Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success

MP900314154

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: News Bits

Dog with Birthday Hat and Balloons

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! It’s been a very busy time around here, and productive too.

I’m hoping to offer up some more regular Agent Monday columns soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d just pop in here to quickly share some news bits about a few of our clients over at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

So here goes:

DebbieSpecial MERMAID TALES Site

Simon & Schuster has launched a special online site for client Debbie Dadey’s wonderful chapter book series MERMAID TALES. The site features a host of fun mermaid activities kids will love. http://simonandschusterpublishing.com/mermaid-tales/

traceybaptisteHeadshot 1-smallMore Honors for THE JUMBIES

Kudos to Tracey Baptiste! Her middle-grade novel THE JUMBIES (Algonquin Books for Young Readers) is included on the 2015 New York Public Library Top 100 Notable Titles list, and also on the We Need Diverse Books 10 Must Reads list for 2015.

SRC_DiverseBooksScholastic Book Club Titles

Congratulations to clients Jennifer O’Connell (HARVEST PARTY!), Lee Harper (TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT), and Tracey Baptiste (THE JUMBIES), who each have just had their books featured in Scholastic Book Club fliers! Baptiste’s novel is part of Scholastic’s special We Need Diverse Books edition.

woolburcrazyhairHarper’s Illustrations Acquired for Museum

The Mazza Museum in Ohio has purchased 6 original illustrations and 14 sketches by author/illustrator Lee Harper. Harper’s work will become part of the museum’s permanent collection, which highlights excellence in children’s illustration.

DAUGHTEROFAUSTRALIAVerna’s Debut Already Catching Attention

Harmony Verna’s debut DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA (Kensington) comes out in March, and is already catching attention throughout the world. Foreign rights have been sold to publishers in Australia, Germany and France. Library Journal calls Verna’s novel “a poignant, beautifully told story of love and courage,” and says it evokes the sweeping scope of THE THORNBIRDS. For more info, click here.

Congrats to them 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.

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: You’re an Agent and an Author?

MP900384867Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I’m sitting here shivering, clutching a hot mug of coffee in my chilly hands. Yup, it’s November.  Today, I’d like to answer one of the questions I’m most asked at conferences, on panels, by writers, by editors, etc.: You’re an agent AND an author? How’s that work?

I guess it’s not that common a thing? But here’s how it works: usually, pretty great. At age 10, I read HALF MAGIC by Edward Eager, and I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels. That’s that. I don’t think many 10 year olds out there wake up one day and say, “I want to be a literary agent. That’s that.” But here’s the thing — on my path to becoming an author, I actually picked up a lot of skills that are perfect for the literary agent side of me.

Writing, of course. Reading widely. Editing and revision, not only as an author, but as someone who has worked in publishing and with countless magazines as a writer and as a contributing editor. Publishing experience, again not only as an author, but in actual jobs. I’ve been a publisher’s assistant, an editor, and a book promotion manager. Promo skills and marketing skills!  Yup, I’ve been a book promotion manager, but nothing gives you that on the job promo training quite like selling your own book to readers — been there, done that. And I’ve also been an award-winning public relations writer. Just another one of my jobs.

You can see that as an aspiring novelist, I’ve held many jobs and seen many sides of the business. Freelancing. PR. Publishing. Editing. Promotion and marketing. All jobs held while I was writing my novels and trying to get an agent and a book deal. I didn’t think that, “Hey, I’ll do all these things because I want to become a literary agent.”

But I did — thanks to my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara. Jennifer represents my writing, and over the years she saw I had the skills she felt would make for a strong literary agent. So now I also agent for her company. I know, very mirror in a mirror kind of a thing. But it works, and it’s a great fit for me.

I find I can really relate to my authors and their concerns. That I can help them in revision and promotion. That I have a solid feel of what works and what doesn’t across a broad range of topics and genres.

On the flip side, I’ve peeked behind the curtain and now have a more solid sense of what editors are looking for, why they take on certain projects and pass on others. And what stands out in a submission the most: strong character and compelling voice freshly revealed. That helps my writing for sure.

So while you’ll see here posts about querying and tips for finding an agent, plus announcements of deals for my various clients, you’ll also see me chatting about the writing life and fostering your creativity. And, at times, about my own writing. Just over this past year, I’ve had articles appear in Writer’s Digest magazine, in their annual yearbook, and in their market guides including The 2015 Guide to Literary Agents and The 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Plus I just might have some irons in the fire for some of my own creative works. :)

Eyeglasses on Open BookSo how does it work, being an agent and an author? It works the same way that you might be an author and a parent, or a writer with a job in another field. Both experiences feed each other. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. It works. And it’s all good.

 

*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: NY Agent Seeking Non-Cheesy Rom-Com

Man giving woman gift.Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent a great weekend at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference in Virginia (thanks, everyone, for having me!). There, I sat on the Agents’ Panel and was asked the inevitable question: What are you looking for? On my list, as always, is a great women’s novel destined to be the next great chick flick. I’ve put this request out a number of times, but so far? “She’s just not that into them” (to paraphrase a flick). Here’s what I do and don’t want…

First of all, anyone who knows me, knows I love my chick flicks, and lately? There has been a dry spell of new ones worth watching. So, quite selfishly, I’d love to find that novel that could become that movie that I can absolutely love. But, and this is very important to you folks about to press “send,” I do NOT like sappy romance, or category romance. Nicholas Sparks is NOT NOT NOT my thing, at all.

