Agent Monday: Inside Query Land

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you don’t see me posting for a few Mondays, it’s simply because I’m THAT BUSY. This past Sunday, for example, I spent 6 straight hours delving through queries in my inbox, and I barely made a dent. Still, I did request 3 manuscripts – and that IS how I’ve found a number of my wonderful clients in the past. So what’s it really look like inside of Query Land? Here are some quick thoughts before I get right back to work here…

First of all, folks who don’t follow my guidelines get instantly deleted. And including your query as an attachment…anything as an attachment… I’m not gonna open those – would you?

Folks who can’t even bother to find out who I am or what I do? Deleted – Dear Sir. I know you are looking for Non-Fiction (I’m NOT! I don’t even rep it…and not a sir, thank you very much).  Addressed to no one, sent to EVERYONE. Saying please publish my book (I’m not a publisher…).

Writing your query as if you are your character NEVER WORKS. First it confuses me, then it once I figure out that you are not you, it comes off as really gimmicky and ridiculous.

When I send you a rejection, please don’t write back to ask me for advice or tips. I don’t have time and that is really not my job. Remember, an agent lives off a percentage of what her authors make once they sell…and that I spend HOURS reading queries just to find a person that has a manuscript that MIGHT interest me. Think of the 6 hours I’ve spent on a Sunday morning, in addition to a full week of extra long hours working for my own clients, and ask yourself, where would you spend your precious time if you were me?

When someone tells me their book is a young adult picture book romance thriller, I know they don’t know anything about the business. A book must fit onto a shelf and appeal to a certain audience.

An author’s writing is their product. When they can’t compose a simple query letter, I won’t be interested. Terrible grammar, multiple spelling errors, and long rambling prose? Not interested.

Please don’t tell me your book is the next bestseller, or that your neighbor read your book and loved it. A query should be composed so that I will love the book.

Conclusion? Yes, this is a business. Be a professional in your dealings, and I will feel confident I can deal with you and put you in front of an editor. The queries that prompted me to request a full manuscript? Well, they addressed ME, their queries were professional and intriguing, and the writers followed my guidelines.

That’s Agent Marie reporting from the query trenches. Over and out!

 

*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: I Need a Hero!

happinessHappy summery Agent Monday, everyone! Just when things should feel especially lovely and relaxed season-wise, suddenly the world feels uncertain and topsy-turvy. Cough cough *Brexit* cough cough. We are also mourning terrible violence and ignorant hatred. It can make you feel truly helpless. So this is a call to action from a literary agent. Are you listening, writers? It’s time to use your super power: Power of the Pen. (Cue music: “I Need a Hero.”)

A writer’s super power truly is the ability to enter the minds and hearts of readers and influence them in a positive way. So, now more than ever, I’m looking to represent manuscripts that will do just that. Give us a hero we can really root for, show us the world how it should be, the person we can aspire to emulate, or scare the crap out of us with how it might be if we are careless with our choices.

Inspire us to act, and inspire us to hope. But be artful about it, too.  The story’s the thing (sorry for the paraphrasing, Shakespeare…). A novel is not a lesson, but it could convey one.

So think about the books that have inspired you. Think of the change you’d like to see. Realize your own power of the pen. And create as if the world’s future depends upon it, because it just might… We all need a hero, and it could be your main character, and by extension, it could be YOU.  BTW, my submission guidelines for queries can be found here .

 

*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: Focus on YA

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, everyone! A few weeks ago, I wrote about how focused writing can help land an agent.  Today, I’d like to zero in on young adult novels, since I find a lot of folks losing their focus when writing for the YA crowd. And that can get in the way of a writer landing an agent.

Yes, YA lit covers a broad span of topics. Unlike middle grade novels, which are geared toward the 8-12 year old crowd,  with YA you can deal with a wide range of controversial issues, and sexuality, and you can even drop an F-bomb. But there ARE limits. For example, this still isn’t the place for erotica. And there are certain expectations that must be met within the YA realm, expectations that are often missed by writers.

Things as simple as the actual age of the hero, and as complex as the point of view or the way any possible “lesson” behind the story is discovered by the reader.

