Agent Monday: Querying? #MSWL a Must!

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Some Monday mornings are harder than others – and today requires extra java somehow…  But not everything is difficult. One thing that is really easy and helpful? Using #MSWL. What’s that, you ask? Well, if you are a writer querying literary agents, it’s time to find out!

#MSWL is a twitter tag that stands for Manuscript Wish List. Head on over to twitter, and search for the tag.  Go ahead, I’ll wait… Taps foot…  What you should find there are entries made by editors and agents about what they are looking for RIGHT NOW. It’s pretty awesome. And simple to use, which is really key.

It’s simple for me as a Literary Agent, because, even BEFORE that second cup of coffee, you’ll see that this morning I tweeted a whole bunch of things I’m really looking for in queries. Things like diverse meaningful fiction, spooky ghost-like tales, heartfelt and funny middle grade with a STEM tie in, riveting memoirs – especially with a foody slant, hilarious and fresh women’s fiction, smart and edgy contemporary YA with a romantic touch. Got one of those? Definitely send me a query! But please follow my submission guidelines, which can be found by clicking here.

And it’s simple for querying writers to make use of #MSWL too. You can search for the tag on twitter, but this isn’t limited to twitter. This info also gets compiled into a searchable website. Cool, right? Go to www.manuscriptwishlist.com and search away. While you are there – look me up!

This will add an up-to-date twist to your agent hunt that just might give you and your manuscript the edge you need.

Happy querying!

 

*Marie is a Literary 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.

 

 

Agent Monday: The Time Traveling Agent/Author

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I’ve always been a sucker for a good time travel tale. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and A Knight in Shining Armor are all favorite books of mine. And then there are the flicks: 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, Kate and Leopold, and the ultimate time travel movie Back to the Future. So it should be no surprise that I’m always hoping to find a smart time travel novel to represent as a literary agent.

And, also not a surprise, as an author I had the most fun writing my OUTLANDER-like time travel novel DRAWN, which I’ve just re-released this week with a new cover! So, cuz of the new cover release and all, I thought I’d dwell today a bit on the past, and my kind-of obsession with it…

I think what I love most about time travel is the way it allows me to toy with what it’d be like to visit another time. Not to be someone who lived in that time long ago or far away, but to be myself encroaching on another world. Whenever I visit an old building, a castle, or a ruin, I can’t help but wonder what the people were like back then. Were they very different? Would I connect with them somehow?

If you could go anywhere, or rather, anywhen, when would you go? What sort of tales would you weave around that?

Me? I’d end up smack-dab in the Middle Ages. I’d love to see a fully functioning castle, and women whisking about in those elaborate gowns and pointy headpieces, and knights clanking in their armor, and foppish troubadours strumming lutes.

Honestly, that’s one of the fun things about being a writer — being able to bring your own imaginings to life. In my novel DRAWN, Michelle De Freccio is a practical teen. She’s an artist, but still is someone firmly grounded in reality and the normal. When she moves to England, she keeps drawing pictures of some guy. Then she starts bumping into him at the town’s castle. That’s when things start to get really strange. Michelle refuses to believe he’s actually from another time, or that she’s no longer in the present. She’s convinced he’s just some nut, until this moment in the novel:

“Try taking your meds,” I tell him, stuffing these things back into my bag. “Try not wearing that cape and boots all the time. While you’re at it, why don’t you take up a hobby, like going to Star Wars conventions as a Jedi knight?” I hang the bag over my shoulder and grab my drawing pad. “I’m leaving and if you follow me, I swear to God I’ll scream and you’ll be in prison faster than you can say Society of Creative Anachronism. Got that?”

He flashes a half smile. He’s so attractive. He’s so cocky. I grit my teeth and back away. I’m near the steps. I turn, about to run down, when I see over the wall something far below. My heart seizes up.

No tourists. No tents. No cars. No parking lot. Just grass, a water-filled moat and a deep forest in the distance.

***

From this point on, Michelle is forced to believe in things she never thought possible. Like the ability to connect with another time. Or how two people from such different times can feel so close. Of course Michelle and Christopher have serious differences in their beliefs and outlooks on life. Like in this scene:

He drinks a few handfuls of water, then sits back. “First you must tell me, do you support the House of York and the true and rightful king? Or are you with the so-called King Henry, that addlepated idiot who is not sane enough to know his own name?”

