Agent Monday: Updating Your Image

????????Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I feel renewed after a weekend when there FINALLY was some sunshine and warmth. Just being able to clear debris off the planting beds and pull some weeds and plan what new plants to put in felt so invigorating and forward-moving.  And readers of this blog may notice something fresh and new here as well – a new blog format!  So today’s post is all about how writers need to update themselves!

Got a pokey online image that isn’t you? What about that ancient author photo (are those SHOULDER PADS I see)? And, most importantly, what about the writing you are currently promoting?  Is it, well, current?

As an agent I often see submissions that feel dated. One form of a dated submission is the novel that feels like it would have fit in well in the 1960s or 70s, or in an Early British History Fiction class, or in a study of classic children’s literature. But today? Not so much.

I think this comes from the writer reading and falling in love with books from their childhood, or from when they were forming their passion for writing, and THAT is what they hold up as the model of great fiction. But here’s the truth: really great fiction of our time reflects today’s sensibilities and your experiences as who you are right now. Even if it is a historical novel. So that means that you can’t write Jane Eyre today and expect today’s publishers and readers to respond the way the original audience did. Writing from a place that only takes in what fiction once was like too often just feels pokey.

You need to evolve and update your sensibilities. That’s why, when I advise writers to be familiar with the books in their genre, I tell them they MUST read successful CURRENT books. Not just the classics.

Another sort of dated submission is caused by the writer who hasn’t evolved. I see this with authors who had some success say 20 or 30 years ago with their fiction, and are still trying to write in that exact same style to that exact same audience. But reading styles have changed a bit. Pacing, language, plotting has morphed into something fresher and more of our time. There will always be room for excellent writing and characterization on the shelves, but if the book feels like it’s been done before, whether in style or plot, chances are good that if your audience has left you behind, you need to rethink your approach.

Another thing that I see in submissions that feel dated in a way, is the author who has written that ONE MANUSCRIPT, and they have been trying to sell it for years and years and years. Okay, I know that we writers need to be stubborn, and there are those wonderful tales of success about authors who did stick it out and then were finally rewarded with a publishing deal and rave reviews. Excellent! But, if your one manuscript hasn’t evolved over the years of submissions – meaning you haven’t changed a word even as you’ve improved your skills as a writer, or you haven’t responded to valid criticism about your work with sharp revisions, well, you aren’t evolving.

So, to those writers, I say – be persistent, never give up, but evolve as you move forward. Keep improving your existing work and submitting, but most of all, work on the next book in the meantime. I’ve been this writer myself and made the mistake of perhaps being a bit too determined about my first novel. And guess what? When I finally resolved that it wasn’t giving up (after 10 years of determined slogging to sell it) to move on to another project, I wrote a new novel and within a year landed an agent and a book deal with Random House. That first novel? It’s hiding in the drawer, and, really, it’s not that bad. I could just do better once I gave myself the chance.

So it’s springtime. Evolve and grow. Look at who you are as a writer. Your image. Your voice. Do your words you are sending out reflect the person you are today? Are they the best you can write TODAY? If so, they will reach today’s readers and connect.

Dare to plant new seeds of inspiration and let them grow!

 

*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: On Luck

Green CloversTop ‘o the mornin’ to you all!  Happy Agent Monday AND St. Patrick’s Day.  With the luck of the Irish and pots of gold being much talked about, today I thought it’d be a fine time for me to talk about luck and the writer. Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting a good review, getting great sales, even getting that perfect idea for a book at the perfect moment.  Some people are just lucky, and some people never get any breaks, right? Well…

As someone who is an author and an agent, I’ve had my share of good and bad luck. Looking back, the most significant bad luck I ever had as a writer was completely out of my control.  Debuting as an author (after MANY years of struggling to break in) just as the recession was starting? Beyond my control. Being one of the very first Random House titles to not be automatically picked up by Barnes & Noble and Borders (remember Borders?!!!)? Also out of my hands. And, because of being one of those very first titles, my already written and approved sequel was immediately canceled. This bomb was dropped on me just 3 weeks before my debut title came out.  My editor (and champion) left the business at that moment. Seriously horribly rotten luck, right? Terrible. Tragic. WHY ME AFTER ALL MY HARD WORK rotten luck. And all out of my hands.

