Agent Monday: Going Long!

Quarterback Ready to Throw BallHappy Agent Monday to everyone!  And I wish you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving full of love and peace.  I have a lot to be thankful for this year, including my wonderful family and friends, my family at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, and my amazing clients. I’m thankful I get to work with such talented writers and it is an honor to help them shape their careers. So this week I thought I’d talk a little bit about the writer’s path to success. It’s seldom a quick one. And that’s why, when it comes to your future agent, you want one interested in going long.

What do I mean by that? I mean you don’t want an agent who is just interested in a quick sale. Sometimes writers have a deal in hand and then find an agent to represent them and take them on as a client. That’s fine, BUT you want that agent to love your book and to be interested in you as a writer beyond this all-ready-to-go deal.  Sometimes a high concept manuscript can be just the thing to pique agents’ attention and to hook an agent who sees the marketability of that book.  That’s fine, you want a manuscript that will sell, and an agent that recognizes that. BUT, what if it doesn’t sell quickly? You want an agent that will stick with you and continue to fight in your corner, sending the manuscript out to many viable choices, and then working with you for your next manuscript and your next.

Sometimes sales ARE fast, and sometimes it’s a long haul. Sometimes success comes immediately, and other times its work and takes years, even after a writer gets an agent. Sometimes writers start off with a bang, and then the next book isn’t as well received. Will your agent stick with you through all of that? Are they in it for the long haul? You definitely want one who is.

How do you find an agent like that? Well, they are the ones who ask you what you hope to achieve in the future, what your dreams are as a writer. They are willing to take the time to answer your questions and to guide you on future projects. They are excited about YOU, not just your book. And that is smart, isn’t it?

If you are wonderful to work with and extremely talented, then it is smart for an agent to invest time in you over the long haul. To champion your next book and your next and your next, even if you don’t break out right away. To look for every opportunity to promote you in numerous creative ways. An agent represents you, and should continue to do so through thick and thin.

Football Players Celebrating VictoryThat’s definitely my philosophy. That’s why I’m so picky with choosing my clients, because I plan on sticking with them and helping them grow over time. Hey, I’m an author as well, so I know that a writer’s creative life isn’t always a direct line shooting right to the top. And I know that there will be more ups than downs in a career if a writer is supported and promoted and can continue to believe in herself and continue to create. So that’s my job – being there for the long haul.

Every writer deserves that sort of support from their agent. It’s the true path to success!

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

 

Agent Monday: No Tricks Required

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

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

1. The Spectacle:

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

2. Misleading Message Lines:

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

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

3. The Inflated Self-Pubbed Claim:

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

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

4. The Prologue Trick:

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: Back to School for Writers!

Colorful CrayonsHappy Agent Monday, gang!  By now all the kiddies are back to school. If your kids are young, that means back to routines, and hopefully more time for you to write and to query, etc.  If you’re newly an empty-nester (like somebody I know), that means you’ve got time to rearrange your priorities around yourself and your writing.  And if you yourself are out of school, then this is the time for those unsettling nightmares where you find yourself rushing down your old high school hallways madly searching for the right classroom because you have a test on something that you definitely didn’t know about five minutes before.  Either way you look at it, September is all about back to school, and I think this is the perfect time for back to school…for writers!

So in today’s post I want to talk about the writer’s learning curve a bit. I’m not talking about MFA programs, here, I’m talking about you developing your skills in a conscious way. As an agent, too often I see the results of an undeveloped author. That idea that wasn’t fully worked out. That writer who can’t get beyond telling their own “what I did” personal story and into a larger fictional tale. The person who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to handle dialogue or grammar. And there are those folks who show promise, but just aren’t there yet. Maybe this novel isn’t good enough for publication, but in the future, if that writer were to work harder at their craft, they could be brilliant.

So writer, teach thyself!

Not a one of us, no, not even J.K. Rowling or whoever you think of as the most successful writer in the world, ever stops learning new ways to get better.  If you just sit yourself down in a small room and write that one book and then spend the next three years marketing it before writing anything else, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

There. I said it. Writing is a process and you, the writer, will continue to learn things and to change for the better. So one way you can continue to learn and improve is simply by continuing to write. The next book. The next article. The next short story or poem. Journal. Write letters to friends. Consider it all your homework! Writer’s write. And successful writers write a lot.

But of course it’s not enough to just dash words on a page. You must read them over, have others read them, open your mind to other opinions about your work, and see if you can improve. Don’t have anyone to share your work with? Time to find people. Join a local writer’s group or form your own. Meet other aspiring writers at conferences, swap emails and critique each other’s works. Or swap critiques with folks online through online writing organizations that you join.  Sometimes you can clearly see errors in another’s writing that you initially can’t see in your own stuff, but then it’s like a light bulb goes on and you notice a new way to bring your own words to a better level.

