Agent Monday: Fix those Pitch and Query Mistakes!

yes - notepad & penHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Conference season is heating up, and New York publishing is back in full force after a sleepy end of summer.  That means it’s time for writers to put their manuscripts in front of agents! Whether through a query or through an in-person pitch, you only get a short time to impress an agent. Are you spoiling your chances by bungling this or are you pitching and querying like a pro? If this is your first time out there, or if you aren’t getting the responses you’d like from agents, it may be time to fix those pitch and query mistakes!

Pitch times with agents are brief – anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 minute.  Yet a frequent mistake I see is a writer who eats up that time telling me WHY they wrote this story, or HOW it is told in first person or through alternate viewpoints, or…  Mistake!  Have you ever picked up a novel and bought it for those reasons? It’s all about the story – at least at first. So guess what you should focus on in that brief pitch? Yup – the story.

As a literary agent, I’ve seen, oh, thousands of queries. What’s a frequent mistake writers make? Their description of their book goes on and on for paragraphs. I don’t have the time to read so many long queries, but the real turn off for agents is that these long descriptions are often full of unneeded info, and tend to lack zing. This is writing that needs tightening, and that makes a plot feel unclear and unexciting. So if your book description in your query goes on for several paragraphs, it’s time to give your query letter a serious edit.

These are just a few important changes to your pitching and querying skills that might make a big difference when you try to interest an agent in representing you. If you would like to learn more, Associate Literary Agent Cari Lamba and I are offering a live Webinar through Writer’s Digest called HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES THAT MAKE AGENTS TAKE NOTICE. Register for this, and you’ll attend our webinar online where we will show the ins and outs of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pitching and querying agents. The webinar also includes a live Q&A with us where every question asked by participants is answered. And it includes a personal critique from us of your own query letter and the first 5 pages of your novel.  The cost for all of this is $89.99, and it’ll sharpen your skills before you spend far more on conferences or waste any more valuable time with an ineffective query letter. Be sure to register before the October 19th date! Note that although the Webinar begins live at 1 p.m. on the 19th, you don’t have to attend it live to view it and have the critique – so no worries there. Webinars, of course, are great because you don’t have to travel to attend, can attend in your jammies if you’d like, and you’ll have the recorded session after the live event to refer to again and again. If you’d like to find out more about the HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO Webinar, or would like to register for this, click here.

Hope to “see” you then!

*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: Meet New Agent Cari Lamba!

Cari LambaHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so excited to have an interview with Cari Lamba, the new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. She’s actively building her client list, so if you are looking for an agent, you’ll find this especially useful. Cari is awesome, and I should know —  since she’s my daughter.

Welcome, Cari! And thanks so much for stopping by and answering questions for us. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

For middle-grade fiction I love any Roald Dahl books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Artemis Fowl series, all for the same reason – they’re clever books. I really appreciate novels that have childlike wonder, while also having well thought out plots and witty characters that will make you think and feel for them. In fiction, and specifically mystery, I’m hooked on the classic mystery novels of Agatha Christie. The plotting and twists keep me guessing, and I want to find something that will draw me into the characters like Christie does. I’m also a fan of the bloodless murder mysteries that focus more on plot than on the crime. I also love the humor that Janet Evanovich brings to her Stephanie Plum novels, which kept me with the characters for so many books.

To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

One of my favorite TV shows is Parks and Rec; I’ve watched it through so many times. Leslie Knope is one of my all-time favorite characters and I would love to see a book that reflects her strong and caring spirit. I also absolutely love Sherlock. As for movies, I’m all about the chick flicks. Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love are two of my favorites. I also really enjoy a movie that will make me think, like The Imitation Game.

What’s in your reading pile?

Right now I’m reading the Eyre Affair, which combines two things I love: a good mystery and Victorian novels.

You have a long history with books – as a reader, as a book promoter and event organizer, as an intern, and as a journal editor, and you’ve had an unusual view of the writing and agenting world. Can you share some details about this, and how it’s shaped who you are now as an agent and as someone working with authors?

So I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been around books and to have worked with many authors. I studied literature at Franklin and Marshall College and at the abroad program, Advanced Studies in England. I also have a lot of practical knowledge doing things like setting up and running events for authors, doing social media promotion, and reviewing the marketability of books. I think that it helps me to see both sides of the publishing world: the business and the craft part. Both sides are needed in order to make a book successful.

How did you get into agenting?

I became a reader for Jennifer De Chiara when I was in high school, and at the time it was more about just reading than about having an interest in the business. As time went on I found that I really loved being involved in the process of making a book successful. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

I’m looking to represent middle grade fiction, and adult commercial fiction. I’m really hoping for something that ties the culinary world into a mystery. I’m obsessed with Food Network and I’d be very excited about finding something that involves elements of that world . I would also love to see middle-grade and adult fiction that have really sharp and witty female main characters. For more specifics about what I do and don’t want, folks can visit my submission guidelines here.

