Agent Monday: On Luck

Green CloversTop ‘o the mornin’ to you all!  Happy Agent Monday AND St. Patrick’s Day.  With the luck of the Irish and pots of gold being much talked about, today I thought it’d be a fine time for me to talk about luck and the writer. Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting a good review, getting great sales, even getting that perfect idea for a book at the perfect moment.  Some people are just lucky, and some people never get any breaks, right? Well…

As someone who is an author and an agent, I’ve had my share of good and bad luck. Looking back, the most significant bad luck I ever had as a writer was completely out of my control.  Debuting as an author (after MANY years of struggling to break in) just as the recession was starting? Beyond my control. Being one of the very first Random House titles to not be automatically picked up by Barnes & Noble and Borders (remember Borders?!!!)? Also out of my hands. And, because of being one of those very first titles, my already written and approved sequel was immediately canceled. This bomb was dropped on me just 3 weeks before my debut title came out.  My editor (and champion) left the business at that moment. Seriously horribly rotten luck, right? Terrible. Tragic. WHY ME AFTER ALL MY HARD WORK rotten luck. And all out of my hands.

I’m sharing this with you so you’ll know I get it. I get that sometimes not only do the stars not align, but the planets crash down on your head and whomp your dreams to pieces. But still, luck is in your control. That’s because it’s what you do from that moment on that makes all the difference.

Do you quit? Do you wallow in self-pity and misery? Or do you make your own luck?

For me, I was determined to make sure that my debut didn’t fail and that my sequel saw the light of day. So I took charge of marketing in every way that I could. I pursued every out-of-the-box idea I could think of and worked non-stop. And because of this, my debut YA novel WHAT I MEANT… didn’t disappear, and neither did I. It was embraced by readers, it went into reprint multiple times, this title earned out its advance, and it is still in print as an ebook to this day. That was all hard won. Also, I took charge of my standalone sequel OVER MY HEAD, which seemed to be doomed. And I put it out myself. It’s earned great reviews and reader praise, and it’s available now in print and in ebook.

And while I would never have chosen this hard route for myself, it shaped me and I’ve taken away so much from these experiences. While I started out with some P.R. and book promo experience in publishing, this twist of luck transformed me into a truly informed book publicity machine (and now I pass this knowledge on to my clients), and it taught me where indie publishing really fits into a writer’s life, and it showed me just how awesome my own agent Jennifer De Chiara is when it comes to supporting a client through thick and thin (something I strive to emulate with my own clients now).

You can take your luck into your own hands, and it’s important to, as a writer, see where the control rests. Sure, you can’t make an agent represent you, but you CAN strive to write the very best most polished manuscript you can and to research to find the right agent, and to follow that agent’s guidelines, and to write the most skilled of query letters.  None of that is luck – but it improves your luck, doesn’t it? It leads you to that pot of gold.

And if that path to the gold is strewn with land mines, it is up to you to chart a new path, a better one. To take control wherever you can and to make your own great luck. To write beautiful stories that will inspire people.

MP900314154The real truth about good luck, I think, is that it is not some passive thing that just happens to people. We have a hand in it. Making sure we say yes to opportunity wherever it rests, and that we work hard to make the most of it. (Haven’t we all seen people, even ourselves, screw up something or run away from something wonderful that has been practically tossed into our laps?) Making sure that when something diverts our good fortune, we learn from that and reroute ourselves back to our own good fortune, making an even better path.

That’s what I think dreams are really made of.

Good luck!

 

*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: Digging for Buried Treasure

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved that it’s March. A definite sense of “phew we made it-ness” has pervaded my mind.  A huge snow storm was predicted for today, so imagine my glee when I flipped up the shades this morning and discovered we’d gotten not 12 inches but barely an inch! HA! Take that winter. So instead of wasting time digging out mounds of white stuff I can devote a little extra time to digging for buried treasure. That’s right! It’s time to hunt through my inbox for that query that’ll tempt me to request a full manuscript. Wanna come along for the adventure? Pack your treasure map and your spy glass and follow me. Arrrrrr….

First query – science fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent science fiction. Rejection sent.

Second query – non-fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent non-fiction (aside from memoir). Rejection sent.

(Are you noticing a trend here? If so, here’s the link to my own treasure map, er, I mean submission guidelines.)

