Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Agent Monday: April Showers Bring…Client News

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  April is BUSY, and lots of things have been happening. For me, this month is packed with travel and book pitching and the Writer’s Digest Sell Your Children’s Book Webinar (starting today), in addition to the day-to-day goings on of being an agent. My clients have been very busy too! For today’s post, I thought I’d share some of their recent good news here…

Jumbies cover smallHappy Book Birthday!

Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel THE JUMBIES (Algonquin Books FYR) will celebrate its book birthday on April 28th! Caribbean island lore melds with adventure and touches of horror in this tale about Corinne La Mer, a girl who on All Hallow’s Eve accidentally draws a monstrous jumbie out of the forest, sparking a very personal war that only she can stop. Also, Tracey’s book is featured in this month’s ESSENCE magazine, which called THE JUMBIES “an endlessly addictive and hypnotic new read.”

 

Award Winner!Eliza Bing jkt

Congratulations to Carmella Van Vleet, whose debut middle grade ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) has just been awarded The Christopher Award. The award recognizes writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Carmella’s novel is about Eliza, who has ADHD, and a history of not following up on things. Eliza needs to muster up all the determination and inner strength she has to prove to herself and her parents that she can finish a martial arts class. Carmella will accept her award this May in NYC, along with this year’s other recipients. Among this year’s award winners are the creators of the movie Selma, producers of 48 Hours, and authors Henry Winkler (AKA the “Fonz”) and Lin Oliver for their children’s novel Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (Grosset and Dunlap).

 

mh cover final054A Top Title!

M.P. Barker’s historical YA novel MENDING HORSES (Holiday House) was just named a 2015 Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth. Booklist called MENDING HORSES “A skillful evocation of race, class, and gender in nineteenth-century New England.“ The novel is about three outcasts – an Irish orphan, a roving peddler, and a child fleeing an abusive father – who mend each other’s broken lives as they heal a circus’s mistreated horses. Barker’s novel is also 2015 Banks Street College of Education “Best Children’s Book,” a 2014 Kirkus Prize nominee, and a 2014 VOYA “Top Shelf” title.

 

Gregory Frost 1In Asimov’s Magazine!

Gregory Frost’s short story ““Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters — H’ard and Andy Are Come to Town!” co-authored with Michael Swanwick, is in the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Greg recently appeared with Swanwick and other authors from that issue at a packed Q&A session at Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia, an event I was excited to attend! Greg’s novelette “No Others are Genuine,” which appeared in an earlier issue of Asimov’s was recently honored as a 2014 finalist for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award.

Congratulations 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: It’s an Investment

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Okay, it is so cold in the Northeast that folks coming to the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philly had to contend with cancelled trains. Why? Because the train doors were frozen shut. That’s what I heard. Not kidding!  Fortunately, my trains had working doors and I braved the cold on Friday and Saturday to attend the conference. Was it worth it?  Definitely. I got to meet with a ton of editors, talk to publishers from all over the country and from Canada, and see a number of writers that I know as well. But what really warmed my soul was seeing the products of my first two book deals being launched! Publishing takes time, and agenting takes patience and persistence and lots of work, just like writing does. It’s an investment.

All that time I put into finding the right authors to represent, working with that author to get the manuscript ready for submission, making up the perfect pitch, learning about who the right editors may be for a work, contacting editors, following up, taking deal offers, negotiating contracts… Phew.  I love what I do, but it does take time.  And that time is all worth it when I see this:

ALA Midwinter 2014 - 1

Here are two of my very first deals, published and on display side-by-side at The Holiday House publisher’s booth at the convention. And they are both on sale now. Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet is a fabulous middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end.  This is Carmella’s debut novel, and it has already been honored as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I’m not surprised.  Eliza’s an unforgettable character!  Mending Horses, a YA historical by award-winning author M.P. Barker, is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered. Michele (the M. in M.P.) writes with such confidence and skill that you are completely absorbed in this tale about Daniel, a young indentured servant in 1800s New England, who is suddenly set free and must find his way alone. He finds a family of sorts in an old peddler, a young runaway and a traveling circus, but all is not well. The performing horses are mistreated, and a dangerous secret puts everyone at risk. Daniel fights to protect the horses, but can he save them all?

To view the cool trailer for this book, click here and then click on trailer video.

