Agent Monday: Springing Forward with Writer’s Resources

Snow March 1 2015Happy Agent Monday, everyone! I was SO happy to flip the calendar to March. But joke’s on me, since, yeah, a lion-like snow and ice storm has swept through. The picture here is what I’m seeing out my window this morning. But let’s be optimistic, shall we? Today I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite writer’s resources that’ll help your writing career take root and grow. So, ready to spring ahead?

1. The SCBWI Blue Boards

You don’t have to be a member of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators to participate in this online message board…but definitely consider joining this organization if you are writing for children through YA — it’s an awesome resource. The Blue Boards is where it’s at if you want to connect with other writer’s for youth, plus literary agents (like me!) and editors sometimes chime in there too. You’ll find camaraderie, answers to questions about craft and the market, and solid advice and true experiences that writers in your field are having right now. Definitely get involved by going here.

2. Publisher’s Marketplace

If you are serious about writing for the top commercial publishers and about getting an agent, then you need to do some serious research. Which deals have recently been made in your genre? Has a deal been made in the past year that is exactly like the book you are about to write? Which agents represent authors in your subject matter? Has the agent you were considering been active with sales? And what’s the latest business news? The inside scoop is all at Publishersmarketplace.com, the site that agents and editors and others in the business all rely on. Yes, there is a cost, but it’s a monthly subscription. That means you can get it for a month or two, do all the research you like and then stop it if you’d like. Or keep it year round and share the subscription cost between several writer friends so you all benefit. It’s smart. Find out more by clicking here.

3. Indiebound.org

Did you know that you could buy books online with discounts and all at an independent bookstore, even if you don’t live right next to one? It’s true!  Nothing is more important to writers than reading reading reading. Well, except for having vibrant bookstores. When you are published, you’ll need there to actually be places where your audience can stumble upon you while browsing, even if they hadn’t heard of you already, right? So, writers, do your thing and support indie bookstores. From the home page you can put in the book you are searching for in that upper right hand search field with the spyglass thingee next to it and click enter. Then you’ll be prompted to enter your zip code so you can shop at the indie nearest you, or pick whichever one you wish. Shop online there and you’ll find discounts, free shipping over certain amounts (within easy reach), plus the option to pick up your order at the store for no charge on orders of any size. There’s even a link on the site for stores that sell ebooks. Make it your first stop when buying books, by clicking here.

4. The Liars Club Facebook Page

Started by a group of authors who, basically, lie for a living, The Liars Club is all about sharing info and building community among authors. I’m a proud Liars Club member, and the group has been supporting writers, promoting literacy and bookstores and libraries, plus sharing kick-ass info for years.  So I highly recommend you like The Liars Club Facebook page by clicking here. The group also hosts a series of free Writer’s Coffeehouses in the Philly area and one is starting up on the West Coast as well. Now’s a good time to like the page, wherever you live, since the group will soon be hosting on this page a series of online virtual Writer’s Coffeehouses featuring interaction with a number of published authors.

5. Agent Monday

Okay, you knew I had to add this one in. If you see this post, you’ve either found it on a search, or perhaps you already do subscribe. If you do subscribe, you’ll see Agent Monday info hot off the presses. And if you check back into the archives on my site, you’ll see I cover a wide range of topics from querying, to marketing, to the inner workings of publishing from an agent and author point of view. So don’t just pop in, subscribe!

I hope these resources will help you and your writing to spring forward! Time for me to chip away the ice and snow and emerge into the world.

Warm wishes!

*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: Your Assignment – Learn from Bookstore Shelves

Boy reading in the libraryHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Yes, it’s January and bleak and cold. BUT it’s also a shiny new year, and the days are growing LONGER. Yes! Time to get energized and kick your writing career into higher gear. If you are seeking a literary agent, that means you are writing something you hope will be commercially successful. Something that will land on the bookstore shelves all across the country. So here is a task you must all do without delay: Visit bookstores and see what is actually on their shelves right now. Why? There are vital lessons you can learn from a bookstore!

Visiting a bookstore and browsing for books is a vital part of being a writer, for sure. But I want you to actually go there now as a student of the commercial book market. Bring a small notebook, and keep in your mind where you think your own work in progress will fit on the shelf.

Now go to that shelf — first of all, does that shelf exist? If it’s a category that doesn’t exist, you’ve got a problem right there. As an agent, I can’t sell books that are so different or such a mash up that they don’t fit into a particular category when it comes to sales. Why? Because an editor can’t make an offer on such a book. Why? Because an editor can’t convince his or her publisher and sales team that a book without a category will sell. And why does that matter?

