Agent Monday: Toss Me a Hook!

??????????????????????Happy Agent Monday, folks!  I’m back from a sun-soaked weekend filled with overdoing it in the yard work department. I’m a touch sun fried and sore, but what a great switch from those mounds of Northeast snow we had to dig out of… I also spent some time this weekend digging through queries filling my inbox, and some of them made me want to cry out: Writer, PLEASE toss me a hook!

Yup, today we are talking about hooks. See, sometimes I get queries with opening pages that are written beautifully, truly. But I find myself wondering what the story is about. Who is the audience? How the heck would I pitch it? These questions, if unanswered, make me worry that this book won’t fit into the marketplace. I’m a literary agent, and my job is to fit your work into the marketplace. So you see the problem.

It’s not just an agent issue, either. Just last week, I was chatting with an editor at one of the traditional publishing houses, asking her about what she’s looking for in a submission. After she shared what sort of genres she likes and her personal tastes, she added: “And I need a hook so I can pitch it.”

You might be scratching your head right about now wondering why an editor needs to pitch your book too. It’s because the editor, once he or she falls in love with a book, must then convince folks in that publishing company that it should be acquired. The editor in a smaller press might go right to the publisher and have a chat, or, as is the case in many of the bigger houses, may have to present the title at an acquisitions meeting. That meeting could have fellow editors, sales people, the publisher, all sitting there wondering what this book is about and where it’ll fit on their list and in the marketplace.

So, please, help yourself and formulate a great hook for your book.  A one-liner… Something along the lines of: TITLE is a READERSHIP/GENRE about THE UNIQUE INTRIGUING PROBLEM. Here’s one for one of my recent client sales: ELIZA BING (IS NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER is a contemporary middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end.

From this hook, we know the title, the demographic it’s pointed toward (middle grade), that it’s a contemporary novel (vs. sci-fi, thriller, etc. etc.), and we see the unique hook. A book about a girl with ADHD. Cool!  And we also see that there is a problem, a plot attached to it: proving to others and herself that she has stick-to-it-ness.

Eliza Bing jktI used this hook when pitching it to the editor. I’ll bet the editor used a version of this while pitching it to the publisher (it just came out through Holiday House). And the author, Carmella Van Vleet, uses a version of this all the time, I’m sure, when a reader comes up to her at a signing and asks, “What’s your book about?” Heck, our foreign rights rep even uses this hook when talking to publishers around the world.

So YOU should figure out your own book’s hook. Include it in your query. Toss us a hook, and hopefully it’ll help your novel catch on.

 

*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.

Award Nominations!

Author_Profile_pic_WinkelhakeSo excited to announce that my client, awesome author Stephanie Winkelhake has just again been selected as a finalist in the prestigious RWA Golden Hearts competition! Her manuscript CARMA ALWAYS is a riveting YA thriller with a scifi twist – about a girl who is cloned and brought back to solve her original’s murder and save the life of the boy she loves, no matter what version she is. A futuristic Romeo and Juliet.

Gregory Frost 1In other great awards news, my client, amazing author Gregory Frost has recently been nominated as a finalist for the esteemed HWA’s 2013 Stoker Award for his excellent story “No Others Are Genuine,” which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Congrats to them both!

Agent Monday: Wait, You Rep What?

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  And HAPPY SPRING. Phew. Somehow this feels hard-won this year.  I honestly can’t remember when seeing snow bells and crocuses in bloom has made me more giddy or brought more relief. Change is in the air, folks!  And something else has made me a bit giddy… so I’m “putting out there” a shift in my agent submission guidelines.  Hence today’s post title of: Wait, You Rep What?

First a wonderful announcement!  I’m delighted and thrilled to now represent picture book author/illustrator Lee Harper. Lee is well-known for creating books which are hilarious as well as breathtakingly beautiful.  He is the author/illustrator of SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) and THE EMPEROR’S COOL CLOTHES (Two Lions) and his most recent book is the lyrical and lovely COYOTE. Lee illustrated WOOLBUR by Leslie Helakoski (HarperCollins), TURKEY TROUBLE and TURKEY CLAUS, both by Wendi Silvano (Two Lions), and LOOKING FOR THE EASY LIFE by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins). Lee equally enjoys illustrating the works of others and writing and illustrating his own stories, and he currently has a number of his own picture book ideas in the works. Yeah!

