Agent Monday: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

half shyHappy Agent Monday everyone!  I hope you are all coming off a very restful 3-day weekend sated with too much barbecue and lots of feet up on the lounge chair time.  Fun summer fact about this literary agent: I love to spend summery hours working on a way-too-hard puzzle, glass of iced tea with mint sprig in hand. I love puzzles in general (but don’t send me puzzles, please…), but here’s something that gets my puzzler sore: why don’t so many submitting writers seem to have a clue of what I do and don’t want? Why don’t they cyberstalk agents…in a good way?

Here’s what I’m talking about…Look me up anywhere online and you’ll see that I do not represent genre sci-fi or genre romance. So what do I get in my inbox? Yup. Queries for science fiction romances. I also do not represent Christian fiction or non-fiction. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of queries for this. So I tweet that I do not represent this…and I get a bunch more.

Folks, this is all sorts of bad. Bad for you the writer because it’s a red-flag to anyone you wrongly submit to that you haven’t bothered to even look up the bare minimum of info on the agents you are subbing to. Also bad for you because instead of focusing with laser-eyes on the right agents and getting yourself closer to representation, you are spinning your wheels and wasting your time. It’s bad for agents because so many writers are clogging up agent submission inboxes with stuff that is wasting their time. That means it’ll take even longer for them to get to the queries that might just be of interest to them…and that query just might be YOURS!

So, writers, spread the word and help yourself…You and your fellow authors should be cyberstalking agents…in a good way!  A week or so ago I was at the NJ SCBWI annual conference with my wonderful client and amazing author Tracey Baptiste presenting workshops about the author-agent relationship. Each time we did the workshop,Tracey mentioned that before she queried me, she cyberstalked me. And each time some writers in the audience took notes as if it were something they hadn’t really thought of before.

Now, what is cyberstalking in a bad way? Messaging an agent on Facebook. Please don’t do that. Commenting on their family pictures and putting odd comments all over their blog about your manuscript. Also not good.

Cyberstalking in a good way is much more behind the scenes. You are gathering info, not putting yourself in front of people you are going to be contacting. So google the agent you are submitting to. Read their submission guidelines and follow these. Now look beyond those guidelines.  Google the agent’s name in quotes followed by: agent (especially if that person has a common name…you don’t want to drown in useless info about people who are not that agent). For example, in the google search line you would type for me: “Marie Lamba” agent.

Now, what turns up is likely more than a static agency website (though that’s a good starting point – you won’t believe how many people clearly don’t even look at that for guidelines). Like with me, you’ll find my twitter feed – with that note about Christian fiction, about other current likes and dislikes. You’ll also find interviews I did that highlight what I’m looking for, my interests, my style. After reading through these, you may discover that I really don’t want to see anymore paranormal romance novels, and you’ll cross me off your list. Or you will see that I’m searching high and low for the next Bridget Jones in woman’s fiction, something smart and funny but ORIGINAL and not a Bridget Jones knock off. And you just happened to have written something that might be a fit… Hey, now you can query me and say something along the lines of “I saw in your interview with xyz that you are searching for the next Bridget Jones…”

Now you’ll have my attention. This is a query from someone who has done their homework and carefully targeted a submission.

You might also see something in your cyberstalking that you like about a particular agent. Their philosophy, the authors she represents, her humor, whatever. You can point to that in your query. Or you might find something you really don’t like. A site with numerous complaints about unethical practices? An agent saying things that seriously rubs you the wrong way? Is this someone you want to go into a business partnership with? If the answer is no, then cross them off the list and move on.

Cyberstalking in a good way can yield the most current agent guidelines and help you narrow your list of agents to the best and most-likely fits for you. Start there in your query process and you’ll find yourself closer to the yes you seek.

I know that I’ll pull up my agent inbox today and find it full of queries from people who don’t have a clue of who I am or what I do or do not want. Sigh. But I know that you won’t be clueless, right? And because of that, you will stand out. Of course, there is no guarantee an agent will offer representation, even if you target them well. But, like chicken soup, it definitely wouldn’t hurt.

 

*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.

 

Agent Monday: Trust your Gut

IMAG1006Happy Agent Monday, everyone! It feels like summer has truly arrived. Today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about feelings… or rather, intuition. In a few weeks, my  wonderful author Tracey Baptiste and I will be presenting a talk on the author/agent relationship at the NJ SCBWI Conference. What should a writer look for in an agent? How can a writer know if an agent will be right for her? There are many things writers should consider, but Tracey pointed out one factor that is often overlooked: Intuition. She told me, “As soon as I talked to you, I just knew.” Something about the ease of conversation, about our shared wacky humor…  Um, I’m not sure WHAT she means about that (see our picture here from BEA for clues, perhaps?). So here’s the big question. Are you trusting your gut?

I definitely am. When something is right, I just know it. As a writer myself, I listen to what feels important to me, and I pour my heart and soul into writing that. As an agent, I look for that gut reaction to what is submitted to me. I often pass on projects that I know I could sell, but that just don’t feel right for me. I trust my intuition to guide me to the books that I feel have true heart and importance. Sure, I have a checklist of things that I’m looking for, but there’s something more. That just knowing when it’s right. And when I speak with an author, I’m also tuned into whether or not we are communicating well and whether or not we share the same goals and expectations.

What about you? Do you listen to your gut enough? When looking for an agent, you should do all those things you know to do when researching them. But, when an offer comes in, you know what I’m going to say…TRUST YOUR GUT. Because at this point, it’s not about getting an agent, it’s about getting the right agent. This is a business partnership you want to last throughout your career. You are entrusting your “baby” to this person. Does it feel right?

Many writers are so thrilled to get any offer of representation that they are eager to just say YES! I always tell writers I make offers to that they should wait a few days to let me know their answer. I know I risk that author changing their mind, but I want this to be the right decision for both of us. I want them to think it through and really feel good about our partnership.

So when you get that offer, I advise you to pause. Think, can you communicate well with this person? Do you feel confident about them? Is there something they say that bothers you on some level? If so, don’t brush it aside because you are so anxious to get representation. Pay attention to your gut. Ask questions.

In Tracey’s case, she said she just knew we were a great match as soon as we talked on the phone. Yes, I told her to take a few days. To let other agents reading her manuscript weigh in during that time. And to let me know. I wanted it to be right for her. She trusted her gut, though, and just told the other agents thank you but I have an agent, and then she accepted my offer. It wasn’t the way many “how-to” articles tell you to do it, but it was the right way for her.

I’m happy to say that Tracey’s manuscript THE JUMBIES was then sold to Algonquin Books for Young Readers, and that it’ll come out in 2015!  Here we are at BEA a few weeks ago with her awesome editor Elise Howard.

Elise Howard, Tracey Baptiste and me BEA 2014I knew as soon as I read this book that it was something special. I knew as soon as I spoke with Tracey that she would be a delight to work with. Tracey knew as soon as she spoke with me that I was her agent. And Elise at Algonquin knew as soon as she read THE JUMBIES that this was the right book for her list.

Trust your gut!

*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.

Thank you!

MP900341744Today isn’t Agent Monday, it’s Memorial Day Monday.  So I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to our troops.  I’m in awe of your sacrifice and I never take the freedom we have for granted.

Soon I’ll be heading out to my town’s Memorial Day parade to honor our local vets.  I wish you all a relaxing and peaceful day with family and friends.

See you all here next week!