Agent Monday: About Those Form Rejections

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkHappy Agent Monday, everyone! It’s been a VERY busy time for me, filled with deadlines and travel and pitching and meetings. Yet I have been able to weigh in on plenty of queries that have pinged into my inbox. And I couldn’t have done that without the help of my form rejection letter. Writers don’t exactly love these, of course, but I thought I’d share a bit of perspective on why these aren’t SUCH a bad thing.

First of all, here’s my form rejection letter:

Thanks so much for sending me your query. I’m going to pass on this one because I found it didn’t spark my interest.

I wish you the best in finding a home for your work.

Sincerely,
Marie

Here’s the good thing about an agent using a form rejection letter: it enables her to respond more quickly to queries. By using this, I can zoom through a number of queries at a time and let writers know as quickly as I can that I am not the right agent for them. That way the writer can move on.

I’m a writer myself, and have received more than my fair share of rejection letters. I know rejection can sting, but I also know that it is part of this business. There is nothing I as an agent can say in a rejection letter that will truly take away that sting. All I can do is let you know that I’ve seen your piece, that it’s not for me, and to wish you well. I do make the effort to address the writer personally in my reply, and take care that I spell the name correctly, but beyond that I generally don’t personalize the letter.

Why the “didn’t spark my interest” line? Because that’s what it’s all about. And if my interest isn’t sparked by your query and pasted-in pages, that means I don’t feel intrigued enough to see more of this work.

That’s the function of such a note. Okay, now I’m saying this next part as not only an agent but as a writer: A rejection letter’s purpose doesn’t also involve making a writer feel better and inspired. That’s not to say it is meant to tear a writer down, BUT this is a business, and agents that you query are not there to hold hands and whisper encouraging words and inspire you to continue to scale great heights and pursue your dreams.

You need to get that inspiration elsewhere. From your writing, from you own community of supporters. Most of all, from yourself. That’s the stuff that will keep you going.

I’m saying this because sometimes (more than you might think) writers respond to my form rejection asking me for more. Much more. Can I give them an example of what would spark my interest? Can I point out what, specifically, made me pass? If they changed such and such, would that work? Do they have what it takes? Should they keep going? Are they wasting their time?

Responding to these questions? Not my job. If I did that sort of hand holding and career counseling and soul searching for every one of the hundreds of queries I receive, I would never have sold a single book for any one of my clients. Instead I would be too busy trying to help every writer who has ever pressed SEND toward my inbox. Something to think about…

So I’m hoping this post is a bit of a reality check for folks who are querying. A form rejection letter isn’t the end of your career. It isn’t a statement about every effort you’ve ever made to become a better writer. It is simply a response to your query, sent in as timely a way as possible. And it lets you know that you need to seek a different agent, because I’m not the one for you.

Yes, I’ve rejected queries for books I’ve later seen as sold projects on Publishers Marketplace. And I’m happy for those authors. They didn’t give up. The query I’d received presented a book that wasn’t my cup of tea, and perhaps never would have been right for my taste. Or perhaps they polished their query and opening pages after too many form rejections, and therefore did spark the right agent’s interest.

Remember, this IS a subjective business. A project that isn’t right for me, could be just the right thing for another agent.

Like I said, it’s been a VERY busy season for me here, with tons of hours spent every day working with my clients and with editors at publishing houses. Yet I’m currently up to March 1st in my query responses (trust me, that’s pretty good). And I’ve also been able to respond to other more recent queries too, if I see immediately that they aren’t right for me. (Please look at my guidelines here, so you’ll know what I am looking for and what I definitely don’t want…)

Thanks to the form rejection letter, those writers aren’t left hanging longer than needed. See? Glass half full!

*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.

Agent Monday: Passionate Writing

Highlights Foundation groundsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I was so fortunate last week to sneak away for a few days to The Highlights Foundation, where I did an “Unworkshop.” That’s where you basically get fed amazing meals, and otherwise do your own thing. In my case, since I’m not only a literary agent but also an author, my “thing” was 3 uninterrupted days of working on my own novel. So inspiring!  In last week’s post, I touched on something I see too much of in submissions: manuscripts working too hard to fit in with what’s currently hot. Is THAT truly your writing passion?

