Agent Monday: How Fast do Editors Respond?

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, folks! Hopefully, like me, you are some place where spring is FINALLY trying to assert itself. And it feels about time. Speaking about time… (See what I did there?) This past weekend I was delighted to be a speaker at the Eastern PA Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Forward event. Our panel took a bunch of questions from writers, including this one: How long does it take for an editor to respond to a submission from an agent? One day, one week, one month, three months, longer? My answer was: YES. Here’s the long answer:

The truth is that sometimes editors respond in a flash, and other times, well, not so fast. There are a ton of factors at work here, and this likely does not reflect on the clout of your agent at all (since I suspect some writers might be thinking, hey, my agent didn’t hear back from so and so for three months — maybe my agent’s not bad-ass enough).

First of all, it can depend on the submission. Picture book manuscripts can be read at once, while novels will take some time. And an editor will have a pile of novel manuscripts to read through that have been subbed by other agents as well. Some manuscripts are completely timely, and so demand immediate attention, like if something is in the news NOW. And that can prompt a fast read.

Second of all, it can depend greatly on the editor. Some editors are just so swamped, that try as they might, they find themselves putting out fires instead of staying on top of submission piles, even if there is a really tempting manuscript waiting to be read. Sometimes it takes action on that manuscript, like another editor putting in an offer, before that editor puts that read at the top of their priorities. Why is an editor so swamped? Well, they can be working somewhere with limited support staff, and a high volume of responsibilities. It can make a real difference when an editor has assistants to log in submissions, to pre-read for the editor, and to help with their many time-consuming tasks along the way.

And it can depend on how the imprint acquires things. Some tippy top editors can just walk into their publisher and say, “I want this. I want to make an offer,” and they can be quickly given the power to make a certain offer. With other editors, they may need to wait for scheduled acquisitions meetings to present their case for a title they are interested in. And at certain places, no matter how high up an editor is, they first will have other editors give it a read and an opinion before taking it to acquisitions…and each of those editors has their own work load to contend with.

So you can see that you can’t always gauge the interest of an editor or the ability of your agent by the time of response. As someone at this past weekend’s event said, publishing is a business of hurry up and wait. It can move slowly, and it can move very fast. That same, carefully considering imprint can suddenly do a turnaround and have an offer in within a day if they feel they must (like when they know another offer is already on the table and it’s do or die).

What can an agent possibly do to speed this process along?

– Well, she can target her submissions very carefully. I only send to editors who I know are looking for this very type of manuscript, and who have a special interest in the subject matter.

– She can pique the editor’s interest when she pitches, so that the editor will really want to read the submission as quickly as possible. When I pitch to an editor, I really try to put in their mind what makes this particular project exciting and unique. And when I then send the requested manuscript to the editor, I add in a note detailing sales hooks that the editor can use to convince their publisher that this one is really worth an offer.

– The agent can keep on top of things. I always make sure that the editor did, in fact, receive the submission. I check back every few weeks in a pleasant, professional way, to see if they’ve gotten to it yet.

– And the agent can learn from submissions which editors are most responsive and which never reply at all, because, sadly, there are a few outliers to watch out for. If an editor, for whatever reason, never responds to any of my calls or emails, then chances are pretty good I won’t be pitching to them again any time soon. Sometimes I learn that something was going on in that editor’s life at that time which would explain this lack of response as a mere blip — then I’ll make contact with that editor again and give them another chance. But in some cases, I learn this is just par for the course, and I’ll spend my time (and my client’s time) differently in the future.

So there you have it. The long and short of submissions!  I’ve had quick acceptances and quick rejections. And I’ve had submissions take a long time with an editor, and wind up with a robust offer. It can be all over the place. As an agent, I try to be as efficient as possible on my end, and as a writer, you can do the same.

Waiting can feel like FOREVER, I know. The best antidote? Work on your next book and make the time really pay off.

 

*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: Which Agent? Part 3

Carolina Jasmine FlowersHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Right now I’m on my way back from the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon, so it’s been a busy weekend for me. Today I’m thrilled to welcome to my blog the head literary agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Jennifer De Chiara herself!  This is Part 3 of my Which Agent series of posts highlighting each person in our agency. I hope this info helps you writers when submitting to our firm. If you are just checking in here, you’ll also want to click on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Part 1 also includes some important general submission info for writers.

Note, before subbing to any agent at our firm, first do some research. Go to jdlit.com and click on The Agency and Who We Are, then click on Submissions for specific guidelines for each agent. And now…welcome Jennifer!

Jennifer De ChiaraJennifer De Chiara:
1. What are you most looking for in your query in box right now?

I’m open to just about every kind of book, but the following categories are what I’m eager to find right now: literary fiction, commercial fiction, contemporary Young Adult, quirky and funny picture books, celebrity memoirs/biographies/all-things-Hollywood, well-written non-fiction in a wide range of genres by professionals in their fields with strong platforms.

