Agent Monday: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

Q. Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

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

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

Q. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

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

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

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

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

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

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Agent Monday: New Agent Marlo Berliner!

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Happy Agent Monday, and happy April everyone! Phew, we made it through March. Okay, I KNOW it’s April Fools day, but I promise this is a REAL post.  I’m excited today to introduce you all to one of our newest literary agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – Marlo Berliner! It’s also very real and true that new agents are vigorously seeking new clients, so if you are a writer seeking an agent, I hope this info is helpful.

So let’s kick off our chat with Marlo!…

Q: Thanks for stopping by, Marlo! Tell us, how did you get into agenting?

A: Thanks for having me! I was originally an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company, but I’ve been involved in publishing now for over twelve years, as a writer, the chair of a major publishing conference, a published author, a freelance editor, and finally a children’s lead bookseller for Barnes & Noble. As a freelance editor, I’ve always enjoyed helping other writers develop their stories. After a while, I realized I was able to recognize which stories in my inbox had much more potential than others. So when I saw an opportunity to intern at The Bent Agency, I jumped at it. I learned a great deal from that first year-long internship with Molly Ker Hawn, and then even more from my second internship with Colleen Oefelein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I will always be grateful for what I learned from both of these amazing agents.

Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A: Being an agent is a great fit for me because I’ve had a nearly 360 degree view of publishing – as author, agent, editor and bookseller. As an author myself, I just love working with stories to make them stronger, and I also understand firsthand the trials of this profession, so I love being an advocate for writers.

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

A: I’m interested in all genres of MG and YA fiction, with particular emphasis on adventure, psychological thriller, suspense, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, speculative, and romance. I enjoy magic, magical realism, unusual settings, pirates, dark elements, gothic tone, secrets or secretive characters, treasure hunts, and unreliable narrators. On the adult side, I’m looking for mystery, thriller, suspense, women’s fiction, and all genres of romance, except inspirational, historical and erotic. I’d love to find a richly layered, historical mystery in the vein of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A: So, so many I could mention but here are a few. MG – the Nevermoor series, love the magic and wonder of these books. YA – One of Us is Lying, love the way the story is told through multiple POVs and yet seamlessly moves the plot forward. Mystery, Thriller, Suspense –  The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Bring Me Back, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Give Me Your Hand, love the dark, twisty, page-turning plots and complicated characters. Women’s Fiction –  The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, so many feels! Romance – The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, so heart-warming, fun and original.

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

A: I don’t watch too much TV, but when I do I tend to binge watch an entire season or series at once. Some of my favorites are Stranger Things, You, Bird Box, The Passage, Supernatural, Arrow, and Ghost Adventures (as fodder for my own series, The Ghost Chronicles). I’m a huge movie buff, so I could list hundreds of movies as my favorites, but I’ll give just a few old and new – Practical Magic, Titanic, Avatar, The Woman in Black, La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Q: What’s in your reading pile?

A: I love to read widely across ages and genres. Right now, I’m looking forward to diving into some new middle grade – The Friendship War by Andrew Clements, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, and The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I’m also reading All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda.

Q: What makes a successful query to you?

A: To me a successful query begins with the title, genre and word count, so I know what I’m supposed to be considering. It’s an added bonus if you can add some personalization of why you specifically queried me (i.e. you met me at a conference, saw something I mentioned on #MSWL, read an interview about me, etc.) From there, the query should clearly describe who the main character is, what the dilemma is that they’ve been thrown into, and what the stakes are. This is the ‘meat’ of the query, so be sure to show me the hook, or what makes your story unique. End the query with a short bio that tells me a bit about yourself, particularly your writing pursuits, publications and any accolades. Then attach the most sparkling first twenty pages you can – show me a well-thought-out original concept, with memorable characters, a great voice, and solid, polished writing. Draw me into your story, your world, and your character’s dilemma immediately. Make those first twenty pages so great I simply have to ask for more. And if I do, then send me a full manuscript that has all of the above through to the very last page.

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

A: I sometimes can forgive a muddled up query letter, one which doesn’t follow what I’ve outlined in the previous question, but it usually puts me on alert that the pages may not hold up either. In most cases, I will still read a few pages of the writing to give the writer a chance. But if the writing doesn’t wow me by page ten, you’re done. One of the more common mistakes is writing that feels too distant and doesn’t make me feel as if I am taking a journey along with the main POV character. Also, secondary characters that are cardboard – they’re given a physical description, a minor purpose for being in the story, and little else. Another mistake I see quite frequently, particularly in fantasy, is throwing me in a first scene with tons of action, but no depth to the characters, setting, or context. For instance, manuscripts which begin with an ongoing sword fight that could be taking place anywhere, any time period, on any planet. I need to at least know a bit about the setting to ground me, and a bit about the characters so I’ll care. Head hopping within a scene will also make me reject quickly. Telling a story through multiple POVs is fine; head hopping is not. And if a writer doesn’t know the difference between the two, then it makes me question how much they really know their craft.

Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A: I am very editorially hands-on with my clients. I will work hard with my authors to get their work 100% ready for submission to editors, through multiple revisions if that’s what it takes. I thoroughly enjoy editing at all levels, from big-picture right down to line-editing, and would want to be sure we are sending out an author’s very best work.

Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?

A: An ideal client is one who reads voraciously, writes consistently, and wants a career as an author. An ideal client will also show patience, be open to critique and revisions, and always be seeking to improve their craft.

Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?

A: I’m active on both Twitter and Instagram: @marloberliner

Q: Your link for submission guidelines?

A: The best place for my most up-to-date guidelines is on The Jennifer De Chiara website here. : https://www.jdlit.com/marloberliner and you can query me here.

Thanks for stopping by Marlo!  You can also meet some of our other new agents by visiting some of my past Agent Monday postings. And don’t forget to check back for more Agent Monday stuff here in the future. Happy April to you all. 🙂

 

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

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Webinar for YA Writers – with Critique and Q&A!

MP910220840Hot summer tip time… Attention writers of YA novels! Literary agent Cari Lamba and I (we’re both from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC) are teaching the live Writer’s Digest Webinar “Write And Sell Your Young Adult Novel – Must-Know Info For Getting Published” on Thursday July 12th at 1 p.m.

This 90 minute webinar will help you craft and sell a novel that literary agents, publishers and readers will love. It covers the YA market (including the 10 things the top NYC editors are asking for right now), tools that will help you craft a strong and focused YA novel, and details on how to create a professional and artful query letter that will impress literary agents.

The webinar includes a Q&A plus a personal critique of your query letter and your YA novel’s opening pages.

A bit about us… Cari and I are both agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.  We represent authors of fiction for children through adults, pitching their novels to all the major publishers. In addition, I’m an author of picture books and young adult novels (including the Random House novel WHAT I MEANT…, and the novels DRAWN and OVER MY HEAD), so along with our literary agent point of view, I’ll bring my YA author perspective to this webinar as well.

*Can’t attend the live webinar? Registration still entitles you to a copy of the on demand webinar, plus the critique. So you can still go for it!*

Interested? Act quickly, the webinar is SOON! Eep! For info and registration click here.

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

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Agent Monday: Fix Your Middle Grade Novel

Rear view of class raising handsHi everyone!  Happy Agent Monday!  Okay, YES, it’s Tuesday, but it’s never too late to learn about how to fix your novel. Today’s focus?: the middle grade novel. As an agent, I see so many submissions that are instant rejections because they don’t fit into that middle grade category in a fundamental way.  That’s a book I can’t sell. So is your middle grade missing the mark, and how can you make it really shine?

This Thursday, Agent Cari Lamba and I will be teaching a live webinar through Writer’s Digest called WRITING AND SELLING THE MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL: MUST-KNOW INFORMATION FOR GETTING PUBLISHED. It starts at 1 p.m., includes a Q&A with us, as well a personal critique of your query letter and the first 5 pages of your middle grade novel. There is still time to sign up! For more info, and to register click here. (Note that even if you can’t attend this webinar live, you can still register and get the recorded webinar, as well as get your personal critique.)

In this webinar, Cari and I cover the many ways that writers unwittingly ruin their chances at publication. We realized that there is a lot of need-to-know stuff – A LOT! So if you are writing in the middle grade category, DEFINITELY do your homework before submitting to any agents, whether by attending our webinar, or through extensive research. It’s simply a must.

For example, middle grade novels are geared at 8-12 year old readers, yet, because kids “read up” they are typically about characters aged 10-13 or so. So if your main character is only 8 years old, that’s too young! Also note that middle grade is not synonymous with middle school readers. Those readers are typically reading young adult novels, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Middle grade novels are of a certain length. Go too long or too short on the word count range and you’ll be hurting your story’s chances of acceptance.  Another vital thing to keep in mind?: subject matter and how it’s handled. Can you handle tough stuff? Sure. But the way it is handled in a picture book, vs. a middle grade novel, vs. a young adult novel is vastly different. In the webinar, we’ll cover how to handle tough subjects for this market in an age-appropriate way.

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in Class

Study up, writers! The webinar includes a Q&A

There is a lot of ground we’ll be covering, but one important tip to keep in mind is that you must understand where kids are developmentally at these ages. Look that info up, and you’ll find a range of great themes and concerns that can help appropriately shape your story and your character’s point of view.

