Agent Monday: Too Soon?

9781585421466Happy sunny Agent Monday, gang! It’s too soon for shorts and bathing suits here in the Northeast, but the signs are there. Birds singing. Days starting to grow mild. The promise of hot sunny days ahead. But you can’t rush it. Likewise, in my agent inbox, I often see queries of books that are promising, but not there yet. So in today’s post, let’s talk about that important question writers should be asking themselves before submitting: Is it too soon?

To kick off this post, I have to tip my hat to a wonderful book: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Are you an artist of any sort (musician, fine artist, writer, etc.) who isn’t producing work the way you’d like? Or are you enjoying it less and less? Or feeling angry or stressed in some way that is impairing your true creative spirit? Dude, buy The Artist’s Way, follow the chapters and do every single exercise in there that feels right to you. It will change you and free you. I’ve been using this book myself for the past 8 months, and I am definitely different. I am better for it. It’s a gift you can give to yourself. Take it!

Okay, back to the Too Soon point. In Cameron’s book, she states something so simple and elegantly true: “An act of art needs time to mature. Judged early, it may be judged incorrectly. Never, ever, judge a fledgling piece of work too quickly.” She points out that many hits are sure things only in retrospect. “Until we know better, we call a great many creative swans ugly ducklings….We forget that not all babies are born beautiful…”

Some of these judgements come into our writerly minds before we set a word on paper. We think, eh, that’ll never sell. That’s been done. That is crap. And we never write that idea down, follow it to completion. Some of these judgement we inflict on our work after it is written. We say to ourselves, this sucks. No one will give a damn. We tell ourselves that we will never break in or break out. In all of these cases, we are the block between the idea and the possible future reader of our work.

And sometimes we are caught up in the rush of competition. I’ve written it. I’ve made my agent list. BAM! I’ve sent it out. Done!  But wait…no responses. Form rejections. The answer the writer can take away from this? My writing sucks. I suck. I’m done. I have another idea, but what’s the point?

Okay, so nothing promises success when you take your idea from inception and trot it out into the world. That’s the artist’s life. But, as I’ve said, I often see things that are half-formed. That have a good voice and style, but a half-baked idea. Or I see works that need more focus. Or people who are just starting out in their fiction writing and who have created their very first novel. Obvious ideas, mimicking other writers, stories that are really just their own lives told back. All the things that a new writer must work through before creating something more original and unique. In sum, I often see writers who show promise, but don’t have something they are showing me that is in a state of readiness that’ll make me sit up and think – yes! This is ready.

I’m talking far beyond spell checking and formatting something correctly. I’m talking about a writer not rushing. Taking the time to let a work sit and stew. And to then revisit it with revisions, and have others read and react to it, then let THOSE comments sit and stew, then revise again, tweaking what feels right. Only when you feel your work is fully developed, fully realized, only then should you be sending it out to an agent. And THEN you should move on to create something else. This may be a young novel for you. Maybe your next one will be more developed, maybe the one after that. But you’ll never know if you don’t give yourself the chance to grow.

I’ve said it before in this blog: you must take a long view of your career. That means that you should take the time you need to develop, produce, grow as a writer. — that’s something that never stops for the true artist, no matter how many books you write or even how many get published. You should look at setbacks as something to learn from and move beyond. Thinking that you will write X many books and stories and send out to X many agents and publications and that should definitely lead you to your shiny goal of publishing success is all well and good. BUT you will hit walls and you cannot control what’s on the other side.

Hey, if you as a writer are looking for reasons to stop writing, you will find them. TONS of them. But if you want to write, then don’t look for reasons to stop. Ever. Your ideas are valuable. Your voice is valuable. As Cameron says, “The need to win — now! — is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.”

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t be in such a hurry. Enjoy your creative process and see it thoroughly to the end. That fulfilling creative world will give you endless joy and rewards. And then send it out into the commercial world. And move on to create something new and well and thoroughly despite the outcome.

Slow and steady can win the race. And if that race is artistic fulfillment vs. success, that is a race you can definitely win. And I would argue that artistic fulfillment will open up all sorts of success.

So what’s the hurry?

 

*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.

 

 

Advertisements

Agent Monday: Taking Care of Business

Man Relaxing Under the SunHappy Agent Monday, all!  What?  It’s Tuesday?  Okay, so I am a bit late on this one, but, hey, I was taking care of business yesterday.  Doing things like reading a full manuscript, and corresponding with interns and clients, and dealing with some contract-related stuff, plus putting together a full-day “Spend the Day with an Agent” presentation for this Friday, which I’ll be doing as part of the Push to Publish Conference sponsored by Philadelphia Stories.  So, yeah, Agent Monday slipped away cuz I was busy, well, taking care of business.  And that is the topic of my post today.  Why? Because when the writer seeks an agent, he must put down his creative hat and put on his business hat.  When creative meets business, you’ll need to make some adjustments for true success.

Writers are creative people. They work on their own. They get lost in their words. They are independent. If I could turn on a webcam and find you banging out your novel, chances are pretty good you’d be wearing sweats, your hair just might be sticking up and you’d have a cold coffee at your side.  If I were to interrupt you in your moment of epiphany, you wouldn’t be too pleasant.   You are in your own world, which is just where you should be.

