Agent Monday: Toss Me a Hook!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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: No Tricks Required

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

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

1. The Spectacle:

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

2. Misleading Message Lines:

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

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

3. The Inflated Self-Pubbed Claim:

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

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

4. The Prologue Trick:

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: Taking Care of Business

Man Relaxing Under the SunHappy Agent Monday, all!  What?  It’s Tuesday?  Okay, so I am a bit late on this one, but, hey, I was taking care of business yesterday.  Doing things like reading a full manuscript, and corresponding with interns and clients, and dealing with some contract-related stuff, plus putting together a full-day “Spend the Day with an Agent” presentation for this Friday, which I’ll be doing as part of the Push to Publish Conference sponsored by Philadelphia Stories.  So, yeah, Agent Monday slipped away cuz I was busy, well, taking care of business.  And that is the topic of my post today.  Why? Because when the writer seeks an agent, he must put down his creative hat and put on his business hat.  When creative meets business, you’ll need to make some adjustments for true success.

Writers are creative people. They work on their own. They get lost in their words. They are independent. If I could turn on a webcam and find you banging out your novel, chances are pretty good you’d be wearing sweats, your hair just might be sticking up and you’d have a cold coffee at your side.  If I were to interrupt you in your moment of epiphany, you wouldn’t be too pleasant.   You are in your own world, which is just where you should be.

Now lets pretend, for a sec, that instead of working on your novel or being your writerly self, you decided to get a cushy corporate job somewhere (hey, it’s PRETEND).  You’re a smart person, so you know to get a professional resume together, and to research the firms you’d like to approach.  You’d apply for jobs, and when you’d get called in for an interview?  You’d put your best professional foot forward. Day of interview, you’d show up in your best business attire, well-groomed.  You’d be ready to demonstrate your best assets, and show that you can work well with others, plus you would be sure to have an understanding of the business.  You would be, in a word: READY.

Alrighty then. Here’s my point.  When you, the creative writer, approach me, the agent, you are stepping out of your creative zone and into the business zone of publishing. The same is true if you are approaching an editor directly.  That means that you research who you are approaching, discover why you are right for them and they are right for you. The query letter? That’s a business letter. It should be professional and clean. Like a job application, the query should highlight what you are offering (what’s your book about), should show you have done your work to understand the business side of things (your book’s genre should be accurate, its length should fit the genre, say what audience the book appeals to…in short, where it belongs in the marketplace…), and also demonstrate that you are someone I’d work well with (bio that shows you are a serious writer, tone that is professional and cooperative, evidence/willingness to engage in social media and to market).

Your manuscript, if requested, it’s kinda like a job interview. It’s you showing up and demonstrating all you have to offer and proving that you are right for the job. The manuscript should also have a proper professional polish. Formatted correctly. Edited to perfection. It should make me shout: YOU’RE HIRED!  Or rather, you’re REPRESENTED!

MP900341549And if you ever meet an agent or editor at a conference? View that a bit like a job interview, too, though more like a first round of interviews vs. a final one. Dress neatly. Act like a pro. Do your research about the person ahead of time so you can have a meaningful discussion and ask pertinent questions.  You want to leave a positive impression.

That creative self is still there within you, but don’t let it get in the way of the business of getting your manuscript sold. Change your creative hat for your business hat (and while you’re at it, change out of those jammies and comb your hair too! ;) ). Always represent yourself and your product professionally, and that will give your manuscript the best chance possible.

 

*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: Should I Keep Querying?

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Believe it or not, the October issue of Writer’s Digest is now on the stands!  It’s their “get an agent” issue, and in it you’ll find an article I’ve written, “It Has Merit, But…” that details the 10 top reasons why agents pass after requesting a full manuscript.  It also details possible fixes for each of those 10 points, so I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out.  Rejections sting, no doubt about it.  And sometimes it’s very hard to keep going. So in today’s post, let’s tackle a question I get a lot: Should I Keep Querying?

Some people who ask me this question do so with a heavy sigh, but when I ask them how many queries they’ve sent out they say 15, and expect me to be impressed.  Really? The answer to that one is yes, keep querying, you’ve just begun.

