DRAWN Haunt – Do Over!

pumpkinsOn today’s DRAWN Haunt party post, I get a bit personal. I share a time I struggled with my confidence, and talk about having a Do Over. If you ever needed a Do Over, I think you might relate…

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October I’m featuring book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. Catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts by exploring the blog, and you can subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So now it’s time for your…

DO OVER

How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?

For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools.  Or maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a change in your life.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00050]

I fell in love with the main character… And, she has the good sense to fall for a worthwhile guy, a 3-D character, instead of the cardboard cutouts that are common in so many books…Time travel. Drawings that come to life. Ghosts…The writing and, most important to me—the characterizations—are so well done.
— Whatcha Reading Now?

In my novel Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:

The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.

Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.

Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do-over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit.  So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.

But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first.  Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.

Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into.  What if they were right about me?

In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:

I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.

I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.

Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?

In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:

I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.

Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore.  And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way.  I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.

Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs.  It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want.  For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.

In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost.  This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.

She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.

Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:

Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…

It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.

Taking risks and believing in yourself.  It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Two New Agents at JD Lit!

YHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The sun has peeped out for a few hours here AT LAST, so I thought this would be a good time for some sunny news….two new agents have recently joined the ranks of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. So help me extend a warm welcome to Associate Agents Damian McNicholl and Alexandra Weiss!

Damian is a former attorney, and author of the critically acclaimed novel A Son Called Gabriel (CDS Books/Perseus Books Group).  As an agent, he’s looking for great nonfiction and fiction that appeals to a wide audience and makes people think, laugh and sob. In fiction, his interests are accessible literary, upmarket commercial, historical, legal thrillers, LGBT, and some offbeat/quirky. Nonfiction interests are memoir, biography, history, investigative journalism and current events especially cultural, legal as well as LGBT issues that can help lead to meaningful change in society. For more information about Damian, and his submission guidelines, click here.

Alexandra is a Books Writer for Bustle.com, the PR Manager for a local Chicago circus, and an all-around literary bookworm. She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Publishing from Columbia College Chicago, has interned as a publicist, and was an acquisitions editor for the award-winning anthology Hair Trigger. As an agent, Alexandra is looking for young adult, especially in the areas of realism, science fiction and fantasy, and she loves stories that include diverse and risk-taking subjects, including culture, race, sexuality, and identity. She’s also looking  for adventurous, silly, and out-of-the-box children’s and middle-grade books.  And for general fiction, she’s not looking for romance, but she is seeking strong literary voices that take the notion that every story is a love story to new levels. She’s also drawn to books that include uncommon formats, incorporating things like letters, photos, or poetry. For more information about Alexandra, including her submission guidelines, click here.

*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: Querying? #MSWL a Must!

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Some Monday mornings are harder than others – and today requires extra java somehow…  But not everything is difficult. One thing that is really easy and helpful? Using #MSWL. What’s that, you ask? Well, if you are a writer querying literary agents, it’s time to find out!

#MSWL is a twitter tag that stands for Manuscript Wish List. Head on over to twitter, and search for the tag.  Go ahead, I’ll wait… Taps foot…  What you should find there are entries made by editors and agents about what they are looking for RIGHT NOW. It’s pretty awesome. And simple to use, which is really key.

It’s simple for me as a Literary Agent, because, even BEFORE that second cup of coffee, you’ll see that this morning I tweeted a whole bunch of things I’m really looking for in queries. Things like diverse meaningful fiction, spooky ghost-like tales, heartfelt and funny middle grade with a STEM tie in, riveting memoirs – especially with a foody slant, hilarious and fresh women’s fiction, smart and edgy contemporary YA with a romantic touch. Got one of those? Definitely send me a query! But please follow my submission guidelines, which can be found by clicking here.

And it’s simple for querying writers to make use of #MSWL too. You can search for the tag on twitter, but this isn’t limited to twitter. This info also gets compiled into a searchable website. Cool, right? Go to www.manuscriptwishlist.com and search away. While you are there – look me up!

This will add an up-to-date twist to your agent hunt that just might give you and your manuscript the edge you need.

Happy querying!

 

*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: Dig Deeper for Ideas

Red Lightbulb in Fixture

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Last day of February – WOOT!  I’m all about springtime and being outdoors and longer days and digging in the garden – and I can’t wait for all of that. I’m also eager to dig through the submissions in my agent inbox to find  the next engrossing read. However, what I’m often finding are manuscripts that, while well written, are just all too familiar. That’s a real shame. The writers have skill, but the idea behind their book is one I’ve seen too many times before. I wish that these writers could dig deeper so that more original plotting can grow.

