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: Inspiration – Follow Your Goosebumps

Flying birdsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Today, as we move from bleak January through chilly February, it’s a perfect time for some inspiration.  I’m so pleased to feature here a guest post by my client, the extremely talented Harmony Verna.  Harmony’s manuscript FROM ROOTS TO WINGS caught my eye the moment I started reading it.  Her writing is luminescent. So vivid. And her characters grab you with their reality and their longing and heart.  FROM ROOTS TO WINGS is a sweeping and passionate adult historical novel set in turn-of-the-century Australia and America. It’s about a boy and girl orphaned in the harsh Australian desert. They form a young innocent love, but must take separate harrowing journeys in their own search for home and for each other. This manuscript was a final round selection for the James Jones First Novel Contest.

And here Harmony shares with us her insight about inspiration:

 

INSPIRATION – FOLLOW YOUR GOOSEBUMPS

Guest post by Harmony Verna

As writers, we sift through an infinite jumble of words, sorting and arranging them like puzzle pieces until they sit just right and tell our story. At times, these words will soar, fly to the moon, and at others, fall flat to Earth with a thud. So what makes the difference? Inspiration.

For me, goosebumps have always been a barometer of inspiration. When I can FEEL a character’s surprise or pain or elation to the point that it raises the hairs on my arms, I know I’ve nailed it. It’s the same way a certain song can enter your very pores, or a soft, scented breeze can warm from the inside out, or an act of kindness can break your heart with its purity – it becomes a visceral experience. Your body becomes like an incandescent bulb cranked up from a dimmer switch, bright and open to creative energy. Anytime you can transfer that level of feeling through the written word, that is inspiration.

But let’s face facts, it’s easy to be open to the flow of inspiration when a sunset branches across a quiet evening sky or when we have time to stare at ripples dancing upon a lake. That’s all great until reality smashes in and wrecks that lovely scene – an unexpected bill comes in the mailbox, the kids are home sick for a week, the laundry is piling up and gosh darn it, we’re out of coffee! But c’est la vie, writers. It’s up to us to pull inspiration into life even when life seems to be kicking and screaming against it.

Truth

Earnest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” What makes a sentence true? When you can feel the words radiate from under your skin, down to the marrow. When dialogue becomes so real that it enters and converses in your dreams until you ask the voices politely to stop; when you enter a landscape or time or place so fully that when the phone rings, it takes a moment to remember that you are here, writing, sitting at home; when you write words that squeeze your throat or make you giggle like a naughty child or wipe your streaming tears on your sweater. And when your story finally ends, you grieve your characters as passing friends. This is truth.

Simplicity

As wordsmiths we cling to vocabulary, espousing our bag of fancy words when in fact, sometimes the simplest words pack the most punch. Look up the word “old” in the thesaurus and you’ll have a ball field of synonyms to use. But like a sundae piled with too many toppings, it might look appetizing but you can’t taste the ice cream anymore. There can be a certain power to simple sentences, simple thoughts – “He was an old man. A man with old teeth, old breath and lingering old smells.” Say what it IS first. You can always elaborate later.

Don’t self edit…yet

It’s easy to judge the words that get put down first. Are they perfect? Are they smart?  Maybe or maybe not. All that matters is that they’re REAL. We all have an urge to self-edit, but tell that voice to hush. Let the words come out easily, accept them without criticism. And don’t worry, the day for editing will come. Let me rephrase that, the days and months and sometimes years of editing will come. Enjoy those first words, the freshness of them. Then later, you can plant around them, knowing that your first seedlings are pure.

Ban the ego

Daisies on whiteNothing kills inspiration like a pesky beast called the ego, a creative leech that attaches itself to your writing and sucks the life out of it, leaving the words hollow and depleted of soul. How do you know if the ego has snuck into your creation? When your focus is on how good and smart and lush the words are rather than the smell, taste and feel of the words; when you’re more concerned about getting on Oprah than getting behind the computer keyboard. Anytime you feel the need to stand out or to impress – that is ego.  And how do you know if your writing is free of ego? You KNOW! It sits right in the gut. There’s an internal sigh and half-smile that’s calm and says…that’s it. I got it. You know.