Because a book that won’t sell, will be a book that will fail to make any money. The publishing business is a business. And a successful book is one that sells. Yes, writing is an art. But once you are approaching an agent, you are approaching the commercial market. So step one in your bookstore bookshelf class is to figure out what shelf your book will belong on.

This is why saying your book is for all ages is a fail for you when you pitch. There is no shelf for that. What you CAN say is that your book is a YA with cross-over appeal. That means it’ll sit on the YA shelf, but that adults will also go to that shelf to find it. This is why saying there is no other book like yours is a fail when you pitch. It is like SOMETHING, it has SOME MAIN READER. You need to find these somethings and someones, so you can say it is, say, a romance, but unique because it features…  See the difference? Now you have a category, plus a unique sales hook that will help your title be found by readers.

Okay, so once you find your shelf, the next thing you need to do is to see what is already on it.

What’s on the end caps, what titles are face out, which ones have multiple copies on the shelf? Those are likely the “hits.” Good to be aware of these.

Look closely at the type of books elsewhere on your shelf. At the titles. At the covers. Which are the most effective and the most interesting to you? How does your own novel’s title compare? Can you imagine what the cover might be?

Which other books might the reader of your own novel also be drawn to? Have YOU read these? You should. Why? Because then you can have a current take on the market yourself. You can then honestly say in your query something like: Readers who love the high stakes and honest characterization of THIS POPULAR BOOK, will be drawn to WHAT’S IN YOUR BOOK.

Now, before you leave the bookstore, buy some books. Help your bookstore succeed. You want them to be thriving, don’t you? Someday they will be selling your books!

Visiting the bookstore, notebook in hand, gets you seeing the big picture. Where your book fits. Who your audience really is. What market an agent/editor/publisher can sell it to. Buying books is also an important part of the commercial cycle. A cycle that you want to fully involve you and your work.

Your homework will pay off in numerous ways:
– Now you’ll know without a doubt what your book’s category is.
– You’ll have a list of current competing titles (and of authors – who were THEIR agents?…not a bad list of agents to consider approaching, right?).
– You’ll have a more focused outlook overall about your novel, a more realistic idea of your market. This will all result in a better targeted query letter, and a commercial view of your book’s potential that agents and editors will appreciate.

*NB: Be grounded and realistic, too. Trust me, saying that this is the next HARRY POTTER will only make eyes roll. But saying that your work offers a twist on the middle grade fantasy, with an unusual magical theme that fans of Rowling should enjoy… well, you see the difference in the two statements, right?

Understanding all of this is an important step for you. Publishing is a business. YOUR business. So head on out there and study up.

 

*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: First Impressions

MP900438811Hey gang!  Happy Agent Monday, once again.  This upcoming weekend I’ll be taking pitches at The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference. Taking pitches allows the writer to set up the purpose of their book, and for me to ask questions to fill in holes that remain in just what the book is about and why it stands out. This past weekend, however, I was doing something entirely different: critiquing first pages.  It was at a special Writer’s Tea hosted by the Bucks County Romance Writers group at my fab local indie bookstore Doylestown Bookshop. In many ways it was the exact opposite of a pitch: I didn’t know the writer, or the genre, or the overall arc of the story. There were just words on the page. And they pointed out one thing loud and clear: the importance of first impressions!

By looking at the first page alone, the words really had to do the job. Is your first page working for your manuscript? Reading a book is an investment in time, so that first page needed to answer this question: Why do I want to take this long journey with you?

Often, when the writer came to hear the critique (which was delivered one on one), they said to me, “It really gets going on page two,” or “the book takes off in chapter three.” Hm. Now I don’t need to have the full action or plot poured out into the very first page, but what I do want to see is something that makes me think: “Turn the page. I have to see where this is going!” Now that can be a wide range of things from an interesting point of view, or an intriguing voice, or a question I care about that I’d like to see answered.  All sorts of things can draw me in, so don’t feel you need to squeeze in that life changing moment into the first two paragraphs!

Sometimes writers use their first few pages, or even chapters, as a sort of throat-clearing warming up getting into things exercise. I say that’s fine for your draft, but then ask yourself: When do things really begin? And start the final polished draft there!