Okay, I know.  My guidelines say I’m NOT interested in picture books and make NO mention of repping illustrators.  So what gives? Hey, things do change. But before you hit that send button, I want everyone to know that I’m not open to picture books and illustrations from everyone. I’m actually only open to submissions from established illustrators and picture book authors, and to those sent to me on referral, or to folks who I meet at conferences and request submissions from.  If you’d like to see where I’ll be when, my up-to-date appearance schedule can be found here.  Sorry I can’t take submissions from everyone, but if you saw my inbox and my workload for current clients as represented on my very scary spreadsheet, you’d truly understand.

I’m really excited to enter the world of representing picture book authors and illustrators!  I bring to this not only my background as a writer and editor, but also my fine art background (I have a dual degree from U. of Penn in English and in Literary Art – a major I created there which combined creative writing and all the fine arts classes I could take).  Plus I’ve already sold one of my client’s very cool non-fiction picture books: TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and astronaut Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space (Charlesbridge).

So there are a lot of new things popping up everywhere…crocuses and snow bells included.  I’m also still looking for great middle grade and YA fiction, adult and women’s fiction and memoir, and my guidelines for those can always be found here.

Happy Spring, 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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Everyone’s Different

SnowflakeHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Hopefully you are making it through the winter okay.  Not letting the relentless snow get to you… Washing your hands and not letting the germs get to you…  And feeling hopeful all around. Days are getting longer and longer. March isn’t too far off (do NOT tell me about big snowstorms that tend to happen in March, please). And nothing can stop you from writing, not even a power outage. Ha!  Take THAT, winter. But sometimes we writers can fall into the doldrums. It can happen at any time of year. We feel this way when we don’t get validation. Our critique group gives us some harsh advice. Our agent isn’t 100% on board with our newest manuscript. Our efforts to get an agent isn’t met with the roaring praise and success we’d hoped for. Our manuscript on submission to editors isn’t an instant sell. They like it, but… And WHAM! Just like that we doubt ourselves. We see others having success. What’s wrong with our writing? What’s wrong with us? So, today I’d like to just remind everyone that writing and publishing (and agenting) isn’t an exact science. EVERYONE’S DIFFERENT.

A few weekends ago I spent an awesome weekend as a guest agent at the SCBWI conference at Asilomar, CA. Hey, it was in California, so I’m allowed to say awesome.  Not only was it a blessed escape from the hell-hole snow and ice storms that have fallen upon the Northeast every other day, but it was also yet another reminder of just how different every person truly is in this business.  And how important it is to remember that as a writer, no matter what stage you are at in the biz.

Nowhere was this more obvious than at the agent pitching roundtable that we held.  I was the agent sitting at one table, and Jennifer Unter, who is lovely, was at the other. Jennifer and I met and clicked earlier that day. We seemed to have the same sense of humor and passion for great books, so you’d think we’d like the same sort of things, right? Nope. The writers got to pitch to the agent at their table and the other writers there got to listen in and take in our reactions. What did we respond to? Were we interested? What did we think about the pitch style and how could it be improved? What did we say about the market potential for a work?  Then I switched tables with Jennifer and I did this with the group she’d just heard from, and she took my group and did the same. The result? Interesting, for sure.  We each shared some opinions, sure. But we each also had very different interests too. I liked some things she didn’t. And vice versa. I liked or didn’t like certain things in the pitches, and that sometimes varied too. The big takeaway? Everyone’s different.

This isn’t an exact science. Yes, it certainly helps that I know lots of things about the editors that I pitch to.  But there is always that “I’ll know when I see it” factor in play. They can tell me they are looking for such and such, but there are tons of intangibles. That idea they didn’t know they were looking for until they saw it. That type of book they’d never thought they’d buy…until they saw such an unusual take on the subject and were completely blown away. And readers are fickle too. That book that was supposed to be a mega-hit, but fizzled. That sleeper that wasn’t supposed to go too far, and then broke all the records.

