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.

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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.

Agent Monday: The Times, They are a-Changing

Autumn FacesHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent 7 hours last weekend raking leaves to my curb. The seasons are changing. Hey, lots of things change. So this week, I thought I’d point out two common questions I get, and how the answers reveal some changes in publishing/agenting.

Do I need an agent? These days, the answer YES is more true than ever for authors who want to have their work published by a top commercial press. The big change that’s occurred over the past 8 years or so is that even more publishers only take submissions from agents. This is especially noticeable in children’s publishing, where many of the top publishers used to have open submissions. But now? Not so much. So having an agent now, more than ever, means access to all publishers.

Because of this change, editors now really REALLY need to hear from agents. That’s how they get most of their new authors. As one editor told me when I pitched a manuscript to her, “Marie, if you like a manuscript, I definitely want to see it.”

Do I need an agent in Manhattan? The answer used to be yes! But now? The answer really is that you want a great agent who goes into the city as needed. My office is in Manhattan, and it’s a great agency with a solid reputation. That reputation travels with me wherever I am. Most agents in my firm live in or close to the city, but personally? I work from my home office two hours away. I do jaunt into Manhattan when needed for meetings and meet ups with editors, but I mostly work remotely on the phone and online. And this is something that is much more common now.

Editors and agents have stronger relationships than ever (partly because of that change mentioned above). I don’t need to wine and dine editors non-stop to get their attention. I don’t need to pound the streets of Manhattan and down zillions of martinis in order to be able to pitch manuscripts to publishers. What I do need is to do my homework and learn what editors want. That always involves research, both online plus me calling and asking the editors, plus building relationships with them through chatting in an efficient yet personable way.

I enjoy meeting editors at conferences, or visiting their offices, or grabbing a lunch with them. But have I sold books to editors I’ve never met face-to-face? Yup. Happens all the time. Editors (and agents) are really busy these days. Editors have less staff helping them, and have to spend more time in meetings than ever handling administrative stuff. Because of this, they appreciate the efficiency of emails and phone calls. Working relationships these days have moved way beyond the requisite martini lunches of yore.

So what does this all mean for you writers? Wherever your agent is based is cool, but you want them to travel into NY as needed, and to reach out to editors in a variety of ways (on the phone, at various conferences, and face-to-face in the city when they can). Because agents and editors rely on each other more than ever, don’t be afraid of approaching newer agents at established firms (like me!). They really do have editor’s ears, plus they are actively building their client lists.

Isolated Martini GlassCheers!

 

*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: Trust your Gut

IMAG1006Happy Agent Monday, everyone! It feels like summer has truly arrived. Today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about feelings… or rather, intuition. In a few weeks, my  wonderful author Tracey Baptiste and I will be presenting a talk on the author/agent relationship at the NJ SCBWI Conference. What should a writer look for in an agent? How can a writer know if an agent will be right for her? There are many things writers should consider, but Tracey pointed out one factor that is often overlooked: Intuition. She told me, “As soon as I talked to you, I just knew.” Something about the ease of conversation, about our shared wacky humor…  Um, I’m not sure WHAT she means about that (see our picture here from BEA for clues, perhaps?). So here’s the big question. Are you trusting your gut?

I definitely am. When something is right, I just know it. As a writer myself, I listen to what feels important to me, and I pour my heart and soul into writing that. As an agent, I look for that gut reaction to what is submitted to me. I often pass on projects that I know I could sell, but that just don’t feel right for me. I trust my intuition to guide me to the books that I feel have true heart and importance. Sure, I have a checklist of things that I’m looking for, but there’s something more. That just knowing when it’s right. And when I speak with an author, I’m also tuned into whether or not we are communicating well and whether or not we share the same goals and expectations.

What about you? Do you listen to your gut enough? When looking for an agent, you should do all those things you know to do when researching them. But, when an offer comes in, you know what I’m going to say…TRUST YOUR GUT. Because at this point, it’s not about getting an agent, it’s about getting the right agent. This is a business partnership you want to last throughout your career. You are entrusting your “baby” to this person. Does it feel right?

Many writers are so thrilled to get any offer of representation that they are eager to just say YES! I always tell writers I make offers to that they should wait a few days to let me know their answer. I know I risk that author changing their mind, but I want this to be the right decision for both of us. I want them to think it through and really feel good about our partnership.

So when you get that offer, I advise you to pause. Think, can you communicate well with this person? Do you feel confident about them? Is there something they say that bothers you on some level? If so, don’t brush it aside because you are so anxious to get representation. Pay attention to your gut. Ask questions.

In Tracey’s case, she said she just knew we were a great match as soon as we talked on the phone. Yes, I told her to take a few days. To let other agents reading her manuscript weigh in during that time. And to let me know. I wanted it to be right for her. She trusted her gut, though, and just told the other agents thank you but I have an agent, and then she accepted my offer. It wasn’t the way many “how-to” articles tell you to do it, but it was the right way for her.

I’m happy to say that Tracey’s manuscript THE JUMBIES was then sold to Algonquin Books for Young Readers, and that it’ll come out in 2015!  Here we are at BEA a few weeks ago with her awesome editor Elise Howard.

Elise Howard, Tracey Baptiste and me BEA 2014I knew as soon as I read this book that it was something special. I knew as soon as I spoke with Tracey that she would be a delight to work with. Tracey knew as soon as she spoke with me that I was her agent. And Elise at Algonquin knew as soon as she read THE JUMBIES that this was the right book for her list.

Trust your gut!

*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: 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: Is Summer a Good Time?

