Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*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: Oh the Horror!

MP900309567Happy Agent Monday everyone!  I know – it’s been a while…  I’ve been traveling a ton for conferences and been on so many planes and through so many time zones it’s a wonder  my eyesballs aren’t spinning in my head. Which leads me to today’s subject: HORROR! Hey, it’s Halloween week, right? And Halloween is one of my very favorite times of the year. I love a good fright. But I don’t represent horror, and yet…in some ways I do.  Let me explain..

Drawn-ebook cover final Jan 12Here’s the thing – I LOVE a good ghost story. Truly. The kind that make you shiver and wonder or perhaps feel heartsick, the kind that are steeped in a sense of history or folklore. My own YA novel DRAWN taps into that, adding a dimension of timeless longing and injustice. I also adore well-drawn characters – so important to me.

What I don’t want to see? Gratuitous violence or gore. No thank you. Yeah, I love Halloween, but for me the shivers has nothing to do with psychos wielding chainsaws. God I hate when they wreck a good haunted house with blood-soaked rooms. #notforme

So that’s how I say “no horror” yet I represent awesome author Gregory Frost who is working on a novel about a haunted White House in the 1800s. Yup, there are some touches of horror in that novel for sure, but the book is all about the characters and the time, plus the writing is beyond gorgeous. And that’s how I represent Jim Kristofic, whose short story horror collection is beyond creepy, BUT is steeped in Native American lore and awesome writing and NOT all about blood and guts. There’s more of a psychological thing going on. And it’s how I fell for my client Tracey Baptiste’s THE JUMBIES, which is a middle grade horror set in the Caribbean, and features monsters that snatch children. That one is elegant and heartfelt and folkloric, and very much set in a time and place.

So bloody horror? Nope. If your book were made into a movie, would it be a slasher film? Then please don’t send it my way. But spooky and even terrifying lit that is elegantly written and has strong characterization? Yup. Ghosts. Meaning. Not just cheap scares. That’s the distinction. That will get me interested.

And now, for your Halloween reading pleasure, here are three client books now available that are perfect for a spooky evening read:

TTTCoverTURKEY TRICK OR TREAT, a fun new picture book written by Wendy Silvano and illustrated by Lee Harper (Two Lions). This one is hilarious and the illustrations will draw you in! Check it out by clicking here. (Also, a Scholastic Book Club title.)

jumbies500_THE JUMBIES, highly praised spooky middle grade novel by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers). This creepy Caribbean tale will have you looking over your shoulder and snuggling deeper under the covers. Full of fun and feisty kids that best the beasts! Find out more here. (And available now through Scholastic Book Clubs.)

Harvest Party cover 300 B dpi 9-14-15HARVEST PARTY! This fun picture book is written by Jennifer O’Connell and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Scholastic Cartwheel). It’s a perfect fall read for the little ones in your family who love to laugh. (Can be purchased now through Scholastic Book Clubs.)

Happy Halloween! And send me some treats…

*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: Top 5 Must-Knows for Writers Sending Queries

Little Girl Drawing in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Remember me? Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here simply because I’ve been SO VERY BUSY. With only so many hours afforded us, we agents have to use our time very wisely. That’s why, if you are a writer querying agents, you’ll want your query to be ultra effective. So, in the spirit of being succinct, I offer up The Top 5 Things Every Writer Must Know BEFORE Querying… (Thanks to client Caroline Noonan’s writer’s group for this blog post idea!)

1. Pay Attention to Submission Guidelines!

If an agent says they don’t represent category romance and that’s what you write, cross them off your list. If they ask you to start your email message line with QUERY – do so. It’ll help them spot your query, plus keep you out of their spam file. My submission guidelines allow you to paste in (NOT ATTACH!…See #2) the first 20 pages of your manuscript below your query. Folks that haven’t seen my guidelines and just send me a query letter really miss an opportunity when they submit. Follow specifications and it’ll improve your chances all around!

2. Attachments are a No No

Unless an agent specifically says send an attachment, just don’t! Attachments bring along a host of possible viruses, and won’t be opened. My own submission guidelines are very clear (find them here), yet I get entire manuscripts attached to queries. Or even the query letter only in the form of an attachment. Do this, and chances are high your query letters to agents will be deleted and you’ll never get a response.

3. Research is Your Friend

Back in the day, there was little info available on what agents wanted and who represented which author, etc. But today? You can spend just a bit of time researching and end up with a truly targeted list of agents. There is no reason to waste your time sending to zillions of agents at once. Get your list right, and spend that extra time working on your craft and on your next book instead! Find your list of agents using resources like the market listings put out annually through Writer’s Digest. DEFINITELY subscribe to publishersmarketplace.com to take your research to the next level…it’s $25 per month, but you can sign up for a month, research all you want, and then drop the subscription if you like. In this site you can quickly find out who represents which authors, which agents have done deals involving your sort of book, and then when you query those agents, you can really let them know why you’ve chosen to approach them. Smart, right?

4. Be Specific

Because agents have so little time to linger over query letters, get right to it! Quickly let us know the title of your work, the genre/age group it’s for, and the word (not page) count. Then give us, ideally in one line, an engaging description of its plot. I can quickly tell from this if it’s the type of project I’m interested in and if I want to read more. Hit this right (you’ve targeted the submission to me, so you’ll know I’m interested in this type of book, true?), and I’ll settle in happily to see what else you’ve got to say. Include a brief paragraph about your book, then a brief bio…keep on topic!