You’ve interned with the agency for 8 years. Over that time, you’ve seen a wide range of query letters and requested manuscripts, so…

What makes a successful query to you?

Simply following the submission guidelines. I also like to see that the author has done their homework and shows that they are querying me because they really do think we’d be a good fit together. Also, using the first person. It’s a query, not a biography.

What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

Well, I’ve already had a few queries come in for genres that I just don’t represent yet. It’s so easy to check if an agent represents your genre. Following that, if the author clearly hasn’t read the guidelines and does something like attaches the whole manuscript, or doesn’t even paste sample pages in the email (as my guidelines allow), it’s going to be a no from me. Also if there are any typos anywhere in the email or in the following pages, it shows me the author isn’t ready, and I can safely assume the manuscript isn’t going to be in good shape.

When you were an intern, what made you recommend a manuscript for representation?

If I thought that the manuscript was able to combine a well-written story with an intriguing plot and characters that I really cared about, then that manuscript was recommended. It didn’t always have to have an element of humor or wit, but it did have to make me care about what was going to happen, and be original in plot.

How did requested manuscripts make it past the query stage, and first 20 pages read, but then wind up rejected when you saw the full?

There are actually a lot of ways that a manuscript can end up being rejected after being requested for the full manuscript. There is only so much you can tell from the first 20 pages. So if the plot then falls apart, or becomes too predictable, or I end up not liking the characters enough, that manuscript is a no go. The manuscript needs to live up to what it promised in the first 20 pages.

Do you think you’ll be a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

If I think a manuscript is worth the time and effort, I will help the author get it to where we both think it needs to be to sell. But it has to be a novel that really draws me in before I get to that point. Being an editorial agent means that you want to help the author, which is what I will be doing, but not with line edits or grammar mistakes that should have already been cleaned up.

What is your idea of an ideal client?

I think my ideal client is an author who is passionate about their work, while also understanding that it is a business. We would be able to talk through both the craft and business side of things with ease.

Where can folks go to follow you online?

I have a twitter account that is open for anyone to follow that I’ll be keeping up to date on all things literary with a side of sass every now and then: @CariLamba

Your link for submission guidelines?

https://www.jdlit.com/cari-lamba

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Just that I’m very excited to see the projects that come my way!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Cari!

*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: I Need a Hero!

happinessHappy summery Agent Monday, everyone! Just when things should feel especially lovely and relaxed season-wise, suddenly the world feels uncertain and topsy-turvy. Cough cough *Brexit* cough cough. We are also mourning terrible violence and ignorant hatred. It can make you feel truly helpless. So this is a call to action from a literary agent. Are you listening, writers? It’s time to use your super power: Power of the Pen. (Cue music: “I Need a Hero.”)

A writer’s super power truly is the ability to enter the minds and hearts of readers and influence them in a positive way. So, now more than ever, I’m looking to represent manuscripts that will do just that. Give us a hero we can really root for, show us the world how it should be, the person we can aspire to emulate, or scare the crap out of us with how it might be if we are careless with our choices.

Inspire us to act, and inspire us to hope. But be artful about it, too.  The story’s the thing (sorry for the paraphrasing, Shakespeare…). A novel is not a lesson, but it could convey one.

So think about the books that have inspired you. Think of the change you’d like to see. Realize your own power of the pen. And create as if the world’s future depends upon it, because it just might… We all need a hero, and it could be your main character, and by extension, it could be YOU.  BTW, my submission guidelines for queries can be found 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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Webinar for Young Adult Writers

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHi fellow writers! Just a heads up that there’s still time to register for the online webinar I’m teaching next week through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter. This may be a good fit if you are currently working on a YA novel and/or trying to get an agent for it.

The 90 minute webinar covers a lot of stuff, including trends in YA, plus what is and is NOT YA material in terms of age, point of view, length, story arc, etc. (as a Literary Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency I see submitting writers trip up on these things all the time). I’ll also cover how to write your best query letter, some insider tips on querying do’s and don’ts, plus I’ll critique your YA query letter afterwards. The webinar also includes a Q&A.
 
It runs live next Thursday, June 23rd (but can be viewed later, if you can’t catch it live), and the cost is $89.99. For more info and to register, you can go here.

As both an agent of YA fiction, and an author of a few young adult novels myself, I’m especially looking forward to helping aspiring YA writers through this webinar. Hope to *see* some of you there next week!

Marie

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Agent Monday: Focus on YA

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, everyone! A few weeks ago, I wrote about how focused writing can help land an agent.  Today, I’d like to zero in on young adult novels, since I find a lot of folks losing their focus when writing for the YA crowd. And that can get in the way of a writer landing an agent.