It’s not an exact science. It’s about your gut and your instinct and your unique point of view.  It’s about connecting with others, too. So listen to what the world says about your work. Take it in and think about it. Take what will make you a better writer and use that. But keep being yourself and believing in your voice and writing.

Everyone’s different, every book’s different. Every agent and editor is different, too. So work hard, keep improving your craft, love what you do, and have faith that you’ll find your audience.

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Inspiration – Follow Your Goosebumps

Flying birdsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Today, as we move from bleak January through chilly February, it’s a perfect time for some inspiration.  I’m so pleased to feature here a guest post by my client, the extremely talented Harmony Verna.  Harmony’s manuscript FROM ROOTS TO WINGS caught my eye the moment I started reading it.  Her writing is luminescent. So vivid. And her characters grab you with their reality and their longing and heart.  FROM ROOTS TO WINGS is a sweeping and passionate adult historical novel set in turn-of-the-century Australia and America. It’s about a boy and girl orphaned in the harsh Australian desert. They form a young innocent love, but must take separate harrowing journeys in their own search for home and for each other. This manuscript was a final round selection for the James Jones First Novel Contest.

And here Harmony shares with us her insight about inspiration:

 

INSPIRATION – FOLLOW YOUR GOOSEBUMPS

Guest post by Harmony Verna

As writers, we sift through an infinite jumble of words, sorting and arranging them like puzzle pieces until they sit just right and tell our story. At times, these words will soar, fly to the moon, and at others, fall flat to Earth with a thud. So what makes the difference? Inspiration.

For me, goosebumps have always been a barometer of inspiration. When I can FEEL a character’s surprise or pain or elation to the point that it raises the hairs on my arms, I know I’ve nailed it. It’s the same way a certain song can enter your very pores, or a soft, scented breeze can warm from the inside out, or an act of kindness can break your heart with its purity – it becomes a visceral experience. Your body becomes like an incandescent bulb cranked up from a dimmer switch, bright and open to creative energy. Anytime you can transfer that level of feeling through the written word, that is inspiration.

But let’s face facts, it’s easy to be open to the flow of inspiration when a sunset branches across a quiet evening sky or when we have time to stare at ripples dancing upon a lake. That’s all great until reality smashes in and wrecks that lovely scene – an unexpected bill comes in the mailbox, the kids are home sick for a week, the laundry is piling up and gosh darn it, we’re out of coffee! But c’est la vie, writers. It’s up to us to pull inspiration into life even when life seems to be kicking and screaming against it.

Truth

Earnest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” What makes a sentence true? When you can feel the words radiate from under your skin, down to the marrow. When dialogue becomes so real that it enters and converses in your dreams until you ask the voices politely to stop; when you enter a landscape or time or place so fully that when the phone rings, it takes a moment to remember that you are here, writing, sitting at home; when you write words that squeeze your throat or make you giggle like a naughty child or wipe your streaming tears on your sweater. And when your story finally ends, you grieve your characters as passing friends. This is truth.

Simplicity

As wordsmiths we cling to vocabulary, espousing our bag of fancy words when in fact, sometimes the simplest words pack the most punch. Look up the word “old” in the thesaurus and you’ll have a ball field of synonyms to use. But like a sundae piled with too many toppings, it might look appetizing but you can’t taste the ice cream anymore. There can be a certain power to simple sentences, simple thoughts – “He was an old man. A man with old teeth, old breath and lingering old smells.” Say what it IS first. You can always elaborate later.

Don’t self edit…yet

It’s easy to judge the words that get put down first. Are they perfect? Are they smart?  Maybe or maybe not. All that matters is that they’re REAL. We all have an urge to self-edit, but tell that voice to hush. Let the words come out easily, accept them without criticism. And don’t worry, the day for editing will come. Let me rephrase that, the days and months and sometimes years of editing will come. Enjoy those first words, the freshness of them. Then later, you can plant around them, knowing that your first seedlings are pure.

