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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you all a Thanksgiving full of blessings.

 

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

Agent Monday: 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.