What do some of those all too familiar plots look like? Here are a few examples:

For middle grade or YA: A child or a teen must spend the summer with a grandparent or other relative they hardly know – and it’s always in the middle of nowhere or on some waterfront setting. There the kid uncovers some sort of mystery they must solve, whether magical or spooky or historical, and an unlikely person ends up helping and becoming a close friend. In the end, the kid learns about themselves, and also sees that unknown relative in a new light.

For women’s fiction: A young woman has tried to make a go of her career and love life, but finds embarrassing failures and is forced to go back to her home town with its small town ways. There, she eats humble pie, sees that simple life as not so simple and even sophisticated and enviable and heartfelt, and that old flame of hers is there to rekindle a different life path.

For women’s fiction or memoir: A person’s life falls completely apart, and they go on a journey to leave it all behind and are challenged in new and surprising ways that change everything.  For a memoir, this can be a trek or a world tour or some other adventurous trip. For fiction, it is often spurred by a death in the woman’s family, or a divorce by a cheating spouse, and the heroine either inherits or buys some rundown home in some isolated place and is challenged to make a go of things – of course the attractive but surly and mysterious handyman is there to help.

There are many other too familiar plots I could site. Just conjure up ideas of dystopian fiction, fantasy middle grade, silly picture books, and you will likely come up with a number of familiar story lines yourself. Call them tropes if you like, and they could be entertaining, and well done. But I say talented writers can go deeper in their ideas and plotting. As an agent, I’m looking for originality and fresh journeys to go on. In a weird way, it’s a lot like trying to find something on NETFLIX to binge watch. You want something engrossing and interesting and wonderful. Something worth investing your time in, and you want to be surprised and delighted in the adventures that enfold. You don’t want to watch a few minutes and have many things figured out, and to feel like you’ve seen something just like this before.

Pile of LightbulbsSo what’s a writer to do? I say dig deeper. Find what you most love about your idea, and then as you plot, don’t go to the first or second idea of what could happen next. One technique that I really like to use when plotting my own novels is from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (a craft book I highly recommend). Think of what could happen next in your story. Then write, say, 5 more ideas. Then 5 more.  Take that last idea on your list and use THAT. You’ll be using something on a much less obvious train of thought.

And you’ll be creating something that may just surprise and delight you, and please agents and readers too.

 

*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.

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Agent Monday: Memoirs with Meaning

Eyeglasses atop BooksHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The LAST Monday in February. We’ve nearly made it through this bitterly cold month, and better days are a-coming. Hang in there!  Speaking of tough times and hope, I thought I’d weigh in on memoirs today. What makes them work, what makes them stumble, and what makes me as an agent interested in representing one.

So memoirs are tough. I’ve been looking for one to rep, and in the past few years, I’ve only made an offer of representation on one so far. And two others had merit, but weren’t right for me, so I passed them over to another agent in our firm. It’s not that I’m not getting memoir submissions. I am. And a number of these are even well-written. So what’s the problem?

Well, here’s the thing about memoirs. They need to be well-written, definitely. Simply put, many are not well-written, and the story isn’t spectacular enough to merit a ghost writer. (Publishers sometimes pull in a ghost writer for a high-profile memoir — such as a celebrity’s story.) A well-written memoir should be told in an accessible way, with a clear voice/personality, and revealed in a novel-like style that has a narrative flow.

Memoirs must also be about something remarkable. I get plenty of “I went on a trip” memoirs, or “I broke up with my husband” memoirs. Or “I had a baby” memoirs. While these are remarkable things in your life, they aren’t tales that will draw in someone who doesn’t personally know you. Are there exceptions to the more everyday sort of memoir? Sure. Look at Marley & Me, about, essentially, a boy and his dog. But this was written beautifully in a way that drew in the reader and made an everyday story truly remarkable. Not easy to do.

I also get, sadly, many a memoir where someone has gone through a terrible illness or addiction or abuse, or experienced the death of a loved one. Heart-wrenching, yes. But if that is all there is to the memoir, unfortunately I pass. It’s hard to send a rejection to someone who has gone through so much. But while I may feel sorry for what they’ve gone through, that still doesn’t make their memoir something that will succeed in the commercial marketplace.

Why? What’s missing? Well, in essence, something for the reader. What makes the reader care, feel involved, want to read this? What can the reader get out of this book other than a voyeuristic glimpse into suffering? These are key elements to a successful memoir.

So, a successful memoir needs to be well-written, reveal a remarkable life, AND offer something for the reader….a reason to care, something they can take away with them after they read it, an entertaining journey, and, I’d add, a new way to view their own lives.

Get all of this right, and you’ll have a memoir that transcends the “this is what happened to me” sort of manuscript and have a book that will matter to many. And it will matter to me. Send THAT memoir my way.  You can find my submission guidelines here.