Ban the ego

Daisies on whiteNothing kills inspiration like a pesky beast called the ego, a creative leech that attaches itself to your writing and sucks the life out of it, leaving the words hollow and depleted of soul. How do you know if the ego has snuck into your creation? When your focus is on how good and smart and lush the words are rather than the smell, taste and feel of the words; when you’re more concerned about getting on Oprah than getting behind the computer keyboard. Anytime you feel the need to stand out or to impress – that is ego.  And how do you know if your writing is free of ego? You KNOW! It sits right in the gut. There’s an internal sigh and half-smile that’s calm and says…that’s it. I got it. You know.

You got this

Your story wants to be born into this world. It’s all there, already written, already changing lives and inspiring people. You are the vehicle for this story, open yourself and ALLOW the story to unfold. When we put aside deadlines, the need for approval and the stress of writing something “perfect,” resistance is lifted and inspiration has room to enter and flourish. Then it’s just your job to ride the wave and hope your pen can keep up.

So, before you start writing, take a moment. Be still. Silence the mind chatter and focus your attention on that warm, quiet place in your chest with the calming beat. Look at the fine lines of your hands. Feel the threads of the pillow. Listen to the tick tock of the clock down the hall. Smell the subtle spice of your tea. And now…slowly…let the words of your story come into existence. Welcome them as you would a child, with open arms, with unconditional love and gratitude, and then…

Follow your goosebumps.

 

Harmony Verna

Harmony Verna has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing, and has been involved in articles that appeared in top-tier publications across the country and guest segments on news programs including Today, CBS This Morning and Good Morning America. As a freelance writer, she has written scripts for the Food Network and articles for Modern Bride Magazine, Connecticut Woman Magazine and more. Harmony is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and she is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday – What I’m Looking for – Part 2

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, HawaiiHappy Agent Monday, folks.  If you are like me, after 5 solid days of fireworks and potato salad and beach sand crusted into your eyebrows, you don’t know what the heck day it is…  But it’s Agent Monday… I’m pretty sure, anyway.  So, today I’m continuing my What I’m Looking for series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event the other day over at Twitter.  So here goes…

adult fiction – literary voice with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something#mswl

Okay, let’s break this down.  Adult fiction is pretty obvious (though you’d be amazed at how many people don’t get it right).  This is fiction where the main character is in their mid-twenties and older, or, if the character is younger, the material it covers is clearly not for teens or younger.  Just so we’re clear, by that I don’t mean porn, and I personally am not interested in erotica (see my post on Fifty Shades of Not for Me).

When I say literary voice, I mean gorgeous writing, precise language, taking the time to develop imagery and symbolism and meaning throughout the novel.  But that doesn’t mean that I like lofty elitist writing where an author is contemplating their naval and getting all pretentious on the reader.  No no no.  Hence the “with commercial appeal.”  I still want plot, an understandable hook, emotion, etc.  The sort of book that I’d pick off the store shelf and get pulled into…a book that won’t let go.

Character driven – that means that I’m going to care deeply about these characters, even more so than the plot.  This sort of book isn’t all about the hook or the concept – it’s about relationships and growth and conflict all couched within an intriguing story.  No stock characters allowed.

Transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something.  I love getting sunk into another place or time or being taken into the heart of something I’d never have access to otherwise.  Two of my adult fiction clients, Harmony Verna and Yvette Ward-Horner have done this with incredible talent and artfulness.

In Harmony’s historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, she’s coupled the harsh world of turn of the century Australia with a hero and heroine I immediately fell in love with. We meet James and Leonora when they are young orphans and are with them as they form an innocent love. And we also meet Ghan, a rough man who has lived a brutal life in the mines. He considers himself a hideous monster, yet he, too, is a hero throughout this story. As the three lives intertwine we feel the grit of desert sand on our sweaty brow, the horror of the mining life, the joy of children who never had joy in their lives before, the heartbreak of tragedy, the pomp and excess of the wealthy steel tycoons in Pittsburgh, the scraping back-breaking life of someone living in the Australian wheat belt throughout a drought. Harmony takes us to all of these places with stunning detail as we feel how all of these environs wound and shape the characters we have come to love so much.  At the heart of this piece is a true and deep love story as the orphans James and Leonora search for what is home and what is love.  In a word: gorgeous.