5. This is NOT a Drill

A query is your one shot to connect with an agent, so be sure you’ve got everything right. That means not only have you followed guidelines, but your letter is grammatically correct and interesting. If not, you’ll rack up those rejections quickly. Your novel must be complete, and completely polished. Don’t start querying agents until this is true. When it comes to fiction, we aren’t interested in merely an idea, and we don’t want to see a rough draft. You can’t come back to us and be all like, hey, remember when I sent that to you two weeks ago? Yeah, well, here’s a different version of it – do you like THIS ONE?  Nope. You are querying because your book is as ready as you can make it. If it’s not? Then wait until it is.

Okay, I know I said there would be 5 on this list, but I’d like to add just one more item…

6. Agents really DO want to find great talent

This is a biggie to keep in mind. We are busy. We do have our clients. But we accept queries for one reason only: we are looking for the next great talent to add to our list of authors. Follow these “must knows” and we just might find you!

*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.

April 20th Webinar for PB, MG and YA authors!

yes - notepad & penHi all!  Just a quick heads up that I and my fellow agents of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency are offering an online webinar through Writer’s Digest. It’s called Sell Your Children’s Book: How to Write Amazing Novels & Picture Books for Kids Boot Camp. This online boot camp starts on next Monday, April 20th, so if you are a picture book, middle grade or YA author and are interested, definitely look into it now and register by clicking here.

This might be just the thing you need before the next writer’s conference or before you submit to agents. Here’s a bit of info from Writer’s Digest on how it’ll work:

On April 20, you will gain access to two special 60-minute online tutorials presented by literary agents from Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Jennifer De Chiara will present a tutorial on writing picture books, and Roseanne Wells will present a tutorial on writing and selling Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction.

After listening to your choice of presentations, attendees will spend the next two days revising materials as necessary. Also following the tutorial, writers will have two days in which to log onto the Writer’s Digest University boot camp message boards and ask your assigned agent critiquers questions related to revising your materials. The agents will be available on the message boards from 1-3 p.m. (ET) on both Tuesday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 22. No later than Thursday, April 23, attendees will submit either their completed picture book text (1,000 words or fewer) or the first 10 double-spaced pages of their middle grade / young adult manuscript. The submissions will receive feedback directly from the boot camp literary agents.

The agents will spend up to 15 days reviewing all assigned critiques and provide feedback to help attendees. No later than May 9, agents will send their feedback to writer attendees.

Only registered students can access the Writer’s Digest University boot camp message boards. You’ll also be able to ask questions of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers

Please note that any one of the agents may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise.

In addition to feedback from agents, attendees will also receive:

  1. Download of “An Agent’s Tips on Story Structures that Sell,” an on-demand webinar by literary agent Andrea Hurst
  2. 1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market database

PLEASE NOTE: Agents Stephen Fraser and Marie Lamba will be critiquing picture book and working together on the discussion boards for picture books. Agents Vicki Selvaggio and Linda Epstein will be critiquing YA and MG, and manning the message boards for those categories.

So that’s the news!  Maybe I’ll see some of you online there.

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: Toss Me a Hook!

??????????????????????Happy Agent Monday, folks!  I’m back from a sun-soaked weekend filled with overdoing it in the yard work department. I’m a touch sun fried and sore, but what a great switch from those mounds of Northeast snow we had to dig out of… I also spent some time this weekend digging through queries filling my inbox, and some of them made me want to cry out: Writer, PLEASE toss me a hook!

Yup, today we are talking about hooks. See, sometimes I get queries with opening pages that are written beautifully, truly. But I find myself wondering what the story is about. Who is the audience? How the heck would I pitch it? These questions, if unanswered, make me worry that this book won’t fit into the marketplace. I’m a literary agent, and my job is to fit your work into the marketplace. So you see the problem.

It’s not just an agent issue, either. Just last week, I was chatting with an editor at one of the traditional publishing houses, asking her about what she’s looking for in a submission. After she shared what sort of genres she likes and her personal tastes, she added: “And I need a hook so I can pitch it.”

You might be scratching your head right about now wondering why an editor needs to pitch your book too. It’s because the editor, once he or she falls in love with a book, must then convince folks in that publishing company that it should be acquired. The editor in a smaller press might go right to the publisher and have a chat, or, as is the case in many of the bigger houses, may have to present the title at an acquisitions meeting. That meeting could have fellow editors, sales people, the publisher, all sitting there wondering what this book is about and where it’ll fit on their list and in the marketplace.

So, please, help yourself and formulate a great hook for your book.  A one-liner… Something along the lines of: TITLE is a READERSHIP/GENRE about THE UNIQUE INTRIGUING PROBLEM. Here’s one for one of my recent client sales: ELIZA BING (IS NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER is a contemporary 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.

From this hook, we know the title, the demographic it’s pointed toward (middle grade), that it’s a contemporary novel (vs. sci-fi, thriller, etc. etc.), and we see the unique hook. A book about a girl with ADHD. Cool!  And we also see that there is a problem, a plot attached to it: proving to others and herself that she has stick-to-it-ness.

Eliza Bing jktI used this hook when pitching it to the editor. I’ll bet the editor used a version of this while pitching it to the publisher (it just came out through Holiday House). And the author, Carmella Van Vleet, uses a version of this all the time, I’m sure, when a reader comes up to her at a signing and asks, “What’s your book about?” Heck, our foreign rights rep even uses this hook when talking to publishers around the world.

So YOU should figure out your own book’s hook. Include it in your query. Toss us a hook, and hopefully it’ll help your novel catch on.

 

*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.