Agent Monday: Making the Most of Book Festivals (even if you don’t sell gobs of books)

Eliza Bing jktHappy Agent Monday, and happy September everyone!  Fall, for me, is a time of new beginnings. New books to read. New books to pitch to editors. New things to write… If you are writer, you may soon be staring down at a terrifying new thing: THE BOOK SIGNING. Well, fear not. Today I have some words of advice and encouragement for you from my wonderful and talented author, Carmella Van Vleet. Her most recent titles include the middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, 2014), which features the hilarious and endearing Eliza (who also happens to be coping with ADHD); and the picture book TO THE STARS! co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016).  Take it away, Carmella!

Making the Most of Book Festivals – Even If You Don’t Sell Gobs of Books!
guest post by Carmella Van Vleet

When I walked in the door, exhausted from spending the day at a local book festival, the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “So, how many books did you sell?”
I’m proud to report I resisted the urge to unleash some inner-ninja on him. I knew he was doing his best to be supportive, but it’s a loaded question. Those of us who attend book signings and festivals know that it’s not always about the number of books we sell.
For the record, I sold and signed around nine books that day. I’ve had better days in terms of sales and I’ve had worse. But despite the lower sales, I had a great time and was glad I participated in the event. Why? (I mean other than the fact I spent the day sampling the candy I’d set out to lure readers to my table.) Simple: I focused on all the other successes of the day.

Here are the cool things that happened that didn’t include actual book sales:

I got to meet another writer from the Class of 2k14 (a group of 20 debut YA and MG writers who’ve banned together online to support and help promote each other). This was a first for me.

I spent the day chatting with several writers sitting nearby me. We shared advice and tips for other book festivals, school visits, and promotional materials.

I handed my card to a librarian who was interested in me doing an author visit at her school.

I got to participate in two well-attended panels about writing for children. Not only did I get a chance to do one of my favorite things in the whole world – talk shop – I met an editor who asked me if I would be interested in writing for their new biography series for middle grade readers.

While doing the second panel, I also got to connect with an illustrator I heard speak a while back. Something she’d said in her workshop resonated with me and it ended up being a key puzzle piece that allowed my picture book to finally fall into place. It was such a gift to be able to tell this other writer she helped me and my book sold and is now scheduled for release in 2016.

I was able to help a fellow writer who was struggling with the close-but-no-cigar stage of her career. (I told her the old adage is true – just when things seems darkest and most hopeless is usually when your “Yes” is just around the corner.) And I got to rave about Marie to another writer who queried her.

At lunch, I spent a few minutes hanging out with an author whose writing I deeply admire – and totally experienced the “getting to sit at the cool kids table” thing.

Something really funny happened to me at the festival, too. This boy around ten years old walked up to my table. When he noticed my cover, he pointed and said, “I read the first two pages of that book.” (I was pretty sure he didn’t realize he was speaking to the author.) “Oh yeah?” I asked, all excited. “Did you like it? What did you think?” The boy shrugged. “Eh. It was okay.” His mother turned red and promptly began apologizing. But I waved her off; I thought it was hysterical. I thanked the boy for his honesty and offered him a candy bar.

So, in other words, I got a good story about humility to tell!

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you attend book festivals. They aren’t always going to be rainbows and glitter, long lines and adoring fans. But if you keep yourself open – and remember there’s more to these things than just selling books – you’ll never have a bad day.

My tips for book festivals

* Get to know your book neighbors. Listen to their pitch and give them yours. When they step away for a break or lunch, help cover their table and talk up their books to readers walking by. They’ll do the same for you.
* Standing up at your table is a great way to increase your visibility during crowded times.
* Bring your own water and snack in case you can’t get away or there’s not a nearby volunteer. You’ll need them to keep up your energy.
* Have readers spell out their names and write them on slips of paper before you sign a book. This will help cut down on inscription mistakes.
* Always give a reader more. For example, I have a collection of rubber stamps I like to use after my signature. (Each stamp corresponds to a specific title. For instance, I have an old fashion key stamp that I use in my Ben Franklin book.) Another writer I know personally attaches “Autographed Copy” stickers to her books after signing. An illustrator friend sketches a kid-friendly doodle. These little touches make the book extra special.
* If you’re comfortable talking to groups, volunteer to participate in panels and other activities; the people who plan book festivals really appreciate this and will remember your name when it comes time for the next event.
* Don’t be afraid to connect with people even if you don’t think it’ll mean a sale. Compliment someone on their cool shirt or ask what kinds of books they read. Always be genuine but never pushy.