I’m sharing this with you so you’ll know I get it. I get that sometimes not only do the stars not align, but the planets crash down on your head and whomp your dreams to pieces. But still, luck is in your control. That’s because it’s what you do from that moment on that makes all the difference.

Do you quit? Do you wallow in self-pity and misery? Or do you make your own luck?

For me, I was determined to make sure that my debut didn’t fail and that my sequel saw the light of day. So I took charge of marketing in every way that I could. I pursued every out-of-the-box idea I could think of and worked non-stop. And because of this, my debut YA novel WHAT I MEANT… didn’t disappear, and neither did I. It was embraced by readers, it went into reprint multiple times, this title earned out its advance, and it is still in print as an ebook to this day. That was all hard won. Also, I took charge of my standalone sequel OVER MY HEAD, which seemed to be doomed. And I put it out myself. It’s earned great reviews and reader praise, and it’s available now in print and in ebook.

And while I would never have chosen this hard route for myself, it shaped me and I’ve taken away so much from these experiences. While I started out with some P.R. and book promo experience in publishing, this twist of luck transformed me into a truly informed book publicity machine (and now I pass this knowledge on to my clients), and it taught me where indie publishing really fits into a writer’s life, and it showed me just how awesome my own agent Jennifer De Chiara is when it comes to supporting a client through thick and thin (something I strive to emulate with my own clients now).

You can take your luck into your own hands, and it’s important to, as a writer, see where the control rests. Sure, you can’t make an agent represent you, but you CAN strive to write the very best most polished manuscript you can and to research to find the right agent, and to follow that agent’s guidelines, and to write the most skilled of query letters.  None of that is luck – but it improves your luck, doesn’t it? It leads you to that pot of gold.

And if that path to the gold is strewn with land mines, it is up to you to chart a new path, a better one. To take control wherever you can and to make your own great luck. To write beautiful stories that will inspire people.

MP900314154The real truth about good luck, I think, is that it is not some passive thing that just happens to people. We have a hand in it. Making sure we say yes to opportunity wherever it rests, and that we work hard to make the most of it. (Haven’t we all seen people, even ourselves, screw up something or run away from something wonderful that has been practically tossed into our laps?) Making sure that when something diverts our good fortune, we learn from that and reroute ourselves back to our own good fortune, making an even better path.

That’s what I think dreams are really made of.

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: The Big Conference Question

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Here I am, hydrating at a panel talk with fellow Liars Club authors at the Princeton Public Library.

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  As you writers set new goals for the new year, you may be stewing over whether it’s worth including writer’s conferences as part of your plan.  Why, exactly, should you go to a conference. Is it worth the money? Couldn’t you just spend that time writing and then learning what you need to know via online research? These were some of the questions writers in my own critique group were chatting about at our last Rebel Writers meeting.  So today, I thought I tackle The Big Conference Question: should you go?

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences by now. First as a writer, and now as a literary agent as well.  Some have been amazing. Some have been, well, eh, in value. But I’ve always learned from them and I’ve never been sorry to attend.  In fact, I landed my own agent, the lovely Jennifer De Chiara (who still reps me, and now I also work as an agent for her firm…yeah, we talk a lot!) and secured my first book deal as an author through conferences, and you can read about all that here in my post WHY CONFERENCES.

Go ahead. Give that one a look.  I’ll wait…

Taps foot…

Done reading that? Okay. So that shows how all the stars could align through attending conferences, and how it did for me. In today’s post I want to go a little deeper into what you might look for in a conference and truly expect, and point out some of the not-so-obvious ways you can benefit beyond the “I landed an agent!” and the “I got a book deal!”, which, truthfully, does not typically happen first time out of the gate. With me, for example, those things were achieved after years of conferences, tons of learning on my part, and tons of polishing of my own writing in between…and then the contacts I made via conferences led in a lovely straight line to my goal.

So, what is YOUR goal. Yup, getting your book published, and published well.  But those who are most successful understand that takes a bunch of intermediary steps. So those who dive into a conference with the sole hungry purpose of getting published will probably blow the many opportunities offered to them at a writer’s conference.  They’ll be too focused on landing an agent to absorb what an agent, who may not be asking for their manuscript after a pitch, is offering in the way of advice on how to improve that pitch. I see that as an agent a lot.  The writer flies across the country and spends mucho bucks on hotel and conference fees to pitch face to face with agents. That writer pitches to me, and the pitch is confusing. I pass, and offer advice on how the pitch is unclear, how, perhaps the writer could focus it better.  But the writer, herself so focused on landing an agent, has shut down the moment it seems like our conversation is not going her way. She hears NO and is done with me and dashes off.