Third query – memoir. Something I actually represent. Yeah! Unfortunately, I found this one to not be unique enough, and the sample chapter was stilted. Rejection sent. (For what I think makes a memoir stand out, check out this post.)

Fourth query – YA, something else I actually represent. But this one is not at all ready for prime time. The writer needs to learn a lot more about the market and about writing before being at a professional level and ready to submit to agents. Rejection sent.

Fifth query – Women’s fiction, something I’m looking for. Length of the manuscript is right and the query follows my guidelines, but I’m not drawn in by the premise. I read a little of the sample pages pasted in below the query (something my guidelines allow for) and I’m not crazy about the voice or the writing. Rejection sent.

Sixth query – Category romance. My guidelines state I do not represent category romance. Rejection sent.

Seventh query – Women’s fiction. I found the query letter to be flat and it didn’t evoke anything for me. Rejection sent.

Eighth query – YA. The themes were cliché and the language used didn’t feel like it belonged to a teen. Rejection sent.

Ninth query – Middle grade fiction. Definitely looking for these. But this one didn’t sound unique, and the writing wasn’t up to snuff to me. Rejection sent.

Tenth query – YA. Strong query, except for a cliché tossed in. Opening pages have a nice voice.  I’m still worried about the cliché, though. Hm…  No rejection, but no request for more yet either.  I’m setting this one aside to look at again later, maybe after another cup of coffee.

Eleventh query – YA. I like the query and the plot hangs on an interesting hook. Encouraged, I read the opening pages, but quickly find myself skimming. Lots of back story. Pacing is way off. Rejection sent.

Query twelve – Fantasy. While I like fantasy elements, full-on fantasy is not my thing (as I say in my guidelines). Rejection sent.

Feeling a bit discouraged here.  Will there be any treasure in them-thar hills or not? Shall we shoot for lucky thirteen? Okay pirates, take a swig of rum (or coffee) and let’s journey on to one final spot.

Query thirteen – Horror. Guess what? I’m not at all into genre horror. Plus, I’ve seen this plot before in a very famous novel. Rejection sent.

MP900341872Ah well, fellow treasure hunters. Be not discouraged. The majority of my clients have been found through the query process, so treasure hunting does pay off.  And for you writers, know that crafting an interesting query plus a fascinating manuscript is what it’s all about. And here’s a takeaway that is simple, yet pure gold: read an agent’s guidelines and follow them!

Until next time, me mateys, Arrrr!

*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: It’s all about Priorities

conceptHappy Agent Monday, people! This weekend was all about stepping outside while the sun was finally shining and the snow was starting to finally recede. Plus there were all those weekend-ish priorities intruding from vacuuming, to food shopping, to doing taxes, and reading queries (I do like to do that with my first cuppa Joe first thing on weekend mornings). But Monday’s priorities are entirely different. Ah, where to start? It’s all about being organized even as things are being tossed at me left and right. At the end of the day, and especially at the end of the week, I want to have moved forward on goals I’ve set for myself.  So in today’s post, I thought I’d shed a little light on just what this agent might be doing in a typical week. And for this agent, it’s all about priorities.

What are my priorities?  Let’s start with my email inbox. My inbox pings dozens of times. So many emails. How to keep it straight? My eye zooms over the list and if there is an email from a client, I open it immediately. Makes sense, right? And I respond as quickly as possible, even if it’s just to say, hey, I got this and I’ll get back to you later today. In most cases, I follow up on that email as soon as I see it. They are my clients, after all. Next to be opened? Any emails from my fellow agents within our agency, and from editors. They are top priorities, too. This is the core of my business, true?

Okay, then there are dozens of queries. They continue to spill into my box. When I’m taking breaks throughout the day, I may zoom through a bunch of them just to preview them. Preview? Yeah, I’m just seeing if this is a query I need to read immediately, or if it can wait till another day. What’s a need to read immediately query? Something that I’ve been particularly waiting on. Something from an established author. Something that grabs me by the throat and I just have to read RIGHT NOW. But most can wait till I have more time. I do want to take time to consider them, so I set them aside to do that, probably over a weekend.

