Agent Monday: Some Quick Answers to Your Questions

SnowflakeHappy Agent Monday, gang! Storm’s coming, Harry!!! Lots of snow on the way here. So, while I still have electricity and hot coffee in hand, let’s tackle some of your questions — quickly!

Last week, I’d asked readers for  questions they’d like to see me answer in future posts. Thanks to everyone who chimed in!  Some responses are worthy of their own posts (keep your eyes peeled for these in the near future), while others can be quickly answered in a short and sweet manner. So here goes…

Q.: How important would you say it is for a person to read their manuscript out loud before calling it finished?

A.: I’d say it’s critical. OF COURSE it’s critical for picture books, which are designed to be read aloud. But for any level of writing, the author simply must read their prose aloud. And listen to themselves. As an author myself, I always read my writing aloud as part of my revision process. It helps me to pick out when phrases are overused, or punctuation needs to be changed, or when pacing is off. And it helps to listen to dialogue – is it ringing true?

Q.: Does a historical setting automatically categorize a manuscript as being historical fiction? Is it acceptable to have a historical setting even if that history is not integral to the plot?

A.: Historical setting in a novel DOES make it historical fiction. If the setting doesn’t influence the thought of the characters, their actions and their challenges/life in some way, then why not set it in present day? It doesn’t need to be a moment for the history books, but it does need to belong in its time period. The exception? A time travel piece, which would make it fantasy or science fiction vs. historical. Even then, though your main character isn’t of that time, the time period would influence that character’s adventures, and the people surrounding him would be of that time.

Q. When an agent asks to see more manuscripts (picture book), is it advantageous to send in manuscripts that are consistent style-wise vs. showing a breadth of style?

A. First of all, it’s great that you have so many manuscripts completed that you have choices! Speaking from my own point of view, what I’d most want to see is your very best work – whatever the style. Unless the agent asked for more of a “type” of book from you, that would be your best rule of thumb.

Q. Have you ever rejected a manuscript because you were not “connecting” to the material, narrative arc, and/or the main character? What did that mean to you personally?

A. That happens often. What this means to me is that I’m just not personally excited by what the author is trying to do for some reason, or that I’m not finding myself feeling drawn in. This can be for many reasons, such as I like the idea of the plot, but find I’m not liking the main character. Or I like the character, but I find the plotting too obvious or too hard to believe. Or I don’t “get” why the main character is so upset or reacting the way she is. In short, something is stopping me from relating to things or feeling invested in the story. I have to really want to root for my authors and their writings – and you really want an agent who will do that. So keep querying and writing and polishing until you DO find someone who “gets” you.

So that’s it! Some quick answers to quick questions. Now it’s time for me to quickly use all the electricity I can while I still have it (makes mega-pot of coffee). Stay safe and warm, everyone!

 

*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: Ask Me Now!

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Busy, busy, busy here. I’ve got lots of stuff to read, emails to answer, details to attend to, etc. I hate to skip an Agent Monday post, but sometimes I do. And usually it’s because I don’t have a topic that’s jumped out at me as a “must-do” for this site. I’ve covered a lot of things over the past few years – queries, conferences, etiquette, market tips, and so on. But I’m sure there are some subjects or details I haven’t touched on that YOU would like to know more about.

So here’s your chance to ask. Please leave a comment with a topic you’d like to have me do an Agent Monday post about in the near future, something you don’t think I’ve covered before.

Send those burning questions my way. And ask your fellow writers to chime in, too. I can’t promise I’ll cover them all, but I do promise to consider your suggestions.

Thanks so much for your input!

 

*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.

News!: I’m Now Officially a Picture Book Author

Dog with Birthday Hat and BalloonsHi everyone! Okay, so you may know me as a Young Adult novelist and a Literary Agent, but today I’m excited to announce that I’m also now officially a Picture Book author!!!

My husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba and I have penned a picture book text titled GREEN, GREEN, which focuses in community gardening in a city.