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Here I am studying opening pages at a pitch session held during the Push-to-Publish Conference in Rosemont, PA

Do you see why that level of single-mindedness is a fail when it comes to conferences? If the writer had listened to what I said, she might have discovered a way to improve her pitch, and the next agent she’d pitch to that day, might have said yes.

So, again, I ask you to think about YOUR goal. Here’s a good one: to learn.

At conferences you can figure out the best way to present yourself and your work, whether in a query or in a live pitch. You can hear agents speaking and find out if they are looking for the sort of writing that you do, or not. If not, cross them off your list of submissions, but still listen and take notes – they might offer you a tidbit of advice that’ll help you when contacting agents who are into your type of writing.  Also, it does give you the opportunity to see what a particular agent is really like. You want someone who will represent you well to editors.  Does the agent speak well? Do you like the impression they give off? If the answer is no, then do you really want them to be the face and voice of you and your career? 

You can learn so much about the business side of writing through conferences – the sort of stuff you can’t glean just through reading magazines and books and blogs. Sit in on a panel of editors, and you’ll discover how the acquisitions process works, what they like and don’t like taste-wise, what they will expect from authors they are interested in. And that will all help you.

And then there are elements of craft. Over the years, I’ve learned amazing plot techniques from picture book authors (even though I was writing YA at the time), and research ideas from non-fiction authors (which I used for my historical YA fantasy DRAWN), and gathered so much inspiration from many presenters that kept me chugging along as a writer even when chugging along was pretty tough.

But here’s the most overlooked benefit of attending a conference: the people sitting beside you there!  Talk to the folks around you, and on breaks between sessions and at meals. You’ll find your peers. Swap info on the writing life, and the sort of writing you’ve done. You’ll meet people who get you. Who are doing what you do. Some will have book deals and agents and endless wisdom to offer. Others will be up and coming and be able to offer bits of info you can use, and you can do the same for them. Collectively, all of this will propel you closer to your big goal.  Friends, critique partners, contacts, a bit of info about a writing organization you should get involved with. These are amazing stepping-stones to your success.

So, looking ahead to writer’s conferences this year, which should you choose? I say start with smaller ones closer to home if you can, for starters. Ones with several decent editors and a few agents. You’ll have a lower price tag, more face time with everyone, and a great start.  If you find one farther from home, look carefully at what you’ll get out of it. Are you one of thousands? Do you have opportunities to learn in smaller workshops and have more personal time with fellow writers as well as industry professionals? There are a ton of writer’s conferences out there, with more popping up every day.  Know your goals for attending, and keep an open mind as you go from event to event at a conference. Keep your focus on learning however you can, and you’ll find endless ways to do just that. And remember, that knowledge will help you get where you want to be in the end!

To see where I’ll be this year, check out my Appearances page, which I continuously update as needed.

*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: 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.

 

Slice of Life Friday: Giving Thanks, Kinda?

Basket of Fruit and Pumpkin PieHappy Friday, everyone!  I’ve been in the process of shifting my writing studio, and the craziest part of it all is my many, many, MANY (!!!) unpublished manuscripts I’ve unearthed. Novel manuscripts, short stories, countless articles. So many. So many I’ve forgotten about, actually. What to do with them all? Mind boggling. ANYWAYS, I ran across a humor piece I’d written a number of years ago that seems fitting at this time of year, what with Thanksgiving coming up and all. So here it is, excavated from the dusty piles of paper in my office, and ne’er before seen (I know, exciting, right?):

I am NOT Complaining, But…
By Marie Lamba

 

I am soaking in money from my book advance. Oh yes.

I know what you are thinking. That gloating skank. And I know what you are imagining. Me, naked, rolling around in a room full of $100 bills. Perhaps I have the fan on to make the money flutter like it does in those 30-second grab-what-you-can booths on TV quiz shows. You hate me, right?

Well, don’t be hating. I am naked. But that’s because I’m in a tub in a brand new bathroom funded by my book advance. And the new bathroom wasn’t some luxury. Some, “Oh, I always wanted one” decadent purchase. It was a necessity. It was “just my luck.”

