Agent Monday: Digging for Buried Treasure

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved that it’s March. A definite sense of “phew we made it-ness” has pervaded my mind.  A huge snow storm was predicted for today, so imagine my glee when I flipped up the shades this morning and discovered we’d gotten not 12 inches but barely an inch! HA! Take that winter. So instead of wasting time digging out mounds of white stuff I can devote a little extra time to digging for buried treasure. That’s right! It’s time to hunt through my inbox for that query that’ll tempt me to request a full manuscript. Wanna come along for the adventure? Pack your treasure map and your spy glass and follow me. Arrrrrr….

First query – science fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent science fiction. Rejection sent.

Second query – non-fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent non-fiction (aside from memoir). Rejection sent.

(Are you noticing a trend here? If so, here’s the link to my own treasure map, er, I mean submission guidelines.)

Third query – memoir. Something I actually represent. Yeah! Unfortunately, I found this one to not be unique enough, and the sample chapter was stilted. Rejection sent. (For what I think makes a memoir stand out, check out this post.)

Fourth query – YA, something else I actually represent. But this one is not at all ready for prime time. The writer needs to learn a lot more about the market and about writing before being at a professional level and ready to submit to agents. Rejection sent.

Fifth query – Women’s fiction, something I’m looking for. Length of the manuscript is right and the query follows my guidelines, but I’m not drawn in by the premise. I read a little of the sample pages pasted in below the query (something my guidelines allow for) and I’m not crazy about the voice or the writing. Rejection sent.

Sixth query – Category romance. My guidelines state I do not represent category romance. Rejection sent.

Seventh query – Women’s fiction. I found the query letter to be flat and it didn’t evoke anything for me. Rejection sent.

Eighth query – YA. The themes were cliché and the language used didn’t feel like it belonged to a teen. Rejection sent.

Ninth query – Middle grade fiction. Definitely looking for these. But this one didn’t sound unique, and the writing wasn’t up to snuff to me. Rejection sent.

Tenth query – YA. Strong query, except for a cliché tossed in. Opening pages have a nice voice.  I’m still worried about the cliché, though. Hm…  No rejection, but no request for more yet either.  I’m setting this one aside to look at again later, maybe after another cup of coffee.

Eleventh query – YA. I like the query and the plot hangs on an interesting hook. Encouraged, I read the opening pages, but quickly find myself skimming. Lots of back story. Pacing is way off. Rejection sent.

Query twelve – Fantasy. While I like fantasy elements, full-on fantasy is not my thing (as I say in my guidelines). Rejection sent.

Feeling a bit discouraged here.  Will there be any treasure in them-thar hills or not? Shall we shoot for lucky thirteen? Okay pirates, take a swig of rum (or coffee) and let’s journey on to one final spot.

Query thirteen – Horror. Guess what? I’m not at all into genre horror. Plus, I’ve seen this plot before in a very famous novel. Rejection sent.

MP900341872Ah well, fellow treasure hunters. Be not discouraged. The majority of my clients have been found through the query process, so treasure hunting does pay off.  And for you writers, know that crafting an interesting query plus a fascinating manuscript is what it’s all about. And here’s a takeaway that is simple, yet pure gold: read an agent’s guidelines and follow them!

Until next time, me mateys, Arrrr!

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

Agent Monday: Exciting Writing for 2014!

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday, and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!  Yeah, I know, it’s been a while since this weekly column has popped up, but it’s been a few weeks filled with action on both the agent and writing sides of my life, plus there was the whole triple holiday thing with family and friends tossed in.  What? Agents have a life?  Well, sometimes…  Anyhow, I know that with resolutions formed, many writers have vowed to get an agent for their manuscript. That means that I’ll be getting lots of queries from folks very soon.  (It’s kinda like the way the gym suddenly gets VERY crowded every January.) So lets chat a moment about this resolution…

Are you vowing to get an agent in 2014? Are you going to send me a query very soon?  Then there are two things I ask. Thing #1: Exciting writing! Make sure your manuscript and your query are the very best they can be before you even consider hitting send.  And Thing #2: Please do your homework about every agent you send to, and follow my and each agent’s submission guidelines scrupulously.