Some people tell me that they’ve sent out 50 queries and have either gotten no reply at all or a form reject.  To these people I say look at your query and fix it.  Chances are pretty good it needs work.  And look at your list of agents – did you select them carefully, or are you just sending out to anyone?  Target your query, tighten your query, and send it out again.

And other writers tell me that they haven’t gotten even a single rejection.  Just no response at all.  To this, I raise my eyebrow.  Sure, some agents are so swamped they have a policy that no reply is a no.  But most do reply, at least eventually.  Personally, the only queries I simply delete are the ones that are so disrespectful and ridiculous that I’d be a fool to waste my own work time to answer them.  The ones that are mass-emailed to every agent at once, addressed as Dear Agent, and have every agent’s email in the send to field.  The ones that address me as the wrong agent!  The ones that are so sloppy and riddled with errors or are rude or creepy in any way. Please.  This is a professional business letter.  Would you show up at a job interview in your underwear?

So, back to the original question: Should I Keep Querying?  If your manuscript is complete and well written and polished, then yes.  I suggest test the market and send out queries in waves.  Send out, say, 10 or so to a carefully selected list of agents who actually are open to queries and actually are looking for your sort of work.  Follow their guidelines for querying.

Get no answer at all?  Ask yourself, are you presenting yourself professionally?  Are you only targeting the biggest agents who might not get back to you as quickly as you’d like? Maybe newer agents at established agencies are the way to go, then.

Getting only form rejections?  Then look at your query and rework it, and sub to the next agents on your list.

Getting requests for sample pages, but then rejections?  Look at what agents are saying in these rejections. Is there a common thread?  Perhaps your opening needs work.

Getting requested full manuscripts, but then nothing but rejections? Remember, this is a tough and competitive field.  You are doing a ton right, but for some reason, things aren’t clicking.  Perhaps you are doing one of the 10 things I point out in my Writer’s Digest Article.  Or perhaps you just need to locate that one agent that personally connects with your manuscript enough to run with it.  That happened to author Kathryn Craft who subbed what many might think was a crazy amount of queries over a few years before landing her agent.  Her novel The Art of Falling comes out through Sourcebooks in January 2014.

Querying is a process.  I think it’s always a mistake to stop your writing and focus solely on this.  Write your next book. Keep subbing the other in waves and course-correcting as you go. You may find that your next book is far better than the one you were sending around (it happens a lot – we all get better as we write more), and that next book or the next will be the one that will move you forward.

Rejection is tough.  I know. I’m a writer, too.  But if you are serious about it you need to keep moving forward in your writing career and learning along the way.  Take cues from your querying results and course correct.  And, always, keep writing!

 

*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: Much More than an Idea

Pitcher of Red BeverageHappy Agent Monday, folks!  If you’re like me, you are sitting there blinking, saying, “AUGUST? Already???”  But we are already getting slightly shorter days, cooler nights and those cicadas are buzzing as if to say “hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry.”  So now’s the time to squeeze in your summer moments, and to revisit those writerly goals. Like many writers, you may have set aside summer to finish up work on a book and get it ready for subbing to an agent. And in writer world, September seems to be the time for submission ACTION. Inboxes explode with query letters, agents quicken their steps, editors perk up in their chairs ready to find the next “one.”  Is it your book?  Truthfully, I see a lot of pretty cool ideas in my own agent inbox, but I also send out a ton of rejections.  So today, as you ready yourself for your own submission adventures, I’d like to talk a bit about how a great book is much more than an idea.

So here’s the thing.  A great idea will make me nod and read on, hoping upon hope that you can pull it off. But all too often, writers don’t pull it off. Here are some things that get in the way and quickly yield a rejection:

1. Unprofessional

Reaching out to an agent is, in fact, applying for a professional position in a business relationship.  If you label yourself as unprofessional, I’m not going to work with you no matter how cool your idea is.  Sending out mass email queries where you don’t even have the courtesy of addressing me by name? How would that go down if you were applying for a job? Not good. Query letter and manuscript riddled with poor punctuation, spelling, grammar? This is a WRITING JOB, so also not good. Acting like an a-hole in your query? (Saying things like, “You’d be lucky to have me,” or “I know all you agents aren’t going to answer me and only take on people who pay you off, but…” etc.)  I’m not going to work with you. The end.