It was a great moment for me as an agent to hold these two books in my hands. To have a part in bringing these wonderful books to readers. But it took time. And not just for me, of course. The authors spent so much time perfecting their writing, creating their novels, revising them, finding an agent, then revising again, then working on revisions with the publisher. It’s an investment.

But it pays off – over time.

I look at my career as an agent thus far as a start-up business. I put in my own time to learn the ropes, to scout out clients, to build my list, and now, two years into it, things are chugging along. My authors are working on second and third manuscripts for me. I have a number of projects out on submission. New books are slotted for publication in 2015. It’s a process.

I guess that’s what I hope writers will take away from this post. It’s a process. An investment. It takes time. It’s worth it.

I always tell my authors to take a loooong view of their careers. That means don’t just write one book and wait for it to sell. Work on something new while the other is on submission.

Writers, don’t let past discouragements in your career stop you from writing and moving ahead. Learn from it and keep going. I’m a writer, too, and there are many times that I could have stopped and said, enough! But I didn’t, and I’m so glad I gave myself that time. When things derail your writing career, it can be hard to have that sort of perspective. But keep working and you will look back after 20 years of writing and producing work and see that stumbling block as something small in perspective. If writing is your passion, keep going. It’s an investment.

And expect an agent that will invest in you. A good agent will be viewing you over the long career you have ahead of you. Not dropping you if a project doesn’t immediately sell. You will continue to write, to grow and to get better and better. Writers with talent are worth investing in.

Now back to work, everyone!  Put in that time.

*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: Exciting Writing for 2014!

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday, and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!  Yeah, I know, it’s been a while since this weekly column has popped up, but it’s been a few weeks filled with action on both the agent and writing sides of my life, plus there was the whole triple holiday thing with family and friends tossed in.  What? Agents have a life?  Well, sometimes…  Anyhow, I know that with resolutions formed, many writers have vowed to get an agent for their manuscript. That means that I’ll be getting lots of queries from folks very soon.  (It’s kinda like the way the gym suddenly gets VERY crowded every January.) So lets chat a moment about this resolution…

Are you vowing to get an agent in 2014? Are you going to send me a query very soon?  Then there are two things I ask. Thing #1: Exciting writing! Make sure your manuscript and your query are the very best they can be before you even consider hitting send.  And Thing #2: Please do your homework about every agent you send to, and follow my and each agent’s submission guidelines scrupulously.

Not doing Thing #1 or Thing #2 will mean a rejection, and that is NOT your goal for 2014.

Eliza Bing jkt

 

I’m looking forward to lots of exciting things in 2014, including my client Carmella Van Vleet’s debut middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER! (Holiday House Books, Feb. 14, 2014).  This is a touching and hilarious book about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end. And it’s already been honored as a Junior Library Guild selection.

I’m also thrilled to announce that we’ve just inked a deal with Charlesbridge Publishers for TO THE STARS! a non-fiction picture book Carmella has co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan about Kathy’s interests in science and the world, which led her to become the first American woman to walk in space.  Talk about cool!

 

9780823429486_p0_v1_s260x420Another amazing thing I’m looking forward to? My client M.P. Barker’s stunning historical YA novel MENDING HORSES (Holiday House Books, spring 2014). Her elegant writing grips you in the drama of a family-friendly “Water for Elephants” about three outcasts – an Irish orphan, a roving peddler, and a girl hiding from an abusive father – who join a circus, help its damaged horses, and must battle violence to mend each other. Check out this wonderful trailer here for MENDING HORSES.

 

In my own writing, I’ve just finished up an article for Writer’s Digest Magazine that’ll be pubbed in their May issue, and I just might be working on a picture book of my own.  I’ll keep you posted on that.  Plus there are a few other exciting things simmering on the agent end of things that I’ll be able to announce soon…

So 2014 is off to an exciting start all around.  Remember Thing #1 and Thing #2, and best wishes to you all for success and joy in your own writing in this brand new year!

*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: Getting Historical

Antique pocket watch - closeup on very old pocket watchHappy Agent Monday, gang!  With this weekend involving turning back clocks, I thought this would be a great time to talk a bit about historical novels (clever, huh?).  So here are some thoughts about getting historical.

