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: 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: NY Agent Seeking Non-Cheesy Rom-Com

Man giving woman gift.Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I just spent a great weekend at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference in Virginia (thanks, everyone, for having me!). There, I sat on the Agents’ Panel and was asked the inevitable question: What are you looking for? On my list, as always, is a great women’s novel destined to be the next great chick flick. I’ve put this request out a number of times, but so far? “She’s just not that into them” (to paraphrase a flick). Here’s what I do and don’t want…

First of all, anyone who knows me, knows I love my chick flicks, and lately? There has been a dry spell of new ones worth watching. So, quite selfishly, I’d love to find that novel that could become that movie that I can absolutely love. But, and this is very important to you folks about to press “send,” I do NOT like sappy romance, or category romance. Nicholas Sparks is NOT NOT NOT my thing, at all.

So what do I like? Fresh and funny and spot on. Quirky and relatable and flawed females with strength. Not ditzy. Not all-I-need-is-a-man. Guy heroes who are flawed and relatable and believable. Real stories that could really actually maybe happen! And that bring something new to the genre.

Why haven’t I found this yet? I’m not sure, and I’m kinda bummed, frankly. What I get is more of the same stuff already out there. The Bridget Jones rip off, complete with the clueless why-don’t-you-have-a-man-yet-you-are-getting-old-you-know mother. The ridiculous who-would-ever-be-friends-with-this-person best friend who is super-slutty or otherwise over the top at all times. The Stephanie Plum characters, but set in another town. And, yes, those anguished Nicholas Sparks ultra romantic novels. Plus plenty of those “my life is crap so I relocated to somewhere mysterious and/or exotic and found my groove with the handyman” sorts.

Okay, love is tough. I shouldn’t be jaded and I don’t want to give up hope. I know my “perfect match” is out there somewhere. What’s on my checklist for this? Something that connects with realities TODAY and gives us a fresh look at it in a way that makes us nod and laugh. A real heroine dealing with today’s challenges that we can root for, and real guys that we might actually need to avoid or to give the time of day to more. An original voice and fun and fresh situations. PERSONALITY! Real heart – not oozy fuzzy lovey dovey stuff. NOT that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not “my type.” And, in a smart and funny way, yes, love.

red rose and dobermannSo “if you like Pina Coladas” then chances are you should keep on moving, but if you’re “writer seeking agent” with something fresh to offer, I just might be into you.

 
*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 I’m Looking for – Part 3

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Me reading requested full manuscripts on my ereader…looking for one that meets my #mswl needs!

Happy Agent Monday, folks!  Hope everyone had a relaxing lazy weekend.  Here’s the continuation of my What I’m Looking For series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event a few weeks back over at Twitter…since 120 characters or so just can’t possibly say it all.

If you have the next Bridget Jones – smart, funny, relatable w/ heart – I want to see it!

Okay, here’s the thing: I am a bit of a chick flick fan. I like my flicks touching and heartfelt, hilarious and smart. Mean Girls, She’s the Man, 13 Going on 30, all the Bridget Jones flicks, Never Been Kissed, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. etc. etc. So it’s not surprising that I’d love to find a book that I can fit into that sort of category. A funny and SMART read.

What is surprising?  How hard it has been to find one of these.  First of all there is the whole cliché slippery slope that most of these submissions fall into. If it’s been done before, then it’s not going to cut the mustard.  I deal with major publishers and their top imprints and they aren’t looking for knockoffs. Neither am I.  That’s why as a viewer I was so taken with the movie Silver Linings Playbook. It was as fresh as fresh can be and kept me guessing and intrigued and drawn in every step of the way.  I know. I keep talking about movies!

So back to books.  Too many of the submissions have been too predictable and too familiar.  Another problem? The tone and voice have been an issue.  Sometimes I’ll get a query for what sounds like a really spot on premise, but then the manuscript falls flat.  When you read a Shopaholic book, Becky’s voice is addictive. The way she talks herself into nonsense is truly funny, and she says things to herself that almost make sense (we’ve told ourselves the very same things from time to time).  Bridget Jones’ voice is a funny and perceptive everyman voice that we can’t help but root for.  Who wouldn’t applaud the result of happiness and true love even for a girl whose ass is roughly the “size of two bowling balls”?  My point here is that voice matters.  Tone, too, matters.

Some of the manuscripts I get have a tone that is just too strident. I don’t want to hang out for a few hundred pages with someone who is bitter, or completely selfish, or just plain stupid. Would you?

