Agent Monday: Everyone’s Different

SnowflakeHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Hopefully you are making it through the winter okay.  Not letting the relentless snow get to you… Washing your hands and not letting the germs get to you…  And feeling hopeful all around. Days are getting longer and longer. March isn’t too far off (do NOT tell me about big snowstorms that tend to happen in March, please). And nothing can stop you from writing, not even a power outage. Ha!  Take THAT, winter. But sometimes we writers can fall into the doldrums. It can happen at any time of year. We feel this way when we don’t get validation. Our critique group gives us some harsh advice. Our agent isn’t 100% on board with our newest manuscript. Our efforts to get an agent isn’t met with the roaring praise and success we’d hoped for. Our manuscript on submission to editors isn’t an instant sell. They like it, but… And WHAM! Just like that we doubt ourselves. We see others having success. What’s wrong with our writing? What’s wrong with us? So, today I’d like to just remind everyone that writing and publishing (and agenting) isn’t an exact science. EVERYONE’S DIFFERENT.

A few weekends ago I spent an awesome weekend as a guest agent at the SCBWI conference at Asilomar, CA. Hey, it was in California, so I’m allowed to say awesome.  Not only was it a blessed escape from the hell-hole snow and ice storms that have fallen upon the Northeast every other day, but it was also yet another reminder of just how different every person truly is in this business.  And how important it is to remember that as a writer, no matter what stage you are at in the biz.

Nowhere was this more obvious than at the agent pitching roundtable that we held.  I was the agent sitting at one table, and Jennifer Unter, who is lovely, was at the other. Jennifer and I met and clicked earlier that day. We seemed to have the same sense of humor and passion for great books, so you’d think we’d like the same sort of things, right? Nope. The writers got to pitch to the agent at their table and the other writers there got to listen in and take in our reactions. What did we respond to? Were we interested? What did we think about the pitch style and how could it be improved? What did we say about the market potential for a work?  Then I switched tables with Jennifer and I did this with the group she’d just heard from, and she took my group and did the same. The result? Interesting, for sure.  We each shared some opinions, sure. But we each also had very different interests too. I liked some things she didn’t. And vice versa. I liked or didn’t like certain things in the pitches, and that sometimes varied too. The big takeaway? Everyone’s different.

This isn’t an exact science. Yes, it certainly helps that I know lots of things about the editors that I pitch to.  But there is always that “I’ll know when I see it” factor in play. They can tell me they are looking for such and such, but there are tons of intangibles. That idea they didn’t know they were looking for until they saw it. That type of book they’d never thought they’d buy…until they saw such an unusual take on the subject and were completely blown away. And readers are fickle too. That book that was supposed to be a mega-hit, but fizzled. That sleeper that wasn’t supposed to go too far, and then broke all the records.

It’s not an exact science. It’s about your gut and your instinct and your unique point of view.  It’s about connecting with others, too. So listen to what the world says about your work. Take it in and think about it. Take what will make you a better writer and use that. But keep being yourself and believing in your voice and writing.

Everyone’s different, every book’s different. Every agent and editor is different, too. So work hard, keep improving your craft, love what you do, and have faith that you’ll find your audience.

*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: Wrecking Your Chances?

No Sale Sign on Cash RegisterHappy Agent Monday to hard-working writers everywhere! Something has been bugging the heck out of me, so this is going to be a kick-in-the-pants kinda post. As a writer myself, I know just how long it can take to write a full length novel.  Months to years of endless dedication are involved. You’ve invested your time and a bit of your soul into this work, right? THEN WHY THE HECK CAN’T YOU INVEST A LITTLE TIME IN FIGURING OUT HOW TO QUERY AND PITCH THE DAMN THING!!!!  Yes. I’m yelling. At you. Why? Because, my dearest writers, too many of you are wrecking your chances at success.

I see it every bloody day. I just spent the last 2 hours rejecting a slew of queries that committed too many crimes to count. I’ve been to too many conferences where authors squandered their pitch time with me, time that they should have spent hooking me with their novel idea and then reeling me in.