Here’s why a great start matters: If an agent is not drawn in by your opening pages, they will probably stop reading. If the agent sends a manuscript like this to an editor, the editor may stop reading. Why does this all happen? It’s up to the writer at the get-go to nail the structure and pacing of their novel. Agents and editors see a ton of books by writers who DO get this right, so they must ask themselves: Do I really want to spend time fixing all of this for the writer, or do I move on? Remember, in books that are tightly paced and structurally sound, there is often still plenty of editing that will be needed. It’s WORK and TIME and we folks must ask ourselves where to invest our limited time and resources. It is a business, right?  In the end, we all think about the consumer, the reader of the published novel. Think about it. How do YOU buy books? Don’t you often read the first page or few pages to see if it’s worth purchasing?

But wait wait wait, Marie! (some of you may be thinking right about now)… Don’t agents and editors KNOW that writers sometimes take a while to get started and skip ahead to see if the story picks up? As a writer, I remember hearing that bit of wisdom once upon a time. And maybe it was true once upon a time when an agent or editor actually had a paper manuscript land on their desk. Today? We get things via email. Electronic files we load onto our computers or ereaders. We read from page one on. If I find myself skimming ahead because I’m bored, that’s a serious red flag to me, and zooming ahead 25 or 50 pages? Honestly, I just don’t.  I won’t stick with your book unless YOU make me want to stick around. That’s all about the power of your words.

So back to those first page crits I just did… Some of the things that I saw that didn’t make me anxious to see page two included:

1. A ton of dialogue or first person thoughts that didn’t have a voice to them or point of view. Is this a woman? A kid? Who is talking or thinking and why do I care? Some hint would certainly help!

2. A ton of info. Blocks of prose that gave all sorts of info about the backstory. Do I need backstory when I still don’t know what the story is? Again, what draws me in?

3. Repetition. Saying the same thing in several different ways right on page one hints to me that this is a work that needs tightening, plus it doesn’t move the story along.

What worked in those first pages?

1. Voice! When I had an immediate grasp of the writer’s/character’s voice, and I liked it for some reason, I was willing to continue on the journey (and even forgive some rough spots).

2. Originality! Okay, so maybe that first page wasn’t perfect, but what an interesting situation! Yeah, I’ll turn that page.

3. Elegance! Show me some sign that you are a skilled writer, whether beauty in the prose or sharp wit or something that makes me nod and think, yup, I get that, or wow, the writer’s right about that and I never saw it that way… And I’ll turn that page.

4. Well-targeted writing! If it’s a middle grade novel, I should be able to tell without it being labeled as such. Ditto for women’s fiction, or thriller, or literary. If I’m embarking on a reading journey, I want to feel I’m in capable hands and going on a charted course in the direction the book wants to take me. (I hope that makes sense.)

So you can see that you, as the writer, can actually do a lot with your first page. You can reel me in and pull me deeper into your world. Do that, and I’ll want to read page 2, and page 3 and so on.

Take a hard look at your opening pages. First impressions definitely matter.

*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.

Writer Wednesday: About those Book Signings…

I have a book signing coming up this Saturday at the beyond wonderful indie bookstore Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA.  It’s from 1-4 p.m. Stop by if you can!  I haven’t really done too many book signings this year, so this got me thinking about all those book signings I have done in the past.

I used to have several a month, sometimes even a few a week.  I kept my book signing stuff together in one spot in my office, ready to grab and go. A bag of book plates, pens, fliers, signs, and candy to give away (usually chocolate kisses).  But now I feel almost rusty.  Since it has been a while, well, needless to say the chocolates are all gone.  My fliers are used up or just out of date, missing the most recent reviews.  And is that sign seriously turning yellow?

Jeesh.

The last huge book signing I did was back at another beloved indie, Doylestown Bookshop. That was for the launch of DRAWN way back in January.  Since then, my books have been for sale at various events where I’ve put in appearances. At these, I’d sign a copy of  a novel if someone approached me with one.  But I haven’t really done one of those “sit at a table for a few hours and smile” thingees for DRAWN.

Book launches are a blast to do. It’s the first time your book hits the stands, and all your friends and family rally with readers to show up and celebrate and eat cake. At these the author feels an outpouring of love and appreciation.  There’s constant conversation. And, as I mentioned, there’s cake. Many books are sold.  You head home feeling awesome.

