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: 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: What’s Love Got to do with It?

From time to time, I’ve heard discussions among writers who have received rejections from other agents that basically said, “Sorry, but I didn’t fall in love with this.” One reaction writers then say is, “I don’t care if you love it or not. Just represent it and sell it!”  This often leads into writers saying that this whole need to “fall in love” with a project is a ridiculous notion. It’s just a form letter. It’s because they don’t know what else to say. So in today’s Agent Monday post I’d like to share my view of  “What’s love got to do with it?”

Now I’m speaking about FICTION here, since at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency I don’t personally represent non-fiction. So bear that in mind…  But with a fiction manuscript, yeah, I’ve got to fall in love with it.  Why? Because if I don’t finish that manuscript and feel my heart completely ripped out, or my world rocked in some way, I don’t want to invest myself in that book.  I need something I truly believe in.

I want to be able to convey my passion to an editor.  And I want that editor to feel, at the end of her read, that her heart is completely ripped out or her world is rocked in some way.  That’s kinda the point.

But what about the “meh” book that I know will sell because it hits all the marketing points? It’s steampunk, which is supposedly hot. Or talks about bullying, which is a book people will “gobble up?”  Well, if I’m not in love with it, I don’t personally believe an editor be in love either…and an editor must turn around and “sell” the book to the marketing committee and they must sell it to the world, and reviewers must feel the love, too.

What I’m looking for is a book that will sell because it’s exceptional. If it hits all those marketing points, groovy.  If it doesn’t, but it’s exceptional, it’ll find its audience and that’s groovy too.

From my agenting point of view, I have to live with this manuscript and this author.  If I’m not in love with their book, but I sniff dollar signs in the air for some reason, am I respecting that author? Am I excited enough to read through the manuscript over and over again and edit it? To create a passion-filled pitch and offer it up to top editors?  And if I think of it as “meh” but an easy sale for some reason, what if it doesn’t sell easily? Will I have the drive to continue to market it with passion? Will I feel like just giving up and cutting you loose? You see where I’m going with this?

I invest a ton of time in my clients, and I choose them carefully. I go with my gut, and believe that their talent will take them far over the course of their careers. They are more than one book, one quick sale to me.  I’ve passed over books that may have sold, but that I just didn’t care about. Why would I take that writer on, when I can invest my heart and soul and countless hours in someone whose writing I do care about?  I’ll also definitely take on books that may not be the easy sell, but that feel important and strong and that I believe HAVE TO BE READ. And I’ll work my tail off making sure that happens.

It’s important that I believe in your work and in you.  You deserve that and should demand it.  If I don’t “fall in love” with your novel, then I’m not the agent for you, and you should find an agent who will.  Because that is the person who will best represent your work. Who will champion you and all your efforts with energy and drive. Who will believe in you even when the world doesn’t seem to, and continue to submit your work with conviction until the world finally sees the light.

And who will eagerly await your next book, and your next.

*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: Why Guidelines are Your Friend

“It’s more of a guideline, actually…”

Dare I commit to doing a post from my agent’s point of view every Monday? Aw heck, why not? So today’s “Agent Monday” post is devoted to agent guidelines, and why guidelines are your friend in the query process.

Following an agent’s submission guidelines can only help you to get the positive attention of an agent.  I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right?  But I get SO MANY QUERIES from writers who obviously have not bothered to read my submission guidelines.

Honestly, why waste your time sending a query to any agent if you don’t know the first thing about their interests or about how they like to receive stuff from you? Before you submit anything to any agent please do yourself a favor and run a simple Google search on that agent and their agency, adding in “submission guidelines” into the search field. Odds are you will find their interests and requirements right smack dab there on their agency’s page. Search “Marie Lamba,” and within seconds you’ll spot many interviews with me on various sites. You’ll also find me listed as Associate Agent at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency site. And there you’ll see my very specific submission guidelines, which you can also access if you click right here.

By following my guidelines you will quickly know not to waste your time subbing your gory horror novel to me. Or your high fantasy novel. Or your category romance.  But you will put me on your list if you have a YA novel, or a middle reader, or a funny women’s fiction. That sort of thing.  And please, dear writers, don’t think that your gory horror novel is so amazing that it will change my mind about how I feel about this genre. Please. The guidelines do apply. Even to you. Even if you are brilliant. (Sorry.)

And here’s the truth: With a quick look at my inbox, I can easily spot the writers who didn’t even bother to look me up before subbing to me. First of all, the message line of the email does not start with QUERY. Next step? I notice when someone is sending me stuff I have no interest in whatsoever.  Lastly, and most importantly, the “didn’t even bother to look up my guidelines” writer is missing out on the one huge advantage my guidelines spell out: I let you send me the first 20 pages of your manuscript pasted into the bottom of your query!

So you can see how folks who don’t follow guidelines are shooting themselves in the foot.  Sending info that is clearly not of interest to me equals instant rejection.  And say you send me a query for something I DO represent, but you didn’t find out about the 20 page thing? Well, then I’m faced with the extra step of asking to see those first 20 pages from you.  Sometimes (rarely), if the query is intriguing, I might send back a quick note for the writer to resub following my guidelines.  But mostly I just sigh and send the rejection.

If you do follow all of my guidelines and still get that rejection, at least you know you’ve gotten a fair shake, and that I’ve been given enough info to assess if your manuscript was right for me.  And if, after subbing the 20 pages in the initial query, I DO ask to see your full manuscript, you know that I’m basing this request on more than a one paragraph pitch. I’m interested!

So, fellow writers, do yourself a huge favor and take a few moments to do your homework about the agent you are subbing your precious book to.  You’ll better target your queries, and put your work on a better path to acceptance. And that, my friends, is all good.

*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.