Other ways to stay in school? Read a ton of books in general. Take a writing course. Read books on the craft. Study them.  Pour over the craft magazines like Writer’s Digest and The Writer, etc. Writing is your calling, right? Why wouldn’t you want to develop your “A” game in it?

And one of the best ways to learn how to write better is on your bookshelves right now: your favorite books by beloved authors.  Open one up and read it not as a reader, but as a writer.  Analyze how the author creates the character, describes scenery, manipulates you into caring or feeling certain things, demonstrates voice. Take that work apart. How much dialogue is on a page versus narrative? How long are sentences – do they vary?  Take a chapter and physically type it out on the computer to really look closely at the words, then highlight the crap out of it and write all over it noting different elements of craft at work. Can you use any of these tricks of the trade to improve your own writing? Learn from the masters.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So there you go. Homework assigned. Back to school you go.

Now pack your lunch in your paper bag and hustle on out there before you miss that bus!

 

*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: Conferences from the Agent’s Point of View (Revisited!)

Happy Agent Monday – and Happy Labor Day to you all! Last week I reposted a column about writer’s conferences and writer’s nerves, etc.  And today I’m including part two – which details writer’s conferences from the agent point of view.  Planning on attending a conference?  Read on!

Here’s part 2 of the encore post:

Asian Women Chatting over CoffeeLast week I shared some things I learned as an author about meeting agents and editors at writer’s conferences. So, BAM! Let’s switch pitch table sides. Now, as Associate Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I really am on the other side, taking pitches, sitting on the panels, and walking around conferences to meet writers and hear what they have to say. So here are some thoughts, and some tips.

First of all, like I said in last week’s post, the important thing to remember is that agents and editors are people. And most are pretty nice, too. Take the folks at the great Push to Publish conference which I’d attended (in 2012).  (NB: this Oct. 2013 I’ll be the Push to Publish pre-conference presenter where folks can spend the day with me – registration info here.) I wish I had time to hang out with these agents and editor and swap stories about our clients and our projects. But that’s one thing many conferences are tight on: time.

So as an agent, I arrive with a schedule in hand. For some conferences, I may have just been whisked over from an airport, and have barely arrived before I’m “on.” I love to meet my fellow agents and editors. But above all, I want to meet you writers! But time is short. So I meet with you during pitches, or chat with you during registration, or swap ideas with you during panel talks.  Longer conferences are great because there are more chances for real exchange. Exchange of biz cards, yes, but also exchange of conversation and ideas. There can be time during a cocktail party or in line for breakfast, or just hanging out in the hotel lounge after the main events are over.

But there are often many of you and few of us agents, so when we do get time with you, it’s important to use it well. I’ve done pitch sessions that have run anywhere from 5 minutes to 15. If a writer comes to me and is especially nervous, I understand. Sometimes however, this wastes our valuable time together as we spend our minutes more on getting focused than on talking about a book. In these cases, I think it’s best for the writer to have their pitch written out. If you just admit right up front that you are really nervous and ask if it’s okay to read your pitch, I for one will smile and say of course.  Then you can take a deep breath, read the pitch, and then our conversation can begin from there. And I bet you’ll feel better after that.

Some writers are naturals with pitches and with chatting. And for me, it really is a chat. As if we are sitting together for a moment at a coffee shop, talking shop. These writers smile, and introduce themselves and shake hands. They then sit and say something to the effect of, “I’m here to tell you about my new memoir called ‘About All That.’” And then they say their brief, focused pitch. These authors allow me to then respond with my reaction to the pitch. They listen to any questions I may have and answer them as well as they can. And they ask me questions like what do I think about this sort of book in the marketplace? They listen and allow us to interact, with note-taking happening after our allotted time.  This is all time well spent.

Sometimes writers squander their pitch time because they come to me unfocused. They haven’t thought ahead about the market of their novel (is it YA or mid grade?), or come up with a succinct way to describe the novel to me. So we spend our time together learning about the author, her approach to writing, what she wanted to achieve, the many ways she approached creating this book. Everything but what the book is actually about. And because of that, I can’t give any viable feedback or know if this novel is something I want to look at.