Sometimes I want to grab you all by the proverbial lapels and shake some sense into you. Do some research. Work on your query and pitch with care. Educate yourself about what works and what doesn’t. PLEASE. Don’t do it for me (well, okay, do it for me), do it for your creative work, which really needs your help to get it out into the world.

This is why I’m offering a special 2-session Query and Pitch Clinic over at the Word Studio in Chestnut Hill, PA on April 7 and 14. **Registration is limited to just 8 participants, and closes this Sunday, March 24 , so if you are interested you should click here to reserve your spot now.** Look, if you are going to conferences to pitch, you need to be ready. Pitch sessions are short and you want to do this right. If you are going to start submitting queries to agents, you need to know the ropes so you don’t find yourself blowing your chances with a slew of agents and getting an inbox filled with rejections, or worse, with no replies at all. At the Query and Pitch Clinic I’ll show writers how to avoid serious pitfalls and how they can best showcase their work to agents.

Here’s something to think about: Are you receiving no reply AT ALL to your queries?  Maybe you are assuming that a no reply means no.  Some agencies do this, but many do not. It could be that your query is so poorly presented and in some way actually insults agents to the point where they simply hit delete. Zowie, right?  I hate to simply delete a query, but I do if it’s justified. This happens when I feel ridiculous even taking the time to respond…like when the writer hasn’t even bothered to put my name in the body of the email.  Sending me a generic form query is actually rude…the equivalent of junk mail, actually, and will land you smack in the trash.

And what’s a mistake that I often see in pitching? Leaving the agent with far more questions than answers.  If I have to spend time during a pitch asking the writer what was the genre, whose story is it, what time period it was set in, and I’m obviously more confused than impressed with various plot points, then that writer didn’t do their work justice.

You’ve finished your novel – that’s a great accomplishment. Now finish the work of selling it and figure out how to query and pitch it right!  Do your research and learn these important skills any which way you can. You definitely owe it to yourself.

*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.

Why Conferences? (Or, How I Got My Editor and My Agent)

It’s conference season. Tons of workshops with authors, editors, agents. Panel discussions. Pitch sessions. As you receive glossy brochure after glossy brochure, you’re probably wondering, is it worth it? Why go to a conference at all? Well, here’s an article I wrote a few years back, and I’m including it here in the hopes that it might motivate you to step out of your house, and meet some editors and agents face to face.  Some seriously great things can come from it.

Why Conferences? (Or How I Got My Editor and My Agent)
by Marie Lamba

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Okay, none of the following can help you if your manuscript isn’t ready. I mean completely free of errors, completely interesting, completely wonderful. But what if it truly is? How can you get on the speedy (and speedy is a relative term here) road to publication? In a word: conferences. Seriously. Here’s how it worked out for me.

First I applied and was accepted to the amazing One on One Conference held annually at Rutgers University (children’s writers only). If you are writing for children, this is the ultimate place to be. The editors and agents there know you have some semblance of talent to be able to get in, and they are extremely available to talk with you throughout the day. You are paired up with an author, an editor or an agent who works in your genre and you get to talk with them one on one for 45 unbelievable minutes. Then you get a 5 on 5 round table discussion with your match plus four other pairs. Plus there’s chatting with anyone you dare to over lunch. Plus there’s a keynote and a panel discussion. Absolute heaven.

I was paired up with the very kind Alvina Ling, editor at Little Brown. Not only did she enjoy my first few pages and ask to see the whole ms (yeah!), but she also asked if I was interested in finding an agent. She recommended a small handful of agents she especially respected that dealt in my genre, and said I was welcome to say that she had referred me. I’d say that was the best $75 dollars I’d ever spent, wouldn’t you?

