Agent Monday: The BEA 411

BEA 2015Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Remember me? Yeah, it’s been a very busy few weeks, so Agent Monday posts have given way to Agent Monday action. Last week was all about BEA – that’s the big book expo held each year in NYC. It’s jammed with publishers and editors and librarians and book sellers and authors and, of course, agents. So today I thought I’d give you the BEA 411.

BEA is many different things to different people. If you’re a publisher, it’s the place to highlight your upcoming line of books, hype your newest authors, and to interact with book sellers and readers and rights agents and anyone else who connects with your business. For authors, it’s the place to have your own new title on display, perhaps do a signing at your publisher’s booth and build buzz. For readers, it’s where you can hear some of your favorite authors speak, where you can grab a ton of free books, and where you can nab some autographs.

But what do agents do there? Well, my day started off with a meeting in the rights department with an audio publisher. There they shared what they’re looking for, and I clued them in on some of my clients’ upcoming projects. Next? I zipped down to the conference rooms and caught a panel of editors buzzing their upcoming young adult titles. I love hearing these panels because the editors share what drew them into the books. I take notes – and when one of my clients has a book that touches on something that one of these editors specifically noted loving – well, that makes them the perfect editor to pitch to.

After the panel is done, I talk to the many other editors in the audience that I spot. Some I’ve met before, and some I’ve spoken to on the phone before.  Lots of chatting and biz card sharing ensues.

I meet up with fellow agency mate Linda Epstein, and together we “walk the floor” – not as spicy as it sounds. Actually it just means we walk through the zillions of publisher’s exhibits on the main floor. It’s so instructive to see what each publisher is highlighting. Plenty of editors are manning the booths, and this leads to many conversations with these good folk. Business cards are swapped, and info exchanged. What are they looking for now? Would they like such and such? I’m building up my editor info file, taking copious notes, and I’m also pitching various client manuscripts I’m about to go out on submission with.

Folks, this takes a lot of organization. Since I represent picture books and chapter books and middle grades and YA’s, and adult fiction and memoir, you can bet I have a wide range of projects almost ready to go. As an agent, I need to keep in mind which publishers would truly be a fit for a project, and which wouldn’t. No point in pitching a memoir to a house that doesn’t handle those, right? And I have to be ready at the right moment to pitch each book well. PLUS I have to do all of this while not being pushy – so, yeah, you have to know when to pitch, and when to just chat. I gauge an editor’s particular interest while speaking with them. If they express a particular interest, then I can pursue that saying something along the lines of, “I think I have something you’ll really like. Would you be interested in…”  They are! I make a note of it, and this week I’ll be sending out a range of submissions to a range of editors as a result.

So Linda and I walk the floor together for about an hour, and then I head off on my own to grab some food and rest my feet… Looking through my conference brochure I see that my dad’s favorite author is signing RIGHT NOW. Crap!  I gobble down the rest of my food and scramble back to the exhibit floor. Eeek!  There’s a huge line, but I’m not too late.  I nab a copy of Nelson DeMille’s latest novel, and get in line – I’m #140, and the cut off is #150. I patiently wait on line, and 40 minutes later I get his signature.  Father’s Day gift – check!

Dennis signing at BEA 2015

Author buddy Dennis Tafoya (far right) signing his fab crime novel THE POOR BOY’S GAME

Okay, the next 3 hours are spent with more walking the floor action, plus a few appointments with editors where we sit down and talk business. I also see authors I know, agents I’ve met over the years, and book sellers I’ve worked with as an author. It really is an amazing community out there full of some seriously cool and fun people.

Still, I’m fried. It’s 4 p.m. and I’ve been going since 5 a.m. But I’m not done yet. Now I head out of the convention center and walk uptown to do something I’ve been looking forward to all day – meeting my author Harmony Verna and her husband Jay! We meet at a pub and hoist a cold one, toasting Harmony and her upcoming debut DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA. If you’ve loved THE THORNBIRDS, then this novel will take your breath away. Actually, it’ll take EVERYONE’S breath away – it’s that spectacular. And we have lots to celebrate. Just the day before, Kensington Publishers sold translation rights for her book to a publisher in Germany. Huzzah!