Sometimes writers come into the pitch with only one goal: sell!  I’m not naive. I KNOW that is the goal. But I think this sort of over-focused writer can miss out on great opportunities that lead to the sell. It’s not just about getting that jazzed reaction from the agent and the green light and that book deal. Seriously. It’s about coming into it ready to learn and pick up cues and adapt and make connections. And all of these things can lead you to the sell, so don’t be short-sighted.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A writer comes up to me very confidant with a pitch. She’s ready to sell it, and is sure a smart agent will snap it up. So I hear the pitch. I may be interested, but I’m confused about something so I ask a question. Over confident writer immediately deflates, convinced they’ve failed. Or withdraws, upset (yes, I’ve seen tears in response to questions). Or grows hostile, convinced I’m ridiculous to say no (which I haven’t even said yet) and that there is nothing more I can do for them and so they should just move on to wow the next person.  Every single one of these writers is simply blowing it. Why? Because as long as we have minutes together we can be learning from each other.

I can learn more about the novel in response to my questions. If my concerns are addressed, then maybe I will be interested. The writer can spend time building a relationship with me. Maybe this book won’t fly, but another book might in the future. Why burn bridges? The writer can also be paying attention to my reaction to this pitch. Even if I’m not the agent for you, did I become interested in certain things? Did I become puzzled? Did I express concerns about certain aspects? Then perhaps you can tweak your pitch and your queries to future agents based on this, and be more successful at your next pitch appointment. Ask me, “what do you think?” And if I say I’m not interested, ask me, “do you have any advice that I can use?”

When it comes down to it, I’m looking to work with pros. Even a debut author can be a pro. People who are open to discussion about their books, who are open to suggestions, who are folks I’d consider working with. If you are overly emotional, then I can’t picture you handling changes from an editor or meeting deadlines. If you are hostile or a prima donna, I’m never going to want to work with you. There are many talented people, and even if you are a major talent, if you are sending up flares that you are a difficult person, then I’m not interested.

When I go to conferences, I’m there to meet you, chat with you, and swap ideas. I’m hopeful that I will be finding my next client sitting right across from me. Someone who is professional and interesting and ready to work hard. I meet tons of fascinating people at every one of these conferences. Not all of them end up as my clients, of course. But many of them end up as people who I hope to hear from and interact with again.

I encourage you to remember that a pitch is more than a sell. Conferences are a place to meet people, to make contacts and to learn.  Get questions answered. Try out different pitches for your novel at different conferences and learn bit by bit which parts are most effective and which are not working so well.  Remember all of this can lead to a sell. I always enjoy meeting people who are passionate about their writing. It’s energizing and exciting.

Enjoy the process, and best of luck!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Agent Monday: Conferences – a Post Worth Repeating

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I’m a tad busy today and with next Monday being a holiday and all, I thought perhaps it’s time to repost something you might have missed.  With many conferences coming up in the Fall (you can see which ones I’ll be at by clicking here), here is another look at my post: Close Encounters of the Conference Kind.

SHere goes:

Close encounters of the conference kind can really instill fear. But they don’t have to, and if you keep a few things in mind, conferences can be so helpful to a writer’s career. And, dare we say it, enjoyable?

Nerves! We all get them.  As a writer, I well remember the sweaty heart-pounding panic that filled me when I realized that right there next to me was THE dream agent or THE dream editor.  Palms became damp just before I’d shake hands. I’d speed talk and ramble a bit.  I did manage to pull myself together enough to talk coherently, but after a close encounter, I felt like I’d aged a few years.  Zowie.

Some of us writer-folk are shy. I’m not exactly the shy type though, so what was going on? First of all, this was all so new to me. Fish out of water, and all that. I didn’t really have a good idea of what was expected of me, or how to act, or what, even, I really wanted from an editor or agent. No wonder I felt awkward.

But this newness was also exciting and challenging. It propelled me to go to the next conference, and then the next to get smarter, more comfortable, less mouth-flappy. I read up ahead of time about the editors and agents who were there. What were they really interested in? What was interesting about them? And what questions did I have for them based on this info? I also spent time at conferences listening more, learning, and talking a ton with other writers there. Fellow writers, I soon learned, were eager to swap thoughts and of course they make great friends, too.

I also think my nerves stemmed from me telling myself that this is it! The big moment! My huge chance! I can’t blow it!!! In this scenario, OF COURSE a writer will be nervous. You see the editor or the agent as your savior. The one person who will make your dreams come true. They are iconic. And you have this one and only chance…

Blah. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think after you are in “the business” for a number of years most of us “get it.” There isn’t one chance, but many continuous ones that build like a chain from one experience and encounter to the next. There isn’t one book, but many books and ideas that will flow from you, each a stepping stone to better and better things, even when some stones seem to be leading you backwards. You are learning and growing. You are meeting people and making contacts. And hopefully you are having some fun, too.