You got this

Your story wants to be born into this world. It’s all there, already written, already changing lives and inspiring people. You are the vehicle for this story, open yourself and ALLOW the story to unfold. When we put aside deadlines, the need for approval and the stress of writing something “perfect,” resistance is lifted and inspiration has room to enter and flourish. Then it’s just your job to ride the wave and hope your pen can keep up.

So, before you start writing, take a moment. Be still. Silence the mind chatter and focus your attention on that warm, quiet place in your chest with the calming beat. Look at the fine lines of your hands. Feel the threads of the pillow. Listen to the tick tock of the clock down the hall. Smell the subtle spice of your tea. And now…slowly…let the words of your story come into existence. Welcome them as you would a child, with open arms, with unconditional love and gratitude, and then…

Follow your goosebumps.

 

Harmony Verna

Harmony Verna has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing, and has been involved in articles that appeared in top-tier publications across the country and guest segments on news programs including Today, CBS This Morning and Good Morning America. As a freelance writer, she has written scripts for the Food Network and articles for Modern Bride Magazine, Connecticut Woman Magazine and more. Harmony is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and she is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Looking for Memorable Memoirs

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday!  I know. I’ve been “away” for a while. That’s what the holidays plus a family round of the flu (wash your hands, people!), in addition to a heavy work load can do. Anyways…today I thought I’d chat about memoirs. And about why, though I’m interested in representing memoirs, I haven’t yet found one I want to champion.  The reason? I’m looking for memorable memoirs. And it seems they are a bit hard to find.

There are definitely different types of memoirs. There’s the famous person memoir, and plenty of war-hero memoirs. I group that as one sort. The interest in the market is high for this sort of project, for obvious reasons. Still, they need some meat to them. Something revealing or scandalous or whatever…

Then there’s the “gone through something extreme” memoir. Drug abuse, debilitating illness, horrific accidents, true tragedy. It’s heartbreaking some of the things I read about, and sometimes it’s plain old heartbreaking to tell that writer “no thanks.” But this isn’t the same thing as saying that the writer isn’t an amazing human being for overcoming terrible stuff. What the “no thanks” does mean is that the writing skills aren’t strong, or that the memoir isn’t laid out in an interesting way, or that the voice doesn’t draw the reader in. It means that, basically, I don’t feel it is at the level where I can sell it to a publisher. As tough as it sounds, an agent must view the memoir as a product to be sold.

Lastly, there’s the slice of life sort of memoir. This is the type that I get all the time. Too often I see people trying to sell me their memoirs about common things such as having a baby, or studying abroad, or going through a divorce, or parenting a surly child. These may have been monumental for the writer, but not exceptional for the average reader, and if nothing unusual is brought out in the book, the memoir isn’t of interest to the public. It needs something to distinguish itself from common experiences.

So what can make this slice of life sort of memoir soar? Incredible voice, amazing humor, sharp writing, gripping page turning pacing, unusual settings if possible, things like that…  How ’bout a memoir about a boy and his dog? Yawn, right?  Oh yeah? Perhaps you haven’t read Marley & Me. Here’s a slice of life memoir that could have been a serious yawn, but the writing and voice and pacing and emotions are spot on - something to keep in mind as you progress with your own memoir.

It’s important when plotting it out (yes, I said plotting :) ) to give the memoir a tight structure and to keep away from the trap that telling a real story presents – that of plodding along chronologically without regard to what’s most interesting. Keep a strong narrative thread throughout, even if it’s with interlocking essays. And in the process, if I learn something – bonus! Make the reader wonder “will she ever be able to finally xyz?” Like in the memoir Season to Taste, where an aspiring chef gets in an accident and loses her ability to smell and taste…will she ever get it back? Will she ever be able to realize her dream of being a chef? This question keeps you turning the pages.

So what am I looking for, exactly?  Something compelling. Something GREAT.  An example of a great memoir?: Angela’s Ashes. It has incredible voice, gripping hardship, unusual setting, heartbreak – the whole enchilada. Send me something on that level, and I’ll be VERY interested.