Not doing Thing #1 or Thing #2 will mean a rejection, and that is NOT your goal for 2014.

Eliza Bing jkt

 

I’m looking forward to lots of exciting things in 2014, including my client Carmella Van Vleet’s debut middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER! (Holiday House Books, Feb. 14, 2014).  This is a touching and hilarious book about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end. And it’s already been honored as a Junior Library Guild selection.

I’m also thrilled to announce that we’ve just inked a deal with Charlesbridge Publishers for TO THE STARS! a non-fiction picture book Carmella has co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan about Kathy’s interests in science and the world, which led her to become the first American woman to walk in space.  Talk about cool!

 

9780823429486_p0_v1_s260x420Another amazing thing I’m looking forward to? My client M.P. Barker’s stunning historical YA novel MENDING HORSES (Holiday House Books, spring 2014). Her elegant writing grips you in the drama of a family-friendly “Water for Elephants” about three outcasts – an Irish orphan, a roving peddler, and a girl hiding from an abusive father – who join a circus, help its damaged horses, and must battle violence to mend each other. Check out this wonderful trailer here for MENDING HORSES.

 

In my own writing, I’ve just finished up an article for Writer’s Digest Magazine that’ll be pubbed in their May issue, and I just might be working on a picture book of my own.  I’ll keep you posted on that.  Plus there are a few other exciting things simmering on the agent end of things that I’ll be able to announce soon…

So 2014 is off to an exciting start all around.  Remember Thing #1 and Thing #2, and best wishes to you all for success and joy in your own writing in this brand new year!

*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: Getting Historical

Antique pocket watch - closeup on very old pocket watchHappy Agent Monday, gang!  With this weekend involving turning back clocks, I thought this would be a great time to talk a bit about historical novels (clever, huh?).  So here are some thoughts about getting historical.

I spent last weekend at the wonderful SCBWI Eastern PA Critique Fest, where I sat down with many authors critiquing manuscripts ranging from picture book through YA.  What a great experience! I did have a number of historical manuscripts to crit there, and I’ve also gotten many queries and sample chapters in my agent inbox recently that were historical middle grade, YA or adult.  Some intriguing stories, and fascinating time periods!  But also I found some familiar issues popping up, too. Things that held the story back or got in the way of the plot.

The biggest problem? The author felt challenged about providing historical context and facts – all having to do with world-building, really.  So we ended up with spending a lot of time in those opening pages explaining what was going on in the world at that time – something the characters would never do if they lived way back then.  Imagine you the writer lived 100 years from now and were writing a story about 2013.  Would you have your character thinking, wow, here I am taking off my shoes at an airport because a few years back this horrific act of terrorism happened…and let me just go over all that happened on that horrible day politically and terror-wise so you know why I’m taking off my shoes now?

Yeah, that wouldn’t happen. It would be clunky and unrealistic. Instead, in a story set in a world of hyper-security and scrutiny, the character in our current time would just move forward with the story, and details would present themselves as things progressed, providing context for the reader as relevant. They would notice the cameras trained on them in the parking lot perhaps as they rushed toward the airport, dealing with their own issues, goals, conflicts. The airport PA system would make those “watch out for stuff” announcements, and officers would stand by with bomb sniffing dogs. Our character would remove his shoes, even as he’s thinking about the personal plot challenge that is set in front of him…perhaps he needs to get something from point A to point B without being seen by authorities for something that has nothing to do with terrorism, but everything to do with his family’s well-being.  And voila! The reader will understand the context and the history of that time AS IT RELATES TO THE STORY.

It’s all in the details and how history actually intersects at that moment with the character’s world. Give us what’s relevant. When characters spend paragraphs at the outset detailing for the reader all that research the writer’s done about that time, I check out of the story, honestly. But give me a character I believe in and care about, give me an obstacle with high stakes that they must face, and I’ll follow you for pages and pages as you take them through their world. And I’ll absorb the details of the time and figure out how the era really is and impacts the characters. And yes, here and there as you move along, you could drop in some facts as they become relevant to that character’s world. It’s not about giving the reader a lecture, though. It’s about serving the story and plot. In the end, the reader will have learned a ton about that time and its history. That’s one of the joys of reading historical novels, right?  But it’s all in how you do it.

