Agent Monday: About Those Form Rejections

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkHappy Agent Monday, everyone! It’s been a VERY busy time for me, filled with deadlines and travel and pitching and meetings. Yet I have been able to weigh in on plenty of queries that have pinged into my inbox. And I couldn’t have done that without the help of my form rejection letter. Writers don’t exactly love these, of course, but I thought I’d share a bit of perspective on why these aren’t SUCH a bad thing.

First of all, here’s my form rejection letter:

Thanks so much for sending me your query. I’m going to pass on this one because I found it didn’t spark my interest.

I wish you the best in finding a home for your work.

Sincerely,
Marie

Here’s the good thing about an agent using a form rejection letter: it enables her to respond more quickly to queries. By using this, I can zoom through a number of queries at a time and let writers know as quickly as I can that I am not the right agent for them. That way the writer can move on.

I’m a writer myself, and have received more than my fair share of rejection letters. I know rejection can sting, but I also know that it is part of this business. There is nothing I as an agent can say in a rejection letter that will truly take away that sting. All I can do is let you know that I’ve seen your piece, that it’s not for me, and to wish you well. I do make the effort to address the writer personally in my reply, and take care that I spell the name correctly, but beyond that I generally don’t personalize the letter.

Why the “didn’t spark my interest” line? Because that’s what it’s all about. And if my interest isn’t sparked by your query and pasted-in pages, that means I don’t feel intrigued enough to see more of this work.

That’s the function of such a note. Okay, now I’m saying this next part as not only an agent but as a writer: A rejection letter’s purpose doesn’t also involve making a writer feel better and inspired. That’s not to say it is meant to tear a writer down, BUT this is a business, and agents that you query are not there to hold hands and whisper encouraging words and inspire you to continue to scale great heights and pursue your dreams.

You need to get that inspiration elsewhere. From your writing, from you own community of supporters. Most of all, from yourself. That’s the stuff that will keep you going.

I’m saying this because sometimes (more than you might think) writers respond to my form rejection asking me for more. Much more. Can I give them an example of what would spark my interest? Can I point out what, specifically, made me pass? If they changed such and such, would that work? Do they have what it takes? Should they keep going? Are they wasting their time?

Responding to these questions? Not my job. If I did that sort of hand holding and career counseling and soul searching for every one of the hundreds of queries I receive, I would never have sold a single book for any one of my clients. Instead I would be too busy trying to help every writer who has ever pressed SEND toward my inbox. Something to think about…

So I’m hoping this post is a bit of a reality check for folks who are querying. A form rejection letter isn’t the end of your career. It isn’t a statement about every effort you’ve ever made to become a better writer. It is simply a response to your query, sent in as timely a way as possible. And it lets you know that you need to seek a different agent, because I’m not the one for you.

Yes, I’ve rejected queries for books I’ve later seen as sold projects on Publishers Marketplace. And I’m happy for those authors. They didn’t give up. The query I’d received presented a book that wasn’t my cup of tea, and perhaps never would have been right for my taste. Or perhaps they polished their query and opening pages after too many form rejections, and therefore did spark the right agent’s interest.

Remember, this IS a subjective business. A project that isn’t right for me, could be just the right thing for another agent.

Like I said, it’s been a VERY busy season for me here, with tons of hours spent every day working with my clients and with editors at publishing houses. Yet I’m currently up to March 1st in my query responses (trust me, that’s pretty good). And I’ve also been able to respond to other more recent queries too, if I see immediately that they aren’t right for me. (Please look at my guidelines here, so you’ll know what I am looking for and what I definitely don’t want…)

Thanks to the form rejection letter, those writers aren’t left hanging longer than needed. See? Glass half full!

*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: 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.

 

April 20th Webinar for PB, MG and YA authors!

yes - notepad & penHi all!  Just a quick heads up that I and my fellow agents of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency are offering an online webinar through Writer’s Digest. It’s called Sell Your Children’s Book: How to Write Amazing Novels & Picture Books for Kids Boot Camp. This online boot camp starts on next Monday, April 20th, so if you are a picture book, middle grade or YA author and are interested, definitely look into it now and register by clicking here.

This might be just the thing you need before the next writer’s conference or before you submit to agents. Here’s a bit of info from Writer’s Digest on how it’ll work:

On April 20, you will gain access to two special 60-minute online tutorials presented by literary agents from Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Jennifer De Chiara will present a tutorial on writing picture books, and Roseanne Wells will present a tutorial on writing and selling Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction.

After listening to your choice of presentations, attendees will spend the next two days revising materials as necessary. Also following the tutorial, writers will have two days in which to log onto the Writer’s Digest University boot camp message boards and ask your assigned agent critiquers questions related to revising your materials. The agents will be available on the message boards from 1-3 p.m. (ET) on both Tuesday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 22. No later than Thursday, April 23, attendees will submit either their completed picture book text (1,000 words or fewer) or the first 10 double-spaced pages of their middle grade / young adult manuscript. The submissions will receive feedback directly from the boot camp literary agents.

The agents will spend up to 15 days reviewing all assigned critiques and provide feedback to help attendees. No later than May 9, agents will send their feedback to writer attendees.