In Yvette’s contemporary novel LOOK WELL, she’s paired the finest of imagery and word choice with gripping action, taking the reader up to the highest peak in Alaska as obsessed climber Gabrielle fights to blaze a new historic route to the top. With her are Jason and Mike, two men who know this is a suicide mission, but who love her so much they are terrified to let her make that climb with anyone else. In this book I feel every thunk of the axe into ice, I become so sunk into the story it’s as if I’m truly on the climb with them. I learn so much about this sub-culture — people who risk all for the thrill of the climb, and who carry their lives on their backs. And the characters on the climb also carry their share of conflicts. Their emotional journeys shape every step they take, keeping this book in the “character-driven” vs. “plot-driven” category. This is truly a “heroes journey,” one that I’m not sure, as I read through, any of the people I’ve grown to care for will survive.  Absolutely stunning and riveting.

So there you have it: adult fiction – literary with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting.

Written one of these? Then bring it on over!

 

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: What I’m Looking for – Part 1

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Waiting for good stuff in my inbox…

Happy Agent Monday, and happy July everyone!  It is absolutely pouring here right now and my road looks like a gushing river.  So I’m sitting here and sipping my first coffee of the day thinking that I wish my agent inbox was flooded with amazing queries right about now….  This past week over at Twitter, there was a #mswl event going on…  Manuscript wish lists were posted there by agents and editors, and I jumped on the bandwagon, posting a few of my own wishes.  Immediately I started to get some submissions into my inbox referencing #mswl – but a bunch weren’t even close to what I was asking for.  So I thought I take the next few agent Mondays to spell my own #mswl a bit more.  Here’s what I’m looking for…

#MSWL numero uno: Strong beautiful YA contemporary – character driven w/ 1 main prob, not dozens

Okay, so it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of novels by Sarah Dessen and John Green and that also I might just have written a YA contemporary novel or two of my own.  So of course I have a deep abiding interest in contemporary YA.

Contemporary = realistic.  No paranormal elements. Based in reality.  So if you query me with a contemporary novel that features elves, then you have mislabeled your manuscript.  That’s a fantasy.  If there are ghosts, that’s a paranormal.  So what I mean is real kids in real situations that happen right now. Contemporary.  Clear enough.

I find that many people still are confused about what makes a book a young adult novel.  You need to have the main character be a teen – and an older teen at that.  Too often a 13 year old character is really the star of an upper middle grade novel (kids like to read about characters older than they are).  Or the main character is in their mid-twenties or older- that’s adult fiction, not YA.  There is also a “new adult” category emerging where the character is in college or in their early 20′s.  If the novel has a teen character, but the story is all about the parents in the story, then that is also not YA – that’s adult.  Lately I’ve also gotten manuscripts that feature points of view of both a teen and an adult with the focus being on both the stories – but the teen story doesn’t appeal to an adult audience, and the adult story is definitely not for the teen readers – that sort of book is all messed up genre wise and impossible to place. Trust me, no teen wants to read about a character’s parents’ sex life in alternating chapters with the teen’s story. Zowie.

Anyways… Character driven should be pretty self-explanatory: the characters are well developed, grow throughout the book, and they are the focus of the story rather than a high concept hook.  Like if it’s a book about a murder investigation that focuses on the whodunnit rather than the who in the story, that’s plot driven, not character driven.  If the book’s all about scandal and salacious details instead of the impact that something has on a character, that is also not character driven.

I’m hoping to get into the character’s head and soul and to walk in their shoes as they deal with a conflict that forces them to change in some way.

Which brings us to the last part of my #mswl: 1 main prob, not dozens.

I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I get where the plot starts off promising, but then veers into the ridiculous with the number of problems piled onto the character’s life.

Let’s say the character is stuck in a foster home and doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere…until she starts working at the quirky music shop and discovers a new dysfunctional but loving “family” that she can call home.  I’m making this up for this piece, but that, right there is a novel all laid out. One main problem with tons of opportunities for characters and conflict and twists and revelations and in the end, growth.