I’m extremely proud to represent some truly kick-ass historical authors, including Harmony Verna and M.P. Barker. Harmony’s debut manuscript is an adult historical titled FROM ROOTS TO WINGS. She has us immediately worry and care about an orphan abandoned in the Australian desert in the late 1800s, and about a crippled miner who discovers her and saves her. And over the course of this engrossing novel we need to know that somehow they will end up okay. That’s the heart of the story.  But we learn so much as we follow the tale. About harsh living. About the mines. About farming in the Australian wheat belt. About WWI, about Australia’s sacrifices during the war. And about the wealthy Pittsburgh elite. About the Aborigines. Oh, the knowledge we gain feels endless. Yet not once do we feel lectured to.

M.P. Barker’s novels A DIFFICULT BOY (Holiday House 2008) and MENDING HORSES (Holiday House, coming out this spring!) are fabulous examples of historical novels done right for the upper middle grade and YA audiences, and I highly recommend you grab one of these and see how deftly she creates that character, makes us love him, and then throws him into peril so that we simply must know he’ll survive and thrive some day. And the lush details of New England life in the 1800s are simply stunning. Again, she never loads the readers with facts and figures — just has her characters live their lives in this time. And we learn a ton about rural life back then, bigotry against the Irish, the horrors of indentured servitude, the world of both the privileged and the poor.  It truly is an education. But first of all, these are fabulous novels, and the story always holds center stage.

So if you are interested in querying me about your historical novel, I’d love to see it! But be sure that you don’t fall into the trap of historical info dumping and killing the reality you want to build. Take me into another time in a believable way with a character I’ll care about. I’m looking forward to the trip!

 

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

 

Agent Monday: The Positive Side of Rejection

MP900178845Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you live in the northeast, then you have just experienced a weekend full of sparkling sunlight and glittering orange and yellow leaves.  That’s gotta make you feel great, right?  So this is the perfect time to talk about…rejection!  The “R” word. I know, it’s dreaded, negative, a buzz kill, depressing. But let’s take a sparkling sunlit view of it: the positive side of rejection.

Last week, through Philadelphia Stories Magazine, I was able to present a full-day workshop to writers where I focused on the marketplace, what agents do and don’t do, and how to approach and snag the right agent for a writer’s work. It was part of their annual Push to Publish Conference at Rosemont College. One of the first things I did in this workshop was to share my own twisted path as a writer, full of plenty of starts and stops, leading to where I am at this moment as both an author and an agent. I was frank about the tough decisions I had to make in my career, which didn’t always make sense to the world but were right for me (What? You stepped down from a slew of contributing editor positions at magazines to write a novel no one seemed to be interested in???), and the years of rejection I faced.

It’s not that unusual a story. It’s something all writers share. Rejection. And that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. But one thing I always emphasize is this: “The only thing I knew for sure was that if I quit, my dreams of becoming a published author would never happen.”

Okay, so after this intro, I had people at my workshop introduce themselves and share what they were working on and the path they’d taken thus far. It ranged widely from already published people, to folks just starting out and exploring their love of writing. But a few themes quickly emerged: the writing life is full of starts and stops. And rejection and other perceived “stops” can stop a writer cold.

The writing life is full of starts and stops.

Just because you’ve had a book published, doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In this audience alone, there was the book that came out through a press that didn’t promote it well, another book that was printed but never left the distribution center! Just because you’ve gotten an agent, doesn’t mean your writing career will then go smoothly. In the audience, there were writers who had agents who had suddenly left the business, or who were operating unethically and had to be dropped.

These writers, however discouraged they may have felt, didn’t stop. They were ready to move ahead. They’d learned a bit about the importance of not just publishing, but publishing well. And about not just getting an agent, but about the importance of getting the right agent.

And they didn’t let any of this stop them in the end.

The writing life isn’t about that one big break. It’s about many opportunities and adversities. It’s about learning from these, and getting smarter and more focused and moving forward. Kinda like life, right?

Rejection can stop a writer cold.

Rejection hurts. When someone rejects your novel idea, it’s like someone called your baby ugly. How do you move on? How do you put the hurt in the right place and not let it stop you?