One kinda surprising thing to note is that if I get a query that I’d requested from a pitch at a conference, or through some other personal connection I’ve had with the writer, it might actually take me a little longer to read and respond. Um, huh? Wouldn’t that person be in the VIP track and get a faster answer? Well, yes and no. This is a query that I know I need to take even more time with. Even if I’m not interested as soon as I start reading it, I’ll need to offer a more personal response. So I slot those reads into when I can spend that sort of time on them. But, mind you, all queries take time. That’s why you might get a form response from me if I’m not interested. Try not to be hating on the form replies from agents. Think about it this way: If I didn’t use this form letter, most writers would never get a response because there simply isn’t enough time to read and personally respond to every single query. As a writer myself, I know how important it is to get any answer. You want to know your status, you want to find your agent. If I’m not the agent for you, then you want to know and move on. That’s your priority, and I try to respect that and be as quick as I can.

Okay, so that’s just my inbox, which, let’s face it, also has a ton of other things popping into it. Like follow-ups for conferences I’ll be participating in. And questions from our film agent that need answers. And interactions with our foreign rights rep. These are all top priorities, too.

What else do I have cooking in a typical week? Well, let’s pull out my client spread sheet and take a look. My clients are productive and they are keeping me BUSY! Let’s see…I have two new manuscripts I’ve never read to look at and respond to. I’ve got six manuscripts that have been revised based on my notes and that I need to read through for final edits. I’ve got two manuscripts that I’ll be pitching this week, which means I need to tweak my pitch and finalize my list of perfect editors, and get on the phone to call those perfect editors…plus, then I’ll have to follow up by sending out the manuscripts to the editors, and updating my files and my clients related to those submissions. Phew, right?

AND, I’ve got a phone appointment later today, a meeting with an author tomorrow. An interview to do for a publication… Oh, and I also have some requested full manuscripts awaiting response. Not such a bad week, actually. It’s tougher when you have to leave the office for a length of time for a conference or a number of meetings.

That’s why I try to be smart about how I use my time. And this is all why you the writer should be careful with time when it comes to agents. If you are subbing queries, don’t waste time sending to agents who don’t rep your sort of work. Don’t waste time sending out queries for work that isn’t polished to perfection. Don’t waste time within your query talking about irrelevant stuff – get to the point and convey your idea quickly, and agents will be appreciative and responsive. If you have an agent, be mindful of his time. You want your agent tending to your career, so don’t waste time chattering on the phone, for example, when you can send him a quick email instead. I’m not telling you all of this just to make an agent’s life easier (but, hey, that’s a nice perk), but to make your writing life more productive and fruitful. It’s your time and your career – important priorities for you!

So, onto my priorities for the week. Agent Monday Post? Done. Desk organized with pens, my reading glasses, notepad, sticky notes and highlighters. Client spreadsheet open. Client files I’m tending to today, stacked to my left. List of my top priorities for the week – front and center.

Ready? Set? And go!

*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: Title Talk

Boy reading in the libraryHey gang, happy Agent Monday!  More than half way through January.  We can do this!  The days are getting longer, right? Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about the way writers title their novels. And why it matters when going on the hunt for an agent. Sound good?

Okay, so one of the first things a reader encounters about a published book is the cover and the title.  Like a great cover, an on point memorable title can help with the sale of your book. Makes sense, right? Something vague that doesn’t position the work in a reader’s mind won’t prompt a reader to pick the book up.  Something that sounds kinda like something else, will be confusing. A title that is completely misleading will attract the wrong audience, who will quickly discard the book in most cases, once that audience sees it’s not what they were hoping for.

So, let’s face facts. A title is a marketing hook for your book. Writers, ya gotta accept that. Yes, your book is art, but it is also a product to be sold. So while you artfully create your title, remember that you want it to be sold and read. You want an agent? Then a great title that represents your book well is a solid start.

Think of it this way… Nail that title, making it memorable and just right for your novel, and that title will go into your query. I’ll see that title and think, ah, cool. That’s an awesome title. I’ve got the feel for what the book will be. And I know that’ll give my pitch to editors some punch, because when I get on the phone and talk about the book, I’ll say the title and the editor will light up, thinking, ah, cool!  Fast forward to that editor falling in love with the manuscript and pitching it to her acquisitions committee, which sometimes is made up of editors and sales folk. She says that great title, and the people on the committee are all AH, COOL! Already they can start to picture how they will position this title and sell it, how readers will sit up and take notice.

So title does matter.  Can the title change as it goes into production. Yup. But if you come up with a solid one, chances are pretty good it’ll stick.