2. What special interests, hobbies, background distinguish you and your point of view as an agent?
As a former dancer and actress, I love everything about film, theatre, music, Hollywood, behind-the-scenes, etc.  I’m a writer myself, and I’ve also been an editor, so not only can I help my clients become the very best writers they can be, but I can also understand what they go through personally on a daily basis and inspire them and help them succeed.  And, finally, because of my history as an underdog, I’m particularly attracted to the downtrodden, the discouraged, and the downright disgusted.  But these underdogs have to be supremely talented!

3. What are you seeing too much of in your query in box right now?
Paranormal, fantasy, great concepts with poor execution.

4. What one thing would you most like writers querying you to know?
For me, it’s all about voice.  I’m looking for writers who have something special to say and a special way of saying it.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer! By the way, I can say from experience that Jennifer is an AMAZING agent. As well as working with her as an Associate Agent at her firm, I’m also so fortunate that she is my literary agent for my own writing.

Best of luck to everyone sending out queries!

*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: Quick Checklist for Submitting Writers

pencilHappy summery Agent Monday, gang!  Today, a quick checklist for submitting writers.  Are you in the process of querying agents?  Or about to be?  Then this post is definitely for you.  It’s a quickie post today (hey, it’s summer, right?)  Hope this list is helpful.  (Note: I’m talking about FICTION submissions here, since non-fiction is a little bit different.) Here goes:

1. Complete your manuscript.  You can’t query with just an idea or a few chapters when it comes to fiction.

2. Edit it to perfection!  You don’t really get second chances – so don’t just use agents as sounding boards as to whether your book is good enough.  Give us your very best!  Also, don’t expect the agent to bite on a rough manuscript just cuz the idea is pretty cool. And don’t think that it’s up to editors at publishing houses to do all the basic editing for you. Nuh-uh. You must deliver a manuscript that is as perfect as possible.  Use beta readers. Put the manuscript through your critique group. Hire an editor if needed.

3. Know the genre you are writing for and where your book fits in.  Be able to tell the agent exactly who the audience is for this book.  Mainstream? Middle grade contemporary? Young adult thriller? You need to know.  And you need to also deliver a manuscript with the right point of view for that audience, and one that runs the proper length for that genre.  Get that wrong, and you hurt your chances.

4. Write the perfect query letter.  Need tips on that? There’s plenty of info out there for you to gather on it, plus scroll through my Agent Monday posts for more specific do’s and don’ts.

5. Research agents that actually represent what you write!  Don’t waste your time on folks that aren’t interested in your type of manuscript or who aren’t currently accepting clients.  Do your research.  The Internet is your friend!

6. Follow the guidelines.  Please!  Do a search to learn more about your agent list, pull up their guidelines and follow them.  Not following them can earn an instant rejection. Trust me on that.

7. Send out queries in waves.  Don’t hit 50-100 agents at once.  Start with, say, 10. If you are getting 100% form rejections back, then perhaps you need to improve your query letter.  Then send out another wave.  Starting to get requested pages or full manuscripts?  Then you are on the right track.

8. Keep writing!  Writers write. Don’t let the query process stop you cold.  It’s something that should go on while you are also working on your next piece of fiction.

Happy querying, and good luck!

 

*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.

 

Writer Wednesday: Just Because You Can…

*This post originally appeared on Janice Gable Bashman’s site as part of my Drawn Blog Ghost Tour.

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

When writing my new paranormal novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long timeframe in the present, but also an eight-month long timeframe in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire storylines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character and, since this is a YA title, especially not to an adult.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer storyline and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

Agent Monday: Building Great Expectations

As queries with initial chapters spill into my agent inbox, I look closely for something to grab me and take hold of my imagination, and it needs to happen in those first few pages or chances are good I’m not going to ask to see more. As an agent I’m looking for true story telling technique. It’s all about building great expectations.

Great Expectations. Talk of Charles Dickens is swirling in the air, with the celebration of his 200th birthday… I can almost imagine Dickens writing of such a thing.  Of a man celebrating his 200th, like a Miss Havisham lost in cobwebs, but with a birthday cake instead of a wedding cake… But I digress. Digression.  A very Victorian thing to do.

The classic writers would never make it in today’s query/submission market, right? Today agents, editors, readers have such short attention spans that everything must be much faster, much more high concept, true?

Well, why don’t we put this to the test with a two-page pitch slam with some of our past greats.  First person who walks up to me to pitch? Dickens himself.  He sets his first two pages of Great Expectations in front of me, and we begin to read…

Now we must be fair to Mr. Dickens. Remember this novel was written between 1860-1861, a time long before television, and Internet, and sound bytes. A time when people surely had leisure time to dive into a novel and stay there, allowing the writer to spin a tale for at least 50 pages before we fully get to the heart of the story.

