Agent Monday: What I’m Looking for – Part 3

beach read

Me reading requested full manuscripts on my ereader…looking for one that meets my #mswl needs!

Happy Agent Monday, folks!  Hope everyone had a relaxing lazy weekend.  Here’s the continuation of my What I’m Looking For series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event a few weeks back over at Twitter…since 120 characters or so just can’t possibly say it all.

If you have the next Bridget Jones – smart, funny, relatable w/ heart – I want to see it!

Okay, here’s the thing: I am a bit of a chick flick fan. I like my flicks touching and heartfelt, hilarious and smart. Mean Girls, She’s the Man, 13 Going on 30, all the Bridget Jones flicks, Never Been Kissed, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. etc. etc. So it’s not surprising that I’d love to find a book that I can fit into that sort of category. A funny and SMART read.

What is surprising?  How hard it has been to find one of these.  First of all there is the whole cliché slippery slope that most of these submissions fall into. If it’s been done before, then it’s not going to cut the mustard.  I deal with major publishers and their top imprints and they aren’t looking for knockoffs. Neither am I.  That’s why as a viewer I was so taken with the movie Silver Linings Playbook. It was as fresh as fresh can be and kept me guessing and intrigued and drawn in every step of the way.  I know. I keep talking about movies!

So back to books.  Too many of the submissions have been too predictable and too familiar.  Another problem? The tone and voice have been an issue.  Sometimes I’ll get a query for what sounds like a really spot on premise, but then the manuscript falls flat.  When you read a Shopaholic book, Becky’s voice is addictive. The way she talks herself into nonsense is truly funny, and she says things to herself that almost make sense (we’ve told ourselves the very same things from time to time).  Bridget Jones’ voice is a funny and perceptive everyman voice that we can’t help but root for.  Who wouldn’t applaud the result of happiness and true love even for a girl whose ass is roughly the “size of two bowling balls”?  My point here is that voice matters.  Tone, too, matters.

Some of the manuscripts I get have a tone that is just too strident. I don’t want to hang out for a few hundred pages with someone who is bitter, or completely selfish, or just plain stupid. Would you?

Another thing that many manuscripts have done is to put way too much emphasis on explicit sexual encounters.  I know that the whole 50 Shades craze feels hot – but, how shall I phrase this? It doesn’t get me hot to make an offer.  What I’m looking for instead is a novel where I care about the character, I worry about her, I feel her loss, I root for her, and I laugh with her as she encounters life’s crazy obstacles, and in the end? A satisfying, albeit unusual triumph. That’s not a category romance thing either.  If your query reads like a mechanical formula: she’s a girl who such and such, but he’s a guy who (just the opposite)…they are forced together when blah blah blah.  Feels dull to me, honestly.  I’m looking for something more original than that.

Too much to ask for?  I hope not.  I don’t want you to think that every submission of women’s chick-lit-like fiction has been a complete miss.  There have certainly been some close calls.  And, like Stephanie Plum, I remain optimistic, even when everything around me points southward.

So if you think you have written what might become the next great Bridget Jones novel, please send it to me.  I’m waiting – and so is our film agent!

Another #mswl explained next week!

*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.

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Agent Monday – What I’m Looking for – Part 2

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, HawaiiHappy Agent Monday, folks.  If you are like me, after 5 solid days of fireworks and potato salad and beach sand crusted into your eyebrows, you don’t know what the heck day it is…  But it’s Agent Monday… I’m pretty sure, anyway.  So, today I’m continuing my What I’m Looking for series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event the other day over at Twitter.  So here goes…

adult fiction – literary voice with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something#mswl

Okay, let’s break this down.  Adult fiction is pretty obvious (though you’d be amazed at how many people don’t get it right).  This is fiction where the main character is in their mid-twenties and older, or, if the character is younger, the material it covers is clearly not for teens or younger.  Just so we’re clear, by that I don’t mean porn, and I personally am not interested in erotica (see my post on Fifty Shades of Not for Me).

When I say literary voice, I mean gorgeous writing, precise language, taking the time to develop imagery and symbolism and meaning throughout the novel.  But that doesn’t mean that I like lofty elitist writing where an author is contemplating their naval and getting all pretentious on the reader.  No no no.  Hence the “with commercial appeal.”  I still want plot, an understandable hook, emotion, etc.  The sort of book that I’d pick off the store shelf and get pulled into…a book that won’t let go.

Character driven – that means that I’m going to care deeply about these characters, even more so than the plot.  This sort of book isn’t all about the hook or the concept – it’s about relationships and growth and conflict all couched within an intriguing story.  No stock characters allowed.

Transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something.  I love getting sunk into another place or time or being taken into the heart of something I’d never have access to otherwise.  Two of my adult fiction clients, Harmony Verna and Yvette Ward-Horner have done this with incredible talent and artfulness.