 

*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 Agents Sell Books

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, world! A few weeks back I asked folks to chime in with questions they’d like to see me answer from the agent’s point of view. I got a lot of great suggestions, and a bunch of those questions were answered here. Today, I’m answering questions sent in by Stacy, who wrote: “Though posts about craft and the market are always helpful, I am very curious about how an agent sells books.”

Stacy went on to list 5 specific questions related to this. I’m sure different agents do things differently. But here’s how I do things…

1. How do you package pieces to sell to an editor?

The first step is to always make sure the manuscript is as perfect as the writer can make it. I work with my author, reading through the pages, sending along notes and edits, until we are satisfied it is tight.

I do the same with the synopsis. I prefer to have a short synopsis, so we usually keep it to two pages, max. And we finalize the author’s bio. These steps can sometimes take close to no time at all (the manuscript comes in clean, and little work is needed), and sometimes it can take months (the author needs time to do a more extensive rewrite before we are ready to submit).

Next I create the pitch. This is one or two lines that capture the heart of the manuscript and hopefully the interest of the editor.

As soon as I first see a manuscript, I’m already starting to think of who would love to see this, which publishing houses would make the best home for it. Now it’s time for me to make a more final list. Over the years, I’ve collecting info on an extensive amount of publishers and editors, and I’ve kept track of who has moved where, and how their tastes have changed. Still, every manuscript is just a little different from one I’ve done before, and so I always research editors with fresh eyes.

How? I go through my own collected data to form an initial list of editors who seem a fit. Then I dig further into recent deals made and new developments, trends, imprints to see who else I should consider. Now I have a solid list of editors in hand.

I pick up the phone and start calling editors. My pitch is in front of me, but I don’t read it. By now I’ve internalized what I want to say. I have this wonderful novel… It’s about… It’s unique because… The author is amazing because… I think it’s right for you because…

The editor says, great! Send it! So I do, along with the bio and synopsis, and in the email that I send to the editor with these attachments, I further detail my pitch, plus outline some markets it would be great for — stuff than I want the editor to keep in mind as she reads, and that can help her to “sell” it to her publisher.

2. How do you analyze an editor’s preferences (how know what ms. will interest which editor)?

This is an ongoing process, ever-changing because editors’ wishes change, editors move to different houses, and imprints are ever-shifting. I call editors and ask them what they are looking for now. I meet with them for coffee and over lunches and at their offices to get to know them and their preferences. I talk with them at conferences. And I keep up with what’s reported online – new deals posted, new interviews with editors, etc. Even when I call an editor to pitch a manuscript, after that pitch is complete, I’ll ask them: have your editorial interests changed lately? What else are you looking for right now? The team of agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency is doing all of this constantly, and sharing this info with everyone else in our firm, so there’s a constant flow of information.

3. How do you analyze a publisher’s preferences?

Working frequently with a broad range of publishers, we know what their houses seek. One imprint skews literary, another skews highly commercial, still another is heavy on fantasy, while another is focusing on edgy contemporary. Again, I talk with the editors and do my research.

4. How do you handle rejection as an agent (you loved a manuscript, but the editors didn’t)?

Every rejection is a learning opportunity, in my view. Why did the editor pass? As an agent, I typically get details beyond the “no thanks.” This helps me to refine what to send that editor next time, and it helps my author and I in future rounds of submissions. If a number of editors pass for the same reason, perhaps the manuscript can be edited to correct this issue before it goes out again? Also, I’m reminded again and again that this is at times a highly subjective area. One editor rejects a book because she loves the plot but not the voice, while the very next day an editor rejects that book because she loves the voice but not the plot. And that very same book goes on to be sold at auction in a two book deal! So I never let rejection get me down.

5. What are the houses you work with often, and why?

This varies. Every manuscript is just a little bit different, and I represent a wide range of projects from children’s picture books, middle grade and YA through to adult fiction and memoir. (You can find my submission guidelines here.) I’m always looking for the right fit at a press that creates beautiful books. Often this is at one of the top commercial presses, but sometimes a smaller press that does award-winning titles is just right.

That’s a wrap! Have a great week, everyone, and special thanks to Stacy for all the great questions. If you have any burning questions you’d like to see answered in future posts, leave those in a comment below.

 

*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: What this Agent Does and Does Not Want

pumpkinsHappy Agent Monday everyone!  Here in the Northeast it’s a crisp glittering fall morning, the kind of weather that makes you feel you can really take on the world. If you writers are feeling the same, you may feel that extra zing of energy to send out some queries to agents for your latest work. Good for you!  For some help in this department, I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what I do and do not want…

susan-coventry-200But first of all, I want to send out a huge welcome to my newest client, author Susan Coventry!  Susan’s debut was the historical YA The Queen’s Daughter (Holt), which nabbed the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year honor. She caught my attention with an unusual manuscript that’s a retelling of the little known Arthurian courtly love story about Enide and Erec. It’s vivid, sharp, witty and fresh. Basically, it’s a cross between The Princess Bride and The Once and Future King (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite books EVER).  So I lift a mug of mead (okay, it’s coffee) to Susan in welcome. I’m so thrilled to represent her.