I spent last weekend at the wonderful SCBWI Eastern PA Critique Fest, where I sat down with many authors critiquing manuscripts ranging from picture book through YA.  What a great experience! I did have a number of historical manuscripts to crit there, and I’ve also gotten many queries and sample chapters in my agent inbox recently that were historical middle grade, YA or adult.  Some intriguing stories, and fascinating time periods!  But also I found some familiar issues popping up, too. Things that held the story back or got in the way of the plot.

The biggest problem? The author felt challenged about providing historical context and facts – all having to do with world-building, really.  So we ended up with spending a lot of time in those opening pages explaining what was going on in the world at that time – something the characters would never do if they lived way back then.  Imagine you the writer lived 100 years from now and were writing a story about 2013.  Would you have your character thinking, wow, here I am taking off my shoes at an airport because a few years back this horrific act of terrorism happened…and let me just go over all that happened on that horrible day politically and terror-wise so you know why I’m taking off my shoes now?

Yeah, that wouldn’t happen. It would be clunky and unrealistic. Instead, in a story set in a world of hyper-security and scrutiny, the character in our current time would just move forward with the story, and details would present themselves as things progressed, providing context for the reader as relevant. They would notice the cameras trained on them in the parking lot perhaps as they rushed toward the airport, dealing with their own issues, goals, conflicts. The airport PA system would make those “watch out for stuff” announcements, and officers would stand by with bomb sniffing dogs. Our character would remove his shoes, even as he’s thinking about the personal plot challenge that is set in front of him…perhaps he needs to get something from point A to point B without being seen by authorities for something that has nothing to do with terrorism, but everything to do with his family’s well-being.  And voila! The reader will understand the context and the history of that time AS IT RELATES TO THE STORY.

It’s all in the details and how history actually intersects at that moment with the character’s world. Give us what’s relevant. When characters spend paragraphs at the outset detailing for the reader all that research the writer’s done about that time, I check out of the story, honestly. But give me a character I believe in and care about, give me an obstacle with high stakes that they must face, and I’ll follow you for pages and pages as you take them through their world. And I’ll absorb the details of the time and figure out how the era really is and impacts the characters. And yes, here and there as you move along, you could drop in some facts as they become relevant to that character’s world. It’s not about giving the reader a lecture, though. It’s about serving the story and plot. In the end, the reader will have learned a ton about that time and its history. That’s one of the joys of reading historical novels, right?  But it’s all in how you do it.

I’m extremely proud to represent some truly kick-ass historical authors, including Harmony Verna and M.P. Barker. Harmony’s debut manuscript is an adult historical titled FROM ROOTS TO WINGS. She has us immediately worry and care about an orphan abandoned in the Australian desert in the late 1800s, and about a crippled miner who discovers her and saves her. And over the course of this engrossing novel we need to know that somehow they will end up okay. That’s the heart of the story.  But we learn so much as we follow the tale. About harsh living. About the mines. About farming in the Australian wheat belt. About WWI, about Australia’s sacrifices during the war. And about the wealthy Pittsburgh elite. About the Aborigines. Oh, the knowledge we gain feels endless. Yet not once do we feel lectured to.

M.P. Barker’s novels A DIFFICULT BOY (Holiday House 2008) and MENDING HORSES (Holiday House, coming out this spring!) are fabulous examples of historical novels done right for the upper middle grade and YA audiences, and I highly recommend you grab one of these and see how deftly she creates that character, makes us love him, and then throws him into peril so that we simply must know he’ll survive and thrive some day. And the lush details of New England life in the 1800s are simply stunning. Again, she never loads the readers with facts and figures — just has her characters live their lives in this time. And we learn a ton about rural life back then, bigotry against the Irish, the horrors of indentured servitude, the world of both the privileged and the poor.  It truly is an education. But first of all, these are fabulous novels, and the story always holds center stage.

So if you are interested in querying me about your historical novel, I’d love to see it! But be sure that you don’t fall into the trap of historical info dumping and killing the reality you want to build. Take me into another time in a believable way with a character I’ll care about. I’m looking forward to the trip!

 

*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: Looking Back over the Year

YLast Thursday, I sat around a table with folks from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, feeling so at home as together we celebrated our year of achievements. So in this Agent Monday’s post, I thought it’d be fun to reflect on 2012 from my own perspective as an Associate Agent there.

This was definitely a huge year at the agency. So much going on, but with Christmas around the corner, let’s start with the amazing success of ELF ON THE SHELF. Last year, the animated Christmas special premiered, and this year, this book’s success has grown so much that it actually became a balloon at the Macy’s Day parade. WOW. That’s all I can say.

