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

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

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

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

Agent Monday: Query Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: The Times, They are a-Changing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isolated Martini GlassCheers!

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: What this Agent Does and Does Not Want

pumpkinsHappy Agent Monday everyone!  Here in the Northeast it’s a crisp glittering fall morning, the kind of weather that makes you feel you can really take on the world. If you writers are feeling the same, you may feel that extra zing of energy to send out some queries to agents for your latest work. Good for you!  For some help in this department, I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what I do and do not want…

susan-coventry-200But first of all, I want to send out a huge welcome to my newest client, author Susan Coventry!  Susan’s debut was the historical YA The Queen’s Daughter (Holt), which nabbed the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year honor. She caught my attention with an unusual manuscript that’s a retelling of the little known Arthurian courtly love story about Enide and Erec. It’s vivid, sharp, witty and fresh. Basically, it’s a cross between The Princess Bride and The Once and Future King (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite books EVER).  So I lift a mug of mead (okay, it’s coffee) to Susan in welcome. I’m so thrilled to represent her.

So, back to the land of queries… I spent several hours this weekend reading through my inbox. For those of you waiting on responses, I’m up to queries received on August 1st. (Yeah, there are still a lot more after that, but I DO read them all and answer them all.)

*If you sent a query before this date and never got a response, that means you broke a cardinal rule and were therefore deleted without a reply. Deletable offenses include: mass-mailed queries that aren’t addressed to me, titled things like Dear Sir or Madam, or with no greeting at all…Attaching your query (I won’t open query attachments from people I don’t know)… Openly offensive or rude statements in your query…

*Also, if you see on something like Query Tracker that I have a response time for some folk of like a day or a week, and yours has been sitting around for a month or two, don’t despair. I do like to breeze through queries as they spill in for a quick look – and if something is clearly a no – I’ll zap back a form rejection. If something is a zowie-gotta-look-at-that-immediately query, I’ll request the full right away…otherwise it goes into the queue for later.  And, yes, I have acquired clients from that “later” queue…

Okay, then… What I do and do not want.  Please read my guidelines, people.  You can find them here and also on the agency website.

MP900308953Some things I do NOT want:
- Genre fiction. I’m not a fan at all, so please do not send me your sci fi, romance, high fantasy, or horror novels.
- Extreme violence and gore. HATE that. Please do not send me violent serial killer novels, or slasher books, or blood-soaked stories whether fiction or memoir.
- Horsey books. Confession? I’ve always been afraid of horses – I’m pretty sure they were put on this earth to bite my face off. Needless to say, I never “got” the girl obsession with horses, so if your book is about that? You’re neighing at the wrong agent. ;)
- Things I’ve seen way too many times before. I’m over paranormal romance, dystopian, I never “got” zombies (bite off my face thing again?), or werewolves or stuff like that.
- Things that feel too much like something else. I get a lot of almost fan-fiction-like novels. They aren’t in the same world as the original, but change a few names and it’s the same story.
- Memoirs that are mainly a sad retelling of something that happened in your life. Divorce. A cheating husband. A common illness. The death of a loved one. While I can feel compassion for these writers, I’m looking for something a bit different in a memoir.
- Memoirs that are mere nostalgia, or a telling of a fairly common experience. I get a lot of memoirs that feel like an older person who has decided to chronicle their life for posterity — this may be a lovely gift to pass on to your family, but it’s not a commercial product in my eyes. I also get a lot of “wow, I went on this trip,” or “wow, I went to college,” or “wow, I worked a lot of strange jobs” memoirs — to me, this is just life, and not remarkable enough for others to buy and read.
- What they are now calling “sick-lit,” inspired by The Fault in Our Stars success. I’m not interested in “someone is dying” as the theme driving a YA or women’s novel. It feels a bit too overwrought to me, and there needs to be a lot more to the plot for my taste.

Young Girl ReadingOkay, so what DO I want?
- Something fresh and original with a recognizable voice.
- Something that moves me to laugh or cry or both without being sappy or stupid.
- Something that takes me somewhere I’ve never been before, or shows me something in a brand new light.
- Something with a hook, meaning it has an understandable and unique theme and conflict, and a clear audience.
- While I don’t DO romance, I’m open to romantic themes in YA and women’s fiction — just please don’t make it predictable or the heroine shallow and all about the guy! Also, what IS it with guys who have green eyes and a crooked smile? Jeesh! Is this every girl’s fantasy or something? (To those guys out there with green eyes and a crooked smile, be on your guard for rampaging women…You have been warned.)
- SMART women’s fiction that can become the next great chick flick — and that is NOT just a rehashing of Bridget Jones, Stephanie Plum, Shopaholic, Sex in the City.
- A YA that is smart and real ala Sarah Dessen.
- Brilliant writing that is accessible. I’m not one for literary fiction with a meandering plot, but I adore gorgeous writing.
- Strong characterization. I’m not one for merely plot driven fiction. I need to care.
- Hilarious and moving middle grade.
- I’m open to elements of fantasy, a fun or moving ghost story, I love the shivers (without blood, please). But DON’T give me genre writing.
- Diversity, but only if it is genuine and intrinsic to your story.
- Memoirs that bring more to the table. Incredible voice, unusual humor, revelations for readers, a takeaway for readers, real heart, a truly unique inside peek at something…
- Books that leave a lasting impression. 

Take a look at my client list here. You’ll see a range of people who are very serious about their craft. You’ll see that their ideas are unique, and that their books stand out on the shelf as something fresh. Read their work and you’ll see their voices jumping off the page.

And if you have these qualities, I definitely want to see your query!

 

*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.