2. Poor Writing

The greatest idea in the world can’t overcome poor writing. Clunky dialogue. Awkward word choices. Amateur mistakes such as info dumping in the beginning pages or starting the book at a point long before the real story kicks in. Going off on irrelevant tangents. And the worst crime of all: being boring. Again: the end.

3. Good Writing, But…

Sometimes the idea is great and writing is smooth and clean in those first 20 pages that come with the query letter.  Okay, I’ll bite and ask for the full manuscript.  BUT, here’s where, once again, you need to deliver more than that great idea. Much more.  More than adequate writing.  Over the course of the novel, I frequently see serious structure problems.  The story drags or veers seriously off course, leaving the reader far behind.  The book needs to get even better, more interesting, more intense as I read.  Somehow writers often drop the ball after that great start. Things get predictable, or repetitive, or the elements that drew me in at the start are forgotten. These are the manuscripts that I fail to finish. And it’s a shame. The idea and the start looked so promising…

Boy and Girl Running in Tall GrassYou need to bring your A-game if you are intent on getting an agent and cracking those top publishing markets.  So remember that a book is an investment in time, not just for you the writer, but, more importantly, for your readers. You need so much more than just a cool idea.

Give your manuscript and query letter a really close look and tight edit. Bring me your very best. Draw me in and keep me enthralled till that very last word.

And hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry. September is on its way!

 

*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: Pitch Power

Smiling Little LeaguerHappy Agent Monday, all!  Last week was a blur of pitching client manuscripts to potential editors.  And this week? More pitching!  So today’s post is all about pitch power.  POW!

This is an exciting part of agenting, and there’s a ton of hard word behind it.

The author has worked their butt off to finish writing the manuscript and to polish it. Never mind all they had to do to craft an excellent query letter and research and snag the right agent for them!

The agent (that’s me) has done a ton of work culling through endless queries to find this gem. Has worked with the author to get the final polish on the manuscript before it’s ready to submit. Plus the agent (me again) has done her own extensive research about the perfect editors for this work. That includes deep online research, studying numerous publisher’s imprints, meeting with countless editors, chatting with countless editors on the phone, too.

And after all of this, I sit with the manuscript and think of the perfect way to position this book. Just as it’s important for the author to pitch their novel in the best way to an agent, it’s crucial that I pitch my client’s book to the editor in a manner that perks up their ears and makes them think, “Yes! I MUST see this one!”

So I spend time selecting my words carefully. If I’m comparing a book  to the epic scale and passion of The Thornbirdsyou better believe I first make sure this comparison is accurate (BTW, it is! Shout out to my author Harmony Verna).  Because if it isn’t, then I’ve just set up my submission for a fail. I don’t want an editor to get all excited about this only to think, hm, I’m not seeing the comparison. Or, hm, this is not nearly as good as what she’s comparing it to.  The goal is for them to think, “Zowie! This DOES have elements of that book, but so much more!”  I also make sure I pick comparables that most folks will know, even dipping into TV and movie references for these.  I want to give an editor something they can latch on to. Something they can take to an acquisitions meeting and use to excite folk. That can’t work if the people there are scratching their heads instead of going aha!

Lesson for writers: in your own pitches and query letters – make sure your own comparisons are accurate and understandable.

Another thing I’m very careful about in my pitch is nailing the genre and market for this book.  Is it upper YA? An older middle grade? Is it a literary historical? Is it a gothic thriller? Does it fill a niche in the marketplace (folks looking for the next such and such, etc.).  Get this right and the editor is already slotting the book in their list to see if it’s a fit.  Get this wrong, and the editor will be confused by the read.

Lesson for writers: pay attention to genre and market in your query and you’ll be giving a potential agent the tools they need to market your book.  When I read a query that does this well, I find I’m already thinking about the perfect editors for this book before I even read the sample pages. You want that!