“You shouldn’t call him an idiot. He’s sick. Like your father was sick.”

“He is nothing like my father,” he says, indignant.

“I mean King Henry is mentally ill. It’s a sickness. It’s pretty sad.”

Christopher snorts, which seriously annoys me.

“Lots of people are mentally ill, Christopher. Lots of good people.” The tremble in my voice makes him look up. “If there was a cure, maybe he would get better and have this really great life.”

“Michelle, I happen to know for a fact that physicians have bled the king and attempted to drive out the demons that possess him, and to no avail.”

“That’s not science. It doesn’t fix anything. You know, some day in the future they’ll come up with all sorts of medicines and treatments that will—”

“You think too much.” He stacks his armor in a neat pile.

“And you don’t think enough. You are so, so…”

I’m about to say “medieval” when Christopher says, “So concerned about getting through every day alive.” He holds up the dented piece of armor to punctuate his point, then throws it clattering to the ground.

***

One of the most fun things about writing a time travel is tossing in modern stuff and contemporary comments into the mix. Like when Michelle, after watching Back to the Future in her own time, goes to Christopher’s time with a book outlining all the battle outcomes of the 1400s. She tells him, “This book holds all this information about what will happen. In the wrong hands, it could be disastrous. At least according to Hollywood.” And Christopher responds, “I do not know of this Hollywood person…”

And what does happen with this book? If Christopher uses it, people will live who shouldn’t have, and others will die who shouldn’t have. Quite a mess. Then there’s a scene when Christopher is unconscious from a battle wound, and Michelle tries to save his life with one of those impossibly tiny first aid kits people keep in their purses:

“Okay, modern science to the rescue.” I open the kit and inside are three Band-Aids, a Midol pill, a small foil tube of antibacterial cream and one alcohol wipe. That’s it. I sink onto the chair.

***

Throughout the novel, the couple faces a ton of challenges as they fall in love. How can they have any sort of life together when every time Michelle sees him, she’s changing destiny in dangerous way? Plus Christopher is “no prince.” His life is intertwined with treachery and murder. And adding to their couple issues is this biggie: every time they kiss, she’s thrown back into her own time.

Can love overcome all of these problems? Should it? DRAWN is my way of exploring these questions…and of getting completely lost in the past.

If you are interested in exploring DRAWN, you can check out more about it by clicking here. Also, if you are on GOODREADS, you can enter to win one of 5 signed print copies of DRAWN with its new cover by entering the giveaway there starting this Friday.  To enter, click here from Friday. The giveaway runs through the end of May.

 

*Marie is a Literary 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.

 

Agent Monday: Focused Writing Can Help Land an Agent

MP900178092Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Spring is in full bloom here, and as a Literary Agent, I’m here to help writers’ careers blossom and grow. To that end, I’ve been scouring my query inbox hoping for the next great writer to grab my attention and inspire me to offer representation. Too often, though, queries lack focus, or the writing does. So today, I thought I’d spend a few moments pointing out how focus can help you land an agent.

Focus on your genre… What is it? Your book should fit into one genre, and meet (and exceed) the expectations of those readers.

Focus on the agents that represent your genre… If I say I do not rep high fantasy, then don’t send me a high fantasy query (or pretend that your high fantasy is really something different). Spend your time and energy querying a receptive audience.

Focus your query… Make it clear what your book’s genre is, what it is about, why you have picked this particular agent to query (see points 1 and 2 above!).

Focus your writing… Make every word count, every scene vital to the story, and every action important to advancing your plot. Whatever you promise the reader in the beginning pages, be sure that you deliver exactly that!

Scattershot queries, writing that doesn’t fit anywhere in particular on a book store shelf or that crosses disparate genres (like a middle grade novel with a serious romance, or a picture book with adult themes, or a supposed thriller with a slow literary pacing), or books that disappoint because they promise something that they then don’t deliver — will hurt your chances of getting an agent, and finding an audience.

So think it through. What is YOUR focus? Zero in on that, and others will soon be focusing on YOU.

 

*Marie is a Literary 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.

 

 

Agent Monday: But What’s the Story?

