Agent Monday: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

Q. Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

Q. What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

Q. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

Q. To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and movies?

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

Q. What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Cover Reveal! A DAY SO GRAY

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You guys!  I am so delighted to share the cover of my newest picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!!  Illustrated by Alea Marley, it comes out through Clarion on October 29, 2019, but it’s available for pre-order now here.

If you belong to Goodreads, would you kindly add it as “to read” there by clicking on this link? That way others will see it too. Thank you so much!

What an amazing job Alea has done with this book. The images are absolutely stunning throughout…Honestly, I’m just humbled that she has brought such beauty to my words. To learn more about this fabulous illustrator and see more of her work, definitely visit her site here.

A DAY SO GRAY follows two friends as a day transforms from bleak and gray to full of beauty and joy, just by taking the time to notice colorful details everywhere. It’ll be coming out just before the holidays, ahead of those gray days to follow.  And I hope this will offer mindful and cozy inspiration for families everywhere.

The idea for this book came from my father, Santo Busterna, who, as an artist himself, always pointed to colors within the landscape, encouraging me as a young child to notice and appreciate the lovely details. To this day, I can’t drive past a winter field without picking out licorice red twigs, or golden poofs of wild grasses.

Thanks SO MUCH to my wonderful editor Anne Hoppe, the great team at Clarion, and to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara for bringing this vision to life! And to each of you folks reading this for always being such wonderful advocates of books for children. 🙂

If you’d like more info about the book, I’ll be updating its page on my website here.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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GREEN GREEN’s Book Birthday!

green-green-front-cover“They say it’s your BIRTHDAY!” Yup, it’s true. Today is the official publication day of GREEN GREEN: A Community Gardening Story!!!  It’s my debut picture book, co-authored with my husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba, and illustrated by the phenomenal artist Sonia Sanchez. School Library Journal calls it, “An attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening.” This book is available everywhere books are sold. To purchase it, please contact your wonderful local bookstore — they will be happy to help you! Or, to order online, click here for a number of choices.

In the book, green grass is wide and fresh and clean for a family to play in, and brown dirt is perfect for digging a garden. But when gray buildings start to rise up and a whole city builds, can there be any room for green space? The neighborhood children think so, and they inspire the community to join together and build a garden for everyone to share in the middle of the city.

This is a fun and busy book, full of action, digging, construction stuff, nature, silliness and engrossing pictures. Every time I look through the pages, I discover something new and delightful! Can I just say I’m in awe of Sonia’s illustrations?

And at the end of the story, the book includes easy ways children and families can be more GREEN GREEN, including ways to help threatened honeybees and Monarch butterflies. There’s even a fun craft for kids!

Community gardening is such an important movement throughout the country, bringing together people and transforming the ground into lush gardens that feed and delight. GREEN GREEN is all about sustainability, something so close to my heart. And this book shows how children can make a real difference in our world. I especially love the diverse cast of children throughout the pages.

Just as a community garden needs many busy hands in order to grow, GREEN GREEN required the care and talent of so many wonderful folk. Thank you to my amazing agent, Jennifer De Chiara, to my editor Susan Dobinick, who planted the seeds, to my editor Grace Kendall, who helped this book grow, and to the wonderful team at Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan for, oh, just EVERYTHING they have done to bring GREEN GREEN into the hands of children across the world.

DSCN5510And thank you to the many folks in my life who continue to support this wacky writer! My family, my wonderful friends, my network of amazing writer buddies…my community! You’ve all helped me grow. 🙂  And thank you to the fabulous network of bookstore friends, librarians, and schools who are sharing GREEN GREEN!  And to readers out there? Adults who take the time to sit with a child in their lap and make a book come to life for a child? Wow. You are the real heroes of any book.

Yup – I’m a bit gushy here. But, hey, it is a birthday party, after all. 😉  Okay… just wanted to close with a huge THANK YOU to the fabulous indie bookstores Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA, and Clinton Books in Clinton, NJ for hosting us on our book launch weekend! (Both stores have author-signed copies of GREEN GREEN on their shelves right now for sale. To snag one, call or stop in at these stores.) And for an updated listing of where I’ll be doing future book signings and story times, you can check out my appearances page here.

*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.

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Be GREEN GREEN!: Bee Friendly Weed Spray

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GREEN GREEN – a new picture book by Marie and Baldev Lamba, for more info click here

Honeybees are dying off. One of the reasons? The use of herbicides, chemicals and pesticides. Honeybees play a vital role in pollinating fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Did you know that about a third of all food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honeybees? Now imagine our world without them. Yikes! We need them, and now they need us! What can you do to help? Ditch those harsh chemicals!

Here’s an easy formula for a BEE FRIENDLY WEED SPRAY. You’ll help save the bees, you won’t have to worry about spraying gunk that will be dangerous for kids and pets, AND you’ll save a ton of money, too.  Win win all around.