Among the other many successes at the agency, soap star Jeanne Cooper‘s memoir NOT YOUNG, STILL RESTLESS has been cruising through The New York Times bestseller list. And amazing author Matthew J. Kirby’s mid-grade novel ICEFALL has won both the 2012 PEN Award and the 2012 Edgar Award. Also in 2012, filming just wrapped up on the movie GEOGRAPHY CLUB based on the book written by our acclaimed author Brent Hartinger! And this year we welcomed to our agency Associate Agent Roseanne Wells, who is awesome.

During our agency celebration we also raised our glasses to the many deals made and the great clients who have become part of our agency family. There’s excitement in the air, and tons of stuff happening, but above all, I’m struck by how smart and decent people at this agency truly are. And how happy I am to belong to this special group.

As for me? In 2012 I read hundreds upon hundreds of queries. I took pitches and spoke at conferences. I’ve read a healthy number of requested full manuscripts, and passed on most of them, but not all….

This year I went from having 0 clients, to a great list of 7 clients. I’ve sent novels on submission, deals have been made (note to you folks researching on Publishersmarketplace.com to see which agents are making which deals…some deals that have been made take months to appear on this site until contracts are officially inked and finalized…just something to keep in mind!).

And I’m so pleased to tell you about my own posse of talented clients:

Tracey Baptiste: Her debut novel ANGEL’S GRACE (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2009) was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by NYC librarians. Her newest novel GROWING MAGIC is a stunning and dark middle grade based on a Haitian folktale, and is sure to give readers the shivers.

M.P. Barker: Her debut A DIFFICULT BOY (Holiday House, 2008) was called, “a memorable tale of friendship and a fascinating glimpse into mid-19th-century Massachusetts” by School Library Journal.  Her newest novel, MENDING HORSES is a gorgeous historical that follows an orphan boy, newly freed from indentured servitude, as he struggles to find his place and a home.

Jon Price: Jon is a a commercial, television and film editor whose credits include Nickelodeon’s series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and feature films The Ant Bully, and the Academy Award nominated film Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. His debut middle grade novel CREEP VIEW ACADEMY is the hilarious adventure of Kevin Lester, liar extraordinaire, who accidentally gets shipped off to a school for monsters.

Jim Kristofic: Jim’s debut is the highly praised memoir NAVAJOS WEAR NIKES (University of New Mexico Press), and he’s also author of the audio book COYOTE TALES (Blackstone Audio). His new project is an exciting middle grade fantasy called THE FIRE TREE CLAN where a boy battles against all too real Native American mythological monsters.

Carmella Van Vleet: Carmella is a versatile author of children’s non-fiction, including Nomad Press top-sellers  SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD: DISCOVER AMAZING MONUMENTS TO CIVILIZATION and GREAT ANCIENT EGYPT PROJECTS YOU CAN BUILD YOURSELF. Carmella’s hilarious and touching debut middle grade novel is ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER about a girl with ADHD who must prove she can stick with something to the very end.

Harmony Verna: Harmony has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing. Her debut is the dazzling historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, a sweeping saga in the tradition of THE THORNBIRDS, that explores passions, love and loss against the backdrop of harsh early 1900’s Australia.

Stephanie Winkelhake: Stephanie’s debut is the passionate and engrossing YA novel FOLLOWING YOU, about a dying girl who follows her dead boyfriend instead of the heavenly light, only to learn there is hell to pay. Her novel was a 2012 finalist in RWA’s  prestigious national GOLDEN HEART AWARDS.  Stephanie also has a story in the new anthology CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: I CAN’T BELIEVE MY DOG DID THAT! 

It’s truly been an exciting year, and I know that 2013 will be even better. Looking into my crystal ball, I see book deals, exciting new manuscripts arriving in my inbox, and the fun of meeting new editors, authors, agents and book lovers. And I see a number of conferences in the future, as well (no crystal ball needed for this). For starters, you’ll find me at the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam, at the Liberty States Fiction Writer’s Conference, doing a full-day agent workshop at Push to Publish, and a two-day query/pitch clinic at The Word Studio. More stuff will surely pop up, so check in at my Appearances Page for up-to-date info and details.

I wish you all a New Year full of creativity and productivity. Dream big, everyone, and go for it!

warm wishes to you all,

Marie
*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.