So does he open with pages and pages of back story and then slowly zoom into the main character and action?  Actually, he sets you right beside a boy as he sits in the grave yard where the stones of his family and five brothers stand. The boy imagines what his family must have looked like based on the shape of “the little stone lozenges.” And Dickens sets a gloomy forlorn scene where we find that, “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

So far, we’ve got a little boy alone in the world, a touching glimpse at a childlike mind. Atmosphere. Sorrow.  My friends, that is page one!  What’s next?  The moment we see Pip cry, we get this: “Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”

Okay, I’m hooked.  I’ve just given Mr. Dickens my card and requested the full manuscript. I can’t wait to find out what happens to poor Pip. This reads more like a modern day thriller than some oldy moldy tale from long ago.  Dickens transcends time because he knows great writing is about creating a character that we will care intensely about, and putting that dear person in terrible peril so that we the reader simply must see the story through to the end. Plus Dickens exhibits amazing voice.  Graves are lozenges. A threatening man minces no words. And the writer promises a tale filled with heart and danger.

But of course, I tell myself, Dickens wrote his novel in serial form, giving the reader tantalizing bits in each issue, so perhaps he was more conscious than most about hooking readers than most writers “back in the day”?  Maybe the next writer won’t be as impressive.

Next up? The lovely Jane Austen. She sets the first two pages of Pride and Prejudice on the pitch table and begins to read: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Then in the next paragraph: “…this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”

Austen writes with a wink and a tart tongue, and I know I’m in for a great ride. She launches immediately into dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet about this new wealthy man, and the dialogue is filled with sarcasm and exasperation and a keen ear for witty language.  It’s hilarious and a perfect set up.

“Please send me the full immediately!” I say.

Too often I see writers throwing in a flashy high-concept “hook,” but that’s not the answer. Really I’m not impressed by an explosion on page one if I don’t care about the character, or a prologue showing a life-threatening scene if I’m not otherwise drawn in by the voice and feel pulled into this world.

There’s much to learn from the story telling masters of the past.  It’s worth flipping open the classics to discover what makes them so compelling that we have vivid memories of these stories and characters even hundreds of years later.

Heart. Characters we must know more about. A fascinating point of view. Peril that we feel invested in. Strong story telling.  Build those great expectations, and agents along with editors and readers, will burn to read more.

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

Agent Monday: What’s Love Got to do with It?

From time to time, I’ve heard discussions among writers who have received rejections from other agents that basically said, “Sorry, but I didn’t fall in love with this.” One reaction writers then say is, “I don’t care if you love it or not. Just represent it and sell it!”  This often leads into writers saying that this whole need to “fall in love” with a project is a ridiculous notion. It’s just a form letter. It’s because they don’t know what else to say. So in today’s Agent Monday post I’d like to share my view of  “What’s love got to do with it?”

Now I’m speaking about FICTION here, since at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency I don’t personally represent non-fiction. So bear that in mind…  But with a fiction manuscript, yeah, I’ve got to fall in love with it.  Why? Because if I don’t finish that manuscript and feel my heart completely ripped out, or my world rocked in some way, I don’t want to invest myself in that book.  I need something I truly believe in.

I want to be able to convey my passion to an editor.  And I want that editor to feel, at the end of her read, that her heart is completely ripped out or her world is rocked in some way.  That’s kinda the point.

But what about the “meh” book that I know will sell because it hits all the marketing points? It’s steampunk, which is supposedly hot. Or talks about bullying, which is a book people will “gobble up?”  Well, if I’m not in love with it, I don’t personally believe an editor be in love either…and an editor must turn around and “sell” the book to the marketing committee and they must sell it to the world, and reviewers must feel the love, too.

What I’m looking for is a book that will sell because it’s exceptional. If it hits all those marketing points, groovy.  If it doesn’t, but it’s exceptional, it’ll find its audience and that’s groovy too.

From my agenting point of view, I have to live with this manuscript and this author.  If I’m not in love with their book, but I sniff dollar signs in the air for some reason, am I respecting that author? Am I excited enough to read through the manuscript over and over again and edit it? To create a passion-filled pitch and offer it up to top editors?  And if I think of it as “meh” but an easy sale for some reason, what if it doesn’t sell easily? Will I have the drive to continue to market it with passion? Will I feel like just giving up and cutting you loose? You see where I’m going with this?

I invest a ton of time in my clients, and I choose them carefully. I go with my gut, and believe that their talent will take them far over the course of their careers. They are more than one book, one quick sale to me.  I’ve passed over books that may have sold, but that I just didn’t care about. Why would I take that writer on, when I can invest my heart and soul and countless hours in someone whose writing I do care about?  I’ll also definitely take on books that may not be the easy sell, but that feel important and strong and that I believe HAVE TO BE READ. And I’ll work my tail off making sure that happens.

It’s important that I believe in your work and in you.  You deserve that and should demand it.  If I don’t “fall in love” with your novel, then I’m not the agent for you, and you should find an agent who will.  Because that is the person who will best represent your work. Who will champion you and all your efforts with energy and drive. Who will believe in you even when the world doesn’t seem to, and continue to submit your work with conviction until the world finally sees the light.

And who will eagerly await your next book, and your next.

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.