Kid-lit Writers! Sign-up Now for Online Boot Camp with Agents…

yes - notepad & penAttention writers of picture books, middle grade and YA fiction! Writer’s Digest has just opened up an online Boot Camp taught by agents of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency… The Boot Camp includes an online tutorial, a dedicated message board where agents will answer your questions, plus a critique by an agent.

Literary agents participating include Jennifer De Chiara, Roseanne Wells, Linda P. Epstein, Stephen Fraser, and me – Marie Lamba.

The boot camp runs December 5th – 8th, so sign up is NOW. Details can be found by clicking here.

Agent Monday: What this Agent Does and Does Not Want

pumpkinsHappy Agent Monday everyone!  Here in the Northeast it’s a crisp glittering fall morning, the kind of weather that makes you feel you can really take on the world. If you writers are feeling the same, you may feel that extra zing of energy to send out some queries to agents for your latest work. Good for you!  For some help in this department, I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what I do and do not want…

susan-coventry-200But first of all, I want to send out a huge welcome to my newest client, author Susan Coventry!  Susan’s debut was the historical YA The Queen’s Daughter (Holt), which nabbed the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year honor. She caught my attention with an unusual manuscript that’s a retelling of the little known Arthurian courtly love story about Enide and Erec. It’s vivid, sharp, witty and fresh. Basically, it’s a cross between The Princess Bride and The Once and Future King (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite books EVER).  So I lift a mug of mead (okay, it’s coffee) to Susan in welcome. I’m so thrilled to represent her.

So, back to the land of queries… I spent several hours this weekend reading through my inbox. For those of you waiting on responses, I’m up to queries received on August 1st. (Yeah, there are still a lot more after that, but I DO read them all and answer them all.)

*If you sent a query before this date and never got a response, that means you broke a cardinal rule and were therefore deleted without a reply. Deletable offenses include: mass-mailed queries that aren’t addressed to me, titled things like Dear Sir or Madam, or with no greeting at all…Attaching your query (I won’t open query attachments from people I don’t know)… Openly offensive or rude statements in your query…

*Also, if you see on something like Query Tracker that I have a response time for some folk of like a day or a week, and yours has been sitting around for a month or two, don’t despair. I do like to breeze through queries as they spill in for a quick look – and if something is clearly a no – I’ll zap back a form rejection. If something is a zowie-gotta-look-at-that-immediately query, I’ll request the full right away…otherwise it goes into the queue for later.  And, yes, I have acquired clients from that “later” queue…

Okay, then… What I do and do not want.  Please read my guidelines, people.  You can find them here and also on the agency website.

MP900308953Some things I do NOT want:
Genre fiction. I’m not a fan at all, so please do not send me your sci fi, romance, high fantasy, or horror novels.
Extreme violence and gore. HATE that. Please do not send me violent serial killer novels, or slasher books, or blood-soaked stories whether fiction or memoir.
Horsey books. Confession? I’ve always been afraid of horses – I’m pretty sure they were put on this earth to bite my face off. Needless to say, I never “got” the girl obsession with horses, so if your book is about that? You’re neighing at the wrong agent. ;)
Things I’ve seen way too many times before. I’m over paranormal romance, dystopian, I never “got” zombies (bite off my face thing again?), or werewolves or stuff like that.
Things that feel too much like something else. I get a lot of almost fan-fiction-like novels. They aren’t in the same world as the original, but change a few names and it’s the same story.
Memoirs that are mainly a sad retelling of something that happened in your life. Divorce. A cheating husband. A common illness. The death of a loved one. While I can feel compassion for these writers, I’m looking for something a bit different in a memoir.
Memoirs that are mere nostalgia, or a telling of a fairly common experience. I get a lot of memoirs that feel like an older person who has decided to chronicle their life for posterity — this may be a lovely gift to pass on to your family, but it’s not a commercial product in my eyes. I also get a lot of “wow, I went on this trip,” or “wow, I went to college,” or “wow, I worked a lot of strange jobs” memoirs — to me, this is just life, and not remarkable enough for others to buy and read.
What they are now calling “sick-lit,” inspired by The Fault in Our Stars success. I’m not interested in “someone is dying” as the theme driving a YA or women’s novel. It feels a bit too overwrought to me, and there needs to be a lot more to the plot for my taste.