Only registered students can access the Writer’s Digest University boot camp message boards. You’ll also be able to ask questions of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers

Please note that any one of the agents may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise.

In addition to feedback from agents, attendees will also receive:

  1. Download of “An Agent’s Tips on Story Structures that Sell,” an on-demand webinar by literary agent Andrea Hurst
  2. 1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market database

PLEASE NOTE: Agents Stephen Fraser and Marie Lamba will be critiquing picture book and working together on the discussion boards for picture books. Agents Vicki Selvaggio and Linda Epstein will be critiquing YA and MG, and manning the message boards for those categories.

So that’s the news!  Maybe I’ll see some of you online there.

Agent Monday: Passionate Writing

Highlights Foundation groundsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I was so fortunate last week to sneak away for a few days to The Highlights Foundation, where I did an “Unworkshop.” That’s where you basically get fed amazing meals, and otherwise do your own thing. In my case, since I’m not only a literary agent but also an author, my “thing” was 3 uninterrupted days of working on my own novel. So inspiring!  In last week’s post, I touched on something I see too much of in submissions: manuscripts working too hard to fit in with what’s currently hot. Is THAT truly your writing passion?

It’s important, amid scrambling to get an agent, to get published, etc., that you don’t lose track of why you write in the first place. Your point of view and voice are unique. Lose that to try and fit in somehow, and you just won’t be you. You have to keep connected with your creative side…even as you dive into the business side of writing. Getting your manuscript ready for submission. Query letters. Literary agent research. Marketing trends. Yeah, it’s all important. BUT if your writing isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, then no matter how much research you do or how much of a “never give up” attitude you have, you’ll never really have the creative successes you so crave.

Highlights lodge 2

At the Unworkshop…a dark day full of creative spark

Every writer needs to encourage his creative side in order to explore and experiment and grow. Always! For me, the Unworkshop was a chance to carve out some mental space without any interruptions. It was affordable for me, and amazing!  But not everyone can get away, of course. Still there are so many ways to nurture your creative self and let your mind daydream and dabble. Here are some things that I do:

– Journal
– Take early morning walks
– Reread a favorite work
– Hide in a library or coffee shop with a notebook in hand
– Turn off the TV in the evenings and instead, spend that time creatively – whatever that means
– Have FUN with my writing, without adding on the pressure of “I gotta sell this,” and then see where things go
– Try to remember what made me want to write in the first place, and hold that feeling close

Hey, life gets busy. We’ve got to live, make money, etc. But writers are artists first and foremost. So take care of your artist. Make sure your writing is your passion, that your manuscripts mean something to you. Only then can your writing mean something to someone else — literary agents included!

So what do you do to keep in touch with your passion while you write? Please share your ideas in the comments. We writers can always use fresh ways to fill our creative wells.

 

*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: Why Some Queries Work

MP900439510Happy Agent Monday, everyone. And dare I say, Happy Spring? Okay, I’m putting away my snow shovel. That’s that. This weekend, as I plowed through queries in my inbox, I started thinking  about why some queries work, and why some just fail to grab my interest. I’m talking about queries that are fairly well-written and professional looking. The answer, for me rests in what makes me buy a book at the bookstore.

1. The Subject is of Interest to Me

Seems simple enough. When I enter my local bookshop, I go directly to the sections that I’m interested in. These could include general fiction, memoir, YA and the children’s section. I do not go to the strictly non-fiction reference section, or the category romance shelf, or the science fiction section. That’s just not my interest.

Likewise, if you query me about topics that I’m not interested in, I’m going to pass you by.

2. The Title Draws Me In

If a book is something generic like: A Breeze Blows, or Time, or whatever, then it’s not going to prompt me to think, Hm, now THAT sounds interesting, and to pick it off the shelf.

Likewise, I think writers querying me often forget that a title is the first thing that can spark interest in an agent. It should give some flavor of what’s to come and make me think, yeah, I’d pick that one up to find out more.

3. The Jacket Copy Sounds Interesting

When I pick a book off the shelf, the very first thing I do, after noticing how long or short it is, is to read the back jacket copy, and the flap copy. Does it build on the promise of the title? Do I want to find out more? If not, I place it back on the shelf and move on.

With queries, this is an important moment for the author. You need to describe the book in a way that will make me want to read those sample pages. If you can’t do that, I won’t bother to read those pasted in opening words, and a rejection will be sent.

Too often, the writer will tell me about how the book was written…like alternate points of view, or in three parts, or in short chapters. I don’t care. I want the story to draw me in. WHAT’S THE STORY? Make me want to read it.

Or they’ll wax on about why their book is important and the message that the writer wants to convey. Honestly, I have to say that’s secondary to THE STORY. If it’s not a non-fiction proposal, that info doesn’t matter much at the outset.

I also mention length here, because, truthfully, if a fun escapist women’s fiction novel is 1,000 pages long, then, nope, I’m not lugging that thing home. Also, if a book is really really slim, as a book buyer I gotta think, hm, is this worth even spending money on?  As a querier, know the proper length for your genre, and try to keep your manuscript within an acceptable length.