So what do I like? Fresh and funny and spot on. Quirky and relatable and flawed females with strength. Not ditzy. Not all-I-need-is-a-man. Guy heroes who are flawed and relatable and believable. Real stories that could really actually maybe happen! And that bring something new to the genre.

Why haven’t I found this yet? I’m not sure, and I’m kinda bummed, frankly. What I get is more of the same stuff already out there. The Bridget Jones rip off, complete with the clueless why-don’t-you-have-a-man-yet-you-are-getting-old-you-know mother. The ridiculous who-would-ever-be-friends-with-this-person best friend who is super-slutty or otherwise over the top at all times. The Stephanie Plum characters, but set in another town. And, yes, those anguished Nicholas Sparks ultra romantic novels. Plus plenty of those “my life is crap so I relocated to somewhere mysterious and/or exotic and found my groove with the handyman” sorts.

Okay, love is tough. I shouldn’t be jaded and I don’t want to give up hope. I know my “perfect match” is out there somewhere. What’s on my checklist for this? Something that connects with realities TODAY and gives us a fresh look at it in a way that makes us nod and laugh. A real heroine dealing with today’s challenges that we can root for, and real guys that we might actually need to avoid or to give the time of day to more. An original voice and fun and fresh situations. PERSONALITY! Real heart – not oozy fuzzy lovey dovey stuff. NOT that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not “my type.” And, in a smart and funny way, yes, love.

red rose and dobermannSo “if you like Pina Coladas” then chances are you should keep on moving, but if you’re “writer seeking agent” with something fresh to offer, I just might be into you.

 
*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: Twenty Turn Offs

Farmers Asleep in the HayHappy Labor Day everyone! Hope you do something restful today. We all work so hard – a break is definitely in order. Today, as we honor work, I thought I’d offer up a post on things that are not working for me in many of the queries and manuscripts I’ve received. The hope is that this will help you all be more productive and efficient in the future. Because queries to me include the first 20 pages of a manuscript pasted in, thought I’d list 20, count ’em, 20 turn offs. Here goes:

1. Misspellings, poor grammar, and misused punctuation.
2. Purple prose. Manuscripts that wax poetic about the fingers of dawn caressing the horizon, blah blah blah.
3. Mundane memoirs filled with “I took a trip,” “I have a weird family,” “I’m so cool and witty” stuff.
4. Manuscripts loaded with too much telling.
5. Queries that are full of unprofessional details – I have two cats. My husband is wonderful. I love shoes.
6. Dystopian stories – they all have this wall, and this underground society, and *cough cough* HUNGER GAMES *cough cough.*
7. Religious agendas or moral agendas.
8. Stories for children that talk down to kids.
9. Manuscripts for children written as if they were penned 100 years ago – as if the author has read only the classics and didn’t notice that kids and readers may have changed.
10. Manuscripts way over 100,000 words – especially children’s books!
11. Gore and extreme violence.  NOT FOR ME.
12. Manuscripts that are just like a popular book already out there, only with a twist. Please be original.
13. Predictable plot lines. If I can read the first two pages and know exactly what’s going to happen, then it’s not for me.
14. Romance novels. While I like a touch of romance in fiction, I do not represent genre romance.
15. Hate-filled points of view, whether in fiction or memoir.
16. I’m weary of vampires, werewolves, zombies, fairies. Not my thing.
17. Weary of the “teen finds out on her birthday that she has special powers and is central to fighting an otherworldly war” thing.
18. Writers who aren’t serious about being pros. The business of getting published is a business – not a hobby.
19. Boring writing. Some writing is just a slog to read.
20. Queries that are simply unclear.  If I read the query and find myself thinking, “Huh? This manuscript is about what???” – then I’m not going to even bother reading those 20 pages.

So that’s it! Twenty turn offs. So what DO I want? Well, you can read between the lines here. And look at my many past posts on this blog. Plus check out my guidelines here.

Wishing you all a very productive writerly fall.

*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: Phew!

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Phew, this here agent has been BUSY in every which way over the past week. It’s included traveling and going to conferences and meeting clients and taking pitches and traveling some more, and pitching books and coming back each time to more and more and MORE stuff in my inbox. So, while I now hunker down and catch up here, I thought I’d just post some pix today of the action.

Here goes:

At the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, OR (thanks, Willamette folks for a great conference!)… Hanging out with our fabulous film agent Kim Guidone, and the hilarious Rich Johnson, editor at Inklit, Penguin…

photo_3(2)While in Portland, I got to meet with my client, author Jon Price, for the very first time! That was a blast. Jon is the author of the very witty middle grade novel CREEP VIEW

photo_2(1)Back East, I grabbed a coffee with my great client Erin Teagan, and we chatted about her clever middle grade novel STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES, and about some future ideas she’s got brewing…

photo_1(2)Then off to a book launch for the thriller DEAD OUT, written by my very good buddy Jon McGoran! Jon’s book just got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. So excited to read it!…

photo_4(2)THEN it was off to New York for a gorgeous day and an informal picnic in Central Park with my fellow agents from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. These are seriously not only the most talented and smartest people you’d ever want to meet, but the nicest too!…

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

And now? Soaking my feet, catching up on everything, and staring at my empty refrigerator. Time to catch up and rest up and forge ahead yet again.

Happy August, everyone!

*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.