Agent Monday: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: Query Letter Crit Time

Holding Blank Score CardsHi everyone!  Those dreaded query letters. Writers need ‘em to approach agents, but sometimes they feel harder to write than an entire novel. They are so SHORT. They are so IMPORTANT. Ugh, right? So today I thought I’d give you a peek at my own writer’s group’s challenges as we spent a meeting going over our own query letters about our own works. Yes, it’s officially query letter crit time!  Woot!

First some background: I’m both a literary agent and a novelist. My novelist writing group, The Rebel Writers, has been meeting for over a decade. The group includes published writers in a variety of genres including YA, memoir, horror, literary, short story, historical. It’s an awesome group. So awesome and unique in structure that they inspired me to do a Writer’s Digest article on ‘em called Plotting a Novel Group.

But just because we’ve been doing this for a while, doesn’t mean that queries come easy. Here are some issues that popped up in last week’s meeting…issues that I often see in queries sent to my agent inbox. (Keep in mind that these points refer to works of fiction – non-fiction proposals are a whole other ball of wax.) See if you recognize any of these query quagmires in your own query letters…

1. Missing the hook
What’s the selling point of this novel plot-wise? It should be within your one-line description of your book, and that should be at the top of your query.  Hook us, then give us the details.

2. Burying the book’s vital details
Like the hook/one-liner, the book’s vital details should be given asap – not buried in the last paragraph of your query. I want to know the title, its genre, that it’s complete, and the total word count (not page count). You could blend this with your one liner and really set things up. Something like this: TITLE (75,000 words) is a ITS GENRE about CLEVER ONE-LINER THAT CONTAINS HOOK.

3. Lack of focus or wrong focus
There is so much that goes on in a novel. But by trying to cover it all, the main plot and hook get buried and there is just too much to take in.  A query letter isn’t a synopsis – it’s more like a pitch.

4. Including background about why you’ve written the novel
In most cases, this isn’t needed. Sure, if there is a lack in the marketplace, or you have special knowledge that you bring to the table, it can support your book’s appeal. But stuff about why you’ve always wanted to write this is just dragging your own backstory into the picture in a distracting way.

5. Technical details about how the book is executed
You may have a clever use of point of view characters, and shift tenses in an artful way, and set up chapters in a method that harkens back to novels in the 18th century, but a query letter is not the place to share this. Hook the agent with your plot, convey your tone, and they’ll ask to see the book – then they’ll see all these details themselves.

6. Saying it’s been workshopped by your writer’s group and thoroughly edited
Of course it has. That should go without say. Cut this.

7. Comparing it to other books out there without saying why
Example: saying “This compares to the works of Carl Hiaasen.” Instead, say something like, “With the twisted humor of a Carl Hiaasen novel…”  And make sure that if you make that comparison, that your work really measures up to it.

8. Bios that veer too far off of what an agent needs to know
Tell us writing-related stuff, or stuff that points to experiences you’ve had that’d make you uniquely suited to write on this subject. Like if you are writing a crime novel, I’d want to know you were a detective for a number of years.  I wouldn’t care that you were a golfer or an addict of the Home Shopping Network.  And when it comes to writing credentials, go easy on the details. It’s enough to say you’ve been published in a certain magazine. I don’t need to know that you didn’t get paid for that gig, or that the magazine went out of business, etc.

9. Not asking for what you want in the end
…or asking for the wrong thing, like “I can send you a chapter if you want,” or “I can email you my synopsis.”  Or just saying: Thank you, Sincerely… Say what you really mean: “I’m happy to send you the complete manuscript on request.”

Queries aren’t that long, so they must be focused and to the point. So take the time to get it right – your novel is relying on you.

 

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

Agent Monday: So what’s the story?

Lee Harper - snowHappy Agent Monday!  Ready to dive into work after a long lazy holiday weekend? I’ll be meeting today with my client, fab author/illustrator Lee Harper. Lee is a master storyteller and artist. So today I thought I’d talk a little more about picture books. What I’m seeing – and NOT seeing in submissions from picture book authors who are sending me queries.  In one word: story. So what’s the story?