I remember standing in a pitch slam line waiting to talk to an agent. The writers waiting there shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous smiles. And one lovely writer turned and said to me something like, “I just try to remember that they are people. That we all love books. And we are just having a nice little chat. An exchange of ideas.”

Genius. They are people… That, more than anything else I read or heard, helped me so much.

Now that I’m an Associate Agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I see the wisdom of this statement even more. When writers approach me as a person, and share their idea in a friendly way, we connect and enjoy it.

And when writers approach me all nervous and sweaty, I smile and tell them I understand, and that it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna do just fine. Then we enjoy our own little chat. And it IS just fine.

In next week’s Agent Monday post I’ll share what it’s been like for me to now be on the other side of the pitch table as an agent, and some things I’ve learned along the way. Stay tuned!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Agent Monday: Should I Keep Querying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Agent Monday: Promises, Promises

Girls Running Lemonade StandHappy sunny Agent Monday to you all!  As I raise my second coffee cup to my lips and contemplate the queries I’m about to read in my inbox, I can’t help but think about how hard this whole process can be. Yup, it’s hard for you writers to find the right agent who will “get” you and your writing enough to champion your work (remember, I’m a writer too, so I totally understand). But on the agent end of things, it’s hard too. Agents are looking to connect with novels, but all we get is a query and a few sample pages. When we latch onto something that really interests us in a query, it’s like a promise that the manuscript we request will deliver even more of that interest. So, promises, promises.  Are you keeping your promise to me?

Too often, I’m seeing these promises broken when I dive into the requested full, and, yes, that’ll result in a rejection.  It’s like a thirsty traveler happening upon a lemonade stand, plunking down a dollar with eager anticipation, only to find she’s walked away with a glass of tomato juice.  Not cool.

I think two things are happening with queries, neither one of which will help you get an agent…

Thing One: You do not have a clear vision of your novel, and because of this, you misrepresent it in a query. You call it a thriller when it’s really a contemporary. You say it’s contemporary when it’s really a paranormal. You call it a YA when it’s really a middle reader novel. You tell me it’s a dark emotional novel when it’s really a comical parody.

Thing Two: You do have a clear vision of your novel, BUT you’ve also read up on what’s hot and what I’m looking for and you recast your query to fit that so you’ll get me, the agent, to ask for it. You may think that if you could just get me to read your full novel I’ll fall in love with it and forget that it isn’t anything like what I’m looking forward to.

But Thing One or Thing Two = EPIC FAIL. Sorry, gang.

Truth is, when I’m settling in to read that requested full, I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve promised to deliver. When it doesn’t deliver those elements, or the focus quickly veers from what I was eagerly anticipating, I’m not delighted. I’m disappointed and confused. What happened to that quirky character the initial pages had me intrigued about? Or that contemporary tale I was looking for? Or that thriller you foretold.

Like with any commercial transaction, the old bait and switch ain’t gonna work. I’m gonna return that product to the seller fast and never look back.

So be careful what you promise. The query builds an expectation. Keep your promise, and I’ll keep interested.

Happy writing and querying! :)

 

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

Agent Monday: A Typical Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Agent Monday: Know Your Genre

As both a writer and an Associate Literary Agent, I completely get it.  As a writer you have an idea, you fall in love with that idea, and you obsess over that idea as you write and write and write until that idea is a book, and as perfect as it can be. Then you approach an agent at a pitch session. Suddenly they are asking you how long is it (in word count, not pages)? What genre is it? What is it similar to? Who is the readership for this novel? Um, huh?  You know your characters and your plot, but what agents are trying to find out is: Do you know your genre? And where does your book belong in the marketplace?

At many pitch sessions I’ve attended as an agent at various conferences, I’ve found myself trying to pin an author down on her book’s genre. And I’ve gotten blank stares, blinking eyes, sometimes downright terror in response. Folks, I’m not trying to put you on the spot when I ask you stuff about your genre. Instead, I’m trying to position this book and see if it fits with a certain readership.

If you’ve done your writerly job beyond the writing part, then you’ll know what other books in your genre look like, what your competition and audience is, and you’ll already know you’ve created something just right for those readers.  I’m actually pretty amazed at how few writers take this extra step. Ideally, you as the writer should have this market info in your brain right as you begin to develop your novel.

I’ve seen novels that are far too short or far too long for their genre. I’ve seen subject matter that was inappropriate for a middle grade reader, characters that are too young for a YA novel, books that are copying what is already on the shelf.  All these really hurt your chances of getting your novel to print. Sure, you can argue that artists break rules and that there are exceptions all over the place, but if you don’t even know what the rules are and don’t have a solid reason for breaking them, then you are surely shooting yourself in the literary foot. Just sayin’.