But other signings, well…

I’ve recently talked to a number of new writers all fired up for their very first signing.  It’s such a landmark, and such a thrill.  I never want to bring them down, but I wish there was some tactful way to prepare the new author for that second signing. Or that third and fourth.  Not every signing will sell 100 copies like you did on launch night. If I could somehow make them lower their expectation and view every signing as a success even if not a single book was sold, it might spare them from that sinking feeling of misery.  Same feeling you got as a kid when teams were picking sides and the captains argued over who would get stuck with you. Blech.

I’ve been at signings where not one person showed up. I’ve been at signings where someone came up and asked, “Do you people sell rubber bands?”  I told them I didn’t work there, and I was the author.  “Oh, really?  You wrote these?”  So, fine. Lesson learned. I started wearing a tag that said: Marie Lamba, AUTHOR.  And I made a giant poster with the book cover, and my picture.  And at the next signing someone walked up to me and asked, “Do you guys sell magazines?”

I’ve had people come and talk to me forever about my book, about writing, and then not buy the book.  I’ve had people not stop or talk to me at all, which is far worse.  I’ve been scheduled to give a talk, and showed up to a space with seating for 100, and only the bookstore person and my daughter came.  I gave a talk at an urban Barnes and Noble, and the audience was made up of a sleeping homeless guy, and a woman who sat in that space every day just to knit. No clapping that day.

But you know what?  It’s a total crap shoot.  I’ve had talks that I thought would surely be a disaster, and when I got there, the room was so packed they had to drag in extra seating.  And I sold a ton of books afterwards.  I’ve done signings where people flocked to the table, eager to buy. I’ve been at signings where old high school friends showed up and brought their kids.  I’ve been at bookstores where fans of my books came and acted like I was a rock star!

You never know. So you lower your expectations to none, and smile.  Book signings can definitely keep you humble. You’ve got to remember that not everyone is a reader. That people are busy. That times are tough. That reading is a subjective thing, so not everyone will be interested in what you write about. That some people feel they can’t walk over to talk to you, because if they don’t then buy your book it’ll be weird.

So how can every book signing be a success? Well, I always use a signing as a newsworthy moment. An appropriate time to tell the area about my books through press releases and feature stories that I send out to press, and through announcements on social media.  That’s a win.  Someone could read about your book and buy it at a later time. At signings, I always enjoy interacting with the bookstore staff and supporting what they do.  I work hard to make the event fun (bringing munchies for the booksellers, too), and I’m building relationships with these fellow book lovers. The bookstore also always has me sign the remaining stock, so that even if the signing felt like a bust, the books will probably be prominently displayed and sold.

And then there is the experience of meeting people…something we isolated authors don’t get to do on a daily basis.  We can yak about books and writing, and share our book info with others.

So, if I could speak directly to those new authors out there, I would like to tell them to not count the success of a signing by the number of copies sold. To check egos at the door, but haul along your sense of humor.

And you may want to find out ahead of time if the bookstore sells rubber bands!

Wish me luck on Saturday…

Publishing Revolution: Liars Club Authors Telling Some Truths

Doylestown Bookshop Hosts DRAWN Launch

Here’s a quick shoutout to the wonderful independent bookstore The Doylestown Bookshop who hosted the launch party for my new paranormal novel DRAWN.

We had cake and goodies, and great people filling the store, and we sold a ton of books too! Heartfelt thanks to everyone who came. If you missed the event, the bookstore has on hand signed copies of DRAWN, plus my novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD, and a few copies of the short story anthology LIAR LIAR in which I have a story.

I hope you’ll stop in and check these out, plus keep an eye on The Doylestown Bookshop’s events page for great upcoming author signings and fun.

And if you aren’t in the Doylestown, PA area, chances are pretty solid that you do have a bookstore near you. Make a point of visiting and supporting your area bookseller, and remember that you can order any of my novels through any bookstore!  Just ask them.

And check out my Appearances page to see where I’ll be next.  It’s always great to meet readers face to face.

Happy reads,

Marie

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Five YA Authors Walk into a Bookstore…

Sounds like the setup for a bad joke, but this was actually the start of a red-hot afternoon last Sunday, when I moderated a panel talk with some of my fellow YA paranormal authors: New York Times bestsellers Andrea Cremer and Beth Revis, and sizzling debut authors Marie Lu and Jessica Spotswood. It was part of Penguin’s “Breathless Reads” Tour hosted by the wonderful independent bookstore The Doylestown Bookshop.