See, I am a living breathing example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The very day that I signed my contract for my first novel (giveth), I went down to my kitchen to nuke some tea, and found the microwave mysteriously full of water (taketh). So I called the plumber, who ripped up the wall in the bathroom above the kitchen, but couldn’t find the leak (taketh, taketh). He ripped up the floor around the toilet and found it all rotted away, and two hours later decided that the leak might be beneath the tile floor, involving the tub line. But he wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure, I needed a completely new bathroom, and my check for my book was just about the right amount (supreme taketh, combined with evil laughter).

My whole life has been like this. And, I know, I should be grateful. Whenever something major has come up, there has been a freelance job or timely tax return that pays just the right amount. I suppose I should view the bathtub (or the microwave) as half full.

And I should be used to this. See, there are the Haves and the Have Nots, and then there’s my family, the “Have Barely Enoughers.” I come from a long exhausted line of them, starting with my grandmother who went from riches to rags during the Depression, yet managed to scrape through. Then my parents, who dealt with unemployment during my father’s middle age, and tottered for years on the edge of ruin.

In elementary school, I became a Have Barely Enougher in training. When the charitable Lion’s Club truck delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to our door, there was turkey and those tasty little heat-in-the-oven rolls, but no cranberry sauce, and no pie. At Christmas they brought me wrapped presents, including a sweater that was too big, and pants that were too small. But they also give me the game Payday (which, I’m sure, was someone’s good-natured way of teaching me about fiscal responsibility). By junior high, I was tough enough to survive the daily embarrassment of handing over a state-provided meal ticket to the sneering cafeteria lady. In exchange for this humiliation, I was rewarded with a hot lunch featuring some variety of gray mystery meat.  I’d like to say I was grateful.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why me? Why my family? None of us were lazy. None of us were fiscally irresponsible. I guess we just had bad luck. Medical and employment catastrophes dogged us. Yet, through it all, we worked as hard as we could, and never lost our house, or our sense of humor.

By the time I had reached my 20’s, I was an accomplished Have Barely Enougher. My expectations were low, my skin thick. Therefore, it was no huge surprise to me when, after I got my first real job and put down the deposit on my first apartment, the publishing company I was working for abruptly closed. Also not a shocker: the day my insurance from that job ran out, I broke my leg.

Sure, there was a lot of taketh, but how could I complain? The Lord provideth the unemployment office, unto which I could hobble and collect the money that almost covered my most basic bills. And the Good Lord leadeth me unto the library where I could enjoy all the free books I wanted. He gaveth me all the TV I ever hoped to watch (until my apartment was broken into and my TV, along with most of my clothes, were stolen). I discovered I could even enjoy day trips to Atlantic City. As long as I could scrape together enough money for a casino bus fee, they’d refund it in quarters, plus $5 in additional quarters. Hell, if I only ate a $1 hot dog there, I was vacationing AND making money. Amen to that, sister.

I have been lucky in a way. I’m in my 40’s now, and I’ve gotten by. My whole family has. KNOCK ON TONS OF WOOD. Why tempt fate? Why ask for more? We don’t have money, but so what? If our “luck” continues to hold, we’ll always make it through. Endure. Soldier on and all that crap. Just think of the Have Nots who have all the hardships and never have just what they need to survive, never mind bus fare to AC. I mean, wah wah. Why am I such a whiner?

And yet I can’t help but think, what if God skipped a few takeths, just once in a while? Imagine if the money that never seems to rest in my account for more than a month, actually got to stick around long enough to accumulate interest? The amount of cash my husband and I have earned and had to immediately spend over the past 25 years is staggering. What if there had never been a leaking roof (and rotted rafters), or zapped out electrical panel from a freak storm, or totaled car (not my fault), or emergency double root canal?

I imagine myself like those people, the Haves, whose cars are bigger than my living room, and whose dogs get more expensive haircuts than my whole family combined. Who never have to limit their shopping to end-of-season clearance racks and who wouldn’t give reduced bruised produce even a glance.

Hm. Somehow I don’t think I’d ever quite be like that. If I were literally rolling in dough, wouldn’t I still drive a little car and be scandalized by overpriced jeans? Penny pinching is in my blood. But it would be nice to have money for my children’s college, and to not have to worry about meeting all the bills, and to take a dream vacation without a gripping terror that I am crashing into bankruptcy. I guess my luck could get worse (God forbid), but couldn’t it also get better?