Girls playing at the poolHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  I hope you’ve done at least a FEW summery things so far.  Like had a barbecue, walked barefoot, sipped iced tea with fresh mint, taken an evening walk and looked at the night sky… If you haven’t yet, well get moving!  Summer is a good time to slow down, take a deep breath and just relax.  And word has it that NY publishing does just that every year around this time. So does anything happen in the publishing world in the summertime?  And is summer a good time to query?

Writers often ask me stuff like this.  Let me just say that there is SOME difference between summer and the rest of the year. When I pitch to editors, they are more likely to have “I’m away till” messages on their voice mail, or to be just about to leave on vacation. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening. Trust me, they ARE happening.

For me as an agent, I try to grab those editors before they go off on those trips.  Guess what they read on the plane, on the beach, etc.? Yup. Submissions.  And summer is also a great time to grab those editors who, because the general office is a bit more quiet, are hanging out in their own office with slightly fewer meetings and slightly more time to catch up on things.  It’s a nice time to grab a lunch with them or a coffee or just spend a few more minutes on the phone to connect.

And publishing doesn’t stop. It never stops.  Maybe before the recession hit and made us all a bit more hungry, there was a time when things pretty much shut down (I can’t tell you for sure, cuz I wasn’t a part of that world then). Maybe that’s why writers still think: “Oh, don’t bother to send anything out in the summer.”  That’s old news now.  Now manuscripts are actively being pitched and read and offers made and contracts negotiated.  It’s a busy and productive time.

And guess what?  My inbox has thinned out.  There are less queries there, and I bet that’s true with most agents. Writers, I think, are waiting for September. Um, why? So you can be buried amid all the other querying writers who decide it is clever to wait until then?

Tropical Drink by a Swimming PoolOkay, it’s true that at the end of August some agencies actually close, or that is a favored time for an agent to take a vacation. But I’d keep on sending out those queries. After all, even agents have to read something while they are sipping those drinks with those fancy little paper umbrellas in those frosty glasses.

Things have definitely changed over the past 7 years in the world of publishing. Big changes and not so long ago. That means that some of the old wisdoms that are still hanging around aren’t as wise as they used to be.

So enjoy your summer. Wiggle your toes in the sand. But keep on querying!

*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: Pitch Power

Smiling Little LeaguerHappy Agent Monday, all!  Last week was a blur of pitching client manuscripts to potential editors.  And this week? More pitching!  So today’s post is all about pitch power.  POW!

This is an exciting part of agenting, and there’s a ton of hard work behind it.

The author has worked their butt off to finish writing the manuscript and to polish it. Never mind all they had to do to craft an excellent query letter and research and snag the right agent for them!

The agent (that’s me) has done a ton of work culling through endless queries to find this gem. Has worked with the author to get the final polish on the manuscript before it’s ready to submit. Plus the agent (me again) has done her own extensive research about the perfect editors for this work. That includes deep online research, studying numerous publisher’s imprints, meeting with countless editors, chatting with countless editors on the phone, too.

And after all of this, I sit with the manuscript and think of the perfect way to position this book. Just as it’s important for the author to pitch their novel in the best way to an agent, it’s crucial that I pitch my client’s book to the editor in a manner that perks up their ears and makes them think, “Yes! I MUST see this one!”

So I spend time selecting my words carefully. If I’m comparing a book  to the epic scale and passion of The Thornbirdsyou better believe I first make sure this comparison is accurate (BTW, it is! Shout out to my author Harmony Verna).  Because if it isn’t, then I’ve just set up my submission for a fail. I don’t want an editor to get all excited about this only to think, hm, I’m not seeing the comparison. Or, hm, this is not nearly as good as what she’s comparing it to.  The goal is for them to think, “Zowie! This DOES have elements of that book, but so much more!”  I also make sure I pick comparables that most folks will know, even dipping into TV and movie references for these.  I want to give an editor something they can latch on to. Something they can take to an acquisitions meeting and use to excite folk. That can’t work if the people there are scratching their heads instead of going aha!

Lesson for writers: in your own pitches and query letters – make sure your own comparisons are accurate and understandable.

Another thing I’m very careful about in my pitch is nailing the genre and market for this book.  Is it upper YA? An older middle grade? Is it a literary historical? Is it a gothic thriller? Does it fill a niche in the marketplace (folks looking for the next such and such, etc.).  Get this right and the editor is already slotting the book in their list to see if it’s a fit.  Get this wrong, and the editor will be confused by the read.

Lesson for writers: pay attention to genre and market in your query and you’ll be giving a potential agent the tools they need to market your book.  When I read a query that does this well, I find I’m already thinking about the perfect editors for this book before I even read the sample pages. You want that!

When I connect with editors over the phone with my pitch, my job is to give them a clear picture of what I’m sending to them in just a few sentences, to get them excited about it, and to position the pitch in a way that the gist of the work and its tone comes through. If it’s a heartfelt book, I craft the pitch in a way that’ll raise goosebumps. If it’s a girl-power kid book, I emphasize the overcome the odds aspect of the work. If it’s a hilarious mid-grade, I’ll pull in some fun examples that will make the editor grin and nod.  As in all aspects of this business, words matter.

Lesson for writers: highlight the tone and gist of your work in a succinct way when you query. Also, when seeking an agent, if you get to talk to them at a conference or hear them on a panel, ask yourself: is this person eloquent? Do I think they’ll communicate well with others and be able to convey my book’s pitch to editors successfully?

Cheering Little League ChampionsPitches are powerful things, and I know when I’m hitting the right notes with editors.  I hear them laugh when they should. Or they say, “I like the message behind this story.” Or they simply say, “Wow. Great pitch!”

Then I know I’ve done my job. Then I send the manuscript to the editor. Then it’s time for the author’s words to take their proper center stage.

 

*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.