Marie and Harmony at BEA15

Meeting up with my client, fab author Harmony Verna! (right)

NEXT, the three of us head over to the BEA cocktail party hosted by Kensington Publishers. More celebrating!  We meet her fab editor and foreign rights team and publicist and other authors. So fun.

And now? Now I’m done.  But wait!  There’s just one more thing I have to do.  As I head back to the train station to go home, I step over a gushing subway grate and zip! My skirt does a full Marilyn Monroe.

Yup. THAT’S BEA.

Resting up till next year, but first I must jot down one more note: NEXT TIME WEAR PANTS.

*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: 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.

Agent Monday: Springing Forward with Writer’s Resources

Snow March 1 2015Happy Agent Monday, everyone! I was SO happy to flip the calendar to March. But joke’s on me, since, yeah, a lion-like snow and ice storm has swept through. The picture here is what I’m seeing out my window this morning. But let’s be optimistic, shall we? Today I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite writer’s resources that’ll help your writing career take root and grow. So, ready to spring ahead?

1. The SCBWI Blue Boards

You don’t have to be a member of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators to participate in this online message board…but definitely consider joining this organization if you are writing for children through YA — it’s an awesome resource. The Blue Boards is where it’s at if you want to connect with other writer’s for youth, plus literary agents (like me!) and editors sometimes chime in there too. You’ll find camaraderie, answers to questions about craft and the market, and solid advice and true experiences that writers in your field are having right now. Definitely get involved by going here.

2. Publisher’s Marketplace

If you are serious about writing for the top commercial publishers and about getting an agent, then you need to do some serious research. Which deals have recently been made in your genre? Has a deal been made in the past year that is exactly like the book you are about to write? Which agents represent authors in your subject matter? Has the agent you were considering been active with sales? And what’s the latest business news? The inside scoop is all at Publishersmarketplace.com, the site that agents and editors and others in the business all rely on. Yes, there is a cost, but it’s a monthly subscription. That means you can get it for a month or two, do all the research you like and then stop it if you’d like. Or keep it year round and share the subscription cost between several writer friends so you all benefit. It’s smart. Find out more by clicking here.

3. Indiebound.org

Did you know that you could buy books online with discounts and all at an independent bookstore, even if you don’t live right next to one? It’s true!  Nothing is more important to writers than reading reading reading. Well, except for having vibrant bookstores. When you are published, you’ll need there to actually be places where your audience can stumble upon you while browsing, even if they hadn’t heard of you already, right? So, writers, do your thing and support indie bookstores. From the home page you can put in the book you are searching for in that upper right hand search field with the spyglass thingee next to it and click enter. Then you’ll be prompted to enter your zip code so you can shop at the indie nearest you, or pick whichever one you wish. Shop online there and you’ll find discounts, free shipping over certain amounts (within easy reach), plus the option to pick up your order at the store for no charge on orders of any size. There’s even a link on the site for stores that sell ebooks. Make it your first stop when buying books, by clicking here.

4. The Liars Club Facebook Page

Started by a group of authors who, basically, lie for a living, The Liars Club is all about sharing info and building community among authors. I’m a proud Liars Club member, and the group has been supporting writers, promoting literacy and bookstores and libraries, plus sharing kick-ass info for years.  So I highly recommend you like The Liars Club Facebook page by clicking here. The group also hosts a series of free Writer’s Coffeehouses in the Philly area and one is starting up on the West Coast as well. Now’s a good time to like the page, wherever you live, since the group will soon be hosting on this page a series of online virtual Writer’s Coffeehouses featuring interaction with a number of published authors.

5. Agent Monday

Okay, you knew I had to add this one in. If you see this post, you’ve either found it on a search, or perhaps you already do subscribe. If you do subscribe, you’ll see Agent Monday info hot off the presses. And if you check back into the archives on my site, you’ll see I cover a wide range of topics from querying, to marketing, to the inner workings of publishing from an agent and author point of view. So don’t just pop in, subscribe!