IMG_1602BEE FRIENDLY WEED SPRAY RECIPE:

Fill a spray bottle with…
1 gallon of vinegar
1 ounce of liquid dish soap

Some tips: This spray works best in full sun. Spray on a day without rain to let it take effect. You’ll see results almost immediately. When weeds die down, it’s a good opportunity to remove any extra soil or plant debris from sidewalk and walkway cracks that would encourage future weeds. Keep a spray bottle on hand to zap any weeds that come back.

How well does this work?  Here’s my sidewalk’s BEFORE:

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And just a few hours later:

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And the next day… a great AFTER:

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I just removed the dead vegetation. Best of all – no bees were harmed! No animals either. Please spread the word and share this post with others. You can Bee the solution!

Want your kids to think green? Then check out my new picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY (Farrar Straus Giroux), which is available in stores and online wherever books are sold. For more info and for links to retailers, please click here. This book celebrates the joys of gardening, and includes ways kids can help the world be more GREEN GREEN. School Library Journal calls it, “An attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening.”

*Marie is co-author of the new picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY and a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Halloween Treat – Behind the Scenes with Illustrator Lee Harper

TTTCoverHappy Agent Monday – Halloween style! For a special treat, I’m excited to have a guest post from our talented client, author/illustrator Lee Harper. He’s going to take you into his studio for a behind the scenes look at how he created the images for Wendi Silvano’s too-funny TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT (Two Lions). Lee’s currently hard at work illustrating the sequel to Leslie Helakoski’s wonderful WOOLBUR picture book, titled WOOLBUR GETS READY FOR SCHOOL (Harper Collins). To see his portfolio, and get info on his books,  visit his website here.

****LAST MINUTE UPDATE! I just found out that TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT is read aloud by Scandal’s actor Guillermo Diaz on the show BOOK-A-BOO. The reading has fun animations and is available for streaming here.  Perfect treat for kiddos of all ages. 😉

Okay, take it away, Lee!

Tricks Behind Illustrating Turkey Trick or Treat
by Lee Harper

After I received the manuscript for Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trick or Treat, I started by filling up sketchbooks with drawings. In the beginning, I let the story and my imagination take me wherever they wanted to take me without worrying about how it would all come together. A lot of the character development happened during the sketchbook drawing stage. There were a lot of animal characters to develop.

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There were also a lot of human characters to develop, each with their own costume.

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All the characters needed to look like they belonged to the same reality.

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Only a small percentage of my early stage drawings made it into the book.  As a result, I have a vast collection of storyless characters as this illustration shows.

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I mixed in some experimental painting during the drawing process to make sure the drawings would work in color. This sheriff turkey didn’t make it into the book but gave Wendi an idea for another turkey story!

When I had a general idea of the characters and an overall visual theme in mind, I started the dummy by creating a storyboard with thumbnail sketches on Post-its. At this time I also gave myself a drawing schedule that kept me moving along. I like to do this part fast, in one fell swoop. Details can wait for later.

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The great thing about storyboarding with Post-its is you can quickly mix and match images —like putting together a puzzle — and because each drawing is small, it’s impossible to delve prematurely into too many details.

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When the storyboard was done, I began a more detailed dummy by drawing each individual element of each page, scanning it, and placing it in Photoshop.

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I then arranged all the elements of each page, including the text. Since each element of the drawings was an individual layer in Photoshop, I could easily re-arrange things and make revisions.

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Once I had all the drawings completed, I saved each two-page spread as a JPEG file and created a PDF dummy to email to my editor and art director at Two Lions. After revising the sketches according to their notes, I printed out the pages 10% larger than actual size and traced them onto watercolor paper using a light table.

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After the lightly drawn drawing was complete, I soaked the watercolor paper with water and stretched it on a board to keep the paper flat during painting.

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While painting I referred to photo-reference material I collected during the drawing stage. I needed to show the farmer’s feet in one of the illustrations so I photographed my son Dan’s pants and boots. (There’s nobody in there.)

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This is the illustration with the boots and pants.

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Because Turkey Trick or Treat was the third in a series of books about the same character, I regularly referred to the first two books to make sure I kept things somewhat consistent.

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Here’s my watercolor palette while I was working. This is actually the first book in which I use a black pigment. Usually I make darks by mixing other colors, but for Turkey Trick or Treat I wanted a very pitch-black sky.

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I have an unusual painting process that involves spraying a mist of water in the air and swinging the painting through the mist. It eliminates hard edges.

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Here’s a painting under construction.

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And finally, an illustration comes to life.

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Thanks so much, Lee, for giving us such a great behind the scenes look into your studio and fun creative world!

Happy Halloween, everyone. And keep your eyes peeled tonight for Turkey trying to steal some of your treats!

*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.

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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.

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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.