It’s important, amid scrambling to get an agent, to get published, etc., that you don’t lose track of why you write in the first place. Your point of view and voice are unique. Lose that to try and fit in somehow, and you just won’t be you. You have to keep connected with your creative side…even as you dive into the business side of writing. Getting your manuscript ready for submission. Query letters. Literary agent research. Marketing trends. Yeah, it’s all important. BUT if your writing isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, then no matter how much research you do or how much of a “never give up” attitude you have, you’ll never really have the creative successes you so crave.

Highlights lodge 2

At the Unworkshop…a dark day full of creative spark

Every writer needs to encourage his creative side in order to explore and experiment and grow. Always! For me, the Unworkshop was a chance to carve out some mental space without any interruptions. It was affordable for me, and amazing!  But not everyone can get away, of course. Still there are so many ways to nurture your creative self and let your mind daydream and dabble. Here are some things that I do:

– Journal
– Take early morning walks
– Reread a favorite work
– Hide in a library or coffee shop with a notebook in hand
– Turn off the TV in the evenings and instead, spend that time creatively – whatever that means
– Have FUN with my writing, without adding on the pressure of “I gotta sell this,” and then see where things go
– Try to remember what made me want to write in the first place, and hold that feeling close

Hey, life gets busy. We’ve got to live, make money, etc. But writers are artists first and foremost. So take care of your artist. Make sure your writing is your passion, that your manuscripts mean something to you. Only then can your writing mean something to someone else — literary agents included!

So what do you do to keep in touch with your passion while you write? Please share your ideas in the comments. We writers can always use fresh ways to fill our creative wells.

 

*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: Time for Something New!

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Spring is finally here in the Northeast, bringing with it a quickening of step, buds on trees, new beginnings, and people emerging from their dark burrows blinking their eyes at the bright sun. Now’s a time for new beginnings. As a literary agent, I’m seeing in my submission inbox far too many tired subjects that have been done to death. What I want is for writers to dig deeper and explore things in NEW fresh ways. Here are some things I’m seeing far too much of:

1. Bullying – Bullying may seem to be the “new hot topic,” but it has been around since people have existed. If this is a topic that you are writing about, are you plotting to teach a lesson to readers? Please don’t. Not in fiction. That’s icky. And, are you bringing anything new to the table at all? Or seeing things in a fresh or witty way? Too many submissions are just trying to capitalize on what a writer sees as something somebody might want.

2. Diverse Just Cuz it’s Hot – There’s a great thing about everyone being represented in literature – I’m ALL for that. Hey, I’ve been “fashionably” multicultural even before there were hashtags for it! But that’s not why I wrote about biracial teens in my own novels. These were my characters because my own kids are biracial – and it was close to my heart. I wanted my kids to see people like them reflected back in stories that weren’t about “OMG I’m biracial!” I wanted them to see heroes they could relate to out there in fiction. Now, what I’m seeing far too much of is a novel suddenly featuring a character as a particular race or with a particular disability because, look!, my book is diverse and that is HOT and will SELL. Folks, if this doesn’t occur naturally in your writing, please please please don’t just insert it into your story so it’ll sell. That’s gross.

3. Strange Picture Books – And I’m not talking about zany or wacky or out of the box. I’m just talking bizarre — not in a good way. Odd plots that just make you scratch your head and say huh? Supposed issues that no kid I’ve ever known can relate to. Situations that are just trippy instead of fun and fascinating. Creativity is great, but these writers have forgotten that a reader needs to relate to a story somehow.

4. Already Seen it Befores – There’s a movie or a book series or a news story that has become “the thing,” so then for the next year or two I’m flooded with that same story in different incarnations over and over and over. If I’m getting these, you can bet every other agent is too. As soon as I spot a submission as a reboot, my eyes glaze over. 50 Shades…Divergent…Hunger Games…Twilight…Fault in our Stars… etc. etc. etc. I can guess, just from the premise, all the twists and turns that a book will take. I’m actually looking for fresh and original stories only you can tell. If you are still working in the realm of the obvious as you plot, or redoing the last great thing to catch a wave, then your submission isn’t for me. Dig deeper with your writing and dare to start the NEXT commercial hit.