Here’s the thing about picture books: they’re short. I know. Duh, right? And that means two things. One – people might think they are easy to dash off. And, two – they are NOT easy to dash off because every single word really really really does matter. This is why I only take submissions from established picture book authors and illustrators, or on referral. Because otherwise I’ll be wading through a ton of manuscripts that lack craft because picture books are easy to write, right?

Trust me, picture books are complex entities. So complex, that even among the published folks who are sending me manuscripts now, I’m still surprised to find myself scratching my head and thinking, “Yeah, but what’s this book’s story?”

I’ll tell you what isn’t a story. A funny character. A cute observation. A lovely setting. Pretty turns of phrases. A rhythm. Silly language.

Ella up close!What is a story? Character plus conflict leading to some resolution. That means you can’t have an entire book based on, say, my dog Ella.  Ella is so silly. She barks at everything. She runs up and down the stairs. Her ears are really fuzzy…  But then?

So many picture book manuscripts I get have no “but then.” Like a: Ella always… But then… (uh oh, problem).  Now she must… (what?)

Picture books are stories. With arcs. A beginning, a middle and an end. A character meets a challenge and either changes or doesn’t, but something happens.

So your book can’t just be all: Ballet is pretty. Ballerinas are so graceful.  Pink tutus twirl. Toe shoes are silky.

Nope.

And it can’t be all: Mr. Pickle swims in pickle juice and is a pickle puss and sleeps on a hot dog bun at night. Silly Mr. Pickle!

Nope.

What’s the STORY????

Look at your favorite picture books (include recent ones, please). Sit in the library with a huge stack and see if you can answer these questions: What’s this book about? Who are the characters? What do they want? What is the problem? What happens as the character faces this challenge? What is the resolution?  Is there any tension?

Will you find exceptions? Sure. Somethings might be pure nonsense – and that requires a certain level of brilliance. But even those will have a rhythm, an arc, a building of layers and silliness with a payoff. And that’s a story arc too.

Picture books are story books. If you can’t find the answers to the above questions in your picture book manuscripts, then you might just find the key to how you can bring your ideas to a more complete level.

 

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

Agent Monday: 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: It’s an Investment

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Okay, it is so cold in the Northeast that folks coming to the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philly had to contend with cancelled trains. Why? Because the train doors were frozen shut. That’s what I heard. Not kidding!  Fortunately, my trains had working doors and I braved the cold on Friday and Saturday to attend the conference. Was it worth it?  Definitely. I got to meet with a ton of editors, talk to publishers from all over the country and from Canada, and see a number of writers that I know as well. But what really warmed my soul was seeing the products of my first two book deals being launched! Publishing takes time, and agenting takes patience and persistence and lots of work, just like writing does. It’s an investment.

All that time I put into finding the right authors to represent, working with that author to get the manuscript ready for submission, making up the perfect pitch, learning about who the right editors may be for a work, contacting editors, following up, taking deal offers, negotiating contracts… Phew.  I love what I do, but it does take time.  And that time is all worth it when I see this:

ALA Midwinter 2014 - 1

Here are two of my very first deals, published and on display side-by-side at The Holiday House publisher’s booth at the convention. And they are both on sale now. Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet is a fabulous 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.  This is Carmella’s debut novel, and it has already been honored as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I’m not surprised.  Eliza’s an unforgettable character!  Mending Horses, a YA historical by award-winning author M.P. Barker, is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered. Michele (the M. in M.P.) writes with such confidence and skill that you are completely absorbed in this tale about Daniel, a young indentured servant in 1800s New England, who is suddenly set free and must find his way alone. He finds a family of sorts in an old peddler, a young runaway and a traveling circus, but all is not well. The performing horses are mistreated, and a dangerous secret puts everyone at risk. Daniel fights to protect the horses, but can he save them all?