I hope these resources will help you and your writing to spring forward! Time for me to chip away the ice and snow and emerge into the world.

Warm wishes!

*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.

Kid-lit Writers! Sign-up Now for Online Boot Camp with Agents…

yes - notepad & penAttention writers of picture books, middle grade and YA fiction! Writer’s Digest has just opened up an online Boot Camp taught by agents of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency… The Boot Camp includes an online tutorial, a dedicated message board where agents will answer your questions, plus a critique by an agent.

Literary agents participating include Jennifer De Chiara, Roseanne Wells, Linda P. Epstein, Stephen Fraser, and me – Marie Lamba.

The boot camp runs December 5th – 8th, so sign up is NOW. Details can be found by clicking here.

Agent Monday: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

*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: Phew!

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Phew, this here agent has been BUSY in every which way over the past week. It’s included traveling and going to conferences and meeting clients and taking pitches and traveling some more, and pitching books and coming back each time to more and more and MORE stuff in my inbox. So, while I now hunker down and catch up here, I thought I’d just post some pix today of the action.

Here goes:

At the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, OR (thanks, Willamette folks for a great conference!)… Hanging out with our fabulous film agent Kim Guidone, and the hilarious Rich Johnson, editor at Inklit, Penguin…

photo_3(2)While in Portland, I got to meet with my client, author Jon Price, for the very first time! That was a blast. Jon is the author of the very witty middle grade novel CREEP VIEW

photo_2(1)Back East, I grabbed a coffee with my great client Erin Teagan, and we chatted about her clever middle grade novel STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES, and about some future ideas she’s got brewing…

photo_1(2)Then off to a book launch for the thriller DEAD OUT, written by my very good buddy Jon McGoran! Jon’s book just got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. So excited to read it!…

photo_4(2)THEN it was off to New York for a gorgeous day and an informal picnic in Central Park with my fellow agents from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. These are seriously not only the most talented and smartest people you’d ever want to meet, but the nicest too!…

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

And now? Soaking my feet, catching up on everything, and staring at my empty refrigerator. Time to catch up and rest up and forge ahead yet again.

Happy August, everyone!

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

 

 

Agent Monday: Should I Keep Querying?

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Believe it or not, the October issue of Writer’s Digest is now on the stands!  It’s their “get an agent” issue, and in it you’ll find an article I’ve written, “It Has Merit, But…” that details the 10 top reasons why agents pass after requesting a full manuscript.  It also details possible fixes for each of those 10 points, so I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out.  Rejections sting, no doubt about it.  And sometimes it’s very hard to keep going. So in today’s post, let’s tackle a question I get a lot: Should I Keep Querying?

Some people who ask me this question do so with a heavy sigh, but when I ask them how many queries they’ve sent out they say 15, and expect me to be impressed.  Really? The answer to that one is yes, keep querying, you’ve just begun.

Some people tell me that they’ve sent out 50 queries and have either gotten no reply at all or a form reject.  To these people I say look at your query and fix it.  Chances are pretty good it needs work.  And look at your list of agents – did you select them carefully, or are you just sending out to anyone?  Target your query, tighten your query, and send it out again.

And other writers tell me that they haven’t gotten even a single rejection.  Just no response at all.  To this, I raise my eyebrow.  Sure, some agents are so swamped they have a policy that no reply is a no.  But most do reply, at least eventually.  Personally, the only queries I simply delete are the ones that are so disrespectful and ridiculous that I’d be a fool to waste my own work time to answer them.  The ones that are mass-emailed to every agent at once, addressed as Dear Agent, and have every agent’s email in the send to field.  The ones that address me as the wrong agent!  The ones that are so sloppy and riddled with errors or are rude or creepy in any way. Please.  This is a professional business letter.  Would you show up at a job interview in your underwear?

So, back to the original question: Should I Keep Querying?  If your manuscript is complete and well written and polished, then yes.  I suggest test the market and send out queries in waves.  Send out, say, 10 or so to a carefully selected list of agents who actually are open to queries and actually are looking for your sort of work.  Follow their guidelines for querying.

