Agent Monday: Q&A, Plus Boundaries Writers Must Respect

MP900386132Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Thanksgiving is nearly here. And that means shopping, cooking, and HOUSE CLEANING! I hate housecleaning, but I love a clean house. Whatchagonnado? For today’s post, I thought I’d tidy up by dealing with some miscellaneous nagging questions before they get dusty on the shelf. And some of these deal with boundaries – stuff writers MUST know when dealing with agents.

But first I want to give thanks to the many of you who have been faithful readers of my Agent Monday posts. *If there are any topics you’d like to see me cover in future posts – just add a comment about it to today’s post and I’ll consider it! I also am so grateful for everyone who has made my job as an agent not just a job, but a privilege! The many writers who think of me and query me with their creative work (and who follow my guidelines!). My wonderful team of interns who help me keep my work flowing. My fellow agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – such a supportive group! The many editors I’ve been in touch with, who are not only smart, but also exceptionally lovely to talk to. The many awesome conference coordinators I’ve worked with, and the fun folks I’ve encountered at those conferences. And, of course, my fabulous clients. They are brilliant writers AND very cool people. I do love my job!

Okay, so let’s clear the lingering questions off the shelf, shall we?

Q.: I never got an answer to my query. Are you a no reply = no kind of an agent?
A.: I answer every query I get. I’m currently up to August 1st in my query inbox (yup, you read that right…I get a LOT of queries). If you’ve queried me before that date and never gotten a response, there may be a few reasons for that. 1. It may have gotten lost in cyberspace – filtered into spam. Resend. 2. You didn’t follow my guidelines. Example: putting the query letter in as an attachment – I won’t open that. Would you? 3. You were disrespectful in some way. Believe it or not, sometimes writers are rude and insulting. 4. You mass-mailed your query and didn’t bother to address your query letter to me, or you addressed it wrong. Dear Sir or Madam = delete.

Q.: It seems that you answer queries immediately, but mine was sent 3 weeks ago and hasn’t been answered. What does that mean???
A.: It means that I’m not scientific about stuff. As queries come pinging in, I like to take breaks throughout the day and eyeball them QUICKLY if I get a chance. (I don’t always get that chance.)  If I immediately see that they are absolutely wrong for me, I’ll shoot out a quick rejection – that’s fast to do. If I get so pulled in that I find myself eagerly reading the pasted-in opening pages and dying to read more, I’ll quickly request the full. If I see the query might need more time than I have to figure out if I want to read the sample pages, or I just don’t have time to get to it yet, yeah, it’ll take longer to get back to you.

Q.: My full manuscript was requested when I met you at a conference. But two weeks have passed and you haven’t responded yet. Why?
A.: In addition to taking care of all of my clients (first priority, of course), and all of their full manuscripts, if I’ve been to a conference, or a number of conferences, then chances are pretty good that I have a good number of full manuscripts in my inbox at any given moment. So patience is required, thanks!  Right now, I’m up to August 1st with submissions.

Q.: I’ve received a form rejection letter. So that means I suck as a writer, true?
A.: FALSE! It just means that if I sat down and wrote every query letter response individually, then I would be more than a year behind in answering you. I think you’d rather have a quicker answer, true?

***And now for some frequent questions that reflect a lack of understanding when it comes to boundaries:

Q.: I’d love to meet and pick your brain about the business, and I’ll even pay for lunch, okay?
A.: Sorry, but no thanks. I get this invite from people who are not my clients and not my close friends more than you can guess. For the price of a lunch, people expect me to take off 2 hours from my business day and offer them what would amount to several hundred dollars worth of information. Would you do that with a doctor? I also won’t be able to meet you for coffee, or chat on the phone, or help you shape your idea or edit your book.

Q.: I’ve self-published my book. Here, take a copy for free!  I’ve already signed it to you. Can you read it and turn it into a best-seller?
A.: Stacks and stacks and stacks of books have been handed to me like this at events and conferences and pitch sessions and cocktail parties. I honestly don’t want to take a copy. I don’t want to be rude, but, again, I have to read a TON of stuff. If you want me to consider a project, follow my guidelines and submit the traditional way. There is no spiffy clever shortcut to that. Handing me your book puts me in a very awkward position. I either have to tell you no thanks, or politely lie to you and say thanks, and then recycle the book. *Same goes for any printed material handed to me – flyers, bookmarks, press kits, partial or complete manuscripts, anything beyond a business card. Honestly, if you were to empty the trash after any agent or editor left a hotel room following a conference, you’d find all of that print material plus stacks of signed books. Are we supposed to pack that stuff up and lug it on a plane, and then read it, bypassing all of our clients’ manuscripts, and requested full manuscripts in our inbox, along with all the queries waiting for us that have been honestly sent? Please be fair and thoughtful.