When I connect with editors over the phone with my pitch, my job is to give them a clear picture of what I’m sending to them in just a few sentences, to get them excited about it, and to position the pitch in a way that the gist of the work and its tone comes through. If it’s a heartfelt book, I craft the pitch in a way that’ll raise goosebumps. If it’s a girl-power kid book, I emphasize the overcome the odds aspect of the work. If it’s a hilarious mid-grade, I’ll pull in some fun examples that will make the editor grin and nod.  As in all aspects of this business, words matter.

Lesson for writers: highlight the tone and gist of your work in a succinct way when you query. Also, when seeking an agent, if you get to talk to them at a conference or hear them on a panel, ask yourself: is this person eloquent? Do I think they’ll communicate well with others and be able to convey my book’s pitch to editors successfully?

Cheering Little League ChampionsPitches are powerful things, and I know when I’m hitting the right notes with editors.  I hear them laugh when they should. Or they say, “I like the message behind this story.” Or they simply say, “Wow. Great pitch!”

Then I know I’ve done my job. Then I send the manuscript to the editor. Then it’s time for the author’s words to take their proper center stage.

 

*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: Poor Mom

MP900446418Hi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  With Mother’s Day approaching this upcoming weekend (a big happy Mom’s Day to each of you!), I thought I’d pose this question to writers submitting to me: What do you have against moms?  Or dads?  You seem to have an obsession with killing them off.  Poor mom and dad.

It’s one of those weird things I see in numerous queries every day – the protagonist is an orphan. The parents died in an accident (sometimes the protagonist feels at fault), or from an illness, or one died and the other had already left the family years before.  So many orphans.  We’re talking about middle grade and YA novel submissions here.

If it’s a contemporary novel, then this orphan has been shuffled off to live with a weird relative – an eccentric, usually.  Perhaps they return to their mom’s home town to live with an estranged grandparent and begin to learn more and more about their mom’s past – full of surprises and secrets.

If the novel has any sort of fantastical element to it, the child – who lives with an eccentric relative now – discovers that mom didn’t just die from a disease, it was actually all a coverup for something bigger – an epic war is at hand and mom died fighting the good fight with whatever powers she had (magic, was a mythical being, could shoot lightning bolts out of her eyes – you get the idea).  Said orphan learns that he or she has those powers too, was left some talisman that will help with the fight, must figure out what’s happened/will happen or the entire world will come to an end, or something along those lines. Cough cough, Harry Potter, cough, cough.

And sometimes, in the fantasy scenario, mom isn’t dead for good and the child’s actions can bring them back.

Now hold up.  I can almost feel you folks ready to comment with a whole “It’s a fairy tale motif,” “It’s a classic fantasy trope,” “It’s a way for a child to embark on their own autonomous story,” “It’s how classic stories for kids have been shaped forever!”

I know, gang.  I’ve read those stories. Studied ‘em.  Even took several courses on the fairy tale when I was at Penn.

But here’s the thing: how many orphans did you know growing up?  How many do your kids know right now at this moment? Maybe it does tap into some dark fantasy in a resentful child’s mind or some “I’m on my own” desire ala My Side of the Mountain… But (and this is a big but, I can not lie!) it is done and done and done again and again.

Sometimes finding this all too familiar scenario makes me sigh aloud and I just can’t read yet another word.  Do you think editors might feel that way too?  Can you recast your novel to play out differently and thereby make it stand out in a fresh way?

And, couldn’t a parent, sometimes, be a part of the story?  Part of the humor? Part of the heart? Part of the conflict (without it going straight to abuse, which I see a lot of as well)?

I’m just putting this out into the stratosphere, because it just might result in more realistic reads, even in the fantasy genre. And it just might make your story stand out.

So go honor your mother!

 

*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: A Typical Day

MP900387541People ask me how I am. I say BUSY!  That’s an important thing for writers to keep in mind when they deal with any agent.  Sure, we work through a large quantity of queries in our inbox, plus it takes time to read through lengthy manuscripts from prospective clients and from our own clients. But that is just the start of it all. I thought I would share with you my day.