So, think fresh and original, but don’t forget your audience. If something suddenly seems like a “hot topic” and it doesn’t come naturally to you, please don’t go chasing the market by inserting it into your story. Don’t offer up heavy-handed lessons, either. It’s about the story. It’s about your voice, and the way only you can tell that story.

Dig deeper. Let things grow naturally from you. Prune and weed and tend your story till it’s ripe and unique. That’s something that’ll take root.

Happy Spring!

*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: Why Some Queries Work

MP900439510Happy Agent Monday, everyone. And dare I say, Happy Spring? Okay, I’m putting away my snow shovel. That’s that. This weekend, as I plowed through queries in my inbox, I started thinking  about why some queries work, and why some just fail to grab my interest. I’m talking about queries that are fairly well-written and professional looking. The answer, for me rests in what makes me buy a book at the bookstore.

1. The Subject is of Interest to Me

Seems simple enough. When I enter my local bookshop, I go directly to the sections that I’m interested in. These could include general fiction, memoir, YA and the children’s section. I do not go to the strictly non-fiction reference section, or the category romance shelf, or the science fiction section. That’s just not my interest.

Likewise, if you query me about topics that I’m not interested in, I’m going to pass you by.

2. The Title Draws Me In

If a book is something generic like: A Breeze Blows, or Time, or whatever, then it’s not going to prompt me to think, Hm, now THAT sounds interesting, and to pick it off the shelf.

Likewise, I think writers querying me often forget that a title is the first thing that can spark interest in an agent. It should give some flavor of what’s to come and make me think, yeah, I’d pick that one up to find out more.

3. The Jacket Copy Sounds Interesting

When I pick a book off the shelf, the very first thing I do, after noticing how long or short it is, is to read the back jacket copy, and the flap copy. Does it build on the promise of the title? Do I want to find out more? If not, I place it back on the shelf and move on.

With queries, this is an important moment for the author. You need to describe the book in a way that will make me want to read those sample pages. If you can’t do that, I won’t bother to read those pasted in opening words, and a rejection will be sent.

Too often, the writer will tell me about how the book was written…like alternate points of view, or in three parts, or in short chapters. I don’t care. I want the story to draw me in. WHAT’S THE STORY? Make me want to read it.

Or they’ll wax on about why their book is important and the message that the writer wants to convey. Honestly, I have to say that’s secondary to THE STORY. If it’s not a non-fiction proposal, that info doesn’t matter much at the outset.

I also mention length here, because, truthfully, if a fun escapist women’s fiction novel is 1,000 pages long, then, nope, I’m not lugging that thing home. Also, if a book is really really slim, as a book buyer I gotta think, hm, is this worth even spending money on?  As a querier, know the proper length for your genre, and try to keep your manuscript within an acceptable length.

4. Opening Pages Make Me Have to Know What’s Next

Me at the bookstore again: Next thing I do? I flip open the book and begin to read the opening pages. Not too many of them, mind you. Just enough to know that the book is not for me at all. Or that I’m loving what I see. That I have to read what happens next. Mind you, I don’t flip to a later chapter to see if things pick up. I don’t let a reader bore me or waste my time. This book is for my entertainment.

Likewise for a query. My guidelines allow for the first 20 pages to be pasted into your query email.  Even if you have been able to pull me in with the subject and the title, and I see the length is right, and the premise sounds really interesting, if those opening pages fall flat for me, there is no way I’ll ask to see the full manuscript.

BUT, if you deliver on all those aspects and have 20 rocking opening pages, I’ll ask for that full manuscript. Just like I’ll buy that book off the bookshelf.

Hey, it’s that simple!

 

*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: How Fast do Editors Respond?