MP900309434Soon my novel will be out. Will it sell well enough to change things? Will it undo the generations of struggle and transform my family from Have Barely Enoughers to the best sort of Haves? The kind of Haves that wisely use their money to improve the environment and find a cure for cancer? (Are you listening, God?)

Actually, I KNOW the book will sell. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way…there are some wet spots blooming on my ceiling, the heater is acting up, there is a strange mold in my bedroom closet, and my tooth is just beginning to throb.

 

Agent Monday: Nurturing the Creative Side

Colored PencilsHi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  I almost forget it WAS Monday. I woke up early and quickly got swept into doing different stuff. Emailing this. Reading that. Responding to the other…  Doesn’t that happen to everyone? You get all tied up in the goings on of the day and then before you know it? Time has passed. As a writer as well as an agent, I know this phenomenon all too well. In the taking-care-of-business mode, we keep up with deadlines, but it is easy to neglect the creative side. The side that doesn’t necessarily have a deadline, but that defines us as writers. So, while this column is often dedicated to the business side of a writer’s life, today I’d like to chat a little about nurturing the creative side.

How do you as a writer keep yourself disciplined? It can be hard when it isn’t your full-time job and you are squeezing it in between life. But it can also be hard when it IS your full-time job. It’s not just discipline that’s the problem. Sure, you need to be self-motivating as all get-out in order to write a book from start to finish even though there isn’t a guaranteed contract waiting at the end of it.

But what if you are self-disciplined, yet you just can’t seem to hit your creative sweet spot and write anything new that you feel is meaningful? At some point every writer has probably been there. Let’s not say you’ve hit a writer’s block, because, honestly, I don’t believe in that. But what you may need is to retrain yourself in the way you approach your work. To renew your creative spirit. To reconnect with your own personal joy of writing and to separate it from the “gotta write to the market if I want to get published” pressure you may be squeezing yourself under.

Yeah, be aware of the market, but then set that aside and be true to who you are as a writer. Create what you truly believe in if you are a creative writer. That really is the path to satisfaction.

So if you aren’t creating anything new, and haven’t in a while, maybe it’s time to pause and take better care of your creative self.

Many of us pro writers spend countless hours each week doing things that are writing-related, and even necessary, but in the end don’t add anything creative to our inventory.  Necessary things like marketing existing work, building platform, networking, teaching and leading workshops, etc.  You can fill the entire week with this stuff and tell yourself that you are a busy writer…but have you written anything? And many writers at all levels are on an endless treadmill of taking care of others and doing our day jobs, etc.

Paint BottlesBut still, you need to hit the pause button and look closely at your day and your life, and to make time for your creative self to flourish. Maybe you wake up an hour earlier than your family and spend that time journaling, or you take a brisk walk at lunchtime with a notebook in hand and jot down what comes to mind, or you schedule a sacred writing time where someone covers for you at home and you escape to somewhere to put words on paper.

It doesn’t have to become a novel or even a short story.  Your efforts just need you to reconnect with your creative self and to take a mental deep breath. Then the words can flow. Ideas and stories will come if you make space for them.

To that end, a few author friends of mine have just cobbled together a “creativity group” where we will meet every two weeks, not to talk marketing or plotting or to crit eachother’s works, but to explore ways to nurture our own creative selves in a way that will help our own writing flow better.  We’ll be working through exercises in the classic book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to see what might click, and setting our own goals to follow in between meetings. One thing that really clicked with me was when one friend mentioned having a spot that is just for writing, not editing or anything else. A creative spot.

I really like that idea, and I’m already shifting things around at home to set up just such a spot – something cozy and private that has room beside it for me to set down a proper cup of Earl Grey tea.

Little Girl Drawing in ClassYour creative side deserves attention and nurturing, whether you give it a brisk morning walk every day or a lovely leather journal to expand in. Or perhaps you should set up your own creative group with fellow writers and artists. Give your creative side time and thought and care. And if you have ideas that have worked for you, or books that you’d recommend to others who need a creative boost, please feel to share these here in the comments.

Let’s all take care of our creative spirits and let them grow!