Typically I’ll start around 6 a.m. or so. Yes, coffee is definitely involved.  First stop: my inbox. I go through queries in there first. Let’s be honest: for most of them I know RIGHT AWAY that it’s a no. Sorry, fellow writers (remember, I’m a writer too, so I don’t take your dreams lightly), but there is always a huge percentage of queries that are simply not ready for prime time. These are writers who haven’t read up on what I actually represent, who haven’t paid attention to how to actually write a query, who haven’t even spell checked their emails, and who commit a whole host of “don’t ever do that’s” in their emails.  If you can’t get one page right, then you’ve definitely lost me.

For the queries that pass basic requirements, I look closer, gauging my interest. My guidelines allow for writers to paste in the first 20 pages of the actual manuscript so I get a great feel for what’s being subbed (guess how many writers who fail to include their pages get me to take extra time to ask them for more? Yeah, slim to none…read the guidelines, people!) I ask myself is this submission fresh? Am I fascinated? Is it well-written?  Am I anxious to add this to my pile of considerable reading???  If the answers are YES, then I know something special just may be coming my way, and I request the full manuscript.  If I’m on the fence about it? It’s a no.

Okay, so my coffee’s cold and my query inbox is a little thinner.  Time for a stretch, and a second cup of coffee, and some time  attending to my other inbox stuff. Can I do an interview? Sometimes I say yes, if it’s reasonable. Can I do lunch so someone can pick my brain about the business? These days, even for people I know, the answer is always no. Hey, I love a free lunch, but I simply don’t have the luxury of time. Does a conference that I’m attending need info from me? I keep on top of these details.

Now it’s time to get serious. My clients. I open any emails I have from them (remember, it isn’t 9 a.m. yet), and acknowledge that I’ve received whatever they’ve just sent, or answer any questions they may have, or update them on stuff if needed. My clients are a prolific bunch, so I keep close track of what they’ve sent me and get to their material asap, and I always try to give them a feel of when I’ll get back to them with comments and notes (I know how agonizing waiting can be for them; I think having a realistic expectation helps).

It may surprise some of you to know that it can sometimes take up to a month to give comments on a client’s picture book. So here’s something to keep in mind: unless there’s a time-sensitive reason to do otherwise, I make every effort to get to client manuscripts in the order they’ve come in to me. So when a picture book manuscript arrives, I may be in the middle of revising a 650 page historical novel for another client, I could have just received a revised middle grade the day before, and I could be in the middle of pitching two other novels, plus making a few needed trips to NYC , and tying up loose ends on some contracts, so…. 

Obviously a LOT is going on. I keep a huge dry erase board by my desk (yeah, old school!) to keep pending things in plain sight.  Here are SOME of the client manuscripts pending right now: A revised horror short story collection. A revised picture book. A revised YA novel. A revised middle grade fantasy novel.  

Okay, so after touching base with clients, I take my last sip of coffee, set the mug aside, and get down to the day’s work. What’s up? I get my pitch and notes in order for a middle grade manuscript, and around 9:30 or 10-ish, start calling. Some editors I’ll get through to, others I’ll get their voice mail and have to call back.  I’ll keep calling throughout the day until I connect with my list of people. I use the time on the phone to of course pitch the book and convey what has excited me about the manuscript in a way that this excitement catches on. I’ll also briefly chat with the editor. Then I’ll wrap that up by emailing the manuscript to the requesting editor, along with a followup note and the author’s bio and synopsis.  I’ll record the submission in my client’s file, shoot a submission update to my client, and also update my editor files with what submission was sent when, and about anything else I may have learned about the editor that will help me target future submissions to that person. Phew.

Also, in between all of this, I’m getting ready for another new submission. I’ve just received the revised bio and synopsis of this work over the weekend from my author. I’ll comb through these and make sure they’re perfect.  I’ve already spent numerous hours last week researching editors who love this sort of book, so I have all that info ready to go. Now I just have to perfect my pitch.  I’ll start actually pitching that book to editors tomorrow, Wednesday at the latest.

ALSO today, I’m getting ready for a phone appointment tomorrow with one of my authors to talk about marketing. I already have some thoughts for her, but I want to pull together some specifics.  Her novel’s coming out in about a year, so in the meantime there’s much she can do to perk up her website and use of twitter and Goodreads, and to start making connections with likely readers and reviewers. So, notes galore shall be jotted down.