Young Girl ReadingOkay, so what DO I want?
Something fresh and original with a recognizable voice.
Something that moves me to laugh or cry or both without being sappy or stupid.
Something that takes me somewhere I’ve never been before, or shows me something in a brand new light.
Something with a hook, meaning it has an understandable and unique theme and conflict, and a clear audience.
While I don’t DO romance, I’m open to romantic themes in YA and women’s fiction — just please don’t make it predictable or the heroine shallow and all about the guy! Also, what IS it with guys who have green eyes and a crooked smile? Jeesh! Is this every girl’s fantasy or something? (To those guys out there with green eyes and a crooked smile, be on your guard for rampaging women…You have been warned.)
SMART women’s fiction that can become the next great chick flick — and that is NOT just a rehashing of Bridget Jones, Stephanie Plum, Shopaholic, Sex in the City.
A YA that is smart and real ala Sarah Dessen.
Brilliant writing that is accessible. I’m not one for literary fiction with a meandering plot, but I adore gorgeous writing.
Strong characterization. I’m not one for merely plot driven fiction. I need to care.
Hilarious and moving middle grade.
I’m open to elements of fantasy, a fun or moving ghost story, I love the shivers (without blood, please). But DON’T give me genre writing.
Diversity, but only if it is genuine and intrinsic to your story.
Memoirs that bring more to the table. Incredible voice, unusual humor, revelations for readers, a takeaway for readers, real heart, a truly unique inside peek at something…
Books that leave a lasting impression. 

Take a look at my client list here. You’ll see a range of people who are very serious about their craft. You’ll see that their ideas are unique, and that their books stand out on the shelf as something fresh. Read their work and you’ll see their voices jumping off the page.

And if you have these qualities, I definitely want to see your query!

 

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

Agent Monday: Some Words on Writing Contests

file000331550356Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Writing contests are a great way to garner attention. Nab a notable award and it’ll be a feather in your writing bonnet. And even if you don’t win, you might gain the attention of important people. Sometimes, in fact, editors and agents are serving as contest judges — win, win!

Today I’m so excited to welcome to the blog wonderful author Stephanie Winkelhake. In her guest post, Steph is sharing some tips she’s gathered about entering writing contests. Listen to this woman — she knows what she’s talking about! Stephanie has finaled not once, but TWICE in the national Golden Hearts competition sponsored by RWA. For the 2014 GH competition (winners announced in July) she’s a finalist for her awesome YA thriller CARMA ALWAYS, which is about a clone who is brought to life to solve her original’s murder before the boy she loves in both incarnations is destroyed. Take it away, Steph!

Some Words on Writing Contests
by Stephanie Winkelhake

Once upon a time, I was terrified to show my writing to anyone. I mean, it’s still a nerve-wracking thing today, but years ago, it was something nightmares were made of. What if my writing was horrible and I only thought it was decent? What if I had no business writing at all? Those doubts prevented me from handing over my manuscript to people I actually knew (you know, besides my mom).

So, baby steps. I entered contests. Since my manuscript at the time had romance in it, I opted for RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter contests. Imagine my surprise when I actually became a finalist in one! I nearly cried because someone—and not someone related to me—thought my words had merit. And besides that, the judges returned my manuscript with constructive feedback that helped shape me into a better writer.