 

*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: It’s WORK

???????????Hi all!  Happy Agent Monday, once again. What a week full of bright swirling leaves and pumpkins and hot cider. I LOVE FALL. For me, this week was filled with the usual agent-y stuff, plus I’ve been in the process of transferring my writing space into another room. And I had the pleasure of meeting two of my clients for the first time. Throughout the week a theme has emerged: just how much work is involved in the literary life. Yes, writers love writing (for the most part!). And yes, sometimes penning novels feels like play cuz it’s such a blast to create a world. And, yes, when I as an agent get to hang out with my extremely cool and extremely talented writers, it definitely feels more like play than work.  But make no mistake: the writing life is WORK.

The topic for this post came to me this weekend when I sat sipping coffee with my client Erin Teagan. Erin hooked my representation as her literary agent with her sharp and extraordinary middle grade manuscript STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES. It’s about Maddy, a genius scientist in the making who keeps her life in control by creating SOP’s like “How to Fake a Bubonic Plague to get out of a Party.” But when her life flip-flops at the start of middle school, and the SOPs no longer do the trick, it’s up to Maddy to discover a new cure for her newly messed up life.

So as Erin and I sat and chatted about our lives and swapped laughs, the conversation turned to our day-to-day literary lives. And she said, “You must be so busy. How do you do everything that you do?”

Yup, being an agent is time-consuming. Sure, it’s fun. I love treasure hunting through queries, and the thrill of finding that talented author and championing the writer through the literary world. Talking with really talented editors at publishing houses on a daily basis, and helping my authors in every way I can is so gratifying. But it does take time. It is hard work. I get up early to get a head start on query letters.  I stay up late reading manuscripts. I work through weekends. I work like a crazy person. But, really, it’s nothing new to me, because I’m an author too. And being an author is WORK!

Sure enough, when I asked Erin about how she spent her time, her own work ethic as a writer shone through. In addition to being a parent of small kids (and THAT is a job and a half for anyone), she spends endless hours writing and revising her own work, she participates in an active critique group, and each year she spends countless hours and hours organizing her region’s huge SCBWI conference. Oh, and (she casually mentions between sips of latte) she has five other novel manuscripts in her drawer at home. Five? FIVE???  I, as her agent, naturally smile and say, “Iwannaseethose. Ireallywannaseethose!”

Just think about all the time that goes into writing and polishing a novel. Then another and another. All while life throws you for a continuous loop, demanding your time in some most unexpected ways. Think of continuing to write yet another novel, even if your last ones may have gotten some interest but not that agent or that book deal you’d hoped for. Keeping in the writer zone throughout all this and continuing to devote more and more time to your craft is hard work.

Writers often refer to their earlier unpublished novels as their “learning novels.” They continue to plug away at their writing, improving as they move along. Sharpening their skills. Erin said a few of her novels were those learning novels. “I wouldn’t show you those,” she said. “But three of them? I think I know how to fix them now.”

I, her faithful literary agent, set down my hot beverage and rubbed my hands together. “Goodie!”

Writers write. If you are devoted to becoming an author, chances are you spend a lot of time writing, too. Perfecting your craft. Reading great literature. Journaling. Spending money on writer’s conferences. And chances are good that some people in your life don’t take you seriously all the time. “That’s your hobby,” they say. “How can it be work if you do it in your jammies at home?” they say. “But you haven’t even published a book,” they sniff. And that, over time, can get to you. It can spur doubts. You might start thinking: What am I, crazy? Spending years on something without getting much of anything in return yet?

So are you crazy? Well, maybe a little. But I think what you really are is a WRITER. And you are working hard toward a goal. Like Erin, who has been doing this for many years, and now? Her writing is stellar and polished, her manuscript immediately caught my eye, and soon we’ll be subbing it to top editors.

Also this week I got to meet another wonderful new client Richard Uhlig for the first time. Richard is the author of sharp and hilarious YA novels including LAST DANCE AT THE FROSTY QUEEN, BOY MINUS GIRL (both Knopf books), and MYSTERY AT SNAKE RIVER BRIDGE  (Wild Child Publishing), and he has a Hollywood screenwriting and directing background as well. Richard and I also started chatting about his writing life. He’s busy, also watching young children (that job and a half!), but still, in the past few years he’s managed to pen two novels, including the manuscript NERVOUS, the beyond hysterical story of a perpetually distracted underachiever, with writing that made me jump to the phone to offer him representation. And Richard has also recently written and produced two short films that are snagging prizes. Oh, and, he mentions as an aside, he also has two other novels sitting around.