Get no answer at all?  Ask yourself, are you presenting yourself professionally?  Are you only targeting the biggest agents who might not get back to you as quickly as you’d like? Maybe newer agents at established agencies are the way to go, then.

Getting only form rejections?  Then look at your query and rework it, and sub to the next agents on your list.

Getting requests for sample pages, but then rejections?  Look at what agents are saying in these rejections. Is there a common thread?  Perhaps your opening needs work.

Getting requested full manuscripts, but then nothing but rejections? Remember, this is a tough and competitive field.  You are doing a ton right, but for some reason, things aren’t clicking.  Perhaps you are doing one of the 10 things I point out in my Writer’s Digest Article.  Or perhaps you just need to locate that one agent that personally connects with your manuscript enough to run with it.  That happened to author Kathryn Craft who subbed what many might think was a crazy amount of queries over a few years before landing her agent.  Her novel The Art of Falling comes out through Sourcebooks in January 2014.

Querying is a process.  I think it’s always a mistake to stop your writing and focus solely on this.  Write your next book. Keep subbing the other in waves and course-correcting as you go. You may find that your next book is far better than the one you were sending around (it happens a lot – we all get better as we write more), and that next book or the next will be the one that will move you forward.

Rejection is tough.  I know. I’m a writer, too.  But if you are serious about it you need to keep moving forward in your writing career and learning along the way.  Take cues from your querying results and course correct.  And, always, keep writing!

 

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

 

 

Agent Monday: Close Encounters of the Conference Kind

Happy Monday! This week I’m getting ready for Saturday’s Push to Publish Conference, where I’ll be on a few panels, plus doing “Speed Dates” with writers. So this seems like the right moment to share a little bit of my own experiences on both sides of a pitch table, as both a writer and an agent. Close encounters of the conference kind can really instill fear. But they don’t have to, and if you keep a few things in mind, they can be so helpful to a writer’s career. And, dare we say it, enjoyable?

Nerves! We all get them.  As a writer, I well remember the sweaty heart-pounding panic that filled me when I realized that right there next to me was THE dream agent or THE dream editor.  Palms became damp just before I’d shake hands. I’d speed talk and ramble a bit.  I did manage to pull myself together enough to talk coherently, but after a close encounter, I felt like I’d aged a few years.  Zowie.

Some of us writer-folk are shy. I’m not exactly the shy type though, so what was going on? First of all, this was all so new to me. Fish out of water, and all that. I didn’t really have a good idea of what was expected of me, or how to act, or what, even, I really wanted from an editor or agent. No wonder I felt awkward.

But this newness was also exciting and challenging. It propelled me to go to the next conference, and then the next to get smarter, more comfortable, less mouth-flappy. I read up ahead of time about the editors and agents who were there. What were they really interested in? What was interesting about them? And what questions did I have for them based on this info? I also spent time at conferences listening more, learning, and talking a ton with other writers there. Fellow writers, I soon learned, were eager to swap thoughts and of course they make great friends, too.

I also think my nerves stemmed from me telling myself that this is it! The big moment! My huge chance! I can’t blow it!!! In this scenario, OF COURSE a writer will be nervous. You see the editor or the agent as your savior. The one person who will make your dreams come true. They are iconic. And you have this one and only chance…

Blah. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think after you are in “the business” for a number of years most of us “get it.” There isn’t one chance, but many continuous ones that build like a chain from one experience and encounter to the next. There isn’t one book, but many books and ideas that will flow from you, each a stepping stone to better and better things, even when some stones seem to be leading you backwards. You are learning and growing. You are meeting people and making contacts. And hopefully you are having some fun, too.

I remember standing in a pitch slam line waiting to talk to an agent. The writers waiting there shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous smiles. And one lovely writer turned and said to me something like, “I just try to remember that they are people. That we all love books. And we are just having a nice little chat. An exchange of ideas.”

Genius. They are people… That, more than anything else I read or heard, helped me so much.