Also, there are certain expectations within the sub-genres of YA. Do you know what readers (and agents and editors) expect from a YA romance? Or a YA thriller, for example? Well you really MUST know these things as a writer.

As a YA author myself, as well as a literary agent, I get really excited when I find a manuscript with the makings of an incredible YA novel. But more often than not, that manuscript falls apart. The writer is all over the place, writing themselves right out of the YA market…and ending up with a book that doesn’t fit anywhere. Too old a theme with too young a voice is just one of the mistakes I see.

So study up, writers, and really figure out what makes a YA novel.  Dig deep into current YA novels out there and dissect how these differ from middle grade and adult novels. What makes them stand out?  Check out craft books on the subject, too. Also, you might consider signing up for the live webinar I’ll be presenting online through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter.

This webinar runs June 23rd (note even if you can’t attend live on that date, you’ll still be able to access the full recording after), and the registration includes my webinar, which will help you sharpen your YA knowledge and skills, followed by a Q&A with me, plus each participant will then submit a query letter for their YA for me to personally critique…I’ll respond directly to you with comments and tips on how to make that query even stronger.  Registration for this webinar is now open…for more info, and to register, you can click here.

If you write YA, be sure you are getting it right. Take that time to focus on your genre, to really learn its parameters in whatever way you can, and to hone your YA voice and point of view. Then, once your story is on target, you’ll be truly ready to send it out into the world to land just where it should…in the hands of readers!

 

*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: Time for Something New!

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Spring is finally here in the Northeast, bringing with it a quickening of step, buds on trees, new beginnings, and people emerging from their dark burrows blinking their eyes at the bright sun. Now’s a time for new beginnings. As a literary agent, I’m seeing in my submission inbox far too many tired subjects that have been done to death. What I want is for writers to dig deeper and explore things in NEW fresh ways. Here are some things I’m seeing far too much of:

1. Bullying – Bullying may seem to be the “new hot topic,” but it has been around since people have existed. If this is a topic that you are writing about, are you plotting to teach a lesson to readers? Please don’t. Not in fiction. That’s icky. And, are you bringing anything new to the table at all? Or seeing things in a fresh or witty way? Too many submissions are just trying to capitalize on what a writer sees as something somebody might want.

2. Diverse Just Cuz it’s Hot – There’s a great thing about everyone being represented in literature – I’m ALL for that. Hey, I’ve been “fashionably” multicultural even before there were hashtags for it! But that’s not why I wrote about biracial teens in my own novels. These were my characters because my own kids are biracial – and it was close to my heart. I wanted my kids to see people like them reflected back in stories that weren’t about “OMG I’m biracial!” I wanted them to see heroes they could relate to out there in fiction. Now, what I’m seeing far too much of is a novel suddenly featuring a character as a particular race or with a particular disability because, look!, my book is diverse and that is HOT and will SELL. Folks, if this doesn’t occur naturally in your writing, please please please don’t just insert it into your story so it’ll sell. That’s gross.

3. Strange Picture Books – And I’m not talking about zany or wacky or out of the box. I’m just talking bizarre — not in a good way. Odd plots that just make you scratch your head and say huh? Supposed issues that no kid I’ve ever known can relate to. Situations that are just trippy instead of fun and fascinating. Creativity is great, but these writers have forgotten that a reader needs to relate to a story somehow.

4. Already Seen it Befores – There’s a movie or a book series or a news story that has become “the thing,” so then for the next year or two I’m flooded with that same story in different incarnations over and over and over. If I’m getting these, you can bet every other agent is too. As soon as I spot a submission as a reboot, my eyes glaze over. 50 Shades…Divergent…Hunger Games…Twilight…Fault in our Stars… etc. etc. etc. I can guess, just from the premise, all the twists and turns that a book will take. I’m actually looking for fresh and original stories only you can tell. If you are still working in the realm of the obvious as you plot, or redoing the last great thing to catch a wave, then your submission isn’t for me. Dig deeper with your writing and dare to start the NEXT commercial hit.

