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: Novel Editing…and News!

MP900446418Agent Monday time…sending out a collective hug to everyone!

Here are some updates…I’m putting my final touches on my Writer’s Digest Webinar How to Revise Your Novel for Submission: Self-Editing Techniques that Work, which will be held live, this Thursday (11/17/16) at 2 p.m. (though you don’t have to attend it live to get the Webinar). In this class, I’ll draw on my experiences as both a novelist and a literary agent, and share with participants a solid system for making their manuscripts the best they can be. Here’s what the Webinar includes: 90 minute online class with me; all questions sent to me by participants during the Webinar answered; afterwards, send the first 5 pages of your novel, and I’ll read your pages and give you written comments about them. The price is just $89.99 (significantly less than most writer’s conferences) and registration is still open. So do you have a novel you’re working on, or one that needs revision? Definitely check this out by clicking here.

green-green-front-coverIn other news… I’m happy to report that my first picture book, GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux), is now up for pre-orders online everywhere (its publication date is May 9th). It’s co-authored with my husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba, and we are both in love with the gorgeous illustrations by accomplished artist Sonia Sanchez. This picture book is a fun celebration of community gardening. If you’d like more info, or want to pre-order, just click here.

AND I’m happy to report one more bit of joyous news… the deal for my newest picture book, A DAY SO GRAY, was announced. It will be published by Clarion Books (date yet to be set), and it’s all about finding color, and joy, within a gray winter landscape.

Have a great week, everyone. I hope you each find joy in even the bleakest of winter days. And perhaps I’ll get to chat with you on Thursday during the Webinar!

*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: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Agent Monday: First Impressions

MP900438811Hey gang!  Happy Agent Monday, once again.  This upcoming weekend I’ll be taking pitches at The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference. Taking pitches allows the writer to set up the purpose of their book, and for me to ask questions to fill in holes that remain in just what the book is about and why it stands out. This past weekend, however, I was doing something entirely different: critiquing first pages.  It was at a special Writer’s Tea hosted by the Bucks County Romance Writers group at my fab local indie bookstore Doylestown Bookshop. In many ways it was the exact opposite of a pitch: I didn’t know the writer, or the genre, or the overall arc of the story. There were just words on the page. And they pointed out one thing loud and clear: the importance of first impressions!

By looking at the first page alone, the words really had to do the job. Is your first page working for your manuscript? Reading a book is an investment in time, so that first page needed to answer this question: Why do I want to take this long journey with you?

Often, when the writer came to hear the critique (which was delivered one on one), they said to me, “It really gets going on page two,” or “the book takes off in chapter three.” Hm. Now I don’t need to have the full action or plot poured out into the very first page, but what I do want to see is something that makes me think: “Turn the page. I have to see where this is going!” Now that can be a wide range of things from an interesting point of view, or an intriguing voice, or a question I care about that I’d like to see answered.  All sorts of things can draw me in, so don’t feel you need to squeeze in that life changing moment into the first two paragraphs!

Sometimes writers use their first few pages, or even chapters, as a sort of throat-clearing warming up getting into things exercise. I say that’s fine for your draft, but then ask yourself: When do things really begin? And start the final polished draft there!

Here’s why a great start matters: If an agent is not drawn in by your opening pages, they will probably stop reading. If the agent sends a manuscript like this to an editor, the editor may stop reading. Why does this all happen? It’s up to the writer at the get-go to nail the structure and pacing of their novel. Agents and editors see a ton of books by writers who DO get this right, so they must ask themselves: Do I really want to spend time fixing all of this for the writer, or do I move on? Remember, in books that are tightly paced and structurally sound, there is often still plenty of editing that will be needed. It’s WORK and TIME and we folks must ask ourselves where to invest our limited time and resources. It is a business, right?  In the end, we all think about the consumer, the reader of the published novel. Think about it. How do YOU buy books? Don’t you often read the first page or few pages to see if it’s worth purchasing?

But wait wait wait, Marie! (some of you may be thinking right about now)… Don’t agents and editors KNOW that writers sometimes take a while to get started and skip ahead to see if the story picks up? As a writer, I remember hearing that bit of wisdom once upon a time. And maybe it was true once upon a time when an agent or editor actually had a paper manuscript land on their desk. Today? We get things via email. Electronic files we load onto our computers or ereaders. We read from page one on. If I find myself skimming ahead because I’m bored, that’s a serious red flag to me, and zooming ahead 25 or 50 pages? Honestly, I just don’t.  I won’t stick with your book unless YOU make me want to stick around. That’s all about the power of your words.