Another thing that many manuscripts have done is to put way too much emphasis on explicit sexual encounters.  I know that the whole 50 Shades craze feels hot – but, how shall I phrase this? It doesn’t get me hot to make an offer.  What I’m looking for instead is a novel where I care about the character, I worry about her, I feel her loss, I root for her, and I laugh with her as she encounters life’s crazy obstacles, and in the end? A satisfying, albeit unusual triumph. That’s not a category romance thing either.  If your query reads like a mechanical formula: she’s a girl who such and such, but he’s a guy who (just the opposite)…they are forced together when blah blah blah.  Feels dull to me, honestly.  I’m looking for something more original than that.

Too much to ask for?  I hope not.  I don’t want you to think that every submission of women’s chick-lit-like fiction has been a complete miss.  There have certainly been some close calls.  And, like Stephanie Plum, I remain optimistic, even when everything around me points southward.

So if you think you have written what might become the next great Bridget Jones novel, please send it to me.  I’m waiting – and so is our film agent!

Another #mswl explained next week!

*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 – What I’m Looking for – Part 2

Tropical beach scene on a sunny day in Oahu, HawaiiHappy Agent Monday, folks.  If you are like me, after 5 solid days of fireworks and potato salad and beach sand crusted into your eyebrows, you don’t know what the heck day it is…  But it’s Agent Monday… I’m pretty sure, anyway.  So, today I’m continuing my What I’m Looking for series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event the other day over at Twitter.  So here goes…

adult fiction – literary voice with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something#mswl

Okay, let’s break this down.  Adult fiction is pretty obvious (though you’d be amazed at how many people don’t get it right).  This is fiction where the main character is in their mid-twenties and older, or, if the character is younger, the material it covers is clearly not for teens or younger.  Just so we’re clear, by that I don’t mean porn, and I personally am not interested in erotica (see my post on Fifty Shades of Not for Me).

When I say literary voice, I mean gorgeous writing, precise language, taking the time to develop imagery and symbolism and meaning throughout the novel.  But that doesn’t mean that I like lofty elitist writing where an author is contemplating their naval and getting all pretentious on the reader.  No no no.  Hence the “with commercial appeal.”  I still want plot, an understandable hook, emotion, etc.  The sort of book that I’d pick off the store shelf and get pulled into…a book that won’t let go.

Character driven – that means that I’m going to care deeply about these characters, even more so than the plot.  This sort of book isn’t all about the hook or the concept – it’s about relationships and growth and conflict all couched within an intriguing story.  No stock characters allowed.

Transporting – take me somewhere/teach me something.  I love getting sunk into another place or time or being taken into the heart of something I’d never have access to otherwise.  Two of my adult fiction clients, Harmony Verna and Yvette Ward-Horner have done this with incredible talent and artfulness.

In Harmony’s historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, she’s coupled the harsh world of turn of the century Australia with a hero and heroine I immediately fell in love with. We meet James and Leonora when they are young orphans and are with them as they form an innocent love. And we also meet Ghan, a rough man who has lived a brutal life in the mines. He considers himself a hideous monster, yet he, too, is a hero throughout this story. As the three lives intertwine we feel the grit of desert sand on our sweaty brow, the horror of the mining life, the joy of children who never had joy in their lives before, the heartbreak of tragedy, the pomp and excess of the wealthy steel tycoons in Pittsburgh, the scraping back-breaking life of someone living in the Australian wheat belt throughout a drought. Harmony takes us to all of these places with stunning detail as we feel how all of these environs wound and shape the characters we have come to love so much.  At the heart of this piece is a true and deep love story as the orphans James and Leonora search for what is home and what is love.  In a word: gorgeous.

In Yvette’s contemporary novel LOOK WELL, she’s paired the finest of imagery and word choice with gripping action, taking the reader up to the highest peak in Alaska as obsessed climber Gabrielle fights to blaze a new historic route to the top. With her are Jason and Mike, two men who know this is a suicide mission, but who love her so much they are terrified to let her make that climb with anyone else. In this book I feel every thunk of the axe into ice, I become so sunk into the story it’s as if I’m truly on the climb with them. I learn so much about this sub-culture — people who risk all for the thrill of the climb, and who carry their lives on their backs. And the characters on the climb also carry their share of conflicts. Their emotional journeys shape every step they take, keeping this book in the “character-driven” vs. “plot-driven” category. This is truly a “heroes journey,” one that I’m not sure, as I read through, any of the people I’ve grown to care for will survive.  Absolutely stunning and riveting.