Okay, so what are some title mistakes I see in submissions that stream into my inbox? Well, there are those vague titles. Things like: Time and Time Again, or Eternal Love, or Seasons of Change. That sort of stuff that feels like it could be any novel written in any century. Not exactly standouts. Then there are those not right for the readership titles. Like a cutesy one such as The Giggly Girls, which, okay, maybe for a chapter book, but for an edgy YA? Nope.  Or a title like Blessings in Disguise. What sort of book do you think that would be? Certainly not a gripping bloody thriller.  Another, less obvious title mistake? Choosing words that would send people to the dictionary to understand, and that most folks will get wrong spelling wise when they try to search for it on the computer. This isn’t time to elevate the general public.  You want to be found and talked about by readers.  If they can’t even type the words correctly, how the heck are they going to pull it up on their computer to purchase it?

Do I ever represent manuscripts that have not so great titles? Yup, when the query and the book itself overcome the handicap of a misleading or dull title. BUT, the first thing I talk about with that author in our phone chat is that title. It’s gotta change. Are they okay with that? And together we come up with the title that’ll make the book’s pitch really soar.

A title is a marketing hook. Right?

Some great titles by my clients?  FLIP-FLOP DAYS, MARSHMALLOW NIGHTS, by Miriam Glassman, a wonderful middle grade manuscript that takes place in sleep over camp. ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, by Carmella Van Vleet (which has just gone on sale!, Holiday House), a fab middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who is determined to prove she can stick with something to the very end. FOLLOWING YOU, by Stephanie Winkelhake, a gorgeous YA manuscript about a dead ex-boyfriend who just can’t leave.  FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, a sweeping debut historical by Harmony Verna, about two orphans surviving in gritty late-1800s Australia in a difficult search for home and for love. And here’s my own recent novel’s title: DRAWN, which is a YA about a young artist who starts sketching a guy from another time, and is drawn into his world in the 1400s.

Not all of these titles started this way, but reading this list, can’t you start to grasp the tone and the sort of book it will be?  That’s what it’s all about.

*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: The Big Conference Question

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Here I am, hydrating at a panel talk with fellow Liars Club authors at the Princeton Public Library.

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  As you writers set new goals for the new year, you may be stewing over whether it’s worth including writer’s conferences as part of your plan.  Why, exactly, should you go to a conference. Is it worth the money? Couldn’t you just spend that time writing and then learning what you need to know via online research? These were some of the questions writers in my own critique group were chatting about at our last Rebel Writers meeting.  So today, I thought I tackle The Big Conference Question: should you go?

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences by now. First as a writer, and now as a literary agent as well.  Some have been amazing. Some have been, well, eh, in value. But I’ve always learned from them and I’ve never been sorry to attend.  In fact, I landed my own agent, the lovely Jennifer De Chiara (who still reps me, and now I also work as an agent for her firm…yeah, we talk a lot!) and secured my first book deal as an author through conferences, and you can read about all that here in my post WHY CONFERENCES.

Go ahead. Give that one a look.  I’ll wait…

Taps foot…

Done reading that? Okay. So that shows how all the stars could align through attending conferences, and how it did for me. In today’s post I want to go a little deeper into what you might look for in a conference and truly expect, and point out some of the not-so-obvious ways you can benefit beyond the “I landed an agent!” and the “I got a book deal!”, which, truthfully, does not typically happen first time out of the gate. With me, for example, those things were achieved after years of conferences, tons of learning on my part, and tons of polishing of my own writing in between…and then the contacts I made via conferences led in a lovely straight line to my goal.

So, what is YOUR goal. Yup, getting your book published, and published well.  But those who are most successful understand that takes a bunch of intermediary steps. So those who dive into a conference with the sole hungry purpose of getting published will probably blow the many opportunities offered to them at a writer’s conference.  They’ll be too focused on landing an agent to absorb what an agent, who may not be asking for their manuscript after a pitch, is offering in the way of advice on how to improve that pitch. I see that as an agent a lot.  The writer flies across the country and spends mucho bucks on hotel and conference fees to pitch face to face with agents. That writer pitches to me, and the pitch is confusing. I pass, and offer advice on how the pitch is unclear, how, perhaps the writer could focus it better.  But the writer, herself so focused on landing an agent, has shut down the moment it seems like our conversation is not going her way. She hears NO and is done with me and dashes off.

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Here I am studying opening pages at a pitch session held during the Push-to-Publish Conference in Rosemont, PA

Do you see why that level of single-mindedness is a fail when it comes to conferences? If the writer had listened to what I said, she might have discovered a way to improve her pitch, and the next agent she’d pitch to that day, might have said yes.