So back to those first page crits I just did… Some of the things that I saw that didn’t make me anxious to see page two included:

1. A ton of dialogue or first person thoughts that didn’t have a voice to them or point of view. Is this a woman? A kid? Who is talking or thinking and why do I care? Some hint would certainly help!

2. A ton of info. Blocks of prose that gave all sorts of info about the backstory. Do I need backstory when I still don’t know what the story is? Again, what draws me in?

3. Repetition. Saying the same thing in several different ways right on page one hints to me that this is a work that needs tightening, plus it doesn’t move the story along.

What worked in those first pages?

1. Voice! When I had an immediate grasp of the writer’s/character’s voice, and I liked it for some reason, I was willing to continue on the journey (and even forgive some rough spots).

2. Originality! Okay, so maybe that first page wasn’t perfect, but what an interesting situation! Yeah, I’ll turn that page.

3. Elegance! Show me some sign that you are a skilled writer, whether beauty in the prose or sharp wit or something that makes me nod and think, yup, I get that, or wow, the writer’s right about that and I never saw it that way… And I’ll turn that page.

4. Well-targeted writing! If it’s a middle grade novel, I should be able to tell without it being labeled as such. Ditto for women’s fiction, or thriller, or literary. If I’m embarking on a reading journey, I want to feel I’m in capable hands and going on a charted course in the direction the book wants to take me. (I hope that makes sense.)

So you can see that you, as the writer, can actually do a lot with your first page. You can reel me in and pull me deeper into your world. Do that, and I’ll want to read page 2, and page 3 and so on.

Take a hard look at your opening pages. First impressions definitely matter.

*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: Passing Thoughts

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, peeps.  Since there seems to be an intense interest in why agents pass over certain queries, I thought I’d cave and give you some recent examples on why some recent queries got a no from me. So let’s get to it.

1. Generic! The query began with “Dear Agent” or some such, and then went on to say something like “I specifically picked you because you represent such great books and do such great things…”  Obviously a form letter, and a bit insulting to the intelligence, frankly. I’m so special, but you don’t know my name?  LAZY.

PASS.

2. Not for me! My guidelines specifically state that I’m not into “books that feature graphic violence.” So you know that pulling out a chain saw and lopping off someone’s body parts in chapter one is the perfect book for me, right? AAAAAH! AAAAAAAH!!!!

PASS.

3. First effort! This publishing thing is a business, and a tough one to break into at that, right? So when a querier sends me a manuscript that is their very first effort, and it’s clear that they’ve never ever read in their genre to figure out what’s what… it’s definitely too soon to be thinking about marketing anything.

PASS.

4. Again? I get it. Women are swept away with the idea of a paranormal lover…someone dangerous and saucy and seductive. He’s HOT. He notices her. Did I mention that he’s hot and he notices her? Because that seems to be what’s goin’ on here, ladies. But I’m sorry folks, the wolf thing, the vampire thing, it’s been done done done done. And I’m not seeing anything new here.

PASS.

5. It’s a what? For who? Here’s a query that really doesn’t know what it is, meaning the writer doesn’t know the genre he or she is writing for. There’s an 11 year old protagonist, but they are calling it a YA and giving it more mature themes, AND they are also infusing it with childlike happenings AND dialogue using words that even I had to look up.

PASS.

6. Too clever for its own good. This query was clearly written by a very smart person using very smart words and all sorts of intellectual word play. It felt like I was reading something that I’d been assigned in school and that I’d have to grab the Cliff Notes on to even begin to follow. I rub my forehead with exhaustion, and…

PASS.

7. Lovely in some ways, but… This one shows some true skill in dialogue and wordplay and even a gentle sort of a hook thrown in which may work for more literary women’s fiction… but in 20 pages I still feel the plotting is a bit too sleepy and I just don’t care enough based on what I see and on the synopsis to read on. I send a more personalized rejection, but it’s still a…

PASS.

8. Really? This query is one of those take something weird and add in something weirder and then write and write and write sort of things. It doesn’t even make sense.

PASS.

9. Hmmm. Interesting! Here’s a query that is smart and funny. I like this writer right away. They show they know me (which is helpful) and that they are savvy about the market (which is even more helpful).  The first 20 pages are fresh and well written and build on the promise set up in the query: strong voice, different take on things, interesting. So I google the author (I google them? Check out this post to see more on that!) and see that no, this book wasn’t already published and isn’t available everywhere for free or whatever. And that, yes, the author does have an online presence that reflects her image in a decent way.

REQUESTED FULL!

So that’s it. A peek into my inbox.

Remember, I’m ACTIVELY LOOKING for new clients, and I want to find them. I’m not sitting here twiddling my fingers thinking, “Hm, how can I ruin a writer’s hopes and dreams today?”  It’s more like, “Hm, where is the writer who is ready for me to make their hopes and dreams take off?”