You know how they say never email an agent a query, especially one who says on her website “no emailed queries?” Well, ha! I decided to be bold, and I found out that when your message line says “Recommended by (insert the name of the editor or top author here…only if they’ve actually recommended you, of course),” that they would in fact read your query immediately. And if all goes well, that agent will email you back in a matter of hours asking to see your whole manuscript. It went well. So I jumped the queue, saving myself about 3 months of waiting just to hear a response to my query. So far so good.

I’d like to say that the response to the manuscript was as fast. You know. The agent waits with baited breath, reads your manuscript overnight, gets back to you immediately. Well, that didn’t happen. So I figured if I didn’t hear back in the next week, or at least the next month, then I was toast. One month went by. Two months. Three. I sent a cheerful little note to check on its status. Three and half months went by.

Blah. So, time for another conference. This time I decide to attend the BEA Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. The agent I’d hoped to get would be there. Perhaps we could meet? I email her. She’s too busy. Still, I’m hopeful about the conference. I tell her I’ll try to get on her line for the one-minute pitch session to say hi. There seems to be a large number of children’s editors on the roster, and I hope to talk to lots of them. Surely not every attendee will be a children’s author, right?

To my relief I am right about this. The lines for the adult fiction editors and agents snake out the doors and through the corridors. People in those lines are lucky if they can see one of their choices. In the room featuring the children’s editors and agents, the lines only have about 20-25 people on them. I’ll get to talk to as many of these folks as I wish. I’m the first in line at the desk of Jim Thomas, Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. The format is rigid. The organizers ring a bell, and you race to a seat and give your pitch. After one minute, the bell rings again, and it’s time for the editor or agent to talk with you and ask questions. One minute later, the bell rings again and you have to evacuate the seat for the next person. The hope is that by the third bell you’ll have that person’s business card in hand with an invitation to mail your manuscript to them.

I had practiced my pitch ahead of time, driving my whole family nuts in the process. I felt ready. I even had my manuscript with me in my bag (something they tell you never to do…but still). So the bell rings, and I start my pitch and Jim reacts with shock and interest at the topic, and then, to my total surprise, asks if I could read the manuscript to him. (See? It’s a good thing I had it, right?) I fumble through some papers and yank the book out and start reading in a fast and steady pace. DING! Times up. Jim is smiling. “You see that person on the end? That’s Lisa Findlay. She works with me at Random House. Get on her line. I think she’ll like this.”

Wow! Another referral. So I jump onto Lisa’s line. Tell her Jim sent me. Pitch her the book and she hands me her business card asking me to mail sample chapters. Things are really going great here.

I get on the long line leading to Jennifer DeChiara, my sought after agent, and finally get my chance to chat with her. She seems tired but attentive, and I tell her she’s already got my book, but I just wanted to say hi. I discover that even though her website says she responds in 3 months to manuscripts, 6 months or even a year are more realistic dates. Good to know.

Flash forward several months. I haven’t heard from Jennifer DeChiara or Lisa Findlay. Sigh. That’s okay, right? I start working on a new book. I try not to think about it. BUT NOTHING SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING. Then something happens. It’s September and it’s like the publishing world has returned to work from a long long summer break. Lisa Findlay asks to see my entire novel, so I send it. Great!

Then I get an email from Jennifer DeChiara. Something to the effect of: I am reading your manuscript tonight. Okay. Is this one of those form emails or something? I try not to read too much into this.

Then, THE phone call comes. It’s Jennifer, in person, saying all these incredible things we writers only dare to tell ourselves in our deepest slumbers. Would I sign with her? Would I?

So now I’m absolutely floating. I dare to dream and all that stuff. But it gets better.

Within a week, Lisa Findlay gets in touch. She loves the book, has some suggested changes, but would love to sign me at Random House. Me? Me! Okay, after I get up off the floor, and call my husband who seems to only be able to say, “You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” I immediately contact Jennifer to deliver the amazing news.

So both of my pursuits for an amazing editor and an amazing agent were successful, and within a week of each other. Pinch me!

And sign up for conferences. Lots of conferences.