To view the cool trailer for this book, click here and then click on trailer video.

It was a great moment for me as an agent to hold these two books in my hands. To have a part in bringing these wonderful books to readers. But it took time. And not just for me, of course. The authors spent so much time perfecting their writing, creating their novels, revising them, finding an agent, then revising again, then working on revisions with the publisher. It’s an investment.

But it pays off – over time.

I look at my career as an agent thus far as a start-up business. I put in my own time to learn the ropes, to scout out clients, to build my list, and now, two years into it, things are chugging along. My authors are working on second and third manuscripts for me. I have a number of projects out on submission. New books are slotted for publication in 2015. It’s a process.

I guess that’s what I hope writers will take away from this post. It’s a process. An investment. It takes time. It’s worth it.

I always tell my authors to take a loooong view of their careers. That means don’t just write one book and wait for it to sell. Work on something new while the other is on submission.

Writers, don’t let past discouragements in your career stop you from writing and moving ahead. Learn from it and keep going. I’m a writer, too, and there are many times that I could have stopped and said, enough! But I didn’t, and I’m so glad I gave myself that time. When things derail your writing career, it can be hard to have that sort of perspective. But keep working and you will look back after 20 years of writing and producing work and see that stumbling block as something small in perspective. If writing is your passion, keep going. It’s an investment.

And expect an agent that will invest in you. A good agent will be viewing you over the long career you have ahead of you. Not dropping you if a project doesn’t immediately sell. You will continue to write, to grow and to get better and better. Writers with talent are worth investing in.

Now back to work, everyone!  Put in that time.

*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: Going Long!

Quarterback Ready to Throw BallHappy Agent Monday to everyone!  And I wish you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving full of love and peace.  I have a lot to be thankful for this year, including my wonderful family and friends, my family at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, and my amazing clients. I’m thankful I get to work with such talented writers and it is an honor to help them shape their careers. So this week I thought I’d talk a little bit about the writer’s path to success. It’s seldom a quick one. And that’s why, when it comes to your future agent, you want one interested in going long.

What do I mean by that? I mean you don’t want an agent who is just interested in a quick sale. Sometimes writers have a deal in hand and then find an agent to represent them and take them on as a client. That’s fine, BUT you want that agent to love your book and to be interested in you as a writer beyond this all-ready-to-go deal.  Sometimes a high concept manuscript can be just the thing to pique agents’ attention and to hook an agent who sees the marketability of that book.  That’s fine, you want a manuscript that will sell, and an agent that recognizes that. BUT, what if it doesn’t sell quickly? You want an agent that will stick with you and continue to fight in your corner, sending the manuscript out to many viable choices, and then working with you for your next manuscript and your next.

Sometimes sales ARE fast, and sometimes it’s a long haul. Sometimes success comes immediately, and other times its work and takes years, even after a writer gets an agent. Sometimes writers start off with a bang, and then the next book isn’t as well received. Will your agent stick with you through all of that? Are they in it for the long haul? You definitely want one who is.

How do you find an agent like that? Well, they are the ones who ask you what you hope to achieve in the future, what your dreams are as a writer. They are willing to take the time to answer your questions and to guide you on future projects. They are excited about YOU, not just your book. And that is smart, isn’t it?

If you are wonderful to work with and extremely talented, then it is smart for an agent to invest time in you over the long haul. To champion your next book and your next and your next, even if you don’t break out right away. To look for every opportunity to promote you in numerous creative ways. An agent represents you, and should continue to do so through thick and thin.

Football Players Celebrating VictoryThat’s definitely my philosophy. That’s why I’m so picky with choosing my clients, because I plan on sticking with them and helping them grow over time. Hey, I’m an author as well, so I know that a writer’s creative life isn’t always a direct line shooting right to the top. And I know that there will be more ups than downs in a career if a writer is supported and promoted and can continue to believe in herself and continue to create. So that’s my job – being there for the long haul.

Every writer deserves that sort of support from their agent. It’s the true path to success!

*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.