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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you all a Thanksgiving full of blessings.

 

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

Agent Monday: Query Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: The Times, They are a-Changing

Autumn FacesHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent 7 hours last weekend raking leaves to my curb. The seasons are changing. Hey, lots of things change. So this week, I thought I’d point out two common questions I get, and how the answers reveal some changes in publishing/agenting.

Do I need an agent? These days, the answer YES is more true than ever for authors who want to have their work published by a top commercial press. The big change that’s occurred over the past 8 years or so is that even more publishers only take submissions from agents. This is especially noticeable in children’s publishing, where many of the top publishers used to have open submissions. But now? Not so much. So having an agent now, more than ever, means access to all publishers.

Because of this change, editors now really REALLY need to hear from agents. That’s how they get most of their new authors. As one editor told me when I pitched a manuscript to her, “Marie, if you like a manuscript, I definitely want to see it.”

Do I need an agent in Manhattan? The answer used to be yes! But now? The answer really is that you want a great agent who goes into the city as needed. My office is in Manhattan, and it’s a great agency with a solid reputation. That reputation travels with me wherever I am. Most agents in my firm live in or close to the city, but personally? I work from my home office two hours away. I do jaunt into Manhattan when needed for meetings and meet ups with editors, but I mostly work remotely on the phone and online. And this is something that is much more common now.

Editors and agents have stronger relationships than ever (partly because of that change mentioned above). I don’t need to wine and dine editors non-stop to get their attention. I don’t need to pound the streets of Manhattan and down zillions of martinis in order to be able to pitch manuscripts to publishers. What I do need is to do my homework and learn what editors want. That always involves research, both online plus me calling and asking the editors, plus building relationships with them through chatting in an efficient yet personable way.

I enjoy meeting editors at conferences, or visiting their offices, or grabbing a lunch with them. But have I sold books to editors I’ve never met face-to-face? Yup. Happens all the time. Editors (and agents) are really busy these days. Editors have less staff helping them, and have to spend more time in meetings than ever handling administrative stuff. Because of this, they appreciate the efficiency of emails and phone calls. Working relationships these days have moved way beyond the requisite martini lunches of yore.

So what does this all mean for you writers? Wherever your agent is based is cool, but you want them to travel into NY as needed, and to reach out to editors in a variety of ways (on the phone, at various conferences, and face-to-face in the city when they can). Because agents and editors rely on each other more than ever, don’t be afraid of approaching newer agents at established firms (like me!). They really do have editor’s ears, plus they are actively building their client lists.

Isolated Martini GlassCheers!

 

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

 

Agent Monday: What this Agent Does and Does Not Want

pumpkinsHappy Agent Monday everyone!  Here in the Northeast it’s a crisp glittering fall morning, the kind of weather that makes you feel you can really take on the world. If you writers are feeling the same, you may feel that extra zing of energy to send out some queries to agents for your latest work. Good for you!  For some help in this department, I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what I do and do not want…

susan-coventry-200But first of all, I want to send out a huge welcome to my newest client, author Susan Coventry!  Susan’s debut was the historical YA The Queen’s Daughter (Holt), which nabbed the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year honor. She caught my attention with an unusual manuscript that’s a retelling of the little known Arthurian courtly love story about Enide and Erec. It’s vivid, sharp, witty and fresh. Basically, it’s a cross between The Princess Bride and The Once and Future King (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite books EVER).  So I lift a mug of mead (okay, it’s coffee) to Susan in welcome. I’m so thrilled to represent her.

So, back to the land of queries… I spent several hours this weekend reading through my inbox. For those of you waiting on responses, I’m up to queries received on August 1st. (Yeah, there are still a lot more after that, but I DO read them all and answer them all.)

*If you sent a query before this date and never got a response, that means you broke a cardinal rule and were therefore deleted without a reply. Deletable offenses include: mass-mailed queries that aren’t addressed to me, titled things like Dear Sir or Madam, or with no greeting at all…Attaching your query (I won’t open query attachments from people I don’t know)… Openly offensive or rude statements in your query…

*Also, if you see on something like Query Tracker that I have a response time for some folk of like a day or a week, and yours has been sitting around for a month or two, don’t despair. I do like to breeze through queries as they spill in for a quick look – and if something is clearly a no – I’ll zap back a form rejection. If something is a zowie-gotta-look-at-that-immediately query, I’ll request the full right away…otherwise it goes into the queue for later.  And, yes, I have acquired clients from that “later” queue…

Okay, then… What I do and do not want.  Please read my guidelines, people.  You can find them here and also on the agency website.