ALSO ALSO, I’m going to start a close read of a manuscript from one of my clients. We’ve already done a pass between us where I’ve given extensive notes, so I’ll be looking to see if we are ready to go out on submission or if more tweaks are needed first. Things have to be PERFECT before I’ll send ‘em out in the world. Here’s where having a background as a writer and editor really helps me out.

In the meantime, more things ping into my inbox. Emails from my agency that demand attention. Bits and pieces of info from my clients that I like to acknowledge immediately. Queries (I confess that when I take breaks I like to quickly scan through these to see if any of them are so hot that I simply must look at them right away…but most can wait).

If I’m lucky, I remember to stand and stretch now and then, and to eat.  And if my family’s lucky, I remember to stop working by around 6 and actually have something to make for dinner.  And at night? I’ll sit in my jammies and look over a requested full in my inbox.

Of course, it’ll have to be all sorts of amazing. If I’m going to take it on, ya know there will be a wee bit of work involved…

Okay, time’s wasting.  Get to work, people!

 

*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: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel…

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingHappy Monday!  Did you miss me?  Yeah, I kinda dropped off the map for a few Agent Mondays. Sorry.  That’s what a major Hurricane, a 5-day blackout, followed by a big snowstorm, with a dollop of contract negotiations and a heavy dose of book pitching, etc. can do to a girl.  How does this make me feel? It makes me feel like giving out another query tip to writers trying to find an agent. Today’s tip: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel!

Okay, here’s what I mean. Sometimes, now and then, well, actually pretty darned often, I get queries that contain things like the following: This is the best book you’ll ever read. This book will be a sure bestseller. My novel will make you weep. My manuscript is so special that publishers will be throwing money at you. This story will be made into a movie and will change the world. This book is hilarious, moving, earth-shattering, stunning, brilliant. It is the greatest story ever told. This is a love story that will never be forgotten.

Really? Hm. Sometimes I feel like Judge Judy. Short, a tad sarcastic, and about to say, “You think you can tell me how I feel?” Actually, Judge Judy is more inclined to say, “You think you’re smarter than me?  I’m smarter than you’ll ever be in your entire life!” Which is why I watch her and find her hilarious…but I digress.

Then there is the “someone else said it so it must be true” stuff in queries: I read this to my children and they just laughed and laughed. Two fifth grade classes heard me read it aloud and they just loved it. My critique group read it and thought it was extraordinary. My family loves this novel. My friends think this is the best book they’ve ever read.  I took a class with such and such and he said this was superb.

I bang my gavel and say, ” Heresay! Inadmissible in court!” Er, actually, what I think to myself is: whatever. Who cares? I’m the judge of the moment, and I like to form my own opinions, thankyouverymuch.

Which gets to the heart of the problem with these statements. It’s back to the whole tell vs. show thing writers must struggle with in their novels. In queries, the same rule applies. Don’t tell me all this stuff, present your query to me in a way that makes me come to the conclusion all by myself.  If you do it right, I’ll start to think, hey, this sounds pretty terrific! I think a publisher will snatch it up…I can imagine the movies…I bet kids will love this!

Then you are doing stuff right.

Also, this needs to be said: If you tell me that your book is the greatest thing since creamed spinach, I’m gonna think your ego is a bit inflated and that’s not too cool.  If you tell me that your kids, etc. LOVED this book, I’m gonna think, well duh. They love you, even a classroom of kids will love you. That doesn’t make their opinions translate to what matters to the market. So you’ll seem a bit of a greenhorn with statements like that.

So, basically, if you are sounding like the adoring reviewer of your own novel, then you need to give your query a rewrite.

What is acceptable and helpful? If your novel, or a portion of it won a prize? Yup, I want to know. If you received a professional review from a respected source, say a top editor judged the manuscript in a contest and praised it, that’s cool to add in too.

If you don’t have anything like that? That’s also cool. You have your novel. Present it to me in a way that’ll make me fall in love with it.

And I’LL tell YOU how I feel about it.

Case closed!

 

*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.