In Harmony’s historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, she’s coupled the harsh world of turn of the century Australia with a hero and heroine I immediately fell in love with. We meet James and Leonora when they are young orphans and are with them as they form an innocent love. And we also meet Ghan, a rough man who has lived a brutal life in the mines. He considers himself a hideous monster, yet he, too, is a hero throughout this story. As the three lives intertwine we feel the grit of desert sand on our sweaty brow, the horror of the mining life, the joy of children who never had joy in their lives before, the heartbreak of tragedy, the pomp and excess of the wealthy steel tycoons in Pittsburgh, the scraping back-breaking life of someone living in the Australian wheat belt throughout a drought. Harmony takes us to all of these places with stunning detail as we feel how all of these environs wound and shape the characters we have come to love so much.  At the heart of this piece is a true and deep love story as the orphans James and Leonora search for what is home and what is love.  In a word: gorgeous.

In Yvette’s contemporary novel LOOK WELL, she’s paired the finest of imagery and word choice with gripping action, taking the reader up to the highest peak in Alaska as obsessed climber Gabrielle fights to blaze a new historic route to the top. With her are Jason and Mike, two men who know this is a suicide mission, but who love her so much they are terrified to let her make that climb with anyone else. In this book I feel every thunk of the axe into ice, I become so sunk into the story it’s as if I’m truly on the climb with them. I learn so much about this sub-culture — people who risk all for the thrill of the climb, and who carry their lives on their backs. And the characters on the climb also carry their share of conflicts. Their emotional journeys shape every step they take, keeping this book in the “character-driven” vs. “plot-driven” category. This is truly a “heroes journey,” one that I’m not sure, as I read through, any of the people I’ve grown to care for will survive.  Absolutely stunning and riveting.

So there you have it: adult fiction – literary with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting.

Written one of these? Then bring it on over!

 

*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: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel…

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingHappy Monday!  Did you miss me?  Yeah, I kinda dropped off the map for a few Agent Mondays. Sorry.  That’s what a major Hurricane, a 5-day blackout, followed by a big snowstorm, with a dollop of contract negotiations and a heavy dose of book pitching, etc. can do to a girl.  How does this make me feel? It makes me feel like giving out another query tip to writers trying to find an agent. Today’s tip: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel!

Okay, here’s what I mean. Sometimes, now and then, well, actually pretty darned often, I get queries that contain things like the following: This is the best book you’ll ever read. This book will be a sure bestseller. My novel will make you weep. My manuscript is so special that publishers will be throwing money at you. This story will be made into a movie and will change the world. This book is hilarious, moving, earth-shattering, stunning, brilliant. It is the greatest story ever told. This is a love story that will never be forgotten.

Really? Hm. Sometimes I feel like Judge Judy. Short, a tad sarcastic, and about to say, “You think you can tell me how I feel?” Actually, Judge Judy is more inclined to say, “You think you’re smarter than me?  I’m smarter than you’ll ever be in your entire life!” Which is why I watch her and find her hilarious…but I digress.

Then there is the “someone else said it so it must be true” stuff in queries: I read this to my children and they just laughed and laughed. Two fifth grade classes heard me read it aloud and they just loved it. My critique group read it and thought it was extraordinary. My family loves this novel. My friends think this is the best book they’ve ever read.  I took a class with such and such and he said this was superb.

I bang my gavel and say, ” Heresay! Inadmissible in court!” Er, actually, what I think to myself is: whatever. Who cares? I’m the judge of the moment, and I like to form my own opinions, thankyouverymuch.

Which gets to the heart of the problem with these statements. It’s back to the whole tell vs. show thing writers must struggle with in their novels. In queries, the same rule applies. Don’t tell me all this stuff, present your query to me in a way that makes me come to the conclusion all by myself.  If you do it right, I’ll start to think, hey, this sounds pretty terrific! I think a publisher will snatch it up…I can imagine the movies…I bet kids will love this!

Then you are doing stuff right.

Also, this needs to be said: If you tell me that your book is the greatest thing since creamed spinach, I’m gonna think your ego is a bit inflated and that’s not too cool.  If you tell me that your kids, etc. LOVED this book, I’m gonna think, well duh. They love you, even a classroom of kids will love you. That doesn’t make their opinions translate to what matters to the market. So you’ll seem a bit of a greenhorn with statements like that.

So, basically, if you are sounding like the adoring reviewer of your own novel, then you need to give your query a rewrite.

What is acceptable and helpful? If your novel, or a portion of it won a prize? Yup, I want to know. If you received a professional review from a respected source, say a top editor judged the manuscript in a contest and praised it, that’s cool to add in too.

If you don’t have anything like that? That’s also cool. You have your novel. Present it to me in a way that’ll make me fall in love with it.

And I’LL tell YOU how I feel about it.

Case closed!

 

*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.