The store had a fine crowd of fans on hand, as I introduced myself and my fellow authors.  And let me intro us all to you folks now as well…

From left to right, there’s, well, me, Marie Lamba (Hi everyone!), Beth Revis, Jessica Spotswood, Marie Lu and Andrea Cremer.

And here’s more info about us…

Marie Lamba: I’m author of YA novels, including the newly published paranormal YA novel Drawn, and I’m an Associate Literary Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City.  Drawn is about a teen artist who draws then meets and falls for a medieval ghost with a sketchy past. It’s been praised as “beautiful and endearing…I didn’t want to see it end” (The Cozy Reader), “Mysterious and enchanting…a breath of fresh air…a page turner with a unique twist” (TwilightMOMS), and a “lushly romantic ghost story…captivating and haunting,” (paranormal author Cyn Balog).

Beth Revis: Beth is the New York times bestselling author of the Across the Universe series, futuristic space-travel novels that feature Amy, who awakens light years away from home on an air ship and must face battling a tyrannical civilization. Her second book in the series, A Million Suns, has The Los Angeles Times saying, “Oftentimes, the second book in a series struggles to live up to the expectations set in its kickoff, but not here.”  Awesome!

Jessica Spotswood: Jessica is the debut author of Born Wicked, which had Entertainment Weekly so excited they actually told readers to “mark your calendars for the release.” An historical fantasy, it’s the first book in a series that features Cate Cahill and her dangerous destiny as
a witch. Sounds bewitching alright.

Marie Lu: Marie is the debut author of Legend, a futuristic dystopian thriller set in a dark future where North America has split into two warring nations. It features two characters, each from a different nation, and each as different as you can get, and when murder makes their paths cross, it’s, well, Legend. The Wall Street Journal calls it a “new contender” in the race to “conjure the next Harry Potter.” Talk about high praise!

Andrea Cremer: Andrea is the New York Times bestselling author of the Nightshade series. The first two books, Nightshade and Wolfsbane introduced readers to Calla and her conflicted future as the mate of a sexy alpha wolf…When she saves a beautiful human boy out for a hike, everything is thrown into question. Bloodrose is the stunning conclusion to the series, which Romantic Times Magazine calls “sexy and intoxicating.” Hot stuff!

Okay, with the intros out of the way, I got right down to business, tossing away the question sheet provided by the tour (sorry Penguin), and asking things folks really like to know.  Like: Can you tell us something about you that most people don’t know?

Andrea told us she has 3 tattoos, showing us the one on her wrist and the back of her neck, and saying that her third was inaccessible to show because it was on her ankle.

We learned that Beth is the “evil one,” and Andrea said that if any of them disappeared while on tour, authorities should immediately question Beth.  Beth responded with a wicked glimmer in her eye…  But it was all in good fun, right?  Seriously though, they all seemed like good friends, honest officer.

We also discovered that Beth has one thumb much shorter than the other, and Jessica demonstrated her freakishly fascinating double jointed arms.

I know that Marie Lu also shared something unusual, but honestly after that double jointed arm thingee I blanked out!  Marie did say that she always thought it’d be cool if half the country was underwater, which led her to her idea for Legend...

Next I moved on to the lightning round of questions (also NOT on the suggested question list…again, sorry Penguin!).  I asked them to vote on these either/ors: Cats or dogs?  50/50 split. (I’m dogs, myself.) Ice cream or chocolate? 50/50 again. (Chocolate for me, all the way.) Heels or flats? 50/50. (Flats for me…) Smart Car or SUV? 100% for Smart Car (yeah environment!)  Country music or rock? 100% rock (me too!).

And here was the clincher: Twilight or Harry Potter?  Remember, this is a bunch of paranormal/fantasy YA authors here.  I was fascinated that they were wholeheartedly 100% for Harry Potter.  Have to say I’m with them on that.  Not that I don’t like a bit of Twilight now and then, but Harry Potter? That’s deep and amazing stuff.

With that info taken care of, I next told the authors I would now ask REALLY personal questions, and, well, this is what it looked like as they ran away from me:

Kidding!  If you missed the event, I’m pretty sure the Doylestown Bookshop has extra signed copies of all of our books on hand, so stop in for your copies.

And look for my appearance at the Doylestown Bookshop on Friday, March 2nd from 6-9 pm when I officially launch the paperback of Drawn. My book launch party is part of the town’s First Friday celebrations, and should be a blast! The link for that event is here.

Hope to see you then.

Happy reads,

Marie