My inbox awaits…

 

Agent Monday: Conference Encounters from the Agent’s Side

Last 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 last weekend’s great Push to Publish conference.  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: 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: Starting your Pitch

If you are on the hunt for a literary agent, then you are making your pitch, whether face to face at a conference, or in a query letter.  Sure, the “live pitch” and the pitch within a query are different in some ways, but they both have the same intentions: to pique the interest of an agent. One thing you don’t want to do is to confuse the agent, or leave her with fundamental questions that will distract her from hearing your story’s plot.

In a live pitch, one of the most disorienting things for me as an agent is when the writer does not tell me the genre of the book right away. While the writer launches into his story and characters, I find myself trying to figure out what, exactly, I’m listening to.  Picture a thought bubble over my head filled with the following: “Wait, is this a memoir? No, it must be fiction. But she mentioned a school-aged character. So is it for children? Can’t be, the material is too mature.  Wait, the writer just said, ‘the ghost of his memory haunts her.’ Is this a paranormal???”

You see what I’m talking about here?  That’s why, when you do a verbal pitch, it’s so helpful if you start out with something like this: “I’d like to tell you about DAY’S END, my completed middle grade fantasy. When 12-year-old Sonia discovers…” Etc.

See what’s going on with this? You’ve already conjured a book title in my mind (makes this feel like a real book, right?).  You’ve told me it’s completed, so I know you are serious about submitting it (at conferences, sometimes manuscripts aren’t completed yet…if so, then just omit this). You’ve pointed me in the direction of the genre you are targeting, so that everything you say after that will fit into that slot in my brain.  And by giving the character’s age, you’ve shown me that you are on the right track for this age group (something that is critical for the children’s market).  Boom!  Now I’m ready to listen and my thought bubble will read something like this: “Cool! What’s it about?”

Written queries are a bit different in that you can start off with a little teaser if you want, and I can skim down to see what the genre is, etc.  But make no mistake, I will skim down to find this info.  So why not forego the dramatic question, or leading off with the descriptive paragraph, and get right to the point?

Say: I’d like to interest you in my completed YA urban fantasy THE CRUSHING POINT (76,000 words).

Then you can add in your teaser line if you want…but it’s not needed, of course.  By a teaser line, I mean something like: What would you do if your mentally ill brother held the answer to a deadly disease, but you were the only one who believed him? (Then you can launch into your plot description.) For 17-year-old Kayle Sparks, it’s a race to the death as… (Or something like that.)

Some writers put this genre, etc. info at the very bottom of their query. Yup, that weakens my read of it because I’m forced to go back to the top of the query and reconsider. You may have lost my interest if I’ve already decided, “Oh, this is a unique approach to women’s fiction,” only for me to discover it’s a YA and the main character is only 15. Hm.

Using a simple genre-positioning line as close to the top of your query letter as you can, points me to consider everything else that follows it within the proper context.  No reconsidering required.

Notice how I added in the word count in that initial line? Sure, you can do that in a verbal pitch, but you MUST do it in a written query.  The agent needs to know that you are within the range of reasonable length for your genre, and where your idea slots within the market. Hey, I’ve got to sell this manuscript, so I have to get this info, right?  I also know your book is complete (never query for a work of fiction unless it is done…but it’s reassuring for me to hear that it is), I know the title is intriguing, and I know that this novel is in a genre that demands a certain edge and gritty paranormal elements.  The main protagonist is also within the correct YA age range.  Okay, cool. Now I’m ready to read the rest of your query.

Setting up your pitch in a simple and direct manner, will help the agent focus on your story idea.  Now you can share your plot and hopefully the agent’s thought bubble will look like this: “Wow! I’ve got to read this one!!!”

Happy pitching!

*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.

Writer Wednesday: I Can’t Seem to Start My Novel!

I can’t seem to start my novel! Yeah, that about says it all. I don’t believe in writer’s block, so let’s not call it that. But let’s just say the writing isn’t flowing the way I’d planned.