I, his agent, drop my fork (we were having lunch, I don’t usually walk around with a fork in my hand – in case you were wondering). I want to see those novels.  A client with multiple novels and more ideas in the works = literary agent heaven. And being such a productive writer = HARD WORK. In addition to the writing and the film stuff and the parenting, Richard also participates in critique groups. He’s busy. And once again I’m struck by how much time writers put into their craft. And I’m awed. Truly.

Okay, so I mentioned that in addition to being an agent, I’m an author too. I have a few young adult novels published, and my stuff is in a few anthologies, and I’ve got a lot of articles in magazines, etc. You can find info about my books here.

Businessman Carrying Pile of FilesANYWAYS, so after meeting two of my newest clients, and being thoroughly impressed by both them as fascinating and lovely people and as really hardworking writers, I spent the rest of my weekend doing the dreaded task of moving my writing studio space from one room in my house to another. And, honestly, I got quite a shock.

I found an old middle grade novel manuscript that I’d never sold. Yeah, I remember that one. Oh, and another novel I wrote for the women’s fiction market. I kinda remember that one. And a YA novel manuscript. And another. And a slew of magazine articles that never sold. And another women’s fiction manuscript. And another. And a non-fiction book proposal. And at least three more partially written novels…

Honestly, I was stunned. All this work. Countless hours spent and my writerly passion poured onto pages. Stacks and stacks and STACKS of pages.

So what do I do with it all? I start reading them, naturally. And nodding my head. And laughing. Because I really don’t remember a lot of these. It’s like a different person wrote them. And, I admit with a blush, they are pretty good. Maybe not right for the marketplace. And I could do better now. I’ve learned and grown. It represents a ton of work, a ton of hours. But it was WORTH IT.

Not everyone in the world gets that, though. Like the accountant who, a few years ago during tax season, looked over my slim financials and shook his head. “Okay,” he said, leaning back into his cushy leather seat. “Why don’t you give your little writing hobby another year, and if it doesn’t pay off, you can go get real work.”

Um, what? (Note: I did not go back to him for the next year’s taxes… And I did not give up my “little writing hobby” either.)

Good thing we writers love what we do.  I truly respect the time each of you put into getting your work the best it can be. It matters. It’s valuable.

Be sure that you respect it, too. It doesn’t matter that you do it in your jammies. Or that no one has picked up your last x-amount of novels for publication. Or that your tax man is scoffing at you.

It matters that you work hard. That you strive to create the very best writing that you can. It’s a process. A hard one.

But it is also your path to writerly 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: Inspiring!

Laptop on Kitchen Table with Cup of CoffeeHappy Agent Monday, world!  I’m currently posting from Washington, DC, where I’ve “landed” after finishing up an amazing weekend at the SCBWI MD DE WV regional conference Lucky 13. Count me lucky for being invited as a guest speaker at what proved to be yet another wonderful conference hosted by the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators!  It was an opportunity to meet with so many talented people involved in the book business from agents to editors to authors and illustrators, in addition to many extraordinarily talented and kind aspiring authors and illustrators.  If I could find one word to describe the experience, it would be INSPIRING.

We writers sometimes spend a lot of time lost in our heads creating, squirreled away in a corner with our laptops. We gather inspiration from our thoughts and dreams and past experiences, but sometimes, oh sometimes, we all need to meet other people who “get” us creative types.  Other people who dream like we do and aspire for what we aspire.

As an author, I listened to the gritty and heart-wrenching experiences master storyteller Chris Crutcher shared in his talks. I was moved and inspired.  It made me want to be more daring in my own writing, to dig deeper into the darker truths that a story can sometimes skate around. As an artist (who hasn’t drawn in a while, I confess), I watched the endlessly talented illustrator Floyd Cooper create a sketch before our eyes, pulling an image from his own imagination and, with a few strokes, bringing it to powerful life for us all. And I felt inspired to pull out my own sketch pad and begin to capture images on paper again.

As an agent, I felt privileged to talk with numerous writers, helping them to shape their opening pages and answering questions that they had about their own works, their own careers.  And their enthusiasm to strive for the best in their craft was the most inspiring takeaway of all.

So, if you are currently sitting alone somewhere, squirreled away with your computer, and in need of some inspiration, then start looking around for a writer’s conference that might be coming up in your area.  For folks who write or illustrate for children and young adults, you can’t go wrong with an event that SCBWI will host. For those in the romance realm, Romance Writer’s of America chapters also offer regional conferences and events.  And there are countless other writer’s organizations and programs that host a program that might be close to you.