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel confused. Like WHY was it snowing on Saturday? Boo. And WHY does a grocery story ever think it’s a good idea to rearrange where everything is? Seriously.  And here’s another one that bewilders me: why would a writer spend an entire pitch talking about everything BUT what their book is about? During these pitches, I actually find myself stopping the writer and asking them: But what’s the story?

Last Saturday (yes, when it was snowing!), I spent an enjoyable day taking pitches from a ton of nice writers at The Philadelphia Writing Workshop (thanks to Chuck Sambuchino for having me along). There were some seriously good pitches coming my way. These were well-crafted, and writers were able to convey a cool story idea within the 10 minute time frame we had together. But other times, writers buried their stories in such a way that I didn’t have a clue about the plot, the genre, and sometimes I struggled to figure out what, exactly, they were trying to present. It was like I had to play detective to get any real answers.

As not only a literary agent, but a writer myself, I get how this can happen. It can be nerves. Or perhaps the writer is having trouble boiling their complex book down into that one pithy line followed by a brief description. Sometimes we writers are so wrapped up in how a book was put together, or why we decided to write it, or in trying to impress an agent with our overall persona, that we forget that none of this really matters as much as the story itself and how it will engage readers.

Yes, when I see a pitching author squander their time on everything BUT their novel’s story, I do stop them and start asking questions to parse out what I need to know. But that doesn’t always work. Sometimes writers get flustered, or they truly haven’t thought out the answer to: what’s my book about?

Don’t let that happen to you.

First some do’s: Tell me the title, the manuscript length (in words not pages), and the genre right away! Then tell me a one line description that captures the overall plot of the book. Then you can elaborate on the story a bit more. And you can add in a bit about yourself, plus leave time for us to chat a bit.

Now for some don’ts: Don’t fill up your pitch time with talk about yourself, about your motivation for why you write, or about the mechanics of your writing. Discussion about how awesome you are at your full-time job, or about the way you transition from paragraph to paragraph is not going to draw an agent in.

Don’t waste time telling an agent details about things that have nothing to do with the actual story you’ve written. Just don’t.

Don’t spend lengthy time explaining about all your followers on Twitter and Instagram, etc., unless your social media presence and platform is startling (like a hundreds of thousands of followers), and don’t share every moment you’ve ever spoken in front of a group of people (unless you did something really extraordinary like were on Oprah or something). Just say: I’m active in social media and will be an eager promoter.

Don’t waste a ton of time talking about a book you’ve written that isn’t the one you are actually there to pitch. Just don’t do it.

Don’t put yourself down. Time and time again writers tell me that their pitch is going to be awful, or that their book probably isn’t any good, or that there are probably a ton of these types of books out there already, but…  Stop that! Seriously STOP! Best foot forward, people.

And do not come with papers for me to read or an ipad with a manuscript you want me to skim. Pitches are verbal. If you are nervous and must refer to your own notes, that’s okay with me. But I won’t take your book or manuscript or massive media kit home with me. Not even your first chapter. If I’m interested, I’ll ask you to email me material. If an agent is too polite to say no to your offered stack of papers, chances are VERY GOOD (like 100%) that these will end up in the trash minutes after you go. Save your money, people. No props required or bling, or printed up stuff.

Just a pitch. About your story. No mystery there!

 

*Marie is a Literary 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.

 

Agent Monday: Query No-No’s

MP900386224Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Spring has finally taken hold here in the Northeast. Time to make things grow – like your writing career. Chances are if you have found this page, you are looking for an agent to help you do just that. This can be a tough and competitive process for sure, but it can be even tougher if you are making query mistakes that seriously ruin your chances.

We writers (NB: I’m an agent and a writer, so I totally get it…) have wonderful imaginations, which means we can worry about SO MANY things. I didn’t put my title in caps, I double spaced my query, I didn’t use a comma after an “and.” Maybe that’s why I’m not getting any agent offers? Nope. That won’t stop an interested agent from being drawn in, so relax. Here are some No-No’s that WILL turn an agent off, though:

Addressing your query to every single agent at once… I get these all too often. The email address of every known agent is included. I immediately delete these – as does every agent ever known.

Your salutation is general or non existent. Dear Agent. Dear Sir or Madam. Hello. That’s another mass mailer. That’s a goodbye.

You say your book is a YA/adult/historical/paranormal/thriller/horror/romance/Christian/humorous tragedy. There is no such shelf in a bookstore, and this is a sign that you don’t know your genre or market, and that your work will reflect that.