Okay, to backtrack just a bit: I have started the novel.  If by started you mean that I’ve got a full outline. Yup. Got that (though I admit I’m not much of an outliner). And I have sat down and written a number of starting scenes…which I’ve promptly discarded.  I’ve done the whole sit-in-a-coffeehouse-and-just-do-it sessions, which didn’t do it for me.

Part of the problem is a question of where to start. I’ve written funny material with my character arriving at the train station, but no, too early in the story. So CUT. Then poignant material the moment my character arrives on scene, but no, this feel like introducing back story. So CUT. Then a crazy night out loaded with humiliation, but there’s no real reason for the reader to be there either, so CUT CUT CUT!

And that, dear readers, is how it has been going all this past month. The month of August. My Write the Novel Month. Blah. I know I should do what I tell my writing students to do: just write. DON’T REVISE. DON’T SELF-EDIT.  The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m self-editing. I feel like I’m just not latching onto the characters and voices in a way that makes me feel like the words are real and I’m in the moment.  That’s how I write. That’s my own style.  I hear the character’s voice, and know that dramatic opening scene, and I just go for it.

Not this time…

If I think of this past month in terms of words on the page, I can surely panic. But no. Because I’m not on a deadline (I’ve written a novel on deadline before…that was an experience!), I can think of this as a process.  Doesn’t that sound better than, say, a mess, or a failure? A process. And I do think this is accurate. As I’ve rejected scene after scene, I have been thinking about where I would start things. How. Why.

And If I did panic, would I be daydreaming of the scenes I needed to write? Would I let myself do other stuff and put this aside without feeling like I was failing? You know the answer to that one, right?

So, as I watch August disappear, I have to take a deep breath, and trust my writing process. As I’ve NOT written, what I HAVE done is think about the characters more, and their voices. I’ve started to hear in my head dialogue, and witness scenes that definitely should be written. I’ve picked out better names, more interesting story threads.

So sometimes, not writing is a vital part of writing.

I’ve tried to relax, even as these notions have all piled up in my brain but I’ve become too busy with traveling around and settling one child at Law School, which means the words are bubbling, but I’m still NOT WRITING. But life is a process, too. We go through phases in our lives. There was the time my kids were babies and I had to accept that there were months and even years when I wasn’t going to get the intense writing time I so needed.

Right now I’m seeing that maybe September is a better writing month for me after all. My husband has started back teaching at the University. My other daughter will soon be back at school. And my poodle is pretty quiet when she isn’t yapping at the mailman. The house, which was all summer filled with people and “what’s to eat” inquiries and piles of laundry and stacks of dirty dishes, will be under control and calm. A writing space, dare I say?

So sometimes, not writing is about waiting for your life and your head to get into a better place.

And sometimes not starting your novel is the best way to start it after all. Hm. We’ll see about that one. Stay tuned…

How NOT to Get an Agent

For those of you who don’t already know, in addition to being an author, I’m also an Associate Literary Agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in NYC.  I LOVE this job, but I gotta be honest…while I do sometimes discover great writing in my agent inbox, I also see plenty of mistakes being made. Plenty of queries that make me cringe and hit the reject button faster than I can sip my morning jolt of java. Are you currently querying an agent…perhaps even me?  Then listen up.

Marie’s Top 10 Countdown on How NOT to Get an Agent:

#10: Send me something in a genre I don’t represent and then try to convince me that even through it’s about futuristic dragons, your novel is not high fantasy or Sci Fi.

#9: Tell me how wonderful the book is, using words like blockbuster and bestseller and hit, without telling me what the book is about.

#8: Don’t give me a book title, and give no mention of who the audience is or what genre it is.

#7: Tell me too much about yourself. You recently got a dog.  You had a lovely vacation. You read books for fun. You work in a coffee shop, cleaners, are a housewife, like walks on the beach. You write letters to friends, you proofread your husband’s technical papers for him, you had a recipe published in a newspaper 20 years ago. You can hula dance…

#6: Don’t bother to spell check or proof read…  Missing words, misspellings… One error, I say you’re human.  FIVE errors and you’re in the wrong business.