So, again, I ask you to think about YOUR goal. Here’s a good one: to learn.

At conferences you can figure out the best way to present yourself and your work, whether in a query or in a live pitch. You can hear agents speaking and find out if they are looking for the sort of writing that you do, or not. If not, cross them off your list of submissions, but still listen and take notes – they might offer you a tidbit of advice that’ll help you when contacting agents who are into your type of writing.  Also, it does give you the opportunity to see what a particular agent is really like. You want someone who will represent you well to editors.  Does the agent speak well? Do you like the impression they give off? If the answer is no, then do you really want them to be the face and voice of you and your career? 

You can learn so much about the business side of writing through conferences – the sort of stuff you can’t glean just through reading magazines and books and blogs. Sit in on a panel of editors, and you’ll discover how the acquisitions process works, what they like and don’t like taste-wise, what they will expect from authors they are interested in. And that will all help you.

And then there are elements of craft. Over the years, I’ve learned amazing plot techniques from picture book authors (even though I was writing YA at the time), and research ideas from non-fiction authors (which I used for my historical YA fantasy DRAWN), and gathered so much inspiration from many presenters that kept me chugging along as a writer even when chugging along was pretty tough.

But here’s the most overlooked benefit of attending a conference: the people sitting beside you there!  Talk to the folks around you, and on breaks between sessions and at meals. You’ll find your peers. Swap info on the writing life, and the sort of writing you’ve done. You’ll meet people who get you. Who are doing what you do. Some will have book deals and agents and endless wisdom to offer. Others will be up and coming and be able to offer bits of info you can use, and you can do the same for them. Collectively, all of this will propel you closer to your big goal.  Friends, critique partners, contacts, a bit of info about a writing organization you should get involved with. These are amazing stepping-stones to your success.

So, looking ahead to writer’s conferences this year, which should you choose? I say start with smaller ones closer to home if you can, for starters. Ones with several decent editors and a few agents. You’ll have a lower price tag, more face time with everyone, and a great start.  If you find one farther from home, look carefully at what you’ll get out of it. Are you one of thousands? Do you have opportunities to learn in smaller workshops and have more personal time with fellow writers as well as industry professionals? There are a ton of writer’s conferences out there, with more popping up every day.  Know your goals for attending, and keep an open mind as you go from event to event at a conference. Keep your focus on learning however you can, and you’ll find endless ways to do just that. And remember, that knowledge will help you get where you want to be in the end!

To see where I’ll be this year, check out my Appearances page, which I continuously update as needed.

*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: Exciting Writing for 2014!

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday, and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!  Yeah, I know, it’s been a while since this weekly column has popped up, but it’s been a few weeks filled with action on both the agent and writing sides of my life, plus there was the whole triple holiday thing with family and friends tossed in.  What? Agents have a life?  Well, sometimes…  Anyhow, I know that with resolutions formed, many writers have vowed to get an agent for their manuscript. That means that I’ll be getting lots of queries from folks very soon.  (It’s kinda like the way the gym suddenly gets VERY crowded every January.) So lets chat a moment about this resolution…

Are you vowing to get an agent in 2014? Are you going to send me a query very soon?  Then there are two things I ask. Thing #1: Exciting writing! Make sure your manuscript and your query are the very best they can be before you even consider hitting send.  And Thing #2: Please do your homework about every agent you send to, and follow my and each agent’s submission guidelines scrupulously.

Not doing Thing #1 or Thing #2 will mean a rejection, and that is NOT your goal for 2014.

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I’m looking forward to lots of exciting things in 2014, including my client Carmella Van Vleet’s debut middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER! (Holiday House Books, Feb. 14, 2014).  This is a touching and hilarious book about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end. And it’s already been honored as a Junior Library Guild selection.

I’m also thrilled to announce that we’ve just inked a deal with Charlesbridge Publishers for TO THE STARS! a non-fiction picture book Carmella has co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan about Kathy’s interests in science and the world, which led her to become the first American woman to walk in space.  Talk about cool!

 

9780823429486_p0_v1_s260x420Another amazing thing I’m looking forward to? My client M.P. Barker’s stunning historical YA novel MENDING HORSES (Holiday House Books, spring 2014). Her elegant writing grips you in the drama of a family-friendly “Water for Elephants” about three outcasts – an Irish orphan, a roving peddler, and a girl hiding from an abusive father – who join a circus, help its damaged horses, and must battle violence to mend each other. Check out this wonderful trailer here for MENDING HORSES.