I entered more contests. I did well in some, and didn’t score high enough in others. In late 2011, I entered the RWA Golden Heart® Awards—the most prestigious RWA contest for unpublished writers. That following January, I signed with my agent (hi, Marie!), and that March, I got another important call—my manuscript was a finalist in the GH! Talk about a nice surprise. Gradually, I gained enough confidence in my writing to find a critique partner and some wonderful readers.

This year, I’m a GH nominee again with my YA thriller CARMA ALWAYS. Getting that phone call a second time was just as exciting as the first. I owe a lot to RWA and those amazing judges I had along the way. (Also, a special shout-out to my agent and my CP/readers!) They all gave me that spark of confidence I needed in my writing to push forward.

Is there a secret formula to wowing the judges? If so, I’d really like to find out what it is. But I do have a list of items I follow before submitting an entry, and in case anyone is curious, I’ve added them below:

1. Always read the formatting directions. Some contests have their own formatting requirements, like what to put in the headers and what font to use. Pay attention, because you don’t want to be penalized right off the bat for not following directions.

2. Decide what happens on page zero, and determine what to include on page one. Okay, so I wish I did have a secret formula for this one. But there are things you can avoid, like spending three pages having a character waking up and describing their breakfast. Dedicating the majority of chapter one to tell the reader about your character’s entire life before now? Also probably a bad idea. Besides, you only have so many pages to show off your characters to the judges, right? So make them count.

3. Determine whether scenes in the entry pages are truly needed. You’ll want to make sure every scene in the entry moves the story along. And here’s something I do: I cut any unnecessary sections. Does this scene only contain stuff the reader only needs to know in pages after the entry ends? If so, CUT. And hey, sometimes I find that this helps pinpoint things I don’t need at all in my manuscript. Sometimes this helps me find a paragraph or scene that takes the reader out of the story. CUT. In this year’s GH entry, I ended up trimming a scene I originally thought I had to have, but turns out, it didn’t add much to the overall story. Say it with me now: CUT!

4. Leave the judges with a nice memory. Contests usually have a word count or page restriction for entries. But I never end an entry mid-sentence or paragraph. In fact, I try to conclude an entry with a finished scene. Sometimes this involves revisiting #2 and cutting more words to squeeze it all in. Sometimes I’ll switch scenes around to leave the entry on something that highlights what I think the judges are looking for. For example, romance is important in RWA contests, so I try to end the entry on a romantic scene between my characters. It can’t hurt to leave the judges with a nice memory before they turn their attention to the score sheet.

5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Judges won’t give you high marks for your writing mechanics and grammar if your entry is littered with mistakes. I find it helps to go over the entry on an e-reader, which forces me to look at manuscript in a fresh way. I’m always amazed at how many mistakes or misspelled words I discover on my e-reader versus my computer screen.

And…that’s it. Easy, right? Sprinkle in some hard work and a healthy dose of revisions, and you’ll be cooking.

Oh, one last (very important) thing: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t final or win. That doesn’t mean your writing or story isn’t great. Not at all! Remember that writing is a subjective business. (Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good thing to remember outside of contests, too.)

Happy writing!

 

GH_2014_thumbnailStephanie Winkelhake is the author of CARMA ALWAYS, a YA thriller recently nominated for the 2014 RWA Golden Heart® Award. Her young adult paranormal FOLLOWING YOU (previously titled THE MATTER OF SOULS) was a finalist manuscript in the 2012 Golden Heart® contest and the winner of the Best-of-the-Best round in the IRWA 2011 Indiana Golden Opportunity contest. Her story DO NOT MACHINE WASH appears in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: I CAN’T BELIEVE MY DOG DID THAT! (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Sept 2012). When not writing, Stephanie is most likely reading, burning something on the stove, or plotting a return to Comic-Con. Her website can be found here. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Agent Monday: So What DO you Want?

Women Window ShoppingHappy Agent Monday! Just spent the last three weeks pitching out a ton of great client manuscripts. It’s a thrill to see these projects, which began as queries, at last sent out into the world for editors to consider. And now I’m able to turn more attention to my query inbox, which is pretty full. So today I thought I’d talk a little more about the types of things I do and don’t want.