#5: Use words the wrong way, because, hey, you spell checked and there are no wrong words in your query…  But then you include stuff like “escaping her density” and “dying from a gunshot womb.”

#4: Address me improperly: Dear Ms. Marie Lamba, Dear Marie Lamba Associate Agent, Dear Ms. DeChiara, Dear Sir or Madam. And my personal favorite: Dear Ma Lamba.

#3: Contact me in inappropriate ways… Through other email addresses, by stalking me on facebook and then popping up on my facebook chat to have a nice little natter, calling my home phone!  These are scary, people.

#2: Try to convince me, after the query and sample pages were rejected, that I’ve made a horrible mistake and that I shouldn’t reject the manuscript based on the characters, because this story is based on real life and every single person in the world will identify with the story.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the top way to NOT get an agent (insert drum roll, and cymbal crash!):

#1: After I politely reject you, send me an email that simply says, “You suck.”

So there you have it, 10 clear cut ways to NOT get yourself an agent. Sadly, I’m not making this stuff up.

Just remember, bad form will earn you a quick rejection. Bad behavior will have your email address shared with others in the firm and blocked as spam.  On the flip side, if your query follows guidelines and is as professional as any business letter should be, you will give your manuscript a fair shake…and so will I!

For my submission guidelines, click here.

Wishing you success,
Marie

Why Writers Win III: Four Things Writers Can Do RIGHT NOW!

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know I believe the Age of the Author is upon us. Are you taking advantage of all the positive changes? In this post I’ll delineate four things I believe all writers should do right now to advance their writing careers and benefit from the current publishing revolution…

This is the last post in my 3-part series on WHY WRITERS WIN.  In this series, which is taken from a talk I gave at the Write Stuff Conference, I look at the current industry changes through both my author and my associate agent (at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency) spectacles, and I like much of what I see.

In my first post, I talked about the publishing revolution and the scary changes it is stirring up for writers, plus the many positive opportunities these changes are bringing to us creative folk. My second post delved into the great opportunities that self-publishing is presenting to us authors, as well as the many terrific changes big publishers are now making to improve their relationships and partnerships with authors.

So here are four things you should do to make this YOUR Age of the Author.

1. Get writing!

Simply put: write the best book you can, and work your butt off to learn your craft and perfect your writing.  Sounds simple, but it is the most complex of the four recommendations.  Don’t lose sight of this goal. No matter what changes are afoot, this is still the most important thing for you to focus on in your career.

2. Get smart

Plug into what’s really going on now.  You’ll discover even more opportunities, ways to take advantage of trends and avoid career missteps as this revolution rolls along.  To do this, you simply must attend writers conferences and workshops, and connect with fellow writers and editors and agents to learn from their experiences. I got my first book deal with Random House for my novel What I Meant… by making contact with editors and agents entirely through conferences.  You can see how I used these conferences to make it all happen by checking out my article Why Conferences: Or How I Got My Agent and Editor.

Also, please DO consider subscribing to Publishersmarketplace.com.  You can share the subscription with other writers, you can subscribe for only a month or two at a time, whatever works for you.  It’s a phenomenal resource.  There’s a free daily newsletter you can get without a subscription, but it’s nothing compared to the site. Thinking about writing a novel about serfs during the end of the dark ages? Before you dip your toe into years of research and toil, type in some key words into Publishersmarketplace and you’ll quickly know all the major books on your topic that have come out in the past 10 years, you’ll know what overlapping books have recently been purchased but not yet come out on the same subject, and you’ll be able to craft your novel to be unique.  You’ll also know all the publishers, editors and agents who dealt with those books…perfect info for submissions.  So why aren’t you subscribing to this again???

Another way to stay plugged in is to subscribe to the relevant free newsletters that publishersweekly.com emails out.  I always get their general PWDaily newsletter along with their Children’s Bookshelf newsletter, but there are others related to religious books, cook books and comics.  Subscribe to whatever you want here.