Now that I’m an Associate Agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I see the wisdom of this statement even more. When writers approach me as a person, and share their idea in a friendly way, we connect and enjoy it.

And when writers approach me all nervous and sweaty, I smile and tell them I understand, and that it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna do just fine. Then we enjoy our own little chat. And it IS just fine.

In next week’s Agent Monday post I’ll share what it’s been like for me to now be on the other side of the pitch table as an agent, and some things I’ve learned along the way. Stay tuned!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Agent Monday: Starting your Pitch

If you are on the hunt for a literary agent, then you are making your pitch, whether face to face at a conference, or in a query letter.  Sure, the “live pitch” and the pitch within a query are different in some ways, but they both have the same intentions: to pique the interest of an agent. One thing you don’t want to do is to confuse the agent, or leave her with fundamental questions that will distract her from hearing your story’s plot.

In a live pitch, one of the most disorienting things for me as an agent is when the writer does not tell me the genre of the book right away. While the writer launches into his story and characters, I find myself trying to figure out what, exactly, I’m listening to.  Picture a thought bubble over my head filled with the following: “Wait, is this a memoir? No, it must be fiction. But she mentioned a school-aged character. So is it for children? Can’t be, the material is too mature.  Wait, the writer just said, ‘the ghost of his memory haunts her.’ Is this a paranormal???”

You see what I’m talking about here?  That’s why, when you do a verbal pitch, it’s so helpful if you start out with something like this: “I’d like to tell you about DAY’S END, my completed middle grade fantasy. When 12-year-old Sonia discovers…” Etc.

See what’s going on with this? You’ve already conjured a book title in my mind (makes this feel like a real book, right?).  You’ve told me it’s completed, so I know you are serious about submitting it (at conferences, sometimes manuscripts aren’t completed yet…if so, then just omit this). You’ve pointed me in the direction of the genre you are targeting, so that everything you say after that will fit into that slot in my brain.  And by giving the character’s age, you’ve shown me that you are on the right track for this age group (something that is critical for the children’s market).  Boom!  Now I’m ready to listen and my thought bubble will read something like this: “Cool! What’s it about?”

Written queries are a bit different in that you can start off with a little teaser if you want, and I can skim down to see what the genre is, etc.  But make no mistake, I will skim down to find this info.  So why not forego the dramatic question, or leading off with the descriptive paragraph, and get right to the point?

Say: I’d like to interest you in my completed YA urban fantasy THE CRUSHING POINT (76,000 words).

Then you can add in your teaser line if you want…but it’s not needed, of course.  By a teaser line, I mean something like: What would you do if your mentally ill brother held the answer to a deadly disease, but you were the only one who believed him? (Then you can launch into your plot description.) For 17-year-old Kayle Sparks, it’s a race to the death as… (Or something like that.)

Some writers put this genre, etc. info at the very bottom of their query. Yup, that weakens my read of it because I’m forced to go back to the top of the query and reconsider. You may have lost my interest if I’ve already decided, “Oh, this is a unique approach to women’s fiction,” only for me to discover it’s a YA and the main character is only 15. Hm.

Using a simple genre-positioning line as close to the top of your query letter as you can, points me to consider everything else that follows it within the proper context.  No reconsidering required.

Notice how I added in the word count in that initial line? Sure, you can do that in a verbal pitch, but you MUST do it in a written query.  The agent needs to know that you are within the range of reasonable length for your genre, and where your idea slots within the market. Hey, I’ve got to sell this manuscript, so I have to get this info, right?  I also know your book is complete (never query for a work of fiction unless it is done…but it’s reassuring for me to hear that it is), I know the title is intriguing, and I know that this novel is in a genre that demands a certain edge and gritty paranormal elements.  The main protagonist is also within the correct YA age range.  Okay, cool. Now I’m ready to read the rest of your query.

Setting up your pitch in a simple and direct manner, will help the agent focus on your story idea.  Now you can share your plot and hopefully the agent’s thought bubble will look like this: “Wow! I’ve got to read this one!!!”