At the workshop, some folks admitted that they were afraid to send out query letters, or to send out many of them. One writer quite honestly admitted that if she didn’t query widely she could always tell herself that there was the possibility that someone would take the book. She wasn’t ready to really put herself out there and find out that she simply wasn’t good enough.

Who hasn’t felt like that?

Here’s the thing: you gotta really be honest with yourself. Are you standing in the way of your own goal of getting published? If you never submit, or rarely submit, then, yup, you are. The writing life is full of starts and stops and starts again. And there isn’t one editor, one agent, one publisher, but many, with many differing opinions. And you are not a writer with one static piece of writing. You can edit it, and try again. You can write yet another piece and try again. You can learn from the rejection process and improve over and over again.

Like the writers who had some success but then a surprising roadblock, and went on to do even better, you can learn from rejection and move on, and move closer to your goal.

So send out a few queries. Get only form rejections? Then redo your query and send out a few more. Make sure you are targeting the right agents who are actually interested in what you write. Start getting pages requested? Then your query is doing its job. Not getting the right response for those pages? Then see if you can learn from those rejections and improve your writing.  And write something new, too. Always move forward.

Group of Children Lined Up Against a Wall with One Girl (8-10) Making a FaceLearn from your rejection. And keep your chin up. Take a moment. Revitalize yourself, doing whatever inspires you. Read something you love. Take a walk through the glittering autumn sunshine, and get back to writing and sending your stuff out. It’s a process, and you are NOT alone.

And you might want to remind yourself of some of the subjectivity of our business by getting yourself a slim little book I always keep on my shelf: ROTTEN REJECTIONS. It’s a compendium of just that.

Here’s one of my favorites from that book, which Nabokov received for LOLITA:

“…it is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation…”

So go forth, writer. And be not afraid!

*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: Quick Checklist for Submitting Writers

pencilHappy summery Agent Monday, gang!  Today, a quick checklist for submitting writers.  Are you in the process of querying agents?  Or about to be?  Then this post is definitely for you.  It’s a quickie post today (hey, it’s summer, right?)  Hope this list is helpful.  (Note: I’m talking about FICTION submissions here, since non-fiction is a little bit different.) Here goes:

1. Complete your manuscript.  You can’t query with just an idea or a few chapters when it comes to fiction.

2. Edit it to perfection!  You don’t really get second chances – so don’t just use agents as sounding boards as to whether your book is good enough.  Give us your very best!  Also, don’t expect the agent to bite on a rough manuscript just cuz the idea is pretty cool. And don’t think that it’s up to editors at publishing houses to do all the basic editing for you. Nuh-uh. You must deliver a manuscript that is as perfect as possible.  Use beta readers. Put the manuscript through your critique group. Hire an editor if needed.

3. Know the genre you are writing for and where your book fits in.  Be able to tell the agent exactly who the audience is for this book.  Mainstream? Middle grade contemporary? Young adult thriller? You need to know.  And you need to also deliver a manuscript with the right point of view for that audience, and one that runs the proper length for that genre.  Get that wrong, and you hurt your chances.

4. Write the perfect query letter.  Need tips on that? There’s plenty of info out there for you to gather on it, plus scroll through my Agent Monday posts for more specific do’s and don’ts.

5. Research agents that actually represent what you write!  Don’t waste your time on folks that aren’t interested in your type of manuscript or who aren’t currently accepting clients.  Do your research.  The Internet is your friend!

6. Follow the guidelines.  Please!  Do a search to learn more about your agent list, pull up their guidelines and follow them.  Not following them can earn an instant rejection. Trust me on that.

7. Send out queries in waves.  Don’t hit 50-100 agents at once.  Start with, say, 10. If you are getting 100% form rejections back, then perhaps you need to improve your query letter.  Then send out another wave.  Starting to get requested pages or full manuscripts?  Then you are on the right track.

8. Keep writing!  Writers write. Don’t let the query process stop you cold.  It’s something that should go on while you are also working on your next piece of fiction.

Happy querying, and good luck!

 

*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: What I’m Looking for – Part 3

beach read

Me reading requested full manuscripts on my ereader…looking for one that meets my #mswl needs!