 

Here’s the deal announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace:

January 15, 2015

Children’s:
Picture book
Literary agent and Young Adult author Marie Lamba and landscape architect Baldev Lamba’s debut GREEN, GREEN, a celebration of community gardening that reveals how green land grows into a vibrant city, and how an unused lot is made green again, to be illustrated by Eisner Award nominee and HERE I AM illustrator Sonia Sanchez, to Susan Dobinick at Farrar, Straus Children’s, by Jennifer DeChiara at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency (NA).

Baldev and I have collaborated on many an article in the past, all centered on garden design elements, and our pieces have appeared in national magazines including Gardens & Landscapes, Garden Design Magazine, and Your Home. It’s been a while since we’ve worked together on a piece, and this is our very first picture book together. Baldev is associate professor of Landscape Architecture at Temple University, and owner of Lamba Associates, Inc, an award-winning Landscape Architecture firm. Among his wide range of past projects are a number of urban gardens, including, most recently, the PHS Pops-Up urban garden in Center City, Philadelphia that grabbed a lot of attention. He’s also designed a number of Temple’s award-winning exhibits at The Philadelphia Flower Show, including one titled “Metromorphosis,” so urban renewal and community gardening has been floating around in both of our brains for a while now.

And speaking of “for a while,” it’s wonderful to be turning my mind back toward picture book writing after so many years. It’s where I started out, going to college to study writing and fine art and trying a few picture books, then I found myself penning novels instead. Picture book writing feels like coming home creatively for me, somehow — and I’ve got a few more in the works right now. Fingers crossed!

Special thanks go to our wonderful editor Susan Dobinick, our amazing agent Jennifer De Chiara, and to Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers for believing in this manuscript.

Young girl celebrating with confettiI think they are shooting for publication in Spring 2016. I’m SO EXCITED, and can’t wait to see the gorgeous illustrations Sonia Sanchez will produce to pull this all together.

Yippee!

 

Agent Monday: Your Assignment – Learn from Bookstore Shelves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Best Resolutions for Writers

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday and Happy New Year everyone! I hope your 2015 is full of laughter and love. I know lots of people make resolutions, and for writers, that often means resolving to get a literary agent. So if this is your resolution, then definitely read on.

Here are my suggested resolutions for writers making “get an agent” resolutions:

1. Resolve to know that some things you can’t control.
Saying that this year you will get an agent, doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen. And making a resolution like that can be defeating. Trust me on this one. As a writer myself, I’d made many a resolution in the past that went like this: This year I will get a book deal for my novel. So, please, do yourself a kindness and focus on the part of the resolution that you CAN take control of.

2. Resolve to do all that is in your power to get an agent.
What is in your power? Finish and polish your novel FIRST, before even starting to query agents. Create the best query letter you possibly can. Research, research, research to find the best agents for you. Research their guidelines so you can submit to them in the best way that will give your work its best fair shot. (Scroll through my Agent Monday posts over the past few years, and you’ll find lots of helpful tips ranging from writing the perfect query letter, avoiding common mistakes, finding the best conferences, how to approach agents, etc. Subscribe to my website and you’ll get all of my future Agent Monday posts as well.)

3. Resolve to set yourself up for success.
No one can stop you from writing. From perfecting your craft. From learning about the publishing business. From making meaningful connections with other writers at conferences. From forming your own supportive critique group. From checking out affordable local conferences. From reading great current books in the genre that you want to publish in. All of these steps lead you closer to securing an agent and a book deal in the future. All of these enrich your life and make you an even better writer. Each step equals a triumph.

So this year, succeed in countless ways! That’s a resolution we all can keep.

Best of luck to you all.

 

*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.

 

 

Three YA Authors Chat about Writing and the Biz

Hi everyone!  I recently had the privilege of speaking on a panel with fellow young adult authors E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott. We volunteered our time to speak at Haverford High School as part of the PA Authors Speak Up for Libraries campaign.

Happily, the school taped our talk for their cable station, and I’m giving you all the link here because the panel covers so many interesting points about the writing process, the writing life, and I also answered questions about what I’m looking for as an agent when it comes to young adult submissions. Plus we each read a bit from one of our own novels — in my case, I read an excerpt from my YA novel DRAWN. The bright audience of high school creative writing students asked some very smart questions.  I hope you all enjoy watching this talk. Just click here for the link.

Talk with E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott 2014