Happy pitching!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Writer Wednesday: YA Writers Can Learn from “Easy A”

I loved the movie Easy A, not only because it was hysterical, but also because there is a lot YA writers can learn from this movie.  A lot, in fact, that many writers can learn from it.

Here is a flick where they pull from an old classic (The Scarlet Letter), and toy with all sorts of clichés, all while creating something entirely new and fresh. And if there’s something the world of YA needs, it’s new and fresh.

This post kinda ties into my Agent Monday post on originality. From the writer’s point of view, I’m always trying to think original. It’s tough. There’s a ton of stuff that’s been done and overdone.

In the world of contemporary YA, that includes stuff like high school with its hot jocks, snotty cheerleaders, cafeteria tables divided up by cliques, gossip and reputations ruined, distant parents, dead parents, crazy parents, loss of virginity, finding your self-worth, the ditzy best friend, the sweet nerdy guy who comes to your rescue in the end. Etc. etc. etc. (as Yul Brenner would have said).

So what do you do? Ignore it all? For me, it was important to have bits of these elements thread into my novels but to approach the subject of a teen coming into their own in a unique way, in a world that I made real.  In What I Meant… that meant that the Indian-American family dynamic added its own humor, pathos and heart and that it wasn’t the daughter’s virginity that was in question, but the history of an adult’s… In Over My Head, it meant that the snotty girl was a threat, but also was complex. And that a college aged guy brought into question what was mature, what was real love, and when did we truly grow up. In Drawn, it meant pitting a normal teen existence against a backdrop of abnormal and even psychic occurrences, and having my heroine find meaning in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

So what’s Easy A got to do with it?  Here’s a movie that acknowledges every cliché “in the book” and makes fun of it, even runs with it.  It starts off with the heroine talking about her sad existence and then saying, “Blah, blah, blah. So original.” And you know you are in for some fun. Lots of familiar stuff. You’ve got rumors (that she’s a slut sleeping with all the guys in the school). You’ve got mean girls (the snotty super religious chick who is out to “save” her, but really just wants to take her down). You’ve got the gay student who is being bullied. You’ve got the nerdy guy who helps her save the day in end (Lobster Todd – who wears a stuffed lobster on his head in his restaurant job, and sings the longest birthday song EVER, with lots of hep-hep-heps in it). There are references to cheesy 80’s flicks…and a dance number is included. But it all works.

They even make fun of product placement in movies.  For some bizarre reason, a Quiznos restaurant mascot is in the midst of the zealot anti-slut mob amid all the hateful posters being waved. He yells, “Eat at Quiznos!” Our heroine says with disgust, “Not now, Quiznos Man.” And he shouts back, “You’re a slut!”

Okay, can I just say that every time I walk by a Quiznos, I now mutter, “You’re a slut!”?

See, the heroine isn’t really sleeping with anyone, she just gets roped into lying about it.  First she jokingly says she did to appease her ditzy best friend. Then the mean girl overhears and spreads the word. Our heroine is labeled as a slut and starts being treated differently (she’s reading The Scarlet Letter in English, BTW).  So, what the heck, she starts dressing the part. She’s mad. Then she gets roped in to lying about having sex with a gay friend to protect him from homophobes who have been hassling him, and before you know it, it’s open shop. Every tortured nerd is appealing to her kindness to help their sad images through lying.

It’s poignant. And it’s hysterical too. And the religious group creates a lynch mob, and it all spins out of control… Here’s a flick that uses every cliché, makes fun of them, and also gives us a fresh look too.  At how girls are viewed. At how that overweight kid really feels. At how being kind to someone can actually hurt yourself.

And I appreciate how some clichés are avoided, and how some characters can run deep. Her parents are kooky and original and funny, but they are there and they are supportive and they love our heroine. They don’t pry too deeply, and they tell her, “you’re going to be just fine.” In YA lit, that’s something you don’t see enough of.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we writers need to know our genre clichés. We need to know how avoid clichés, how to spin them, and even how to make fun of them. It’s about keeping it fresh.

Hep hep hep!