 

Carmella Van VleetCarmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books. Her debut MG novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) is a Junior Library Guild Selection  about a girl with ADHD who takes up taekwondo. Carmella is looking forward to the release of her first picture book, TO THE STARS! THE STORY OF ASTRONAUT KATHY SULLIVAN, which she co-authored with Dr. Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016). For more information, please visit www.CarmellaVanVleet.com

Agent Monday: Twenty Turn Offs

Farmers Asleep in the HayHappy Labor Day everyone! Hope you do something restful today. We all work so hard – a break is definitely in order. Today, as we honor work, I thought I’d offer up a post on things that are not working for me in many of the queries and manuscripts I’ve received. The hope is that this will help you all be more productive and efficient in the future. Because queries to me include the first 20 pages of a manuscript pasted in, thought I’d list 20, count ‘em, 20 turn offs. Here goes:

1. Misspellings, poor grammar, and misused punctuation.
2. Purple prose. Manuscripts that wax poetic about the fingers of dawn caressing the horizon, blah blah blah.
3. Mundane memoirs filled with “I took a trip,” “I have a weird family,” “I’m so cool and witty” stuff.
4. Manuscripts loaded with too much telling.
5. Queries that are full of unprofessional details – I have two cats. My husband is wonderful. I love shoes.
6. Dystopian stories – they all have this wall, and this underground society, and *cough cough* HUNGER GAMES *cough cough.*
7. Religious agendas or moral agendas.
8. Stories for children that talk down to kids.
9. Manuscripts for children written as if they were penned 100 years ago – as if the author has read only the classics and didn’t notice that kids and readers may have changed.
10. Manuscripts way over 100,000 words – especially children’s books!
11. Gore and extreme violence.  NOT FOR ME.
12. Manuscripts that are just like a popular book already out there, only with a twist. Please be original.
13. Predictable plot lines. If I can read the first two pages and know exactly what’s going to happen, then it’s not for me.
14. Romance novels. While I like a touch of romance in fiction, I do not represent genre romance.
15. Hate-filled points of view, whether in fiction or memoir.
16. I’m weary of vampires, werewolves, zombies, fairies. Not my thing.
17. Weary of the “teen finds out on her birthday that she has special powers and is central to fighting an otherworldly war” thing.
18. Writers who aren’t serious about being pros. The business of getting published is a business – not a hobby.
19. Boring writing. Some writing is just a slog to read.
20. Queries that are simply unclear.  If I read the query and find myself thinking, “Huh? This manuscript is about what???” – then I’m not going to even bother reading those 20 pages.

So that’s it! Twenty turn offs. So what DO I want? Well, you can read between the lines here. And look at my many past posts on this blog. Plus check out my guidelines here.

Wishing you all a very productive writerly fall.

*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: Phew!

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Phew, this here agent has been BUSY in every which way over the past week. It’s included traveling and going to conferences and meeting clients and taking pitches and traveling some more, and pitching books and coming back each time to more and more and MORE stuff in my inbox. So, while I now hunker down and catch up here, I thought I’d just post some pix today of the action.

Here goes:

At the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, OR (thanks, Willamette folks for a great conference!)… Hanging out with our fabulous film agent Kim Guidone, and the hilarious Rich Johnson, editor at Inklit, Penguin…

photo_3(2)While in Portland, I got to meet with my client, author Jon Price, for the very first time! That was a blast. Jon is the author of the very witty middle grade novel CREEP VIEW

photo_2(1)Back East, I grabbed a coffee with my great client Erin Teagan, and we chatted about her clever middle grade novel STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES, and about some future ideas she’s got brewing…

photo_1(2)Then off to a book launch for the thriller DEAD OUT, written by my very good buddy Jon McGoran! Jon’s book just got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. So excited to read it!…

photo_4(2)THEN it was off to New York for a gorgeous day and an informal picnic in Central Park with my fellow agents from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. These are seriously not only the most talented and smartest people you’d ever want to meet, but the nicest too!…

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

And now? Soaking my feet, catching up on everything, and staring at my empty refrigerator. Time to catch up and rest up and forge ahead yet again.

