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.

 

 

Agent Monday: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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