So step out, meet creative people, learn and share. And be inspired!  Maybe I’ll see you there.

(For my upcoming conference schedule, you can click here.)

 

*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: How to do a Writer’s Conference Right

MP900227683Happy Monday, all!  February has almost bit the dust (kudos to the wise one who made it our shortest month). The birds are reemerging, everyone is itching to go to the store and buy pastel colored clothing for some reason, and this can only mean ONE thing: It’s Writer’s Conference Season!!!

Yup, something about springtime rolling around makes writers want to clutch paper cups of tepid coffee and sticky danishes wrapped in napkins and scurry for seating at an assortment of workshops and panels.  The appeal is clear: you get to see that, damn, you really aren’t the only nut who has been squirreled away for months on end lost in your head making up evil plots for a novel. And you also get to see that, hot damn!, there are, in fact, editors and agents out there who want to see what you’ve created.

It’s inspiring and seeing all the excitement can really get your creative sap flowing. If you do it right, you will emerge from your conference more focused, full of inspiration, and with a notebook full of tips and ideas. That’s all great!

But if you do it wrong, you’ll emerge feeling disappointed or down on yourself. Blah. Not cool.

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences over the years as both a new writer, an established author, a presenter, and as an agent taking pitches. I well remember being unsure and nervous at my first few conferences, plus I’ve seen my share of stuff.  So in today’s Agent Monday post, I thought I’d give you two things to keep in mind as you visit your first (or fortieth) writer’s conference.

KEEP THOSE EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC!

THE BAD: You come sure your dream agent is at that conference. Your purpose is clear. You are going to bee-line it for that agent, you are going to wow that agent, and by the end of the conference, that agent will be in the bag. THAT is why you are going to this conference.

Yikes! First of all, the term “dream agent” is a little messed up, don’t you think? I hear that bandied about a ton by writers, but really? An agent is a business partner, not the love of your life ;)  And a dream agent?  Hm. The only legitimate use of that term is when you have been working with your agent for a length of time and they actually meet and exceed your expectations.

But anyway, you see where I’m going with this. If you are setting an impossible goal for yourself, chances are you will be disappointed. I have seen authors come into conferences, hell-bent on success. They can be a little scary. Especially when things don’t go exactly as planned (and, really, what does?).

THE GOOD: Expect to hear agents and editors speak, and to take a ton of notes and to get closer to your goal of publication.

That’s a realistic goal, right? The more you learn, the more professional you’ll be (making both you and your manuscript more attractive to folks who are looking to work with you).  You’ll gain insight into what really interests a particular agent or editor – things that will truly help you target submissions and flavor your queries.

So try to sign up for a pitch session with an agent you are interested in, but understand that it might not work out. Still, know that what you may learn about that agent can help you to sharpen your query to that person after the conference. Did she say something in her talk that resonated with you? Then mention that in the query. I respect when writers do their homework and aren’t just sending me any old manuscript just because they found my email address.

DON’T BE ALL ME ME ME!

THE BAD: You go to the conference and tell people stuff about you, your book, your writing…  At panel talks, you raise your hand over and over and over again, not really to ask questions, but to mainly stand up and have the floor and interject you, your book, your writing.  At the end of the conference, you come home feeling a bit smug. Now everyone there knows all about you and your book!

But guess what? If you come out of a conference with no notes, with no new acquaintances, with no new knowledge, then you’ve done it all wrong.

THE GOOD: You attend the conference eager to learn. You take time to meet fellow writers and ask them what they write and about where they are in the journey, and you learn a ton from them! You share helpful stuff with them.  At panels and workshops you listen, take notes, and, yes, raise your hand if you have a legitimate question.  You go home knowing more, with new connections.

And guess what? Plenty of people asked you about your writing without you needing to pull out a bullhorn.

If you keep these two things in mind, hopefully your conference experiences will be ALL GOOD!

My upcoming conference appearances can be found here.  And if you need help working on your query letter and your verbal pitch, I’m offering a QUERY AND PITCH CLINIC through The Word Studio in Chestnut Hill, PA in April. Registration is very limited (to 8 people) for this 2-day workshop, so you know you’ll get plenty of one on one advice from me.  Info about this workshop can be found by clicking here.

*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.