What I’m getting in my inbox instead is something that runs like this… Take that same one heartfelt problem as above, BUT also…the character’s mother was murdered, the murderer is still out there, the character is sexually abused by a teacher she had begun to trust, she’s also a drug addict, and the job she gets at the music store is run by a heroin addict and staffed by people she gets close to only they are all illegal aliens and get deported, so she develops bulimia, and…

You see what I’m saying? Not one main problem but dozens. Piled on. Where’s the confidence, people? You don’t need sensationalism or tons of issues. Give me one issue with some minor ones if needed added on. Give me heart and elegance and a character I care about. Look at the books by Dessen and Green and other beautiful contemporary writers.  Bulimia = one book. Abuse = one book. No family love = one book. Etc.  So look at how few issues characters in these great novels are really dealing with at once.  I think you’ll be surprised at the simple central premise that rests at the bottom of each one.  People/characters are complex enough, right?

Anyways, that’s my #mswl #1.  Put that in my agent inbox right now, please.  But PLEASE follow my guidelines so you do it the right way.  For my guidelines, click here.

And stay tuned for another #mswl next week!

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Some Depth Perception

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day weekend and spent time with special people.  Writers are special people…and I spent an evening last week with my own special writing critique group the Rebel Writers discussing our own work (cuz I’m an author as well as an agent). And we had an interesting discussion about our own careers as writers and what we do vs. how we are perceived by agents.  Honestly, before becoming an agent myself, I saw things very differently. I thought the most important thing for me to do was to create that one perfect book and that would be what an agent would want. But now as an agent I see things a bit differently. Yes. I want that perfect book. But I also want more from a writer. More writing, yes, and more from the writer as a pro in the publishing world. I’m looking for depth.  So today, I’m offering you all some depth perception.

But wait, isn’t it all about that book you’d choose to represent?  Isn’t a writer’s job just to get that right?  Well… yes and no. Yes – you’ve got to do it right. But I’m representing you, the author. Not just your book.  So if I take you on as a client, that means I’m interested in you and your career over a span of time. Dash out one book and have no patience to fine tune it before we sub to a publisher – then I’m not interested.  Spent 20 years on your novel and never plan on writing another?  I’m also not interested – unless, perhaps, it’s such an earth-shattering book that it’s all that’s ever needed from you in your life (not likely, though). Write beautifully, but you are difficult to deal with? Then I’m definitely not interested. I’ll move on to an author who is the complete package – talented and professional.

So I’m looking for depth, for the complete package.  A writer who is productive, who is professional in manner and rewarding to work with. Someone who is as serious about their career over the long run as I am. I’m investing a lot of time in a client, and if I’m going to do that, it means I expect them to do the same for themselves and their own writing.  Publishers expect that too.

Think of it this way… An editor falls in love with a client’s manuscript that I present to them and makes an offer. They are doing so in good faith that I am giving them a total package author – one that is talented and that the editor can work with. Not a prima donna. Not an argumentative person. Not someone who won’t follow through on deadlines. Not someone who is difficult at every turn.  The publisher is taking on this writer and investing a crap load of money into them that goes beyond that advance – and they would very much like a return on that investment. They are, in essence, building you up as your own brand and developing your audience of readers. But what good will that end up being if you never write another book, or you take 10-15 years before you complete your next volume?

So here’s the depth perception I’m talking about: you, the author, need to work on a number of fronts to make sure you are the total package.  And here’s where I was wrong in my own career as an author in the past: I was very much a one book at a time kind of person.  I wrote the book, and then worked to market it to an editor or an agent and that was my mission.  But I wouldn’t write another book until that first one was repped or sold. I was single-minded and goal-oriented, something that helps me as a writer when it comes to writing a novel till the end, but it was also problematic.

Selling books, getting representation, it all takes time. By waiting for a return on my time investment, I also slowed my career down.  I should have been more productive, I should have been working on the next book, and then the next (though NOT a sequel, because that is a poor investment of time if that first book never sells).  I am sort of a one thing at a time writer, but once the book is complete and sent out, I should have mentally let it go and moved on to another project – still doing what I needed to market it, but also creating the next project.

Writers who continue to write and produce even as they try to get representation for their work are awesome finds for an agent. Say I read your manuscript and fall in love with it, and give you a call…  I’m going to ask you about your goals as a writer. I’m going to see what other writing you’ve done and plan to do in the future.  If this is your one and only piece of writing and you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, it’ll make me pause.  If you’ve got several other projects to show me, I’m going to perk up. You are serious. You are productive.