Happy Agent Monday, folks!  Hope everyone had a relaxing lazy weekend.  Here’s the continuation of my What I’m Looking For series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event a few weeks back over at Twitter…since 120 characters or so just can’t possibly say it all.

If you have the next Bridget Jones – smart, funny, relatable w/ heart – I want to see it!

Okay, here’s the thing: I am a bit of a chick flick fan. I like my flicks touching and heartfelt, hilarious and smart. Mean Girls, She’s the Man, 13 Going on 30, all the Bridget Jones flicks, Never Been Kissed, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. etc. etc. So it’s not surprising that I’d love to find a book that I can fit into that sort of category. A funny and SMART read.

What is surprising?  How hard it has been to find one of these.  First of all there is the whole cliché slippery slope that most of these submissions fall into. If it’s been done before, then it’s not going to cut the mustard.  I deal with major publishers and their top imprints and they aren’t looking for knockoffs. Neither am I.  That’s why as a viewer I was so taken with the movie Silver Linings Playbook. It was as fresh as fresh can be and kept me guessing and intrigued and drawn in every step of the way.  I know. I keep talking about movies!

So back to books.  Too many of the submissions have been too predictable and too familiar.  Another problem? The tone and voice have been an issue.  Sometimes I’ll get a query for what sounds like a really spot on premise, but then the manuscript falls flat.  When you read a Shopaholic book, Becky’s voice is addictive. The way she talks herself into nonsense is truly funny, and she says things to herself that almost make sense (we’ve told ourselves the very same things from time to time).  Bridget Jones’ voice is a funny and perceptive everyman voice that we can’t help but root for.  Who wouldn’t applaud the result of happiness and true love even for a girl whose ass is roughly the “size of two bowling balls”?  My point here is that voice matters.  Tone, too, matters.

Some of the manuscripts I get have a tone that is just too strident. I don’t want to hang out for a few hundred pages with someone who is bitter, or completely selfish, or just plain stupid. Would you?

Another thing that many manuscripts have done is to put way too much emphasis on explicit sexual encounters.  I know that the whole 50 Shades craze feels hot – but, how shall I phrase this? It doesn’t get me hot to make an offer.  What I’m looking for instead is a novel where I care about the character, I worry about her, I feel her loss, I root for her, and I laugh with her as she encounters life’s crazy obstacles, and in the end? A satisfying, albeit unusual triumph. That’s not a category romance thing either.  If your query reads like a mechanical formula: she’s a girl who such and such, but he’s a guy who (just the opposite)…they are forced together when blah blah blah.  Feels dull to me, honestly.  I’m looking for something more original than that.

Too much to ask for?  I hope not.  I don’t want you to think that every submission of women’s chick-lit-like fiction has been a complete miss.  There have certainly been some close calls.  And, like Stephanie Plum, I remain optimistic, even when everything around me points southward.

So if you think you have written what might become the next great Bridget Jones novel, please send it to me.  I’m waiting – and so is our film agent!

Another #mswl explained next week!

*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 – What I’m Looking for – Part 2

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, HawaiiHappy Agent Monday, folks.  If you are like me, after 5 solid days of fireworks and potato salad and beach sand crusted into your eyebrows, you don’t know what the heck day it is…  But it’s Agent Monday… I’m pretty sure, anyway.  So, today I’m continuing my What I’m Looking for series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event the other day over at Twitter.  So here goes…

adult fiction – literary voice with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something#mswl

Okay, let’s break this down.  Adult fiction is pretty obvious (though you’d be amazed at how many people don’t get it right).  This is fiction where the main character is in their mid-twenties and older, or, if the character is younger, the material it covers is clearly not for teens or younger.  Just so we’re clear, by that I don’t mean porn, and I personally am not interested in erotica (see my post on Fifty Shades of Not for Me).

When I say literary voice, I mean gorgeous writing, precise language, taking the time to develop imagery and symbolism and meaning throughout the novel.  But that doesn’t mean that I like lofty elitist writing where an author is contemplating their naval and getting all pretentious on the reader.  No no no.  Hence the “with commercial appeal.”  I still want plot, an understandable hook, emotion, etc.  The sort of book that I’d pick off the store shelf and get pulled into…a book that won’t let go.

