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.

 

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: New Lit Agent Victoria Selvaggio!

0011Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Victoria A. Selvaggio!  With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria has also served several years as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Vicki’s a writer herself (her most recent publication is in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market), and she has been a valuable and skilled manuscript reader for the agency. Now she’s excited to read compelling manuscript submissions to shape her own list of clients.

Welcome Victoria! What types of submissions do you want to see?

I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me! On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.

What are some of your favorite reads?

Some of my “older” favorites: THE GIVING TREE written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by author E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis. PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. THE TALISMAN by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And I could go on and on!

How should writers submit to you?

Please email a query to vselvaggio@windstream.net and put “Query” in the subject line of your email. For queries regarding children’s and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.

For queries regarding a non-fiction book, please attach the entire proposal as a Word document (the proposal should include a sample chapter), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of your email.

Thanks, Victoria, for stopping by and sharing your wish list here with us! For more info about our agency, visit the agency website by clicking here. And follow my website, marielamba.com, to catch every new Agent Monday post!

Agent Monday: Ask Me Now!

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Busy, busy, busy here. I’ve got lots of stuff to read, emails to answer, details to attend to, etc. I hate to skip an Agent Monday post, but sometimes I do. And usually it’s because I don’t have a topic that’s jumped out at me as a “must-do” for this site. I’ve covered a lot of things over the past few years – queries, conferences, etiquette, market tips, and so on. But I’m sure there are some subjects or details I haven’t touched on that YOU would like to know more about.

So here’s your chance to ask. Please leave a comment with a topic you’d like to have me do an Agent Monday post about in the near future, something you don’t think I’ve covered before.

Send those burning questions my way. And ask your fellow writers to chime in, too. I can’t promise I’ll cover them all, but I do promise to consider your suggestions.

Thanks so much for your input!

 

*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.

News!: I’m Now Officially a Picture Book Author

Dog with Birthday Hat and BalloonsHi everyone! Okay, so you may know me as a Young Adult novelist and a Literary Agent, but today I’m excited to announce that I’m also now officially a Picture Book author!!!

My husband, Landscape Architect Baldev Lamba and I have penned a picture book text titled GREEN, GREEN, which focuses in community gardening in a city.

 

Here’s the deal announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace:

January 15, 2015

Children’s:
Picture book
Literary agent and Young Adult author Marie Lamba and landscape architect Baldev Lamba’s debut GREEN, GREEN, a celebration of community gardening that reveals how green land grows into a vibrant city, and how an unused lot is made green again, to be illustrated by Eisner Award nominee and HERE I AM illustrator Sonia Sanchez, to Susan Dobinick at Farrar, Straus Children’s, by Jennifer DeChiara at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency (NA).

Baldev and I have collaborated on many an article in the past, all centered on garden design elements, and our pieces have appeared in national magazines including Gardens & Landscapes, Garden Design Magazine, and Your Home. It’s been a while since we’ve worked together on a piece, and this is our very first picture book together. Baldev is associate professor of Landscape Architecture at Temple University, and owner of Lamba Associates, Inc, an award-winning Landscape Architecture firm. Among his wide range of past projects are a number of urban gardens, including, most recently, the PHS Pops-Up urban garden in Center City, Philadelphia that grabbed a lot of attention. He’s also designed a number of Temple’s award-winning exhibits at The Philadelphia Flower Show, including one titled “Metromorphosis,” so urban renewal and community gardening has been floating around in both of our brains for a while now.

And speaking of “for a while,” it’s wonderful to be turning my mind back toward picture book writing after so many years. It’s where I started out, going to college to study writing and fine art and trying a few picture books, then I found myself penning novels instead. Picture book writing feels like coming home creatively for me, somehow — and I’ve got a few more in the works right now. Fingers crossed!

Special thanks go to our wonderful editor Susan Dobinick, our amazing agent Jennifer De Chiara, and to Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers for believing in this manuscript.

Young girl celebrating with confettiI think they are shooting for publication in Spring 2016. I’m SO EXCITED, and can’t wait to see the gorgeous illustrations Sonia Sanchez will produce to pull this all together.

Yippee!

 

Agent Monday: Best Resolutions for Writers

Fortune Cookie with  FortuneHappy Agent Monday and Happy New Year everyone! I hope your 2015 is full of laughter and love. I know lots of people make resolutions, and for writers, that often means resolving to get a literary agent. So if this is your resolution, then definitely read on.

Here are my suggested resolutions for writers making “get an agent” resolutions:

1. Resolve to know that some things you can’t control.
Saying that this year you will get an agent, doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen. And making a resolution like that can be defeating. Trust me on this one. As a writer myself, I’d made many a resolution in the past that went like this: This year I will get a book deal for my novel. So, please, do yourself a kindness and focus on the part of the resolution that you CAN take control of.

2. Resolve to do all that is in your power to get an agent.
What is in your power? Finish and polish your novel FIRST, before even starting to query agents. Create the best query letter you possibly can. Research, research, research to find the best agents for you. Research their guidelines so you can submit to them in the best way that will give your work its best fair shot. (Scroll through my Agent Monday posts over the past few years, and you’ll find lots of helpful tips ranging from writing the perfect query letter, avoiding common mistakes, finding the best conferences, how to approach agents, etc. Subscribe to my website and you’ll get all of my future Agent Monday posts as well.)

3. Resolve to set yourself up for success.
No one can stop you from writing. From perfecting your craft. From learning about the publishing business. From making meaningful connections with other writers at conferences. From forming your own supportive critique group. From checking out affordable local conferences. From reading great current books in the genre that you want to publish in. All of these steps lead you closer to securing an agent and a book deal in the future. All of these enrich your life and make you an even better writer. Each step equals a triumph.

So this year, succeed in countless ways! That’s a resolution we all can keep.

Best of luck to you 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.