.

Tip: Put your characters in drastic, hilarious or god-awful situations right away. Follow their reactions. They should lead the way. If they don’t, search for a new character who does.

Keep in mind, this is creative writing we’re talking about. Not journalism, not biography. To write a facsimile of your church-going third grade teacher, Mrs. Carter, can lead to narrative paralysis. The real Mrs. Carter would never allow Miss Barkley, the p.e. teacher, to kiss her. But what if the fictitious Mrs. Carter lets Miss Barkley kiss her? That would buck your reader’s expectations. In other words, allow the Mrs. Carters in your life to inspire you, but free them to do their own thing. Reveal their hidden desires.

And don’t freak out about writing stereotypes. No offense, female p.e. teachers. The fun, like with Mrs. Carter, is to add contradictions to stock characters. Take the hit 1980s situation comedy “The Golden Girls.” Blanche is the slutty southern belle, Dorothy the tough Brooklyn Italian, and Rose the naive farm girl — clichés all. But the writers artfully forced these stereotypes to reconsider what they believe, constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones while maintaining a core consistency. The result? Some of the most memorable characters ever created for TV. Sinclair Lewis, the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote chiefly about “types.”

Writing can be a lonely game, for sure, but if your characters consistently surprise you by what they do and say, you’ll soon find them great company. Who knows, you may even find them more interesting than a lot of people in your non-fictional life.

So, the next time your novel stalls like a New York taxi at rush hour, get out of the driver’s seat. Let your characters take the wheel. It’s easier for you, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun for the reader.

 

Rick UhligRichard Uhlig is author of the YA novels LAST DANCE AT THE FROSTY QUEEN and BOY MINUS GIRL (both published by Knopf) as well as the e-book MYSTERY AT SNAKE RIVER BRIDGE.  He’s also penned the feature films DEAD SIMPLE, starring James Caan and winner of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Critic’s Choice Award, and KEPT, starring Ice-T.  Richard wrote and directed the award-winning short films CAN’T DANCE and MY KANSAS.  He lives in New York City with his wife and two children, and is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: On Writing and Fear

Yvette from her facebook profileHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today, I’m excited to feature a guest post by my client, extraordinary author Yvette Ward-Horner. It’s all about writing and fear. Yvette has plenty of experience facing fear both on and off the page. Her stunning debut novel LOOK WELL tackles the realities of climbing; the glory, the fear, the bonds that emerge from suffering. It also examines the choice that some of us make to abandon the mainstream blueprint for success and instead pursue a different type of life. Yvette writes with true authority. In real life, she happens to be a climber herself (that’s a picture of her on that icy mountainside). So, take it away, Yvette!

ON WRITING AND FEAR
guest post by Yvette Ward-Horner

“Doubt and uncertainty, fear and intimidation are at the heart of the novel-writing process.” – John Dufresne

Fear.

It’s there with you when you write those first words; it’s still there later when you type The End and blow your nose and think Is it really over? And all the way through your story or novel, as you coax and smooth the words out (or are charged and trampled by them), fear will twist your thoughts and crumple your hopes.

This sucks.

I’m a hack.

No one will like this story.

And then there’s the flip-side, of course; you know that too. If you write, you’ve surely spent hours or days or weeks with the words rushing out, high on your talent and the sheer raw joy of writing.

This book will be huge.

How could it not sell?

It’s a page-turner.

But it never lasts. Maybe you get a new rejection, maybe your spouse is thoughtless, or maybe you just eat too much hard salami. You re-read your work and it’s suddenly not quite so clever. Your metaphors flop, your plot twist rattles, and why would anyone care about your protagonist?

No one will like this story.

This book is awful.

And there you are again.

As a writer and climber, I know fear well, in all its forms and stages of intensity. It may seem that the fears of the writer and the fears of the climber have very little in common, but under the fraying nerves, there’s a common message. Stop what you’re doing. You won’t make it. Give up now.

And so much of the danger is simply imagined.

I might fall.

I might fail.

That whisper in the back of the mind.

But what can be done? How can you make yourself brave? You’re hoping right now that I’ll teach you some magic; a Zen trick, a swift path to courage. You want to cling tight to that muse-fed bliss when it comes, joyfully streaming your visions onto the page, secure in the knowledge that your talent is strong, your prospects rosy, your novel a thing of beauty.

But there—you feel it already. That rustle of doubt. Sit still for a moment and let it rustle, feel it twisting: yes, it’s deep and ugly. Now turn away and get on with what you were doing.

That’s all you can do.

The stark fact is that fear is just part of writing, like seductive adverbs and wayward commas and plot threads that lead you miles in the wrong direction. And it can’t be escaped. It makes you doubt everything sooner or later – your characters, your scenes, yourself. It sits in your chest and whispers give up and it can make you abandon a book before it’s finished. If you let it.

And that’s the key to this whole thing: If you let it.

Because fear will never kick you free, no matter how much you scold it or wring your hands, no matter the quality of your positive self-talk and the inspirational quotes you post on Pinterest. Getting published won’t get rid of it – if anything, it makes it slightly worse. All you can do, then, is learn to abide with it; let it be part of your writing and your life. On the days that your book is singing to you, write. On the days that fear is darkly muttering, write. Finish that beautiful novel you’re writing; surge on your flows of hope and ebb with dignity. Let fear ride with you, but don’t let it dictate your actions.

And never let it decide the course of your life.

 

Yvette headshot from websiteYvette Ward-Horner is author of the debut novel LOOK WELL. Her short stories have been published in print and online literary journals and several have been reprinted in anthologies. Her short story THE NOMADS won first place in the Literary/Mainstream category of the Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 78th Annual Writing Competition. An avid mountain climber, Yvette lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she climbs as much as possible and is a member of the local Search and Rescue team. You can connect with her on her website here and friend her on Facebook here.

 

Agent Monday: Query Letter Crit Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: Too Soon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the hurry?

 

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

 

 

Agent Monday: So What DO you Want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy manuscript shopping!

 

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