Every editor and every agent, just like every reader, has personal things she’s interested in and things that are just never ever right for her. It’s a lot like shopping – there’s no one size or style that fits all. It’s hard for writers to know everything about an agent before subbing, but knowing some things may help you zero in on the right person to send to. That’s why the first stop should always be the agent’s submission guidelines. These can sometimes be a little general, but do pay attention to what an agent definitely does not want so you can put your efforts in the right direction when you query.

I also really recommend that you at least Google that agent to see if there are any recent interviews or write ups that may clue you in on their interests and how those might have changed. Not all agency sites are up-to-the-minute up-to-date, so that’ll help you fill in any gaps.

Now, as for me? I definitely am NOT the person for you to sub to if: you write category romance, your book is loaded with violence/gore/gag-inducing stuff, you write non-fiction, poetry, short stories. I am also not interested right now in straight up paranormal romance, dystopian, steam-punk, zombies, werewolves, that sort of thing. Just not for me. Also not at all interested in erotica.  I’ve put this info out there before, yet my inbox is loaded up with this stuff anyways. No matter how you dress it up, I promise you I will not be requesting to see the full of your paranormal romance featuring a hot erotic werewolf who slices the heads off his beloveds. PLEASE don’t send me that one!

What am I looking for? Novels: middle grade, YA, adult. Memoir that is important and moving and eloquently written. I like contemporary novels, historical, character-driven and voice driven. I love to laugh like crazy, and bawl my eyes out too, but first I have to care about the characters. I’m not the right agent for genre-based page turners that are all action and plot. I’m also not right for novels in verse.

What about fantasy? Don’t send me high fantasy. Do I like magic? Yes, IF original. Anything with a whiff of fan-fiction or that’s derivative is just not right for me. Across the board, if I can say oh, this is just like HUNGER GAMES (or any other book or movie out there) only the main character is (fill in the blank with something slightly different) – then your project is not going to be original enough to hold my interest.

Ghosts? I do like a ghost story – the sort that is full of longing and atmosphere (check out my novel DRAWN and you’ll see what I mean), but I HATE ghost stories that are all about gore and blood and slasher-like stuff. I hope you see the difference.

I don’t rep romance, but what about plots with a romantic bent? Yup. Love as part of a character-driven non-genre plot, whether it is YA or adult, is great – but it shouldn’t be all there is in the book. Something you should know about me? I love chick-flicks, but Nicolas Sparks makes me barf.  When it comes to women’s fiction, I’d LOVE to find the next great funny and wise woman’s novel that can spin into the next hilarious yet moving chick-flick film. SEND ME THAT! But what I get instead are imitations of what’s already out there. It’s all Bridget Jones and Shopaholic, etc. No been there done that stuff, please.

And I’ve gone on record as saying that I do not rep science fiction. Yet I rep the science fiction/fantasy master Gregory Frost. What??? Greg writes character driven exceptional fiction that crosses boundaries between a number of speculative genres, and he’s masterful (did I mention that?). So, unless you are masterful and transcend that genre, please do not send me your space odyssey. I will glaze over.

Finally, there has been a big shift in my recent guidelines (our agency website is undergoing a change, so it’s not quite up-to-date yet on this).  I now DO represent picture books, BUT (and it’s a big but, I cannot lie) only from established picture book authors with a track record in picture books at traditional houses. I will also take submissions from folks I personally request pbs from at conferences, or on reference from either a publisher or a client. Other than that, it’s a no go. I can’t open my inbox for pbs beyond this.  What sort of picture books do I like and not like? They must be fresh and original. Hilarious or lovely. Important in some way. Non-fiction picture books are a possibility if they are story-based vs. all facts.  What don’t I like? Books that seem to go nowhere, feel forced or too familiar, and rhyming texts are usually not successful.