Yes, YA lit covers a broad span of topics. Unlike middle grade novels, which are geared toward the 8-12 year old crowd,  with YA you can deal with a wide range of controversial issues, and sexuality, and you can even drop an F-bomb. But there ARE limits. For example, this still isn’t the place for erotica. And there are certain expectations that must be met within the YA realm, expectations that are often missed by writers.

Things as simple as the actual age of the hero, and as complex as the point of view or the way any possible “lesson” behind the story is discovered by the reader.

Also, there are certain expectations within the sub-genres of YA. Do you know what readers (and agents and editors) expect from a YA romance? Or a YA thriller, for example? Well you really MUST know these things as a writer.

As a YA author myself, as well as a literary agent, I get really excited when I find a manuscript with the makings of an incredible YA novel. But more often than not, that manuscript falls apart. The writer is all over the place, writing themselves right out of the YA market…and ending up with a book that doesn’t fit anywhere. Too old a theme with too young a voice is just one of the mistakes I see.

So study up, writers, and really figure out what makes a YA novel.  Dig deep into current YA novels out there and dissect how these differ from middle grade and adult novels. What makes them stand out?  Check out craft books on the subject, too. Also, you might consider signing up for the live webinar I’ll be presenting online through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter.

This webinar runs June 23rd (note even if you can’t attend live on that date, you’ll still be able to access the full recording after), and the registration includes my webinar, which will help you sharpen your YA knowledge and skills, followed by a Q&A with me, plus each participant will then submit a query letter for their YA for me to personally critique…I’ll respond directly to you with comments and tips on how to make that query even stronger.  Registration for this webinar is now open…for more info, and to register, you can click here.

If you write YA, be sure you are getting it right. Take that time to focus on your genre, to really learn its parameters in whatever way you can, and to hone your YA voice and point of view. Then, once your story is on target, you’ll be truly ready to send it out into the world to land just where it should…in the hands of readers!

 

*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: Your Assignment – Learn from Bookstore Shelves

Boy reading in the libraryHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Yes, it’s January and bleak and cold. BUT it’s also a shiny new year, and the days are growing LONGER. Yes! Time to get energized and kick your writing career into higher gear. If you are seeking a literary agent, that means you are writing something you hope will be commercially successful. Something that will land on the bookstore shelves all across the country. So here is a task you must all do without delay: Visit bookstores and see what is actually on their shelves right now. Why? There are vital lessons you can learn from a bookstore!

Visiting a bookstore and browsing for books is a vital part of being a writer, for sure. But I want you to actually go there now as a student of the commercial book market. Bring a small notebook, and keep in your mind where you think your own work in progress will fit on the shelf.

Now go to that shelf — first of all, does that shelf exist? If it’s a category that doesn’t exist, you’ve got a problem right there. As an agent, I can’t sell books that are so different or such a mash up that they don’t fit into a particular category when it comes to sales. Why? Because an editor can’t make an offer on such a book. Why? Because an editor can’t convince his or her publisher and sales team that a book without a category will sell. And why does that matter?

Because a book that won’t sell, will be a book that will fail to make any money. The publishing business is a business. And a successful book is one that sells. Yes, writing is an art. But once you are approaching an agent, you are approaching the commercial market. So step one in your bookstore bookshelf class is to figure out what shelf your book will belong on.

This is why saying your book is for all ages is a fail for you when you pitch. There is no shelf for that. What you CAN say is that your book is a YA with cross-over appeal. That means it’ll sit on the YA shelf, but that adults will also go to that shelf to find it. This is why saying there is no other book like yours is a fail when you pitch. It is like SOMETHING, it has SOME MAIN READER. You need to find these somethings and someones, so you can say it is, say, a romance, but unique because it features…  See the difference? Now you have a category, plus a unique sales hook that will help your title be found by readers.

Okay, so once you find your shelf, the next thing you need to do is to see what is already on it.

What’s on the end caps, what titles are face out, which ones have multiple copies on the shelf? Those are likely the “hits.” Good to be aware of these.

Look closely at the type of books elsewhere on your shelf. At the titles. At the covers. Which are the most effective and the most interesting to you? How does your own novel’s title compare? Can you imagine what the cover might be?

Which other books might the reader of your own novel also be drawn to? Have YOU read these? You should. Why? Because then you can have a current take on the market yourself. You can then honestly say in your query something like: Readers who love the high stakes and honest characterization of THIS POPULAR BOOK, will be drawn to WHAT’S IN YOUR BOOK.

Now, before you leave the bookstore, buy some books. Help your bookstore succeed. You want them to be thriving, don’t you? Someday they will be selling your books!

Visiting the bookstore, notebook in hand, gets you seeing the big picture. Where your book fits. Who your audience really is. What market an agent/editor/publisher can sell it to. Buying books is also an important part of the commercial cycle. A cycle that you want to fully involve you and your work.