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, folks! Hopefully, like me, you are some place where spring is FINALLY trying to assert itself. And it feels about time. Speaking about time… (See what I did there?) This past weekend I was delighted to be a speaker at the Eastern PA Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Forward event. Our panel took a bunch of questions from writers, including this one: How long does it take for an editor to respond to a submission from an agent? One day, one week, one month, three months, longer? My answer was: YES. Here’s the long answer:

The truth is that sometimes editors respond in a flash, and other times, well, not so fast. There are a ton of factors at work here, and this likely does not reflect on the clout of your agent at all (since I suspect some writers might be thinking, hey, my agent didn’t hear back from so and so for three months — maybe my agent’s not bad-ass enough).

First of all, it can depend on the submission. Picture book manuscripts can be read at once, while novels will take some time. And an editor will have a pile of novel manuscripts to read through that have been subbed by other agents as well. Some manuscripts are completely timely, and so demand immediate attention, like if something is in the news NOW. And that can prompt a fast read.

Second of all, it can depend greatly on the editor. Some editors are just so swamped, that try as they might, they find themselves putting out fires instead of staying on top of submission piles, even if there is a really tempting manuscript waiting to be read. Sometimes it takes action on that manuscript, like another editor putting in an offer, before that editor puts that read at the top of their priorities. Why is an editor so swamped? Well, they can be working somewhere with limited support staff, and a high volume of responsibilities. It can make a real difference when an editor has assistants to log in submissions, to pre-read for the editor, and to help with their many time-consuming tasks along the way.

And it can depend on how the imprint acquires things. Some tippy top editors can just walk into their publisher and say, “I want this. I want to make an offer,” and they can be quickly given the power to make a certain offer. With other editors, they may need to wait for scheduled acquisitions meetings to present their case for a title they are interested in. And at certain places, no matter how high up an editor is, they first will have other editors give it a read and an opinion before taking it to acquisitions…and each of those editors has their own work load to contend with.

So you can see that you can’t always gauge the interest of an editor or the ability of your agent by the time of response. As someone at this past weekend’s event said, publishing is a business of hurry up and wait. It can move slowly, and it can move very fast. That same, carefully considering imprint can suddenly do a turnaround and have an offer in within a day if they feel they must (like when they know another offer is already on the table and it’s do or die).

What can an agent possibly do to speed this process along?

– Well, she can target her submissions very carefully. I only send to editors who I know are looking for this very type of manuscript, and who have a special interest in the subject matter.

– She can pique the editor’s interest when she pitches, so that the editor will really want to read the submission as quickly as possible. When I pitch to an editor, I really try to put in their mind what makes this particular project exciting and unique. And when I then send the requested manuscript to the editor, I add in a note detailing sales hooks that the editor can use to convince their publisher that this one is really worth an offer.

– The agent can keep on top of things. I always make sure that the editor did, in fact, receive the submission. I check back every few weeks in a pleasant, professional way, to see if they’ve gotten to it yet.

– And the agent can learn from submissions which editors are most responsive and which never reply at all, because, sadly, there are a few outliers to watch out for. If an editor, for whatever reason, never responds to any of my calls or emails, then chances are pretty good I won’t be pitching to them again any time soon. Sometimes I learn that something was going on in that editor’s life at that time which would explain this lack of response as a mere blip — then I’ll make contact with that editor again and give them another chance. But in some cases, I learn this is just par for the course, and I’ll spend my time (and my client’s time) differently in the future.

So there you have it. The long and short of submissions!  I’ve had quick acceptances and quick rejections. And I’ve had submissions take a long time with an editor, and wind up with a robust offer. It can be all over the place. As an agent, I try to be as efficient as possible on my end, and as a writer, you can do the same.

Waiting can feel like FOREVER, I know. The best antidote? Work on your next book and make the time really pay off.

 

*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: How Agents Sell Books

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, world! A few weeks back I asked folks to chime in with questions they’d like to see me answer from the agent’s point of view. I got a lot of great suggestions, and a bunch of those questions were answered here. Today, I’m answering questions sent in by Stacy, who wrote: “Though posts about craft and the market are always helpful, I am very curious about how an agent sells books.”