So you’ve got to read in your genre, not only as a fan, but as a writer doing market research. Figure out where your book would really sit on a bookstore shelf and see how it compares to the other books beside it on that shelf.  If you can tell me what it has in common with those popular titles, plus what it brings to the marketplace that is new, then you are going to raise my interest level. And don’t use books from 50 years ago, use new stuff please. Sure, you can say “in the gothic style of Poe,” but also show some savvy about today’s market by referencing today’s books too.

Sometimes I get writers who say “there has been nothing like this ever before! It’s a brand new genre!” As my buddy, author Jonathan Maberry likes to point out in his informative talks to writers, last we looked, there is no “Brand New Genre” shelf at the local bookstore. That’s not a selling point.  But if you were to say something like, “This book will appeal to readers of Anne Tyler who are also looking for a dash of fantasy…” Well, then maybe I’ve got the beginnings of a pitch to an editor.

When I pitch projects to editors, they too are trying to figure out where a book will fit on their list as well as on bookstore shelves. It is the business end of writing, after all.

So I encourage writers to do a bit of homework while they are shaping their novels. And again when they begin their querying process, so they can refine their book description and pinpoint their genre and pitch. Because after all that hard work, you do want to sell.

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Agent Monday: Yes, We Google You

Happy Monday, all.  Recently I’ve been at a few conferences where I’ve spoken with writers about author marketing, or rather, marketing for writers BEFORE you are even published. From my point of view as an Associate Literary Agent, yes, it’s important that all writers  have a positive presence online even before querying agents. Why? Because, yes, we agents do Google you.

The question you should be asking yourself is this: What will the agents find? So do a little experiment right now. Go to Google, type in your name between quotes (“firstname lastname”), and press that search button. What comes up?

Is it nothing at all? Hm. That makes me wonder where ya been and what ya been doing. And, it also makes me wonder if you’ll be able to handle promotion of your own work if you do get a book deal. In case you haven’t noticed (and since you haven’t been online much, maybe you have missed it!), writers are now expected to help out quite a lot with promotion. That means reaching readers. Being found by folks trying to learn more. And so forth.

Does your Google search yield too much? Have you been all over the Internet badmouthing other writers, other books (and by extension their editors), other agents? Do you wax poetic about your dream agent, even though it isn’t me?… Just sayin!  In short, do you have an online image that will actually hurt your image as an author in my eyes? Be honest with yourself and see if your presence is professional and in keeping with what you want agents to know about you. And remember, the Internet is forever. Conduct yourself accordingly.

These days Google searches have also been revealing that a manuscript sent to me is already self-published and on sale, yet the writer was not upfront with me and failed to reveal this.  Not cool.

Sometimes, though, I do find the writer online in a way that adds to their image in my eyes. I’ll see that they have their own website in their author name (always easy to find by future readers…bonus points!), and that the website is clean, easy to navigate and personable. The site will have a nice author photo, a feel for what this writer does, perhaps some blogging about their field or reviews of books that they enjoy, and the tone of the page is in keeping with the author’s overall image I’d hope to find in relation to the work he or she is subbing to me. Having a website needn’t be a costly and intimidating thing. You buy your domain in your name, and then you can easily set things up. You don’t have to spend big bucks to set up a zippy-do site, instead you can use a free site to create and maintain your web page yourself, and have your domain redirect people to that location. That’s what I do. The page you are reading now is a free WordPress page and it does everything I need it to, plus I can update it easily at any time. Works for me!

More bonus points for the writer who has a twitter account with a decent picture (not that boiled egg thing) and a brief bio plus link back to their website.  Cool, too, if the author is following the people in her sphere. Like people who review her sort of book, associations who have links to her subjects, etc. And a facebook page that isn’t too too personal (posts like what my toes look like should be set to private so not everyone searching can see it) but that isn’t all spammy and look at me! I write stuff! I’m amazing!

In short, a demonstration that you have a clue when it comes to presenting yourself well and in dealing with the public in a positive way will be a positive for you.

And if you’re not sure how to do that, Google some people you admire and see what they are up to online. Look at other folks on Twitter and Facebook. Who do you enjoy reading stuff from and who do you roll your eyes at?

Now I encourage you to again Google your name and look over what pops up, keeping all of this stuff in mind. It’s your image — your online business card — so make sure it’s what you want to hand over to me and other agents when we virtually meet.

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.