MP900308953Some things I do NOT want:
Genre fiction. I’m not a fan at all, so please do not send me your sci fi, romance, high fantasy, or horror novels.
Extreme violence and gore. HATE that. Please do not send me violent serial killer novels, or slasher books, or blood-soaked stories whether fiction or memoir.
Horsey books. Confession? I’ve always been afraid of horses – I’m pretty sure they were put on this earth to bite my face off. Needless to say, I never “got” the girl obsession with horses, so if your book is about that? You’re neighing at the wrong agent. ;)
Things I’ve seen way too many times before. I’m over paranormal romance, dystopian, I never “got” zombies (bite off my face thing again?), or werewolves or stuff like that.
Things that feel too much like something else. I get a lot of almost fan-fiction-like novels. They aren’t in the same world as the original, but change a few names and it’s the same story.
Memoirs that are mainly a sad retelling of something that happened in your life. Divorce. A cheating husband. A common illness. The death of a loved one. While I can feel compassion for these writers, I’m looking for something a bit different in a memoir.
Memoirs that are mere nostalgia, or a telling of a fairly common experience. I get a lot of memoirs that feel like an older person who has decided to chronicle their life for posterity — this may be a lovely gift to pass on to your family, but it’s not a commercial product in my eyes. I also get a lot of “wow, I went on this trip,” or “wow, I went to college,” or “wow, I worked a lot of strange jobs” memoirs — to me, this is just life, and not remarkable enough for others to buy and read.
What they are now calling “sick-lit,” inspired by The Fault in Our Stars success. I’m not interested in “someone is dying” as the theme driving a YA or women’s novel. It feels a bit too overwrought to me, and there needs to be a lot more to the plot for my taste.

Young Girl ReadingOkay, so what DO I want?
Something fresh and original with a recognizable voice.
Something that moves me to laugh or cry or both without being sappy or stupid.
Something that takes me somewhere I’ve never been before, or shows me something in a brand new light.
Something with a hook, meaning it has an understandable and unique theme and conflict, and a clear audience.
While I don’t DO romance, I’m open to romantic themes in YA and women’s fiction — just please don’t make it predictable or the heroine shallow and all about the guy! Also, what IS it with guys who have green eyes and a crooked smile? Jeesh! Is this every girl’s fantasy or something? (To those guys out there with green eyes and a crooked smile, be on your guard for rampaging women…You have been warned.)
SMART women’s fiction that can become the next great chick flick — and that is NOT just a rehashing of Bridget Jones, Stephanie Plum, Shopaholic, Sex in the City.
A YA that is smart and real ala Sarah Dessen.
Brilliant writing that is accessible. I’m not one for literary fiction with a meandering plot, but I adore gorgeous writing.
Strong characterization. I’m not one for merely plot driven fiction. I need to care.
Hilarious and moving middle grade.
I’m open to elements of fantasy, a fun or moving ghost story, I love the shivers (without blood, please). But DON’T give me genre writing.
Diversity, but only if it is genuine and intrinsic to your story.
Memoirs that bring more to the table. Incredible voice, unusual humor, revelations for readers, a takeaway for readers, real heart, a truly unique inside peek at something…
Books that leave a lasting impression. 

Take a look at my client list here. You’ll see a range of people who are very serious about their craft. You’ll see that their ideas are unique, and that their books stand out on the shelf as something fresh. Read their work and you’ll see their voices jumping off the page.

And if you have these qualities, I definitely want to see your query!

 

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

Agent Monday: 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: 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: What it Takes

MP900387360Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Like I do on most weekends, I spent some time this past Saturday and Sunday going through queries that landed in my inbox. Now I’ve done a bunch of Agent Monday posts on the many crazy things that writers do over and over again when they query that result in the proverbial shooting-oneself-in-the-foot. But today I’d like to assume that if you have landed on this website that you are a cut above those people. That you actually research an agent’s guidelines before you hit send. That you’ve learned the ins and outs of how to query and how not to query. (Bless you!) So today I want to give a closer look at a much smaller group of queries. Queries that do, in fact, get me to read those pasted-in opening pages. Why the heck do I still do reject so many of those? What’s a writer gotta do to get me to request a full manuscript? Here’s what it takes…

1. More than a well-targeted tight query. Too often the query is awesome. The writing, not so much.

2. More than a cool concept. Too often the concept sounds exciting. The writing, not so much.

3. More than great credentials. Surprisingly often, the writer has some amazing credits to their name.The writing? Not so amazing for me. Seeing a trend here?

4. More than strong writing. The query is tight, the concept is cool, the writer even has strong credentials. And the writing is strong! But…it’s not for me. Something in the tone or point of view or voice turns me off, signaling to me that I am not the right agent for this writer. Hey, it is a subjective business, and I need to feel fully committed to the writer and the writing to take a piece on.

So, while you can’t control the subjective side of things, beyond trying to target agents who will “get” you, you can keep working on your writing to make it the strongest it can be. Strong beyond the obvious grammatically correct, spell checkiness of it all.

This weekend alone, I passed on queries that were well done but the writing quickly veered into paths I do not enjoy going down. Overly violent. Overly romantic. Misogynistic. Religious. Not for me, folks.

I also passed on plenty of writing that, while showing promise, was laden with too many problems. I’m only seeing 20 pages pasted into my queries, but if in those pages the writing is already burdened with things like meaningless dialogue, way too much telling or backstory, flowery purple prose, and an overall lack of timing when it comes to storytelling, well, I’m going to pass. Why? Because I have to ask myself do I really want to wade through several hundred pages of these same sort of mistakes? Do I love this enough to have to deal with the countless edits it would take to get it up to submission quality? The answer in 99% of these cases is no.

CB063448I’m busy. I have a list of amazing authors I spend a lot of time on. If I’m going to take on a new writer, it has to be someone who comes to the table with mad writing skills. This goes far beyond doing your homework with queries, and having a sharp concept, and even beyond being pretty darn good.

So continue to challenge yourself to get better and better at your craft. Write tight and with honesty. And I’ll look forward to seeing that in my inbox.

 

*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.