Agent Monday: I Need a Hero!

happinessHappy summery Agent Monday, everyone! Just when things should feel especially lovely and relaxed season-wise, suddenly the world feels uncertain and topsy-turvy. Cough cough *Brexit* cough cough. We are also mourning terrible violence and ignorant hatred. It can make you feel truly helpless. So this is a call to action from a literary agent. Are you listening, writers? It’s time to use your super power: Power of the Pen. (Cue music: “I Need a Hero.”)

A writer’s super power truly is the ability to enter the minds and hearts of readers and influence them in a positive way. So, now more than ever, I’m looking to represent manuscripts that will do just that. Give us a hero we can really root for, show us the world how it should be, the person we can aspire to emulate, or scare the crap out of us with how it might be if we are careless with our choices.

Inspire us to act, and inspire us to hope. But be artful about it, too.  The story’s the thing (sorry for the paraphrasing, Shakespeare…). A novel is not a lesson, but it could convey one.

So think about the books that have inspired you. Think of the change you’d like to see. Realize your own power of the pen. And create as if the world’s future depends upon it, because it just might… We all need a hero, and it could be your main character, and by extension, it could be YOU.  BTW, my submission guidelines for queries can be found 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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Agent Monday: Writers Should Learn from Liars

 

Gregory Frost 1Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Writers are liars! And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Writers are pretenders, and are in the business of making things up for a living. Not coincidentally, I met today’s poster, our client Gregory Frost, through a group we both belong to called The Liars Club. Greg is not only a phenomenal author, but also a top fiction professor at Swarthmore. So he’s obviously one heck of a liar himself.  Now he’s sharing with us what we writers can gain by studying the art of the lie.

 

Good Writers are Consummate Liars

by Gregory Frost

Lately, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot in preparation for leading the upcoming spring semester Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College. I almost always spend the months leading up to it reading a new crop of short stories across the spectrum, and thinking about how I might approach the Workshop this time that would be different from the last time I led it. Such questions have made me, among other things, a collector of books on writing, which includes everything from Stephen King’s down-to-earth and often-cited On Writing to Samuel R. Delany’s terrific and sometimes head-spinning essays collected in his About Writing.

One thing the plethora of “how to” books reveals is that you can pretty much unpack the act of writing any way you like, teach the elements in whatever order you prefer, and still at the end have delivered a comprehensive overview of writing fiction. Because nobody writes the way fiction writing is broken out for a series of successive lectures or for chapters in most writing texts. We don’t write once through focused solely on Character, and then once focused Narrative Structure, and then once focused on Voice. (Okay, we’re all different in our approaches, so maybe there is someone who does that, but I can’t imagine it working.) What I do find, and believe, is that those “how to” books are most useful to us at the point of revising and editing our work. We do potentially read through our 2nd or 3rd draft just for voice, just for character portrayal, and so on. We read it once out loud to ensure we don’t have any hidden rhyme schemes that have inadvertently turned us into Dr. Seuss. In effect, then, the rules and recommendations laid out in many writing books are helpful to you once you have written a draft, but less so during the first-time-through conjuring.

There’s one out-of-print book by Michael Kardos, called The Art and Craft of Fiction, that I like in particular for his approach to tackling this very issue. Kardos’s emphasis on fiction writing (before you get to all those rules and observations of the modular aspects) is on detail. He says “When we lie, we know instinctively to supply details because the details lend credibility to our story.” Right. Good liars, con artists, and teenagers caught sneaking in late from the party they definitely did not go to, know that detail is everything.

The first day of class, Kardos tells his students that if they are to learn “just one thing” about writing during the semester, it should be “Relevant Detail.” If they learn only two things, the second thing should be “Relevant Detail.” The third thing . . . and down the line.

As he puts it, if he says “animal,” you might think “giraffe” while he meant “dog.” And while “dog is better than “animal,” it’s not half as good as “golden retriever” for lighting an image in the reader’s head, which he pushes further with a “golden retriever with a dry nose and a meek bark like it was asking for a raise it knew it didn’t deserve.” (Yes, you can get carried away with this.)

However, the more specific and solid the details in most instances, the better.