Also – are you up to date on current middle grade novels? If you are only reading classics, or ones you remember from your childhood, then your own novel may not be up-to-date enough when it comes to pacing and themes and voice.  We’ll cover what elements are essential in great middle grade fiction today, as well as share the top 10 things top editors have personally told us they are seeking in middle grade right now. We’ll also cover how to put together a strong query letter for your novel, and we’ll include examples of queries that actually led to representation and then to book deals.

So is your middle grade novel a good fit for its audience? Or are you creating a manuscript that won’t fit on any shelf because you are mixing up elements, subject matter and point of view? I often have to reject MG novel submissions because of this, so please do your homework, and make sure you understand what a middle grade novel is, and what it isn’t. This will help your novel become one that will make agents and readers alike take notice.

Maybe I’ll *see* you at the Webinar!

Happy writing!
Marie

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

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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: 6 “To Do’s” if You Write

Mixed Race girl on floor with a computerHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I know, I know — it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. But I have been SO busy in a really good way with doing agenty stuff. Okay, so I’m STILL really busy, but I do think it’s time to get our Agent Monday show back on the road, don’t you? So here is my “6 To Do’s if You Write” post. Are you doing these 6 things? And if not, shouldn’t you?

Last week, I was honored to be the featured speaker at Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. As I prepped for my talk, I began to think about what would have helped me when I was in college. Back then, becoming a published author still felt like a distant dream. As an aspiring author, what I really needed were guideposts that would help me truly get where I wanted to be.

Now looking back, I realize there were 6 things I did that definitely helped me achieve my dream of being a published author, plus these ensured that writing would be my life-long career. I hope this list will help you, whether you are just starting out, or are in the thick of things, yet feeling stuck.:

  • IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS A WRITER – Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, believe that you ARE a writer. Tell yourself that, and tell that to everyone you know.
  • DON’T BE DETERRED – Plenty of things will get in your way…lack of support…writing that isn’t quite ready for prime time…tons of rejections. Just remember that the only thing that can really stop you from writing is you.
  • BE STUBBORN — BUT NOT TOO STUBBORN – Yes, believe in your voice and vision, and persist in getting your work out there. BUT also be open to revision and constructive criticism. And move on to write the next book, and the next.
  • EXPECT MAJOR SETBACKS – AND TAKE A LONG VIEW OF THINGS – Bad things will happen in your writing life and in your personal life. REALLY bad things. But see what you can take from them and look ahead. You can get beyond it (see Don’t Be Deterred above).
  • MAKE IT WORK IN THE REAL WORLD – Realize that there is nothing romantic about a starving writer. Fit writing in, live within reasonable means, AND find a way to make money. Most published authors do this.
  • KNOW THAT WRITING IS AN ART, BUT PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – While your writing is very personal to you, for publishers it’s a way to make money. If they pass on acquiring your work, it’s not personal, it’s business. Learn how to act professionally (lots of posts on this blog will help you with that), and it’ll help you share your art with the world. And don’t forget to be appreciative to those on your team. Publishing is made up of humans – a lovely thank you goes a long way!

*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: Two New Agents at JD Lit!

YHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The sun has peeped out for a few hours here AT LAST, so I thought this would be a good time for some sunny news….two new agents have recently joined the ranks of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. So help me extend a warm welcome to Associate Agents Damian McNicholl and Alexandra Weiss!

Damian is a former attorney, and author of the critically acclaimed novel A Son Called Gabriel (CDS Books/Perseus Books Group).  As an agent, he’s looking for great nonfiction and fiction that appeals to a wide audience and makes people think, laugh and sob. In fiction, his interests are accessible literary, upmarket commercial, historical, legal thrillers, LGBT, and some offbeat/quirky. Nonfiction interests are memoir, biography, history, investigative journalism and current events especially cultural, legal as well as LGBT issues that can help lead to meaningful change in society. For more information about Damian, and his submission guidelines, click here.

Alexandra is a Books Writer for Bustle.com, the PR Manager for a local Chicago circus, and an all-around literary bookworm. She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Publishing from Columbia College Chicago, has interned as a publicist, and was an acquisitions editor for the award-winning anthology Hair Trigger. As an agent, Alexandra is looking for young adult, especially in the areas of realism, science fiction and fantasy, and she loves stories that include diverse and risk-taking subjects, including culture, race, sexuality, and identity. She’s also looking  for adventurous, silly, and out-of-the-box children’s and middle-grade books.  And for general fiction, she’s not looking for romance, but she is seeking strong literary voices that take the notion that every story is a love story to new levels. She’s also drawn to books that include uncommon formats, incorporating things like letters, photos, or poetry. For more information about Alexandra, including her submission guidelines, click 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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