BRING IT.

But do your homework, make your work perfect first, and check out my guidelines here.

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.

Slice of Life Friday: We Made it to March!

Girl Sitting in ChairAm I the ONLY one in the world giddy to flip that calendar and see February is over?  I think not. I bow to the wise one who made February the shortest month of the year. Dark, cold, and what does it have? Valentine’s Day? Psh. Not a happy day for those lonely hearts in the world (though the chocolate’s not bad). President’s Day? Blah. Just an excuse for ad execs to put Lincoln and Washington costumes on actors and make them hawk car sales and furniture deals.

NO! Go the F away February!

It’s March!!!  And, yeah, I know it can snow in March, bladdy bladdy blah. But when I woke up this morning, it was lighter out and I could hear birdies tweeting. It won’t be long before I can shed that dreaded winter coat like a snake skin and ditch the boots for my black and white checkered sneakers (not kidding).

So here is Marie’s list of what is FAB about the up-coming spring:

1. Birdies tweeting in the morning
2. Longer, sunnier, WARMER days
3. Being able to take my coffee outside in the morning onto my patio
4. Working outside on my laptop
5. Taking walks with my pooch in the evening
6. Shedding the heavy winter clothes I’m really sick of
7. Wearing light cheerful stuff instead!!! (And those checkered sneaks)
8. Working in the yard…
9. Seeing those flowers pop up from the ground and the buds on the trees, and, sigh…

So what’s on your list?  Please share what you are looking forward to by leaving me a comment…and join in the springy celebration! 🙂

Happy WARM March wishes to you all,

Marie

Agent Monday: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel…

Businessman Midair in a Business MeetingHappy Monday!  Did you miss me?  Yeah, I kinda dropped off the map for a few Agent Mondays. Sorry.  That’s what a major Hurricane, a 5-day blackout, followed by a big snowstorm, with a dollop of contract negotiations and a heavy dose of book pitching, etc. can do to a girl.  How does this make me feel? It makes me feel like giving out another query tip to writers trying to find an agent. Today’s tip: Don’t tell me how I’ll feel!

Okay, here’s what I mean. Sometimes, now and then, well, actually pretty darned often, I get queries that contain things like the following: This is the best book you’ll ever read. This book will be a sure bestseller. My novel will make you weep. My manuscript is so special that publishers will be throwing money at you. This story will be made into a movie and will change the world. This book is hilarious, moving, earth-shattering, stunning, brilliant. It is the greatest story ever told. This is a love story that will never be forgotten.

Really? Hm. Sometimes I feel like Judge Judy. Short, a tad sarcastic, and about to say, “You think you can tell me how I feel?” Actually, Judge Judy is more inclined to say, “You think you’re smarter than me?  I’m smarter than you’ll ever be in your entire life!” Which is why I watch her and find her hilarious…but I digress.

Then there is the “someone else said it so it must be true” stuff in queries: I read this to my children and they just laughed and laughed. Two fifth grade classes heard me read it aloud and they just loved it. My critique group read it and thought it was extraordinary. My family loves this novel. My friends think this is the best book they’ve ever read.  I took a class with such and such and he said this was superb.

I bang my gavel and say, ” Heresay! Inadmissible in court!” Er, actually, what I think to myself is: whatever. Who cares? I’m the judge of the moment, and I like to form my own opinions, thankyouverymuch.

Which gets to the heart of the problem with these statements. It’s back to the whole tell vs. show thing writers must struggle with in their novels. In queries, the same rule applies. Don’t tell me all this stuff, present your query to me in a way that makes me come to the conclusion all by myself.  If you do it right, I’ll start to think, hey, this sounds pretty terrific! I think a publisher will snatch it up…I can imagine the movies…I bet kids will love this!

Then you are doing stuff right.

Also, this needs to be said: If you tell me that your book is the greatest thing since creamed spinach, I’m gonna think your ego is a bit inflated and that’s not too cool.  If you tell me that your kids, etc. LOVED this book, I’m gonna think, well duh. They love you, even a classroom of kids will love you. That doesn’t make their opinions translate to what matters to the market. So you’ll seem a bit of a greenhorn with statements like that.

So, basically, if you are sounding like the adoring reviewer of your own novel, then you need to give your query a rewrite.

What is acceptable and helpful? If your novel, or a portion of it won a prize? Yup, I want to know. If you received a professional review from a respected source, say a top editor judged the manuscript in a contest and praised it, that’s cool to add in too.

If you don’t have anything like that? That’s also cool. You have your novel. Present it to me in a way that’ll make me fall in love with it.

And I’LL tell YOU how I feel about it.

Case closed!

 

*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.