33590_2694Good writers have taught themselves this because they want you to believe their lies. We are after all liars. We lie for a living.

The late John O’Hara is quoted as saying: “Detail has to be handled with care. For instance when you are describing a man’s clothing, you must get everything right, especially the wrong thing.”

If, as can be said, the beginning of every story is in effect that “Things are not as they seem,” then that piece of advice seems to me absolutely critical. The wrong thing can tell you volumes about a character while simultaneously eliminating a full page of cold expository oatmeal.

So if there’s one thing you should learn from this post, it’s . . . yeah, you already know.

***

Gregory Frost’s latest books are TAIN and REMSCELA, comprising a retelling of the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology. And his newly completed gothic historical, Dark House, is an engrossing tale about a cursed and haunted White House, and about the brave slaves who risk all to battle a mysterious evil. Frost’s many titles have received starred reviews, and he has been nominated for top prizes including the Stoker, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Nebula. His duology Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet (Ballantine-Del Rey) was a finalist for the James Tiptree Award, was named one of the four best fantasies of the year by the American Library Association, and received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, the latter dubbing Shadowbridge “… a sparkling gem of mythic invention and wonder.” Currently, Frost is director of the Fiction Writing Workshop at Swarthmore College.

*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: Introverts Unite! Networking for Writers

Caroline Noonan Head Shot

Caroline Noonan

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Writers are often introverts. People who enjoy sitting alone and writing far more than being at the center of attention. Yet these days writers MUST get out into the world for their writing and for their careers. Today I’m pleased to welcome our client Caroline Noonan, who is here to give us all some painless tips on how we writers can connect…and on why it’s vital that we do.

The Importance of Networking for Writers
By Caroline Noonan

Definition: noun net·work·ing: Connecting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

Hmmm, you say. Doesn’t apply to writers. Writing is about me, my laptop and my awesome manuscript. Well you’re right. To a point. But nowadays we are expected to self-promote, self-market and be our own editors. We are asked to speak, maintain websites and have a presence on social media. And if that’s not bad enough, a great many of us are introverts. Introverts prefer to listen and observe. We are reflective and focused and speak through our art. Networking goes against our very nature and can feel disingenuous.

But consider the potential benefits of a little networking:

• Are you looking for feedback on your manuscript before querying?
• Would you like to find critique partners whose opinion you trust?
• Would you like support and encouragement from like-minded individuals?
• Are you actively seeking an agent or an editor?
• Do you want to make writing your career?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should seriously consider networking. Okay, so maybe I’ve piqued your interest. The next step is How? Here are a four practical ways that have helped me personally:

1. Meetup. Meetup.com is the world’s largest network of local groups, making it easy to organize or find an existing group in your area. I found my local writer’s group and my regular critique partners through Meetup. Yes, I was biting my nails and psyching myself out before that first meeting, but it was smooth sailing after that. Remember, give the same courtesy and consideration in critiquing other’s work that you would like given to yours.

2. Join a Professional Writer’s Organization. There are many organizations who connect you with other writers and organize local events, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). These organizations have strong on-line communities, as well as terrific regional and national conferences that are well attended by other writers, agents and editors (some of whom give preferential consideration to organization members).

3. Go to a Writer’s Conference. I suggest starting with a local or regional conference. Get there early and introduce yourself to the folks sitting around you. Ask them what genre they write and what they are working on. Ask them for a business card. Maybe even follow them on Twitter. (Follow Caroline @carolinehnoonan)

4. Social Media. There is a huge on-line community of writers, especially on Twitter. Many literary agents run contests on Twitter, and I know individuals who have found their critique partners there. Social Media is a great place to share ideas, connect with others and give someone a nod of encouragement when they need it. Next time, it might be you needing the nod!

I hope you find these ideas as helpful and practical as I did. Just remember, writers are basically all nice people, and nearly everyone is in the same boat as you!

 

Caroline Noonan’s debut YA novel Till Someday is a riveting contemporary about a girl eager to turn 18 and finally take charge of her life beyond foster care, but life keeps getting in her way. Caroline writes with authority — she grew up in foster care from the ages of 4-18, and got on with her own life, becoming an aerospace engineer for NASA, and a technical writer/editor for the space industry.

