Agent Monday: Fix those Pitch and Query Mistakes!

yes - notepad & penHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Conference season is heating up, and New York publishing is back in full force after a sleepy end of summer.  That means it’s time for writers to put their manuscripts in front of agents! Whether through a query or through an in-person pitch, you only get a short time to impress an agent. Are you spoiling your chances by bungling this or are you pitching and querying like a pro? If this is your first time out there, or if you aren’t getting the responses you’d like from agents, it may be time to fix those pitch and query mistakes!

Pitch times with agents are brief – anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 minute.  Yet a frequent mistake I see is a writer who eats up that time telling me WHY they wrote this story, or HOW it is told in first person or through alternate viewpoints, or…  Mistake!  Have you ever picked up a novel and bought it for those reasons? It’s all about the story – at least at first. So guess what you should focus on in that brief pitch? Yup – the story.

As a literary agent, I’ve seen, oh, thousands of queries. What’s a frequent mistake writers make? Their description of their book goes on and on for paragraphs. I don’t have the time to read so many long queries, but the real turn off for agents is that these long descriptions are often full of unneeded info, and tend to lack zing. This is writing that needs tightening, and that makes a plot feel unclear and unexciting. So if your book description in your query goes on for several paragraphs, it’s time to give your query letter a serious edit.

These are just a few important changes to your pitching and querying skills that might make a big difference when you try to interest an agent in representing you. If you would like to learn more, Associate Literary Agent Cari Lamba and I are offering a live Webinar through Writer’s Digest called HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES THAT MAKE AGENTS TAKE NOTICE. Register for this, and you’ll attend our webinar online where we will show the ins and outs of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pitching and querying agents. The webinar also includes a live Q&A with us where every question asked by participants is answered. And it includes a personal critique from us of your own query letter and the first 5 pages of your novel.  The cost for all of this is $89.99, and it’ll sharpen your skills before you spend far more on conferences or waste any more valuable time with an ineffective query letter. Be sure to register before the October 19th date! Note that although the Webinar begins live at 1 p.m. on the 19th, you don’t have to attend it live to view it and have the critique – so no worries there. Webinars, of course, are great because you don’t have to travel to attend, can attend in your jammies if you’d like, and you’ll have the recorded session after the live event to refer to again and again. If you’d like to find out more about the HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO Webinar, or would like to register for this, click here.

Hope to “see” you then!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Meet New Agent Cari Lamba!

Cari LambaHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so excited to have an interview with Cari Lamba, the new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. She’s actively building her client list, so if you are looking for an agent, you’ll find this especially useful. Cari is awesome, and I should know —  since she’s my daughter.

Welcome, Cari! And thanks so much for stopping by and answering questions for us. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

For middle-grade fiction I love any Roald Dahl books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Artemis Fowl series, all for the same reason – they’re clever books. I really appreciate novels that have childlike wonder, while also having well thought out plots and witty characters that will make you think and feel for them. In fiction, and specifically mystery, I’m hooked on the classic mystery novels of Agatha Christie. The plotting and twists keep me guessing, and I want to find something that will draw me into the characters like Christie does. I’m also a fan of the bloodless murder mysteries that focus more on plot than on the crime. I also love the humor that Janet Evanovich brings to her Stephanie Plum novels, which kept me with the characters for so many books.

To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

One of my favorite TV shows is Parks and Rec; I’ve watched it through so many times. Leslie Knope is one of my all-time favorite characters and I would love to see a book that reflects her strong and caring spirit. I also absolutely love Sherlock. As for movies, I’m all about the chick flicks. Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love are two of my favorites. I also really enjoy a movie that will make me think, like The Imitation Game.

What’s in your reading pile?

Right now I’m reading the Eyre Affair, which combines two things I love: a good mystery and Victorian novels.

You have a long history with books – as a reader, as a book promoter and event organizer, as an intern, and as a journal editor, and you’ve had an unusual view of the writing and agenting world. Can you share some details about this, and how it’s shaped who you are now as an agent and as someone working with authors?

So I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been around books and to have worked with many authors. I studied literature at Franklin and Marshall College and at the abroad program, Advanced Studies in England. I also have a lot of practical knowledge doing things like setting up and running events for authors, doing social media promotion, and reviewing the marketability of books. I think that it helps me to see both sides of the publishing world: the business and the craft part. Both sides are needed in order to make a book successful.

How did you get into agenting?

I became a reader for Jennifer De Chiara when I was in high school, and at the time it was more about just reading than about having an interest in the business. As time went on I found that I really loved being involved in the process of making a book successful. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

I’m looking to represent middle grade fiction, and adult commercial fiction. I’m really hoping for something that ties the culinary world into a mystery. I’m obsessed with Food Network and I’d be very excited about finding something that involves elements of that world . I would also love to see middle-grade and adult fiction that have really sharp and witty female main characters. For more specifics about what I do and don’t want, folks can visit my submission guidelines here.

You’ve interned with the agency for 8 years. Over that time, you’ve seen a wide range of query letters and requested manuscripts, so…

What makes a successful query to you?

Simply following the submission guidelines. I also like to see that the author has done their homework and shows that they are querying me because they really do think we’d be a good fit together. Also, using the first person. It’s a query, not a biography.

What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

Well, I’ve already had a few queries come in for genres that I just don’t represent yet. It’s so easy to check if an agent represents your genre. Following that, if the author clearly hasn’t read the guidelines and does something like attaches the whole manuscript, or doesn’t even paste sample pages in the email (as my guidelines allow), it’s going to be a no from me. Also if there are any typos anywhere in the email or in the following pages, it shows me the author isn’t ready, and I can safely assume the manuscript isn’t going to be in good shape.

When you were an intern, what made you recommend a manuscript for representation?

If I thought that the manuscript was able to combine a well-written story with an intriguing plot and characters that I really cared about, then that manuscript was recommended. It didn’t always have to have an element of humor or wit, but it did have to make me care about what was going to happen, and be original in plot.

How did requested manuscripts make it past the query stage, and first 20 pages read, but then wind up rejected when you saw the full?

There are actually a lot of ways that a manuscript can end up being rejected after being requested for the full manuscript. There is only so much you can tell from the first 20 pages. So if the plot then falls apart, or becomes too predictable, or I end up not liking the characters enough, that manuscript is a no go. The manuscript needs to live up to what it promised in the first 20 pages.

Do you think you’ll be a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

If I think a manuscript is worth the time and effort, I will help the author get it to where we both think it needs to be to sell. But it has to be a novel that really draws me in before I get to that point. Being an editorial agent means that you want to help the author, which is what I will be doing, but not with line edits or grammar mistakes that should have already been cleaned up.

What is your idea of an ideal client?

I think my ideal client is an author who is passionate about their work, while also understanding that it is a business. We would be able to talk through both the craft and business side of things with ease.

Where can folks go to follow you online?

I have a twitter account that is open for anyone to follow that I’ll be keeping up to date on all things literary with a side of sass every now and then: @CariLamba

Your link for submission guidelines?

https://www.jdlit.com/cari-lamba

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Just that I’m very excited to see the projects that come my way!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Cari!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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