Also, you simply must join and participate in writing organizations relevant to what you write in order to make important connections and learn! Organizations like The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, etc. not only focus on an area that interests you, but also offer phenomenal local conferences, workshops and meetings bringing editors and agents and writers together in an accessible environment.  They also have wonderful online communities where you can ask questions, and share your concerns with others in the know. Search for the organizations that encompass your writing interests, and dig deeper to find your fit.

I know, I know.  It all sounds like SO MUCH WORK AND TIME.  But you will actually be saving time in the long run.  You can use all the info you glean to focus your queries, to write books that are best placed for your market, and to move yourself ahead in your career while becoming part of a supportive community.  I’d like you to take on the challenge to get plugged in to your business side, and I’d like you to look back five years from now…even one year from now…and see a huge difference in your knowledge and your connections!

Finally, if you are looking for an agent, find one who is right for YOU, and who will keep abreast on all the shifts in the business, in rights, and in the best options for your future career.  You want an agent that will represent your CAREER, not just your book.  In these shifting times, you need someone with vision, who will also have eyes wide open to all the opportunities the changing publishing landscape presents.

3. Get Found!

Yeah, this is about all that online “stuff.” At the minimum, you should buy a domain in your name (not in your book’s name…titles get changed…you’ll write more than one book…etc.), and set up a webpage that will represent you.  I have a paid domain, but this website is free (wordpress.com) and I easily handle all the layout and content myself.  No dominatrix webmistress required, and I have complete control, which means I can update whenever I like.

Make creating your website a priority. Think of it as your virtual business card.  Yes, you need one even if you haven’t published yet.  Here’s what it can include: 1. What sort of writing you do.  2. Your bio and author pic. 3. Brief excerpt of your work (very brief). 4. Later on you can add links to buy your works, and appropriate listings of appearances, etc. 5. Book trailers, videos/vlogs are all fun and cheap to do if right for you and your work.  So, with your virtual business card (a.k.a. your website) in place, you can link back to it in posts elsewhere, in your email signature line, etc.

You also want to create a facebook page, and point it back to your website, plus a Twitter account that has a profile which points back to your website, and a LinkedIn page that…oh, you get the idea.  And go to goodreads.com to create a profile as a reader.  If you’ve pubbed a book, then get that author account, and use it!

Not sure any of this is worth your time?  I’m crossing my arms and sending you my most severe scowl right now (which, considering I’m only 5’2″, isn’t all that intimidating, but still…)  Google your name in quotes right now and see what comes up.  Now Google “Marie Lamba” and check out what pops up.  Much of what you’ll see stems from me taking the above steps to “get found.”  And when I get submissions from authors and I’m interested in them, guess what I do?  Yup. I Google em.  Wouldn’t you love for what pops up to be something positive and professional?

I know, I KNOW!  Oh the TIME involved in this.  Time that should be SPENT WRITING.  But it is a business too.  Think of all this as free advertising.  Think of just how many thousands of dollars you would have had to spend on ads just 20 years ago to reach even a fraction of the people who you could with all this new cool FREE stuff.  And once you set it all up, you can just spend 15 minutes per day checking in and updating if needed, or commenting.  But remember that whatever you put out there is getting found by a future reader, or editor, or agent, and act accordingly.

4. Get Read

Take advantage of digital and self publishing options to boost your readership for existing and to-be-released novels, and boost your success as a writer! I touched on this a little bit in the second post in this series. I must remind you of two important caveats. Caveat 1: only put out your very best work that is as good as anything that a big NYC publisher would print. Caveat 2: be aware of pre-existing contracts and rights that you are involved in, and keep your editor and agent in the loop.

So…how can self-publishing (let’s call it by its hipper name “indie publishing”) be used as a career building/reader building tool?

Well, you can, of course, release a book yourself to begin to build your fan base.  This can work well with genre writing, especially with a series.  You can write short stories related to your book, and release these in ebook free or cheap, with a link to your full novel (which will, of course, be at a higher price). You can offer through your website extras like downloadable outtakes from your novel. If you have a niche market, you can indie publish your title and reach the right folk.