 

*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: Know What you Write

DebbieHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  One thing I’m always on the hunt for in submissions is convincing writing. Make me believe that fictional world is real, and you’ll have me hooked. We’ve all heard that saying, “Write what you know.” But that’s limiting. I think the truth is you should “know what you write.” Do your homework, research things, and really put yourself in your character’s shoes. Lots of writers scour the internet, and hit the books to do this, but some writers go quite a bit further. Like our client, author Debbie Dadey. Debbie’s approach to writing might just have you looking at research in a whole new light.

Writer’s DO
by Debbie Dadey

I’ve always heard, write what you know. Perhaps it should be write what you DO. I’ve always wanted to experience what I write about if it is at all possible. So, unless it’s dangerous I do it. Ooops, wait a minute that isn’t true, because some people would say sliding into a shark tank or sky diving is dangerous and I’ve done both to help me write stories.

I guess this ‘doing’ thing all began when I was writing an Adventures of the Bailey School Kids book with my friend Marcia Thornton Jones. When we first started writing the series, we actually sat side by side and worked out the story together. We were stuck on a scene when the kids were in a classroom. We wanted Eddie to do something a bit wild, but what? So we were ‘doers’. We went into a third grade classroom and sat down at a desk. Scraps of paper were spilling out, which we included in our story, but that wasn’t wild. It wasn’t the pencil stubs, but the scissors poking their blunt points out of the mess that gave us the idea. Eddie was sitting behind Liza and her long blond hair was swinging. Can you guess what Eddie was going to do? (Or try to do?)

So when we were writing the story, Hercules Doesn’t Pull Teeth, it made perfect sense for us to go to the dentist to do research. Sure, I’ve been to the dentist more times that I can remember, but I’d never really paid attention. So, going to the dentist and taking a few notes really helped bring the dentist’s office to life. The same was true for bringing karate practice alive in the book, Angels Don’t Know Karate. What better way to write about karate than to actually do it? It was a bit embarrassing though since my son was a higher belt and I had to bow to him. (He loved it!)

I think the key to being a ‘doer’ is to put a limited number of details into the natural flow of the story. I didn’t want Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space to become a non-fiction book about space camp, but I did want kids to feel like they were really there. So I hustled myself off to Huntsville, Alabama to experience what it was really like. Spinning around to the point of nausea on the multi-axis trainer was worth it because I could write about it with a bit of authority.

For Whistler’s Hollow, I drove eight hours so I could sit on a coal train. I took notes so I could write one paragraph about what it felt like. It must have worked because when that book came out, the publisher of Bloomsbury USA told me, “It felt like I was really on that train.”

I also slid into a shark tank for Danger in the Deep Blue Sea, book number four in my Mermaid Tales series with Simon and Schuster. But probably the craziest thing I have done for writing was to fall out of a plane! I wrote a story, that I’ve never sold, where a grandmother wanted to go sky-diving. So, I figured to be able to write about it I should experience it. Big mistake!! You can see me scream on my website, www.debbiedadey.com.

MT14smSome folks might think being a ‘doer’ is an unnecessary extra step and perhaps it is. Probably researching or watching videos will suffice in most instances. And I’m sure going to see a real live reindeer for Reindeers Don’t Wear Striped Underwear, getting a scooter of my own for Pirates Do Ride Scooters, and creating a mess making cookies for Slime Wars wasn’t totally necessary. But for me, it’s hard to pass up the ch,ance to be a kid again. And if it can help me write better, then I’m all for it.

I recently finished writing Mermaid Tales #14 about a mermaid who is injured and can’t swim. All I can say is good thing I had some crutches in the garage!

 

Debbie Dadey (debbiedadey.com) is the author of 142 books, her titles have sold more than 42 million copies worldwide, and her The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series has been listed by Forbes.com as one of Scholastic’s top three best-selling series of all time. Dadey’s most recent series, Mermaid Tales (Simon and Schuster), continues to delight readers with its magical blend of ocean ecology and engaging fantasy.

 

*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: 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.

 

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: 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.