You know your genre, but are sending it to agents that clearly say they are NOT representing that genre. Maybe you think your work will change their mind or, more likely, you haven’t bothered to look at agent guidelines to see what we do and do not want to see. This ain’t gonna help you.

You send your query letter as an attachment. Would you open attachments from someone you don’t know? Neither will we – we will delete it.

You direct the agent to an online link to see your query letter or sample pages. That won’t work either. You need to follow agent submission guidelines and this won’t be a part of those guidelines – I promise.

Your query letter is poorly written and riddled with errors. Now I’m not talking about a misplaced comma or that one typo you found, horrified, after you pressed send. I’m talking about truly terrible writing that is careless and shows that the writer isn’t taking their craft seriously.

Chances are pretty good that if you’ve found this page, you ARE doing your homework. You may be saying, hm, I’m doing none of these awful things. Then take heart! If you are following submission guidelines, writing with care, and targeting your genre well in your writing and in your submissions, you’ve already risen to the top of an agent’s inbox. You won’t be immediately deleted. Your query will be read. You have given your manuscript a fair shot.

And, here’s a tip you may find helpful: If I were in your shoes, I’d be sure to include newer agents at established agencies in my query lists. These are people who have all the support of their agency, who have access to any editor because they are certainly legit agents, and who are eagerly building their client lists.

And, hint hint, I just might be one of those agents.

 

*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: Dig Deeper for Ideas

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Last day of February – WOOT!  I’m all about springtime and being outdoors and longer days and digging in the garden – and I can’t wait for all of that. I’m also eager to dig through the submissions in my agent inbox to find  the next engrossing read. However, what I’m often finding are manuscripts that, while well written, are just all too familiar. That’s a real shame. The writers have skill, but the idea behind their book is one I’ve seen too many times before. I wish that these writers could dig deeper so that more original plotting can grow.

What do some of those all too familiar plots look like? Here are a few examples:

For middle grade or YA: A child or a teen must spend the summer with a grandparent or other relative they hardly know – and it’s always in the middle of nowhere or on some waterfront setting. There the kid uncovers some sort of mystery they must solve, whether magical or spooky or historical, and an unlikely person ends up helping and becoming a close friend. In the end, the kid learns about themselves, and also sees that unknown relative in a new light.

For women’s fiction: A young woman has tried to make a go of her career and love life, but finds embarrassing failures and is forced to go back to her home town with its small town ways. There, she eats humble pie, sees that simple life as not so simple and even sophisticated and enviable and heartfelt, and that old flame of hers is there to rekindle a different life path.

For women’s fiction or memoir: A person’s life falls completely apart, and they go on a journey to leave it all behind and are challenged in new and surprising ways that change everything.  For a memoir, this can be a trek or a world tour or some other adventurous trip. For fiction, it is often spurred by a death in the woman’s family, or a divorce by a cheating spouse, and the heroine either inherits or buys some rundown home in some isolated place and is challenged to make a go of things – of course the attractive but surly and mysterious handyman is there to help.

There are many other too familiar plots I could site. Just conjure up ideas of dystopian fiction, fantasy middle grade, silly picture books, and you will likely come up with a number of familiar story lines yourself. Call them tropes if you like, and they could be entertaining, and well done. But I say talented writers can go deeper in their ideas and plotting. As an agent, I’m looking for originality and fresh journeys to go on. In a weird way, it’s a lot like trying to find something on NETFLIX to binge watch. You want something engrossing and interesting and wonderful. Something worth investing your time in, and you want to be surprised and delighted in the adventures that enfold. You don’t want to watch a few minutes and have many things figured out, and to feel like you’ve seen something just like this before.

Pile of LightbulbsSo what’s a writer to do? I say dig deeper. Find what you most love about your idea, and then as you plot, don’t go to the first or second idea of what could happen next. One technique that I really like to use when plotting my own novels is from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (a craft book I highly recommend). Think of what could happen next in your story. Then write, say, 5 more ideas. Then 5 more.  Take that last idea on your list and use THAT. You’ll be using something on a much less obvious train of thought.

And you’ll be creating something that may just surprise and delight you, and please agents and readers too.

 

*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: 7 Steps to Writing Success

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:

 

 

  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.

 

*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.