The other front – the professionalism part of you – should also be well-developed. You need to read deeply. To have realistic expectations in your dealings with agents and editors and realistic attainable goals for your career. You need to understand the publishing business so you’ll know how to talk to an agent, how to deal with an editor, the do’s and don’ts of your desired career. That means research, getting knowledgeable through conferences and through professional writing organizations, which offer a strong educational component through their events, magazines and online forums. And you need decent personal skills. If you can’t speak civilly to people, if you are rude, or passive aggressive or arrogant in your dealings with others – you’d better work on yourself.

When I make that call, I try to suss out your expectations, your professionalism, and if we can work well together. If I detect some red flags, that offer of representation will not be made.  And if, once we start working together, a pattern of difficult behavior emerges, then representation will be withdrawn. Why? Because my reputation is on the line. If I match up an editor with a difficult author, just imagine how many problems can come from that. How will that publisher regard the next author I might present to them after that? Yeah. Not good.

So, back to my Rebel Writers critique group and our conversation last week.  Those writers in my group have the professional part down to a tee. They are wonderful to work with, and understand the business. Any agent or editor would be delighted to work with them. Could they get their work out into the marketplace more? Absolutely.  Not spending enough time on subbing polished and finished works is definitely a missed opportunity.  Could we all be more productive? Many of us have other jobs. Life throws plenty of obstacles at our feet. And it’s hard to keep producing when that last book doesn’t seem to have found a home yet. But yeah. We all need to keep our creative head in the game, no matter what’s going on with our other manuscripts once they are being marketed. We all need to keep kicking ourselves in the pants and write that next book, and that next one.

Because we can get better with each book we write.

Because it shows how serious we are as authors.

Because it will give us a body of work to share with readers once we do find a home in the marketplace.

Because writers write.

And because agents/editors/publishers are interested in the total package.  They are interested in a writer with depth. And creating that depth is totally in your, the writer’s, hands.

 

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Agent Monday: Meeting Face to Face

MP900387533Happy Agent Monday!  Last week was just TOOOOO busy for posting.  The Book Expo America (BEA) conference was held in NYC last week, and I was there all day Wednesday. That meant prepping for the event (figuring out which booths to visit, which editors I wanted to meet up with, which clients’ books I was going to do some “market research” on, which events I wanted to attend, which other authors/agents were attending that I could say hi to, etc. etc. etc.)….  The day itself was awesome. There’s just something about seeing people…about meeting face to face.

At BEA I was able to talk with some fabulous editors who had only been a voice on the phone, or, in the case of one London editor, a “voice” in emails. Sitting with these people, relating our enthusiasm about their publishing line, about my clients, is energizing. As they say in one of my fav mindless programs The Bachelorette (new episode tonight – woot!), we had an awesome connection.

I also loved being able to talk at depth with various publishers’ head sales people. Where were their lines headed? What was their vision as a house? What did they hope to publish more of? These people were fabulous in giving me all the juicy details. I scoured the exhibit floor, pulling catalogs of smaller publishers, eyeballing the very best in literary presses, seeing who had the most innovative new approaches.

One of the supremely thrilling things about BEA is seeing so many people in one spot who are completely devoted to the written word. Hoards of readers and authors and editors and publishers and agents and booksellers, lugging bags filled with ARC’s and catalogs. The excitement was palpable.

Yes, all of this was fab. But I had one other face to face ahead of me at the end of the day – a dinner with one of my clients who I’d not met yet. And I couldn’t wait!

It may seem strange to think that I have clients I haven’t even met yet, but that’s the way it often goes. Of course I feel like I know that author the moment I fall in love with his or her writing. Their personalities are all over those pages – that’s what we mean by “voice.” But still, I wonder will that person be just like I’d imagined? Will I be like they imagine?

For those of you about to meet your own agent for the first time, whether it’s at a conference or for coffee or for dinner – I want to remind you of something: you are already their client!  This is a happy moment to connect face to face and deepen your relationship…or, as they say on The Bachelorette, “to take things to the next level.” So relax and be yourself. You don’t need to sell yourself. Phew, right?