Character driven – that means that I’m going to care deeply about these characters, even more so than the plot.  This sort of book isn’t all about the hook or the concept – it’s about relationships and growth and conflict all couched within an intriguing story.  No stock characters allowed.

Transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something.  I love getting sunk into another place or time or being taken into the heart of something I’d never have access to otherwise.  Two of my adult fiction clients, Harmony Verna and Yvette Ward-Horner have done this with incredible talent and artfulness.

In Harmony’s historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, she’s coupled the harsh world of turn of the century Australia with a hero and heroine I immediately fell in love with. We meet James and Leonora when they are young orphans and are with them as they form an innocent love. And we also meet Ghan, a rough man who has lived a brutal life in the mines. He considers himself a hideous monster, yet he, too, is a hero throughout this story. As the three lives intertwine we feel the grit of desert sand on our sweaty brow, the horror of the mining life, the joy of children who never had joy in their lives before, the heartbreak of tragedy, the pomp and excess of the wealthy steel tycoons in Pittsburgh, the scraping back-breaking life of someone living in the Australian wheat belt throughout a drought. Harmony takes us to all of these places with stunning detail as we feel how all of these environs wound and shape the characters we have come to love so much.  At the heart of this piece is a true and deep love story as the orphans James and Leonora search for what is home and what is love.  In a word: gorgeous.

In Yvette’s contemporary novel LOOK WELL, she’s paired the finest of imagery and word choice with gripping action, taking the reader up to the highest peak in Alaska as obsessed climber Gabrielle fights to blaze a new historic route to the top. With her are Jason and Mike, two men who know this is a suicide mission, but who love her so much they are terrified to let her make that climb with anyone else. In this book I feel every thunk of the axe into ice, I become so sunk into the story it’s as if I’m truly on the climb with them. I learn so much about this sub-culture — people who risk all for the thrill of the climb, and who carry their lives on their backs. And the characters on the climb also carry their share of conflicts. Their emotional journeys shape every step they take, keeping this book in the “character-driven” vs. “plot-driven” category. This is truly a “heroes journey,” one that I’m not sure, as I read through, any of the people I’ve grown to care for will survive.  Absolutely stunning and riveting.

So there you have it: adult fiction – literary with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting.

Written one of these? Then bring it on over!

 

*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: What I’m Looking for – Part 1

MP900178930

Waiting for good stuff in my inbox…

Happy Agent Monday, and happy July everyone!  It is absolutely pouring here right now and my road looks like a gushing river.  So I’m sitting here and sipping my first coffee of the day thinking that I wish my agent inbox was flooded with amazing queries right about now….  This past week over at Twitter, there was a #mswl event going on…  Manuscript wish lists were posted there by agents and editors, and I jumped on the bandwagon, posting a few of my own wishes.  Immediately I started to get some submissions into my inbox referencing #mswl – but a bunch weren’t even close to what I was asking for.  So I thought I take the next few agent Mondays to spell my own #mswl a bit more.  Here’s what I’m looking for…

#MSWL numero uno: Strong beautiful YA contemporary – character driven w/ 1 main prob, not dozens

Okay, so it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of novels by Sarah Dessen and John Green and that also I might just have written a YA contemporary novel or two of my own.  So of course I have a deep abiding interest in contemporary YA.

Contemporary = realistic.  No paranormal elements. Based in reality.  So if you query me with a contemporary novel that features elves, then you have mislabeled your manuscript.  That’s a fantasy.  If there are ghosts, that’s a paranormal.  So what I mean is real kids in real situations that happen right now. Contemporary.  Clear enough.

I find that many people still are confused about what makes a book a young adult novel.  You need to have the main character be a teen – and an older teen at that.  Too often a 13 year old character is really the star of an upper middle grade novel (kids like to read about characters older than they are).  Or the main character is in their mid-twenties or older- that’s adult fiction, not YA.  There is also a “new adult” category emerging where the character is in college or in their early 20′s.  If the novel has a teen character, but the story is all about the parents in the story, then that is also not YA – that’s adult.  Lately I’ve also gotten manuscripts that feature points of view of both a teen and an adult with the focus being on both the stories – but the teen story doesn’t appeal to an adult audience, and the adult story is definitely not for the teen readers – that sort of book is all messed up genre wise and impossible to place. Trust me, no teen wants to read about a character’s parents’ sex life in alternating chapters with the teen’s story. Zowie.