Your homework will pay off in numerous ways:
– Now you’ll know without a doubt what your book’s category is.
– You’ll have a list of current competing titles (and of authors – who were THEIR agents?…not a bad list of agents to consider approaching, right?).
– You’ll have a more focused outlook overall about your novel, a more realistic idea of your market. This will all result in a better targeted query letter, and a commercial view of your book’s potential that agents and editors will appreciate.

*NB: Be grounded and realistic, too. Trust me, saying that this is the next HARRY POTTER will only make eyes roll. But saying that your work offers a twist on the middle grade fantasy, with an unusual magical theme that fans of Rowling should enjoy… well, you see the difference in the two statements, right?

Understanding all of this is an important step for you. Publishing is a business. YOUR business. So head on out there and study up.

 

*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: In Good Company…with Character

RetirementHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  No matter what sort of fiction you write, it’ll really soar if you include believable characters…people we care about, people we love, or people we love to hate. Without compelling characters, a story can really feel flat, and a story engine can chug to a full stop. Today I’m excited to welcome to the blog Richard Uhlig, who is a terrific author, and who I’m proud to call my client. Richard definitely knows a thing or two about creating compelling characters. Here’s his take on it…

In Good Company
by Richard Uhlig

“This is hell!” my fiction-writing students say. “How can you do this year after year? It’s drudgery sitting at my desk for hours trying to come up with a story someone will want to read.” One writer I know calls his den The Torture Chamber. Norman Mailer said writing was the Spooky Art, “… where there is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where the words are coming from, those divine words.”

Yes, writing an original book, play or screenplay can feel like you’re shoving Noah’s Ark up Pike’s Peak by hand. Then, over your shoulder you hear Cassandra whispering, “All this work is adding up to nothing.”

You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help comparing your writing to Vonnegut’s, Fitzgerald’s and Munro’s, always coming up short. What you thought was a solid idea when you sat down to write it can default faster than the Greek banking system.
There is, however, an opium for this kind of creative pain. I know it’s helped me. It’s easy and close at hand: masturbation.

Kidding aside, write about people who you find entertaining.

Unconventional people. People who stand up to seemingly insurmountable problems. People burning with dreams. People who are their own worst enemy. Exceedingly bad people, exceedingly good people, but most of all exceedingly interesting people who shake up your sense of decorum and expectation.

Ideally, these people should want something desperately, even if, in the case of Shrek, that something is just to be left alone.

Beginning writers often waste months ironing out a concept, or trying to figure out the intricacies of a plot, without having given much thought as to who the yarn is about. Writing a story where the characters are secondary to a plot is like dancing without music. It’s okay for cookbooks and instruction manuals, I suppose, but you’ll never come up an Auntie Mame, Humbert Humbert or Willie Loman.

Tip: Put your characters in drastic, hilarious or god-awful situations right away. Follow their reactions. They should lead the way. If they don’t, search for a new character who does.

Keep in mind, this is creative writing we’re talking about. Not journalism, not biography. To write a facsimile of your church-going third grade teacher, Mrs. Carter, can lead to narrative paralysis. The real Mrs. Carter would never allow Miss Barkley, the p.e. teacher, to kiss her. But what if the fictitious Mrs. Carter lets Miss Barkley kiss her? That would buck your reader’s expectations. In other words, allow the Mrs. Carters in your life to inspire you, but free them to do their own thing. Reveal their hidden desires.

And don’t freak out about writing stereotypes. No offense, female p.e. teachers. The fun, like with Mrs. Carter, is to add contradictions to stock characters. Take the hit 1980s situation comedy “The Golden Girls.” Blanche is the slutty southern belle, Dorothy the tough Brooklyn Italian, and Rose the naive farm girl — clichés all. But the writers artfully forced these stereotypes to reconsider what they believe, constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones while maintaining a core consistency. The result? Some of the most memorable characters ever created for TV. Sinclair Lewis, the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote chiefly about “types.”

Writing can be a lonely game, for sure, but if your characters consistently surprise you by what they do and say, you’ll soon find them great company. Who knows, you may even find them more interesting than a lot of people in your non-fictional life.

So, the next time your novel stalls like a New York taxi at rush hour, get out of the driver’s seat. Let your characters take the wheel. It’s easier for you, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun for the reader.

 

Rick UhligRichard Uhlig is author of the YA novels LAST DANCE AT THE FROSTY QUEEN and BOY MINUS GIRL (both published by Knopf) as well as the e-book MYSTERY AT SNAKE RIVER BRIDGE.  He’s also penned the feature films DEAD SIMPLE, starring James Caan and winner of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Critic’s Choice Award, and KEPT, starring Ice-T.  Richard wrote and directed the award-winning short films CAN’T DANCE and MY KANSAS.  He lives in New York City with his wife and two children, and is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.