Q.: You’ve just rejected me. Can you tell me why and how to fix things?
A.: No. That’s not my job. I’m not saying this to be mean. It’s really not my job. If you pay a developmental editor, that might be their job. My job is to find the best writers with the best manuscripts and to then manage the careers of those writers. That’s that.

Okay, folks, I’m thankful I got those questions cleaned off the shelf.

Sometimes it’s tough for agents to not sound rude in answering questions like these, ya know? The majority of agents I’ve met over the years are really nice people. But nice people who have a job and who are really busy have to draw lines. You writers can help us out. Understand what an agent really does and does not do, and respect that. If you understand these things, then you won’t back us into a corner where you’ll find us saying things that are kind of blunt and that we do not enjoy having to say. Like, no I won’t meet you for lunch. No thanks, I won’t take your 6-volume set of autographed books home with me on the plane. No, I will not take your call for a little chat about your book idea. No, I will not fix your query/pitch/book.

Pumpkin Pie with Pastry Leaf CrustSo please be understanding of us agents. We love books and reading and writers. We work extremely hard to take care of the writers we represent. We are looking for new talent that is ready to hit the commercial market.

Respect that, and I’ll be thankful for you!

I wish you all a Thanksgiving full of blessings.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Agent Monday: Query Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agent Monday: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

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

Agent Monday: Why You Should Build Community

three american cocker spanielsHappy Agent Monday everyone! Coming off a weekend here that was a mixed bag of gloomy rain followed by glittering sunshine. The bright spot in Saturday’s gloom was spending time at Philadelphia Stories Magazine’s annual fab Push to Publish Conference. Live anywhere near the Philly area and never heard of these folks? They are a great regional resource, plus they run this kick-ass conference, so…  At the conference I sat on a beginning marketing panel for authors with brilliant folks Don Lafferty and Janice Gable Bashman. And one of the best bits of advice that came out of it? Build your community.

Here’s why… First of all, writing can be a lonely business. Don’t you want to talk with people who share your passion? And who get where you’re coming from? Yeah you do! Second of all, you can learn so much from others that you can’t get from a blog post (not even an Agent Monday post). Third of all you can and should support each other. Sharing information to boost your careers is one way. You can crit one another’s works. You can meet more people through each other. You can show up at each other’s readings and signings, and help promote one another, too. You can find your people, connect with your audience, and grow your reach.

That’s marketing stuff, and it’s also career stuff, and human well-being stuff, too. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and it’s something you should begin doing the moment you decide you are a writer (or, like, right now after reading this post). What you should NOT do is wait until your book is going to come out and then be like, Hey, girlfriend, nice to meet you! Help me! Promote me! Look at me! Buy my book! Okay, bye!

Liars_Club_Logo[1]NOPE. Build community. Think long term. Give and take. And reap long-term benefits. That’s what I’ve been doing as an author/agent for years. Including belonging to an amazing author group The Liars Club. Together we have promoted indie bookstores and libraries and literacy, and we’ve done panels and joint signings, we hold monthly free writer’s coffeehouses, and we’ve helped each other through thick and thin. Hey, we even put together a short story collection called LIAR LIAR. If you want to know more about us, you can follow The Liars Club on Facebook by clicking here.

Interested in building your community? Here are some suggestions:

1. Start in your region. Local publications? Grab em. Read em. Submit to them if appropriate. Local conferences or writer’s organizations? Attend. Meet folk. Volunteer. At any writer’s conference you attend: don’t overlook the most important people you’ll meet there! No, not the agents and editors. The folks sitting next to you in the audience or at lunch. Meet your fellow writers. Share your interests and struggles. Exchange contact info. Friend online. Stay in touch and support each other!

2. Support the reading and bookselling community! Visit your local bookstores and libraries. Borrow books. Buy books. Attend events. Chat with folks because they love books — you can learn from them. Don’t do it because someday you want to GET something from them.  Do it because they are part of your world and you do have something in common.

3. Support your fellow authors every way you can.  Read a book you loved? TELL PEOPLE. Review online, post those reviews and ratings wherever you can. I try to take the time to cut and paste the reviews I do onto sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and Shelfari and Barnesandnoble.com. Show up at author events and readings. Share their good news online with others.

4. Get involved. Volunteer at a conference or for a literacy organization or to help out at a book fair. You’ll meet people on many levels. Join and volunteer for organizations related to your interests and writing. Groups like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or International Thriller Writers, or Romance Writers of America, etc. have tons of events and benefits and conferences and information, and above all, people in your writing space who you can support and learn from.

5. Think beyond the writing world. Have sustainability issues in your novel? Then you should be familiar with the magazines and organizations and happenings related to that. That is your community too.

Start now. Get involved. Build community. I guarantee you that even two years from now you’ll find you’ve built a support system that reaches far beyond just you at your computer and your few friends and family. You’ll have learned a ton, made meaningful connections, supported and received support in countless ways. Oh, and that all just might help you impress an agent, and market your book someday, too.

 

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