Anyways… Character driven should be pretty self-explanatory: the characters are well developed, grow throughout the book, and they are the focus of the story rather than a high concept hook.  Like if it’s a book about a murder investigation that focuses on the whodunnit rather than the who in the story, that’s plot driven, not character driven.  If the book’s all about scandal and salacious details instead of the impact that something has on a character, that is also not character driven.

I’m hoping to get into the character’s head and soul and to walk in their shoes as they deal with a conflict that forces them to change in some way.

Which brings us to the last part of my #mswl: 1 main prob, not dozens.

I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I get where the plot starts off promising, but then veers into the ridiculous with the number of problems piled onto the character’s life.

Let’s say the character is stuck in a foster home and doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere…until she starts working at the quirky music shop and discovers a new dysfunctional but loving “family” that she can call home.  I’m making this up for this piece, but that, right there is a novel all laid out. One main problem with tons of opportunities for characters and conflict and twists and revelations and in the end, growth.

What I’m getting in my inbox instead is something that runs like this… Take that same one heartfelt problem as above, BUT also…the character’s mother was murdered, the murderer is still out there, the character is sexually abused by a teacher she had begun to trust, she’s also a drug addict, and the job she gets at the music store is run by a heroin addict and staffed by people she gets close to only they are all illegal aliens and get deported, so she develops bulimia, and…

You see what I’m saying? Not one main problem but dozens. Piled on. Where’s the confidence, people? You don’t need sensationalism or tons of issues. Give me one issue with some minor ones if needed added on. Give me heart and elegance and a character I care about. Look at the books by Dessen and Green and other beautiful contemporary writers.  Bulimia = one book. Abuse = one book. No family love = one book. Etc.  So look at how few issues characters in these great novels are really dealing with at once.  I think you’ll be surprised at the simple central premise that rests at the bottom of each one.  People/characters are complex enough, right?

Anyways, that’s my #mswl #1.  Put that in my agent inbox right now, please.  But PLEASE follow my guidelines so you do it the right way.  For my guidelines, click here.

And stay tuned for another #mswl next week!

*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: 50 Shades of Not-for-me

MP900396129Hi all!  Okay, I know it’s Tuesday, but whatev’s.  Truth is, my Agent Monday was swamped with me catching up on other stuff, plus finishing up the edits on a client’s amazing middle grade novel.  Better late than never.  So here goes. 50 Shades of Gray has so many authors a-buzz with the whole “I can do that,” and “I can make a ton of moohlah doing that” energy.  And these submissions are starting to land in my inbox several times a day. So let me just put this into the stratosphere: As far as I’m concerned, it’s 50 Shades of Not-for-me.

Once I get a chance to update my online guidelines at the agency, I’ll definitely add in “no erotica” to that list of what I do and don’t want. Look, it’s nothing personal.  I’m just not into erotica in literature. I’m into character-driven fiction, depth, humor, amazing writing. Honestly, if you have that and then toss in an erotica plot to cash in on the craze, I’m still not on board. An in-depth compelling relationship with an amazing love-making scene, sure. But a naughty bite your lip and play hooker cuz it’s so empowering sort of novel? I’m out.

So save yourself some time and if that is what you are aiming at, simply remove me from your submission list. I’m not the agent for you. Please don’t try to convince me that your novel is not that “sort of book” when it really is. If you sat down and wrote it to tap into the “50 Shades Craze” then please don’t send it to me. If the whole trajectory of the plot is to put your heroine into more and more naughty scenarios, then I’m out.  If there are damp panties mentioned every time she sees a handsome man, THEN I’M OUT.

Just so we’re clear.

I wish erotica authors well, I truly do. And I hope they can find the agent who IS interested in their novels. And I hope they understand that I’m not that agent.

Okay, now that I put this info “out there,” I’m going to spend the next half hour or so rejecting the many erotica submissions sitting in my inbox right now.

No hard feelings, gang. ;)

 

*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.