 

In my own writing, I’ve just finished up an article for Writer’s Digest Magazine that’ll be pubbed in their May issue, and I just might be working on a picture book of my own.  I’ll keep you posted on that.  Plus there are a few other exciting things simmering on the agent end of things that I’ll be able to announce soon…

So 2014 is off to an exciting start all around.  Remember Thing #1 and Thing #2, and best wishes to you all for success and joy in your own writing in this brand new year!

*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: No Tricks Required

Future Rock StarHappy Agent Monday!  And a very happy Veteran’s Day to you amazing people who do so much for us all…  Today (on a completely unrelated note) I’d like to talk about the many tricks and gimmicks some writers use to get an agent’s attention. And the truth of it all: that no tricks are required. I know it feels important to get noticed. You want your manuscript or your query to stand out, to make an agent suddenly pay attention. You want to be memorable. But, trust me, if you are using a gimmick or some sort of sneakiness to get attention — it’ll backfire on you.

Here are some of the gimmicks and tricks I’ve seen over the years…

1. The Spectacle:

I’ve heard plenty of ridiculous stories about authors creating a spectacle to get noticed. What I’ve experienced myself? At pitches, authors dressed as their character and playing that role. It can get pretty awkward, especially in the realm of children’s literature. Will I remember you? Sure. I can picture some of these authors right now.  Do I remember their actual pitch? Not at all. Did I request their full manuscript? Not a one. The concept and writing are the stars of a pitch. When the author does something campy, it’s like they are saying: Hey, I know this isn’t that exciting an idea, so let me distract you with this thrilling schtick instead. But this isn’t an acting audition. It’s about words on paper and a phenomenal idea. It’s that simple.

2. Misleading Message Lines:

In queries, message lines that look like the book has a pending offer from a publisher (it didn’t), or was tied in a significant way to a celebrity (it wasn’t), or was being made into a movie (yup, also not true). All are a huge fail.

Will I open your email fast? Maybe. Will I reject you even faster? Absolutely. So you know someone, or took a seminar with someone who said something kind, or even chatted with someone at a cocktail party once. Maybe someone said, hey, send it to me when it’s done. Even someone in the industry saying your project shows merit is a far cry from a celebrity endorsement, a book contract offer on the table, or an inked film option. I promise you that agents know the difference. When the writer is misleading, that signals someone I don’t want to be in a business relationship with. I honestly don’t care how red-hot the writing is. As they say on Shark Tank: I’m out.

3. The Inflated Self-Pubbed Claim:

This is done by folks who have self-pubbed, but then want an agent for that same book in order to get a traditional publishing deal for it. All too often these writers claim their already self-pubbed manuscript is a runaway success and has crazy press and mega-reviews. It’s a huge hit!

Okay, here’s a heads up. I personally know the self-pub circuit well, probably better than most agents do. I just might have self-pubbed a YA novel or two of my own that has, in fact, gotten awesome press, rankings, awards and solid reviews, plus I may currently have a novel up at WATTPAD that has over 400,000 reads. So here’s what I know: If your ebook on Amazon has a few kick-ass 5-star reviews, all within a month or so of publication, then that is probably family and friends helping out, and not significant. If your ranking is in the millions, you haven’t sold at all. If your ranking is in the 100,000′s, then you’ve sold 1-2 copies lately. If your ranking is in the 100s, you may have just come off a free giveaway there, which boosts you for a week or so, or you may even have had a handful of copies purchased via friends (but funded by you) to boost that. Yikes, right? Also, you could be a top 10 in an obscure subcategory on Amazon – again with under 5 sales. If I jump over to Goodreads and find nada in readers and reviews, then I google your book, and ditto, I know you are blowing smoke up my you-know-whatski. I’ll feel tricked. Not cool.  So tread carefully, folks.  What does matter to me? If the writing and concept is awesome, and if you have like 10,000 or more PAID purchases within a short period of time, and true review buzz.  That’s noteworthy. No tricks required. Even better? If you have all that, but are querying me with your next ms. which is still unpublished.

4. The Prologue Trick:

I see this a LOT.  A manuscript starts off with a prologue full of darkness and danger and a life or death decision. It’s often, basically, a preview of things to come later in the manuscript. And it never works for me. It reminds me of those posters that start off with, in big bold letters: SEX! And then continue with: Now that we’ve got your attention… Followed by the real purpose of the poster.