Happy August, everyone!

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

 

 

Agent Monday: Which Agent? Part 3

Carolina Jasmine FlowersHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Right now I’m on my way back from the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon, so it’s been a busy weekend for me. Today I’m thrilled to welcome to my blog the head literary agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Jennifer De Chiara herself!  This is Part 3 of my Which Agent series of posts highlighting each person in our agency. I hope this info helps you writers when submitting to our firm. If you are just checking in here, you’ll also want to click on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Part 1 also includes some important general submission info for writers.

Note, before subbing to any agent at our firm, first do some research. Go to jdlit.com and click on The Agency and Who We Are, then click on Submissions for specific guidelines for each agent. And now…welcome Jennifer!

Jennifer De ChiaraJennifer De Chiara:
1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?

I’m open to just about every kind of book, but the following categories are what I’m eager to find right now: literary fiction, commercial fiction, contemporary Young Adult, quirky and funny picture books, celebrity memoirs/biographies/all-things-Hollywood, well-written non-fiction in a wide range of genres by professionals in their fields with strong platforms.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
As a former dancer and actress, I love everything about film, theatre, music, Hollywood, behind-the-scenes, etc.  I’m a writer myself, and I’ve also been an editor, so not only can I help my clients become the very best writers they can be, but I can also understand what they go through personally on a daily basis and inspire them and help them succeed.  And, finally, because of my history as an underdog, I’m particularly attracted to the downtrodden, the discouraged, and the downright disgusted.  But these underdogs have to be supremely talented!

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
Paranormal, fantasy, great concepts with poor execution.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
For me, it’s all about voice.  I’m looking for writers who have something special to say and a special way of saying it.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer! By the way, I can say from experience that Jennifer is an AMAZING agent. As well as working with her as an Associate Agent at her firm, I’m also so fortunate that she is my literary agent for my own writing.

Best of luck to everyone sending out queries!

*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: Big Girl Panties

brave little diverHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Summer time is a great time to catch up on stuff, to try new things, and to sip that early morning coffee outdoors while deep in thought. I’m hoping you’re taking some time to have deep thoughts about your writing as well as your career. And so while you sit and sip and think, I want to toss something out there for you to ponder: Do you have your big girl panties on?

What do I mean by THAT??? I mean, are you being brave in your writing? Brave with your writing career? Not reckless, mind you, but BRAVE.

Here’s what’s set me circling around this topic: A writer friend I know has spent the past two years or so polishing up his manuscript and wants to now get an agent. When I asked him how that was going, he said he’s sent out 4 queries over the past few months. He seemed to be done with it.

I congratulated him for taking that step (let’s face it, it can be a tough step for some), but then, of course, I cocked an eyebrow at him. Four? He immediately said he hates querying. The potential rejection. But he says he wants an agent. I immediately issued him a pair of big girl panties to don, because, let’s face it, 4 queries ain’t much and he’s standing in his own way of his success. His fear is blocking him from is goal. Four agents… How long will it take those agents to read his query? Sometimes that can take months. How likely will it be that one of those 4 agents will fall in love with the query and request the full and then fall in love with the full enough to offer representation? Tastes are very individual. The odds are decidedly small. Wouldn’t it be better to have at least, say, 10-15 queries in play at all times? Or even more, if the writer can find a good number of agents that might be a fit?

And what is this author afraid of? Failure? Success? Isn’t the more frightening aspect spending several years on a novel that you then refuse to show anyone, even though it’s really good?

We writers (I’m a writer too, remember) self-sabotage our writing careers in so many ways. Yes, it’s a tough world out there and success is never guaranteed. But it would be so much more likely if we writers would stop blocking our own success.

So I say sip that early morning coffee and think deeply about your own writing goals. List them on paper. And the steps to attain them. And star just where you are stuck. Have you written anything? Have you finished that novel? Have you polished it and let others read it and suggest edits through a crit group, say? Have you taken the steps you need to learn about publishing, about how to query? Have you polished your query? Researched the right agents for your work? Sent out queries? Learned from the responses you’ve received and refined your query letter? Then sent out more queries? And while this goes on, have you then starting your next work?

Are you holding yourself back from your dreams in any way? If so, look hard at how and why. You may just need to go big girl panty shopping. Be brave!

 

*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: 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.