I’m also now taking on illustrators. Not as an artist’s agent (meaning I’m not the one to get you into galleries, etc.), but as an agent who will rep you to publishers. For this, also, I’m only open to established book illustrators or those who I either meet and request from at a conference, or who are referred to me from a publisher or a client.

Cheerful Young Woman with Shopping BagsI hope this gives you an idea of whether or not a manuscript you have is right to send my way or not. And, just because it’s not right for me, doesn’t mean there won’t be another agent who is all about that gory page turning novel in verse.

Happy manuscript shopping!

 

*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.

 

 

 

Award Nominations!

Author_Profile_pic_WinkelhakeSo excited to announce that my client, awesome author Stephanie Winkelhake has just again been selected as a finalist in the prestigious RWA Golden Hearts competition! Her manuscript CARMA ALWAYS is a riveting YA thriller with a scifi twist – about a girl who is cloned and brought back to solve her original’s murder and save the life of the boy she loves, no matter what version she is. A futuristic Romeo and Juliet.

Gregory Frost 1In other great awards news, my client, amazing author Gregory Frost has recently been nominated as a finalist for the esteemed HWA’s 2013 Stoker Award for his excellent story “No Others Are Genuine,” which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Congrats to them both!

Agent Monday: Digging for Buried Treasure

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved that it’s March. A definite sense of “phew we made it-ness” has pervaded my mind.  A huge snow storm was predicted for today, so imagine my glee when I flipped up the shades this morning and discovered we’d gotten not 12 inches but barely an inch! HA! Take that winter. So instead of wasting time digging out mounds of white stuff I can devote a little extra time to digging for buried treasure. That’s right! It’s time to hunt through my inbox for that query that’ll tempt me to request a full manuscript. Wanna come along for the adventure? Pack your treasure map and your spy glass and follow me. Arrrrrr….

First query – science fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent science fiction. Rejection sent.

Second query – non-fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent non-fiction (aside from memoir). Rejection sent.

(Are you noticing a trend here? If so, here’s the link to my own treasure map, er, I mean submission guidelines.)

Third query – memoir. Something I actually represent. Yeah! Unfortunately, I found this one to not be unique enough, and the sample chapter was stilted. Rejection sent. (For what I think makes a memoir stand out, check out this post.)

Fourth query – YA, something else I actually represent. But this one is not at all ready for prime time. The writer needs to learn a lot more about the market and about writing before being at a professional level and ready to submit to agents. Rejection sent.

Fifth query – Women’s fiction, something I’m looking for. Length of the manuscript is right and the query follows my guidelines, but I’m not drawn in by the premise. I read a little of the sample pages pasted in below the query (something my guidelines allow for) and I’m not crazy about the voice or the writing. Rejection sent.

Sixth query – Category romance. My guidelines state I do not represent category romance. Rejection sent.

Seventh query – Women’s fiction. I found the query letter to be flat and it didn’t evoke anything for me. Rejection sent.

Eighth query – YA. The themes were cliché and the language used didn’t feel like it belonged to a teen. Rejection sent.

Ninth query – Middle grade fiction. Definitely looking for these. But this one didn’t sound unique, and the writing wasn’t up to snuff to me. Rejection sent.

Tenth query – YA. Strong query, except for a cliché tossed in. Opening pages have a nice voice.  I’m still worried about the cliché, though. Hm…  No rejection, but no request for more yet either.  I’m setting this one aside to look at again later, maybe after another cup of coffee.

Eleventh query – YA. I like the query and the plot hangs on an interesting hook. Encouraged, I read the opening pages, but quickly find myself skimming. Lots of back story. Pacing is way off. Rejection sent.

Query twelve – Fantasy. While I like fantasy elements, full-on fantasy is not my thing (as I say in my guidelines). Rejection sent.