So, think fresh and original, but don’t forget your audience. If something suddenly seems like a “hot topic” and it doesn’t come naturally to you, please don’t go chasing the market by inserting it into your story. Don’t offer up heavy-handed lessons, either. It’s about the story. It’s about your voice, and the way only you can tell that story.

Dig deeper. Let things grow naturally from you. Prune and weed and tend your story till it’s ripe and unique. That’s something that’ll take root.

Happy Spring!

*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: 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: New Lit Agent Victoria Selvaggio!

0011Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Victoria A. Selvaggio!  With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria has also served several years as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Vicki’s a writer herself (her most recent publication is in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market), and she has been a valuable and skilled manuscript reader for the agency. Now she’s excited to read compelling manuscript submissions to shape her own list of clients.

Welcome Victoria! What types of submissions do you want to see?

I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me! On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.

What are some of your favorite reads?

Some of my “older” favorites: THE GIVING TREE written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by author E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis. PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. THE TALISMAN by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And I could go on and on!

How should writers submit to you?

Please email a query to vselvaggio@windstream.net and put “Query” in the subject line of your email. For queries regarding children’s and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.

For queries regarding a non-fiction book, please attach the entire proposal as a Word document (the proposal should include a sample chapter), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of your email.

Thanks, Victoria, for stopping by and sharing your wish list here with us! For more info about our agency, visit the agency website by clicking here. And follow my website, marielamba.com, to catch every new Agent Monday post!

Agent Monday: What it Takes

MP900387360Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Like I do on most weekends, I spent some time this past Saturday and Sunday going through queries that landed in my inbox. Now I’ve done a bunch of Agent Monday posts on the many crazy things that writers do over and over again when they query that result in the proverbial shooting-oneself-in-the-foot. But today I’d like to assume that if you have landed on this website that you are a cut above those people. That you actually research an agent’s guidelines before you hit send. That you’ve learned the ins and outs of how to query and how not to query. (Bless you!) So today I want to give a closer look at a much smaller group of queries. Queries that do, in fact, get me to read those pasted-in opening pages. Why the heck do I still do reject so many of those? What’s a writer gotta do to get me to request a full manuscript? Here’s what it takes…

1. More than a well-targeted tight query. Too often the query is awesome. The writing, not so much.

2. More than a cool concept. Too often the concept sounds exciting. The writing, not so much.

3. More than great credentials. Surprisingly often, the writer has some amazing credits to their name.The writing? Not so amazing for me. Seeing a trend here?

4. More than strong writing. The query is tight, the concept is cool, the writer even has strong credentials. And the writing is strong! But…it’s not for me. Something in the tone or point of view or voice turns me off, signaling to me that I am not the right agent for this writer. Hey, it is a subjective business, and I need to feel fully committed to the writer and the writing to take a piece on.

So, while you can’t control the subjective side of things, beyond trying to target agents who will “get” you, you can keep working on your writing to make it the strongest it can be. Strong beyond the obvious grammatically correct, spell checkiness of it all.

This weekend alone, I passed on queries that were well done but the writing quickly veered into paths I do not enjoy going down. Overly violent. Overly romantic. Misogynistic. Religious. Not for me, folks.

I also passed on plenty of writing that, while showing promise, was laden with too many problems. I’m only seeing 20 pages pasted into my queries, but if in those pages the writing is already burdened with things like meaningless dialogue, way too much telling or backstory, flowery purple prose, and an overall lack of timing when it comes to storytelling, well, I’m going to pass. Why? Because I have to ask myself do I really want to wade through several hundred pages of these same sort of mistakes? Do I love this enough to have to deal with the countless edits it would take to get it up to submission quality? The answer in 99% of these cases is no.

CB063448I’m busy. I have a list of amazing authors I spend a lot of time on. If I’m going to take on a new writer, it has to be someone who comes to the table with mad writing skills. This goes far beyond doing your homework with queries, and having a sharp concept, and even beyond being pretty darn good.

So continue to challenge yourself to get better and better at your craft. Write tight and with honesty. And I’ll look forward to seeing that in my inbox.

 

*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.