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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Agent Monday: Query No-No’s

MP900386224Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Spring has finally taken hold here in the Northeast. Time to make things grow – like your writing career. Chances are if you have found this page, you are looking for an agent to help you do just that. This can be a tough and competitive process for sure, but it can be even tougher if you are making query mistakes that seriously ruin your chances.

We writers (NB: I’m an agent and a writer, so I totally get it…) have wonderful imaginations, which means we can worry about SO MANY things. I didn’t put my title in caps, I double spaced my query, I didn’t use a comma after an “and.” Maybe that’s why I’m not getting any agent offers? Nope. That won’t stop an interested agent from being drawn in, so relax. Here are some No-No’s that WILL turn an agent off, though:

Addressing your query to every single agent at once… I get these all too often. The email address of every known agent is included. I immediately delete these – as does every agent ever known.

Your salutation is general or non existent. Dear Agent. Dear Sir or Madam. Hello. That’s another mass mailer. That’s a goodbye.

You say your book is a YA/adult/historical/paranormal/thriller/horror/romance/Christian/humorous tragedy. There is no such shelf in a bookstore, and this is a sign that you don’t know your genre or market, and that your work will reflect that.

You know your genre, but are sending it to agents that clearly say they are NOT representing that genre. Maybe you think your work will change their mind or, more likely, you haven’t bothered to look at agent guidelines to see what we do and do not want to see. This ain’t gonna help you.

You send your query letter as an attachment. Would you open attachments from someone you don’t know? Neither will we – we will delete it.

You direct the agent to an online link to see your query letter or sample pages. That won’t work either. You need to follow agent submission guidelines and this won’t be a part of those guidelines – I promise.

Your query letter is poorly written and riddled with errors. Now I’m not talking about a misplaced comma or that one typo you found, horrified, after you pressed send. I’m talking about truly terrible writing that is careless and shows that the writer isn’t taking their craft seriously.

Chances are pretty good that if you’ve found this page, you ARE doing your homework. You may be saying, hm, I’m doing none of these awful things. Then take heart! If you are following submission guidelines, writing with care, and targeting your genre well in your writing and in your submissions, you’ve already risen to the top of an agent’s inbox. You won’t be immediately deleted. Your query will be read. You have given your manuscript a fair shot.

And, here’s a tip you may find helpful: If I were in your shoes, I’d be sure to include newer agents at established agencies in my query lists. These are people who have all the support of their agency, who have access to any editor because they are certainly legit agents, and who are eagerly building their client lists.

And, hint hint, I just might be one of those agents.

 

*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.

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Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:

 

 

  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.

 

*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: Best Resolutions for Writers

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday and Happy New Year everyone! I hope your 2015 is full of laughter and love. I know lots of people make resolutions, and for writers, that often means resolving to get a literary agent. So if this is your resolution, then definitely read on.

Here are my suggested resolutions for writers making “get an agent” resolutions:

1. Resolve to know that some things you can’t control.
Saying that this year you will get an agent, doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen. And making a resolution like that can be defeating. Trust me on this one. As a writer myself, I’d made many a resolution in the past that went like this: This year I will get a book deal for my novel. So, please, do yourself a kindness and focus on the part of the resolution that you CAN take control of.

2. Resolve to do all that is in your power to get an agent.
What is in your power? Finish and polish your novel FIRST, before even starting to query agents. Create the best query letter you possibly can. Research, research, research to find the best agents for you. Research their guidelines so you can submit to them in the best way that will give your work its best fair shot. (Scroll through my Agent Monday posts over the past few years, and you’ll find lots of helpful tips ranging from writing the perfect query letter, avoiding common mistakes, finding the best conferences, how to approach agents, etc. Subscribe to my website and you’ll get all of my future Agent Monday posts as well.)

3. Resolve to set yourself up for success.
No one can stop you from writing. From perfecting your craft. From learning about the publishing business. From making meaningful connections with other writers at conferences. From forming your own supportive critique group. From checking out affordable local conferences. From reading great current books in the genre that you want to publish in. All of these steps lead you closer to securing an agent and a book deal in the future. All of these enrich your life and make you an even better writer. Each step equals a triumph.

So this year, succeed in countless ways! That’s a resolution we all can keep.

Best of luck to you all.

 

*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.