Feeling a bit discouraged here.  Will there be any treasure in them-thar hills or not? Shall we shoot for lucky thirteen? Okay pirates, take a swig of rum (or coffee) and let’s journey on to one final spot.

Query thirteen – Horror. Guess what? I’m not at all into genre horror. Plus, I’ve seen this plot before in a very famous novel. Rejection sent.

MP900341872Ah well, fellow treasure hunters. Be not discouraged. The majority of my clients have been found through the query process, so treasure hunting does pay off.  And for you writers, know that crafting an interesting query plus a fascinating manuscript is what it’s all about. And here’s a takeaway that is simple, yet pure gold: read an agent’s guidelines and follow them!

Until next time, me mateys, Arrrr!

*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 an Investment

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Okay, it is so cold in the Northeast that folks coming to the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philly had to contend with cancelled trains. Why? Because the train doors were frozen shut. That’s what I heard. Not kidding!  Fortunately, my trains had working doors and I braved the cold on Friday and Saturday to attend the conference. Was it worth it?  Definitely. I got to meet with a ton of editors, talk to publishers from all over the country and from Canada, and see a number of writers that I know as well. But what really warmed my soul was seeing the products of my first two book deals being launched! Publishing takes time, and agenting takes patience and persistence and lots of work, just like writing does. It’s an investment.

All that time I put into finding the right authors to represent, working with that author to get the manuscript ready for submission, making up the perfect pitch, learning about who the right editors may be for a work, contacting editors, following up, taking deal offers, negotiating contracts… Phew.  I love what I do, but it does take time.  And that time is all worth it when I see this:

ALA Midwinter 2014 - 1

Here are two of my very first deals, published and on display side-by-side at The Holiday House publisher’s booth at the convention. And they are both on sale now. Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet is a fabulous middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end.  This is Carmella’s debut novel, and it has already been honored as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I’m not surprised.  Eliza’s an unforgettable character!  Mending Horses, a YA historical by award-winning author M.P. Barker, is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered. Michele (the M. in M.P.) writes with such confidence and skill that you are completely absorbed in this tale about Daniel, a young indentured servant in 1800s New England, who is suddenly set free and must find his way alone. He finds a family of sorts in an old peddler, a young runaway and a traveling circus, but all is not well. The performing horses are mistreated, and a dangerous secret puts everyone at risk. Daniel fights to protect the horses, but can he save them all?

To view the cool trailer for this book, click here and then click on trailer video.

It was a great moment for me as an agent to hold these two books in my hands. To have a part in bringing these wonderful books to readers. But it took time. And not just for me, of course. The authors spent so much time perfecting their writing, creating their novels, revising them, finding an agent, then revising again, then working on revisions with the publisher. It’s an investment.

But it pays off – over time.

I look at my career as an agent thus far as a start-up business. I put in my own time to learn the ropes, to scout out clients, to build my list, and now, two years into it, things are chugging along. My authors are working on second and third manuscripts for me. I have a number of projects out on submission. New books are slotted for publication in 2015. It’s a process.

I guess that’s what I hope writers will take away from this post. It’s a process. An investment. It takes time. It’s worth it.

I always tell my authors to take a loooong view of their careers. That means don’t just write one book and wait for it to sell. Work on something new while the other is on submission.

Writers, don’t let past discouragements in your career stop you from writing and moving ahead. Learn from it and keep going. I’m a writer, too, and there are many times that I could have stopped and said, enough! But I didn’t, and I’m so glad I gave myself that time. When things derail your writing career, it can be hard to have that sort of perspective. But keep working and you will look back after 20 years of writing and producing work and see that stumbling block as something small in perspective. If writing is your passion, keep going. It’s an investment.

And expect an agent that will invest in you. A good agent will be viewing you over the long career you have ahead of you. Not dropping you if a project doesn’t immediately sell. You will continue to write, to grow and to get better and better. Writers with talent are worth investing in.

Now back to work, everyone!  Put in that time.

*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.