It’s a gimmick that comes from a desperate attempt to grab attention FAST! And it signals a lack of confidence in your writing. Plus, there’s the added fact that it’s hard to care about this gripping action when we haven’t even met the character yet and don’t care about his fate. Do you really need to trick the reader into continuing? Is that what you need to do to hook them? Why can’t you hook them from chapter one with writing that pops and a situation that we are drawn into? That’s the sort of attention that you want.

???????????So, about all of these tricks… I suggest you just skip them all. The real trick is having wonderful writing and an engrossing story. Focus on that. Work hard on your craft. Get it right and believe in yourself. Then agents and readers will notice you for real.

 

*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: Getting Historical

Antique pocket watch - closeup on very old pocket watchHappy Agent Monday, gang!  With this weekend involving turning back clocks, I thought this would be a great time to talk a bit about historical novels (clever, huh?).  So here are some thoughts about getting historical.

I spent last weekend at the wonderful SCBWI Eastern PA Critique Fest, where I sat down with many authors critiquing manuscripts ranging from picture book through YA.  What a great experience! I did have a number of historical manuscripts to crit there, and I’ve also gotten many queries and sample chapters in my agent inbox recently that were historical middle grade, YA or adult.  Some intriguing stories, and fascinating time periods!  But also I found some familiar issues popping up, too. Things that held the story back or got in the way of the plot.

The biggest problem? The author felt challenged about providing historical context and facts – all having to do with world-building, really.  So we ended up with spending a lot of time in those opening pages explaining what was going on in the world at that time – something the characters would never do if they lived way back then.  Imagine you the writer lived 100 years from now and were writing a story about 2013.  Would you have your character thinking, wow, here I am taking off my shoes at an airport because a few years back this horrific act of terrorism happened…and let me just go over all that happened on that horrible day politically and terror-wise so you know why I’m taking off my shoes now?

Yeah, that wouldn’t happen. It would be clunky and unrealistic. Instead, in a story set in a world of hyper-security and scrutiny, the character in our current time would just move forward with the story, and details would present themselves as things progressed, providing context for the reader as relevant. They would notice the cameras trained on them in the parking lot perhaps as they rushed toward the airport, dealing with their own issues, goals, conflicts. The airport PA system would make those “watch out for stuff” announcements, and officers would stand by with bomb sniffing dogs. Our character would remove his shoes, even as he’s thinking about the personal plot challenge that is set in front of him…perhaps he needs to get something from point A to point B without being seen by authorities for something that has nothing to do with terrorism, but everything to do with his family’s well-being.  And voila! The reader will understand the context and the history of that time AS IT RELATES TO THE STORY.

It’s all in the details and how history actually intersects at that moment with the character’s world. Give us what’s relevant. When characters spend paragraphs at the outset detailing for the reader all that research the writer’s done about that time, I check out of the story, honestly. But give me a character I believe in and care about, give me an obstacle with high stakes that they must face, and I’ll follow you for pages and pages as you take them through their world. And I’ll absorb the details of the time and figure out how the era really is and impacts the characters. And yes, here and there as you move along, you could drop in some facts as they become relevant to that character’s world. It’s not about giving the reader a lecture, though. It’s about serving the story and plot. In the end, the reader will have learned a ton about that time and its history. That’s one of the joys of reading historical novels, right?  But it’s all in how you do it.

I’m extremely proud to represent some truly kick-ass historical authors, including Harmony Verna and M.P. Barker. Harmony’s debut manuscript is an adult historical titled FROM ROOTS TO WINGS. She has us immediately worry and care about an orphan abandoned in the Australian desert in the late 1800s, and about a crippled miner who discovers her and saves her. And over the course of this engrossing novel we need to know that somehow they will end up okay. That’s the heart of the story.  But we learn so much as we follow the tale. About harsh living. About the mines. About farming in the Australian wheat belt. About WWI, about Australia’s sacrifices during the war. And about the wealthy Pittsburgh elite. About the Aborigines. Oh, the knowledge we gain feels endless. Yet not once do we feel lectured to.