It’s a great time to learn a little more about each other, to talk about your journey as an author, to share more of your dreams, but also just to hang out and see what else you have in common.

But also remember that it is still a business relationship you are forging here. So that means you arrive on time, dress appropriately, and try to keep things as positive as possible. If you need to share concerns, definitely do. If the agent asks you about your relationship with a past editor or agent, be honest, but don’t be a gossip or dig dirt for dirt diggin’s sake. And you don’t need the meet up to be all about business or even slightly about business if it isn’t needed.  A lunch or dinner that is 99% hanging out with just a few biz-related questions tossed in is just fine too.

In the end, you want to feel more connected to your agent, to understand them better, and to enjoy  their company. And visa versa.

So, after BEA, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and having dinner with my client Tracey Baptiste! She was on-time, and smiling, and we hugged immediately – she’s part of my agency family, after all. We had a lively dinner filled with laughter and experience-swapping, and talking about her future and both of our wacky paths to this moment. And we ended with some exquisite desserts and another hug.

I’ll soon be pitching Tracey’s exquisite middle grade novel THE JUMBIE SEED, about a girl who unwittingly draws out the jumbies, malicious monsters inhabiting her island’s woods, and soon discovers she has more in common with these creatures than she could have ever imagined. I can’t wait to send this one out to publishers…and now, after meeting Tracey face to face, I’m more excited than ever.

Here’s the thing: I always feel passionate about my clients and their work and I feel an almost mother-bear like protectiveness about them. I want them to thrive!  After I meet a client face-to-face, I have a face – voice – and fully formed person even more in my mind when I think of them. Mother bear to the max! After meeting Tracey in person, I know without a doubt that not only will a publisher be fortunate to have her manuscript, but that an editor will thoroughly enjoy working with this author. And that certainly will give me even greater conviction when I pitch.

So if you have a chance to meet your agent in person, grab it.  Perhaps she is coming to your area for a conference and you could drive up to meet her there (that’s how I got to see Stephanie Winkelhake), or perhaps you are flying into NY to meet your new publisher (that’s how I got to hang out with Carmella Van Vleet).

Meet up, make a connection. As they say in The Bachelorette, it’ll be “just awesome!”

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: 50 Shades of Not-for-me

MP900396129Hi all!  Okay, I know it’s Tuesday, but whatev’s.  Truth is, my Agent Monday was swamped with me catching up on other stuff, plus finishing up the edits on a client’s amazing middle grade novel.  Better late than never.  So here goes. 50 Shades of Gray has so many authors a-buzz with the whole “I can do that,” and “I can make a ton of moohlah doing that” energy.  And these submissions are starting to land in my inbox several times a day. So let me just put this into the stratosphere: As far as I’m concerned, it’s 50 Shades of Not-for-me.

Once I get a chance to update my online guidelines at the agency, I’ll definitely add in “no erotica” to that list of what I do and don’t want. Look, it’s nothing personal.  I’m just not into erotica in literature. I’m into character-driven fiction, depth, humor, amazing writing. Honestly, if you have that and then toss in an erotica plot to cash in on the craze, I’m still not on board. An in-depth compelling relationship with an amazing love-making scene, sure. But a naughty bite your lip and play hooker cuz it’s so empowering sort of novel? I’m out.

So save yourself some time and if that is what you are aiming at, simply remove me from your submission list. I’m not the agent for you. Please don’t try to convince me that your novel is not that “sort of book” when it really is. If you sat down and wrote it to tap into the “50 Shades Craze” then please don’t send it to me. If the whole trajectory of the plot is to put your heroine into more and more naughty scenarios, then I’m out.  If there are damp panties mentioned every time she sees a handsome man, THEN I’M OUT.

Just so we’re clear.

I wish erotica authors well, I truly do. And I hope they can find the agent who IS interested in their novels. And I hope they understand that I’m not that agent.

Okay, now that I put this info “out there,” I’m going to spend the next half hour or so rejecting the many erotica submissions sitting in my inbox right now.

No hard feelings, gang. ;)

 

*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 “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.