So, with the groundswell of change going on, indie publishing is now a cool way to reach readers, which is kinda the reason why we write in the first place. BUT don’t indie-publish a book expecting to get an agent to then take it on and sell it to a big publisher. You need huge sales to do this (we’re talking in the 10,000 range), and you still need to make the agent and then a publisher fall in love with that book.  Your rights on that book will be muddied. HOWEVER, say you have an indie pubbed novel that is praised and doing fairly well.  Then you approach an agent with a different novel.  Well, it can show you have been well-received and have already begun building an audience.  I see that as a definite plus.

Determined to go 100% traditional publishing? Cool.  But why not have a few related short stories on hand in reserve to help with your traditional book’s promotion? Or some other extras you can offer online as bonus material.  Very cool, right?  Big publishers are already seeing the wisdom of this, doing stuff like offering 99 cent prequels, 99 cent short stories with a 45 page preview of a related book included…and they are doing these in advance of print releases.  It’s advertising, baby.

So open your mind to the possibilities…possibilities to reach readers that we never had before. In the olden days, a print ARC (advance reader copy) cost big bucks to print and mail to advance readers in order to generate buzz.  Today? Ebooks cost next to nothing.  One FLUX author Linda Joy Singleton gave away close to 70,000 ebooks of a first novel in a series of 5.  The rest of her series sold HUGE since so many readers were invested in finding out what happened next.

What can we writers learn from this? Would a free novella ebook be the right way to build your audience?  Every author/book is different, but it is worth considering the options. Options that are now at our fingertips.

Yup, boundaries between traditional and indie, between writer and reader are blurring all around us.  I see it as a good thing.  I want my authors to succeed, to be read.  Today there are more ways to publish, to promote…more opportunities to reach readers and communicate with fans, too.  Now we can each create books that will come alive for readers, and never ever die.

In wrapping up this 3-part WHY WRITERS WIN series, I want you to fully understand what all of this means.  This means you as a writer will never again have to have a brilliant manuscript sitting on your bookshelf never to be seen by readers. People who say that the reason a book isn’t accepted by big publishers is because it isn’t good enough are not 100% correct.  Many books are passed over because of the marketplace, because of past sales figures, because they are too niche for a big press, etc. etc. etc. Some of these rejected books are actually fabulous.

Now you have many tools to shape your career. Now you can promote your writing for next to nothing. Now you can write what you LOVE and know that readers will get a chance to see it.  So take these four steps.  And CELEBRATE folks, for THE AGE OF THE AUTHOR is here.

Happy writing,
Marie 

Some Stories about Me

Hey gang,

Some stories are circulating about me on blogs and in the news, and I thought you should hear it from me first…

Okay, so that’s just my juicy author voice plotting drama for you.  Truth is, there are a few great blog sites that have just featured interviews with me, and an article you can also get to online.  The fun part is, each interviewer has asked me completely different questions.

Things get a bit personal!
Find out some stuff about my home life by clicking on the REM blog. Author Jessica M. Cooper asks me about what it’s like to be a writer and a mom. The guilt, the story-stealing (from their lives), the layers of dust in my house, etc.

Jessica is a writing mom too, and she has recently completed a very cool young adult paranormal novel with the working title: REM.

How I hit rock bottom, revealed!
At author Jennifer Hubbard’s blog, I share the struggle of writing and publishing my second novel, and some seriously messed up things that happened along the way. Check it out here.  In this guest post I talk candidly about my crazy and VERY rocky road toward publishing my newest young adult novel OVER MY HEAD.  You’ll get some serious behind the scenes info.

Jennifer Hubbard is author of the wonderful YA THE SECRET YEAR (Viking), and you can look for her second novel TRY NOT TO BREATHE  in January 2012!

And this One’s a Little too Close to Home!
Why do I write about my hometown? Why do I write for teens? Well? What do I have to say for myself? Over at the Warrington and Doylestown PATCH sites, writer Beverly Black did a great interview where she asked me about why I set my two novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD in Doylestown, and about advice I have for aspiring authors. Check all that out here.

That’s the news for now. And remember, if you see anything about me in the tabloids, you can’t believe everything you read. It’s FICTION!