So, back to the land of queries… I spent several hours this weekend reading through my inbox. For those of you waiting on responses, I’m up to queries received on August 1st. (Yeah, there are still a lot more after that, but I DO read them all and answer them all.)

*If you sent a query before this date and never got a response, that means you broke a cardinal rule and were therefore deleted without a reply. Deletable offenses include: mass-mailed queries that aren’t addressed to me, titled things like Dear Sir or Madam, or with no greeting at all…Attaching your query (I won’t open query attachments from people I don’t know)… Openly offensive or rude statements in your query…

*Also, if you see on something like Query Tracker that I have a response time for some folk of like a day or a week, and yours has been sitting around for a month or two, don’t despair. I do like to breeze through queries as they spill in for a quick look – and if something is clearly a no – I’ll zap back a form rejection. If something is a zowie-gotta-look-at-that-immediately query, I’ll request the full right away…otherwise it goes into the queue for later.  And, yes, I have acquired clients from that “later” queue…

Okay, then… What I do and do not want.  Please read my guidelines, people.  You can find them here and also on the agency website.

MP900308953Some things I do NOT want:
Genre fiction. I’m not a fan at all, so please do not send me your sci fi, romance, high fantasy, or horror novels.
Extreme violence and gore. HATE that. Please do not send me violent serial killer novels, or slasher books, or blood-soaked stories whether fiction or memoir.
Horsey books. Confession? I’ve always been afraid of horses – I’m pretty sure they were put on this earth to bite my face off. Needless to say, I never “got” the girl obsession with horses, so if your book is about that? You’re neighing at the wrong agent. 😉
Things I’ve seen way too many times before. I’m over paranormal romance, dystopian, I never “got” zombies (bite off my face thing again?), or werewolves or stuff like that.
Things that feel too much like something else. I get a lot of almost fan-fiction-like novels. They aren’t in the same world as the original, but change a few names and it’s the same story.
Memoirs that are mainly a sad retelling of something that happened in your life. Divorce. A cheating husband. A common illness. The death of a loved one. While I can feel compassion for these writers, I’m looking for something a bit different in a memoir.
Memoirs that are mere nostalgia, or a telling of a fairly common experience. I get a lot of memoirs that feel like an older person who has decided to chronicle their life for posterity — this may be a lovely gift to pass on to your family, but it’s not a commercial product in my eyes. I also get a lot of “wow, I went on this trip,” or “wow, I went to college,” or “wow, I worked a lot of strange jobs” memoirs — to me, this is just life, and not remarkable enough for others to buy and read.
What they are now calling “sick-lit,” inspired by The Fault in Our Stars success. I’m not interested in “someone is dying” as the theme driving a YA or women’s novel. It feels a bit too overwrought to me, and there needs to be a lot more to the plot for my taste.

Young Girl ReadingOkay, so what DO I want?
Something fresh and original with a recognizable voice.
Something that moves me to laugh or cry or both without being sappy or stupid.
Something that takes me somewhere I’ve never been before, or shows me something in a brand new light.
Something with a hook, meaning it has an understandable and unique theme and conflict, and a clear audience.
While I don’t DO romance, I’m open to romantic themes in YA and women’s fiction — just please don’t make it predictable or the heroine shallow and all about the guy! Also, what IS it with guys who have green eyes and a crooked smile? Jeesh! Is this every girl’s fantasy or something? (To those guys out there with green eyes and a crooked smile, be on your guard for rampaging women…You have been warned.)
SMART women’s fiction that can become the next great chick flick — and that is NOT just a rehashing of Bridget Jones, Stephanie Plum, Shopaholic, Sex in the City.
A YA that is smart and real ala Sarah Dessen.
Brilliant writing that is accessible. I’m not one for literary fiction with a meandering plot, but I adore gorgeous writing.
Strong characterization. I’m not one for merely plot driven fiction. I need to care.
Hilarious and moving middle grade.
I’m open to elements of fantasy, a fun or moving ghost story, I love the shivers (without blood, please). But DON’T give me genre writing.
Diversity, but only if it is genuine and intrinsic to your story.
Memoirs that bring more to the table. Incredible voice, unusual humor, revelations for readers, a takeaway for readers, real heart, a truly unique inside peek at something…
Books that leave a lasting impression. 

Take a look at my client list here. You’ll see a range of people who are very serious about their craft. You’ll see that their ideas are unique, and that their books stand out on the shelf as something fresh. Read their work and you’ll see their voices jumping off the page.

And if you have these qualities, I definitely want to see your query!

 

*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.