Now lets pretend, for a sec, that instead of working on your novel or being your writerly self, you decided to get a cushy corporate job somewhere (hey, it’s PRETEND).  You’re a smart person, so you know to get a professional resume together, and to research the firms you’d like to approach.  You’d apply for jobs, and when you’d get called in for an interview?  You’d put your best professional foot forward. Day of interview, you’d show up in your best business attire, well-groomed.  You’d be ready to demonstrate your best assets, and show that you can work well with others, plus you would be sure to have an understanding of the business.  You would be, in a word: READY.

Alrighty then. Here’s my point.  When you, the creative writer, approach me, the agent, you are stepping out of your creative zone and into the business zone of publishing. The same is true if you are approaching an editor directly.  That means that you research who you are approaching, discover why you are right for them and they are right for you. The query letter? That’s a business letter. It should be professional and clean. Like a job application, the query should highlight what you are offering (what’s your book about), should show you have done your work to understand the business side of things (your book’s genre should be accurate, its length should fit the genre, say what audience the book appeals to…in short, where it belongs in the marketplace…), and also demonstrate that you are someone I’d work well with (bio that shows you are a serious writer, tone that is professional and cooperative, evidence/willingness to engage in social media and to market).

Your manuscript, if requested, it’s kinda like a job interview. It’s you showing up and demonstrating all you have to offer and proving that you are right for the job. The manuscript should also have a proper professional polish. Formatted correctly. Edited to perfection. It should make me shout: YOU’RE HIRED!  Or rather, you’re REPRESENTED!

MP900341549And if you ever meet an agent or editor at a conference? View that a bit like a job interview, too, though more like a first round of interviews vs. a final one. Dress neatly. Act like a pro. Do your research about the person ahead of time so you can have a meaningful discussion and ask pertinent questions.  You want to leave a positive impression.

That creative self is still there within you, but don’t let it get in the way of the business of getting your manuscript sold. Change your creative hat for your business hat (and while you’re at it, change out of those jammies and comb your hair too! 😉 ). Always represent yourself and your product professionally, and that will give your manuscript the best chance possible.

 

*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: Know Your Genre

As both a writer and an Associate Literary Agent, I completely get it.  As a writer you have an idea, you fall in love with that idea, and you obsess over that idea as you write and write and write until that idea is a book, and as perfect as it can be. Then you approach an agent at a pitch session. Suddenly they are asking you how long is it (in word count, not pages)? What genre is it? What is it similar to? Who is the readership for this novel? Um, huh?  You know your characters and your plot, but what agents are trying to find out is: Do you know your genre? And where does your book belong in the marketplace?

At many pitch sessions I’ve attended as an agent at various conferences, I’ve found myself trying to pin an author down on her book’s genre. And I’ve gotten blank stares, blinking eyes, sometimes downright terror in response. Folks, I’m not trying to put you on the spot when I ask you stuff about your genre. Instead, I’m trying to position this book and see if it fits with a certain readership.

If you’ve done your writerly job beyond the writing part, then you’ll know what other books in your genre look like, what your competition and audience is, and you’ll already know you’ve created something just right for those readers.  I’m actually pretty amazed at how few writers take this extra step. Ideally, you as the writer should have this market info in your brain right as you begin to develop your novel.

I’ve seen novels that are far too short or far too long for their genre. I’ve seen subject matter that was inappropriate for a middle grade reader, characters that are too young for a YA novel, books that are copying what is already on the shelf.  All these really hurt your chances of getting your novel to print. Sure, you can argue that artists break rules and that there are exceptions all over the place, but if you don’t even know what the rules are and don’t have a solid reason for breaking them, then you are surely shooting yourself in the literary foot. Just sayin’.

So you’ve got to read in your genre, not only as a fan, but as a writer doing market research. Figure out where your book would really sit on a bookstore shelf and see how it compares to the other books beside it on that shelf.  If you can tell me what it has in common with those popular titles, plus what it brings to the marketplace that is new, then you are going to raise my interest level. And don’t use books from 50 years ago, use new stuff please. Sure, you can say “in the gothic style of Poe,” but also show some savvy about today’s market by referencing today’s books too.

Sometimes I get writers who say “there has been nothing like this ever before! It’s a brand new genre!” As my buddy, author Jonathan Maberry likes to point out in his informative talks to writers, last we looked, there is no “Brand New Genre” shelf at the local bookstore. That’s not a selling point.  But if you were to say something like, “This book will appeal to readers of Anne Tyler who are also looking for a dash of fantasy…” Well, then maybe I’ve got the beginnings of a pitch to an editor.

When I pitch projects to editors, they too are trying to figure out where a book will fit on their list as well as on bookstore shelves. It is the business end of writing, after all.

So I encourage writers to do a bit of homework while they are shaping their novels. And again when they begin their querying process, so they can refine their book description and pinpoint their genre and pitch. Because after all that hard work, you do want to sell.

*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.