So there you have it: adult fiction – literary with commercial appeal – character driven and transporting.

Written one of these? Then bring it on over!

 

*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: What I’m Looking for – Part 1

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Waiting for good stuff in my inbox…

Happy Agent Monday, and happy July everyone!  It is absolutely pouring here right now and my road looks like a gushing river.  So I’m sitting here and sipping my first coffee of the day thinking that I wish my agent inbox was flooded with amazing queries right about now….  This past week over at Twitter, there was a #mswl event going on…  Manuscript wish lists were posted there by agents and editors, and I jumped on the bandwagon, posting a few of my own wishes.  Immediately I started to get some submissions into my inbox referencing #mswl – but a bunch weren’t even close to what I was asking for.  So I thought I take the next few agent Mondays to spell my own #mswl a bit more.  Here’s what I’m looking for…

#MSWL numero uno: Strong beautiful YA contemporary – character driven w/ 1 main prob, not dozens

Okay, so it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of novels by Sarah Dessen and John Green and that also I might just have written a YA contemporary novel or two of my own.  So of course I have a deep abiding interest in contemporary YA.

Contemporary = realistic.  No paranormal elements. Based in reality.  So if you query me with a contemporary novel that features elves, then you have mislabeled your manuscript.  That’s a fantasy.  If there are ghosts, that’s a paranormal.  So what I mean is real kids in real situations that happen right now. Contemporary.  Clear enough.

I find that many people still are confused about what makes a book a young adult novel.  You need to have the main character be a teen – and an older teen at that.  Too often a 13 year old character is really the star of an upper middle grade novel (kids like to read about characters older than they are).  Or the main character is in their mid-twenties or older- that’s adult fiction, not YA.  There is also a “new adult” category emerging where the character is in college or in their early 20’s.  If the novel has a teen character, but the story is all about the parents in the story, then that is also not YA – that’s adult.  Lately I’ve also gotten manuscripts that feature points of view of both a teen and an adult with the focus being on both the stories – but the teen story doesn’t appeal to an adult audience, and the adult story is definitely not for the teen readers – that sort of book is all messed up genre wise and impossible to place. Trust me, no teen wants to read about a character’s parents’ sex life in alternating chapters with the teen’s story. Zowie.

Anyways… Character driven should be pretty self-explanatory: the characters are well developed, grow throughout the book, and they are the focus of the story rather than a high concept hook.  Like if it’s a book about a murder investigation that focuses on the whodunnit rather than the who in the story, that’s plot driven, not character driven.  If the book’s all about scandal and salacious details instead of the impact that something has on a character, that is also not character driven.

I’m hoping to get into the character’s head and soul and to walk in their shoes as they deal with a conflict that forces them to change in some way.

Which brings us to the last part of my #mswl: 1 main prob, not dozens.

I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I get where the plot starts off promising, but then veers into the ridiculous with the number of problems piled onto the character’s life.

Let’s say the character is stuck in a foster home and doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere…until she starts working at the quirky music shop and discovers a new dysfunctional but loving “family” that she can call home.  I’m making this up for this piece, but that, right there is a novel all laid out. One main problem with tons of opportunities for characters and conflict and twists and revelations and in the end, growth.

What I’m getting in my inbox instead is something that runs like this… Take that same one heartfelt problem as above, BUT also…the character’s mother was murdered, the murderer is still out there, the character is sexually abused by a teacher she had begun to trust, she’s also a drug addict, and the job she gets at the music store is run by a heroin addict and staffed by people she gets close to only they are all illegal aliens and get deported, so she develops bulimia, and…

You see what I’m saying? Not one main problem but dozens. Piled on. Where’s the confidence, people? You don’t need sensationalism or tons of issues. Give me one issue with some minor ones if needed added on. Give me heart and elegance and a character I care about. Look at the books by Dessen and Green and other beautiful contemporary writers.  Bulimia = one book. Abuse = one book. No family love = one book. Etc.  So look at how few issues characters in these great novels are really dealing with at once.  I think you’ll be surprised at the simple central premise that rests at the bottom of each one.  People/characters are complex enough, right?

Anyways, that’s my #mswl #1.  Put that in my agent inbox right now, please.  But PLEASE follow my guidelines so you do it the right way.  For my guidelines, click here.

And stay tuned for another #mswl next week!

*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.