Stacy went on to list 5 specific questions related to this. I’m sure different agents do things differently. But here’s how I do things…

1. How do you package pieces to sell to an editor?

The first step is to always make sure the manuscript is as perfect as the writer can make it. I work with my author, reading through the pages, sending along notes and edits, until we are satisfied it is tight.

I do the same with the synopsis. I prefer to have a short synopsis, so we usually keep it to two pages, max. And we finalize the author’s bio. These steps can sometimes take close to no time at all (the manuscript comes in clean, and little work is needed), and sometimes it can take months (the author needs time to do a more extensive rewrite before we are ready to submit).

Next I create the pitch. This is one or two lines that capture the heart of the manuscript and hopefully the interest of the editor.

As soon as I first see a manuscript, I’m already starting to think of who would love to see this, which publishing houses would make the best home for it. Now it’s time for me to make a more final list. Over the years, I’ve collecting info on an extensive amount of publishers and editors, and I’ve kept track of who has moved where, and how their tastes have changed. Still, every manuscript is just a little different from one I’ve done before, and so I always research editors with fresh eyes.

How? I go through my own collected data to form an initial list of editors who seem a fit. Then I dig further into recent deals made and new developments, trends, imprints to see who else I should consider. Now I have a solid list of editors in hand.

I pick up the phone and start calling editors. My pitch is in front of me, but I don’t read it. By now I’ve internalized what I want to say. I have this wonderful novel… It’s about… It’s unique because… The author is amazing because… I think it’s right for you because…

The editor says, great! Send it! So I do, along with the bio and synopsis, and in the email that I send to the editor with these attachments, I further detail my pitch, plus outline some markets it would be great for — stuff than I want the editor to keep in mind as she reads, and that can help her to “sell” it to her publisher.

2. How do you analyze an editor’s preferences (how know what ms. will interest which editor)?

This is an ongoing process, ever-changing because editors’ wishes change, editors move to different houses, and imprints are ever-shifting. I call editors and ask them what they are looking for now. I meet with them for coffee and over lunches and at their offices to get to know them and their preferences. I talk with them at conferences. And I keep up with what’s reported online – new deals posted, new interviews with editors, etc. Even when I call an editor to pitch a manuscript, after that pitch is complete, I’ll ask them: have your editorial interests changed lately? What else are you looking for right now? The team of agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency is doing all of this constantly, and sharing this info with everyone else in our firm, so there’s a constant flow of information.

3. How do you analyze a publisher’s preferences?

Working frequently with a broad range of publishers, we know what their houses seek. One imprint skews literary, another skews highly commercial, still another is heavy on fantasy, while another is focusing on edgy contemporary. Again, I talk with the editors and do my research.

4. How do you handle rejection as an agent (you loved a manuscript, but the editors didn’t)?

Every rejection is a learning opportunity, in my view. Why did the editor pass? As an agent, I typically get details beyond the “no thanks.” This helps me to refine what to send that editor next time, and it helps my author and I in future rounds of submissions. If a number of editors pass for the same reason, perhaps the manuscript can be edited to correct this issue before it goes out again? Also, I’m reminded again and again that this is at times a highly subjective area. One editor rejects a book because she loves the plot but not the voice, while the very next day an editor rejects that book because she loves the voice but not the plot. And that very same book goes on to be sold at auction in a two book deal! So I never let rejection get me down.

5. What are the houses you work with often, and why?

This varies. Every manuscript is just a little bit different, and I represent a wide range of projects from children’s picture books, middle grade and YA through to adult fiction and memoir. (You can find my submission guidelines here.) I’m always looking for the right fit at a press that creates beautiful books. Often this is at one of the top commercial presses, but sometimes a smaller press that does award-winning titles is just right.

That’s a wrap! Have a great week, everyone, and special thanks to Stacy for all the great questions. If you have any burning questions you’d like to see answered in future posts, leave those in a comment below.

 

*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.