M.P. Barker’s novels A DIFFICULT BOY (Holiday House 2008) and MENDING HORSES (Holiday House, coming out this spring!) are fabulous examples of historical novels done right for the upper middle grade and YA audiences, and I highly recommend you grab one of these and see how deftly she creates that character, makes us love him, and then throws him into peril so that we simply must know he’ll survive and thrive some day. And the lush details of New England life in the 1800s are simply stunning. Again, she never loads the readers with facts and figures — just has her characters live their lives in this time. And we learn a ton about rural life back then, bigotry against the Irish, the horrors of indentured servitude, the world of both the privileged and the poor.  It truly is an education. But first of all, these are fabulous novels, and the story always holds center stage.

So if you are interested in querying me about your historical novel, I’d love to see it! But be sure that you don’t fall into the trap of historical info dumping and killing the reality you want to build. Take me into another time in a believable way with a character I’ll care about. I’m looking forward to the trip!

 

*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: Nurturing the Creative Side

Colored PencilsHi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  I almost forget it WAS Monday. I woke up early and quickly got swept into doing different stuff. Emailing this. Reading that. Responding to the other…  Doesn’t that happen to everyone? You get all tied up in the goings on of the day and then before you know it? Time has passed. As a writer as well as an agent, I know this phenomenon all too well. In the taking-care-of-business mode, we keep up with deadlines, but it is easy to neglect the creative side. The side that doesn’t necessarily have a deadline, but that defines us as writers. So, while this column is often dedicated to the business side of a writer’s life, today I’d like to chat a little about nurturing the creative side.

How do you as a writer keep yourself disciplined? It can be hard when it isn’t your full-time job and you are squeezing it in between life. But it can also be hard when it IS your full-time job. It’s not just discipline that’s the problem. Sure, you need to be self-motivating as all get-out in order to write a book from start to finish even though there isn’t a guaranteed contract waiting at the end of it.

But what if you are self-disciplined, yet you just can’t seem to hit your creative sweet spot and write anything new that you feel is meaningful? At some point every writer has probably been there. Let’s not say you’ve hit a writer’s block, because, honestly, I don’t believe in that. But what you may need is to retrain yourself in the way you approach your work. To renew your creative spirit. To reconnect with your own personal joy of writing and to separate it from the “gotta write to the market if I want to get published” pressure you may be squeezing yourself under.

Yeah, be aware of the market, but then set that aside and be true to who you are as a writer. Create what you truly believe in if you are a creative writer. That really is the path to satisfaction.

So if you aren’t creating anything new, and haven’t in a while, maybe it’s time to pause and take better care of your creative self.

Many of us pro writers spend countless hours each week doing things that are writing-related, and even necessary, but in the end don’t add anything creative to our inventory.  Necessary things like marketing existing work, building platform, networking, teaching and leading workshops, etc.  You can fill the entire week with this stuff and tell yourself that you are a busy writer…but have you written anything? And many writers at all levels are on an endless treadmill of taking care of others and doing our day jobs, etc.

Paint BottlesBut still, you need to hit the pause button and look closely at your day and your life, and to make time for your creative self to flourish. Maybe you wake up an hour earlier than your family and spend that time journaling, or you take a brisk walk at lunchtime with a notebook in hand and jot down what comes to mind, or you schedule a sacred writing time where someone covers for you at home and you escape to somewhere to put words on paper.

It doesn’t have to become a novel or even a short story.  Your efforts just need you to reconnect with your creative self and to take a mental deep breath. Then the words can flow. Ideas and stories will come if you make space for them.

To that end, a few author friends of mine have just cobbled together a “creativity group” where we will meet every two weeks, not to talk marketing or plotting or to crit eachother’s works, but to explore ways to nurture our own creative selves in a way that will help our own writing flow better.  We’ll be working through exercises in the classic book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to see what might click, and setting our own goals to follow in between meetings. One thing that really clicked with me was when one friend mentioned having a spot that is just for writing, not editing or anything else. A creative spot.

I really like that idea, and I’m already shifting things around at home to set up just such a spot – something cozy and private that has room beside it for me to set down a proper cup of Earl Grey tea.

Little Girl Drawing in ClassYour creative side deserves attention and nurturing, whether you give it a brisk morning walk every day or a lovely leather journal to expand in. Or perhaps you should set up your own creative group with fellow writers and artists. Give your creative side time and thought and care. And if you have ideas that have worked for you, or books that you’d recommend to others who need a creative boost, please feel to share these here in the comments.

Let’s all take care of our creative spirits and let them grow!

 

*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.