4. Opening Pages Make Me Have to Know What’s Next

Me at the bookstore again: Next thing I do? I flip open the book and begin to read the opening pages. Not too many of them, mind you. Just enough to know that the book is not for me at all. Or that I’m loving what I see. That I have to read what happens next. Mind you, I don’t flip to a later chapter to see if things pick up. I don’t let a reader bore me or waste my time. This book is for my entertainment.

Likewise for a query. My guidelines allow for the first 20 pages to be pasted into your query email.  Even if you have been able to pull me in with the subject and the title, and I see the length is right, and the premise sounds really interesting, if those opening pages fall flat for me, there is no way I’ll ask to see the full manuscript.

BUT, if you deliver on all those aspects and have 20 rocking opening pages, I’ll ask for that full manuscript. Just like I’ll buy that book off the bookshelf.

Hey, it’s that simple!

 

*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: How Fast Do Agents Respond to Clients?

Speed skaterHappy Agent Monday! Almost spring time. Take THAT little mound of dirty snow left in the parking lot! Last week I talked a bit about how fast editors respond to agents. This week I’d like to chat about how quickly a writer can expect their own agent to respond to a manuscript when they submit it to that agent. A hot second? A day? A week? A month? Several months? The answer is YES. Here’s why.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I am only one person with one set of eyes, and two hands, and I have a list of clients. Unfortunately there is no organized scheduling of when my clients submit manuscripts or revisions of manuscripts to me. They finish them and hit send.

That means that in a given week, I can suddenly have 6 full-length novels ping into my inbox for a careful review and response. And they can arrive on top of a stack of already received manuscripts from clients. So, the clock starts ticking in a writer’s mind… They expect a quick turnaround. A month at the most, right? Isn’t that what other writer’s get from THEIR agents? Well… not exactly.

Some agents might hand these off to readers, who will respond to the writer with comments – in that case, the agent may not even see the manuscript. Me? I always read my client manuscripts myself. That takes time. Perhaps some projects don’t require a lot of time, and can be quickly handled and answered. If that’s the case, I might be able to flip it back to the writer ahead of other projects in my queue. This can happen with a quick polish where the changes have been tracked, or with a very clean manuscript that needs just a read, or with a shorter manuscript, like a picture book or chapter book that is in great shape. Other projects DO require time and thoughtful comments. Tick tock, right?

And since the agent is only human (gasp – WHAT???), other things should be factored into the writer’s expectations. Things like: did I submit it just before the Christmas holidays? If so, while the agent might be doing work during that time, should it be expected and counted as work time? Hm. Perhaps consider those two weeks off. How about if the agent is off at conferences within this time period? Perhaps spending a few days at BEA and then presenting elsewhere. That will set the clock back a bit (by the way, you DO want your agent doing these things, since it ups their visibility and contacts with editors). And while your manuscript is there with her, it is 99% likely that other manuscripts ahead of yours are also being pitched, and authors are calling, and editors are emailing, and film rights people are demanding attention, and fires are being put out.

So, message to writers: Don’t expect a month turnaround. Expect your agent to do her best.

What do I do when client manuscripts come in to me? Well, I always acknowledge receipt and let them know I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Next I log it into a spread sheet, so I know exactly what came in when, and what is still pending. And I let that list nag at me. I’m one of those people who hates having things unfinished – so I am ALWAYS aware of what I still need to do. I then typically take those projects on one by one. The exception? A quick turnaround project. If I have a tiny bit of time where I can’t even begin to get into a novel, but I can finish up on responding to something shorter, then, yup, I’ll get it back to the writer ahead of others.

My clients are a prolific bunch. So that leads to another exception: multiple projects spilling in from the same client. Okay, so if you do send me a novel in need of heavy revision, and it’s logged in, then two weeks later, you send me a shorter project, or one that is nearer to completion and that I see is nearly market ready, I will take that one and work with you to get it out into the world. What does that mean for the other novel that is tick tocking away in my spreadsheet? It means I stop the clock on that one till the other is complete.

That’s important for writers to know. I will go back to the original project, but I also do represent other writers. I’m moving all of your careers forward in every way I can, which means that I can’t drop everyone else for weeks or months while I’m working on everything that’s come in from you.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a prolific client. But it’s a step by step business. It’s okay to check in on projects and to see where things stand. Your agent-writer communication is important. And it’s also important to know that the “well, my agent ALWAYS gets back to me in a month” comment from other writers needs to be taken with a vat of salt. If you find yourself waiting more than a month, I say look at the real situation at hand. Is a month realistic for your project, given the form it’s in? Is your agent responding personally to your submissions while others get “reader’s reports” perhaps? Is the timing a factor? (Holidays, conferences, etc.?) Is the agent already amid another project from you, and therefore dealing with that one first? Or have you since sent one (or more than one) project that is a hotter property or a quicker turnaround, and therefore keeping her currently busy? Just how busy is your agent?

Chances are good that she is VERY busy. I’m working ALL the time on my client’s behalf. So trust in that. Communicate. Being aware of all that she is dealing with can help you to see what is realistic.

Then write more while you are waiting!

 

*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.