Agent Monday: But What’s the Story?

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel confused. Like WHY was it snowing on Saturday? Boo. And WHY does a grocery story ever think it’s a good idea to rearrange where everything is? Seriously.  And here’s another one that bewilders me: why would a writer spend an entire pitch talking about everything BUT what their book is about? During these pitches, I actually find myself stopping the writer and asking them: But what’s the story?

Last Saturday (yes, when it was snowing!), I spent an enjoyable day taking pitches from a ton of nice writers at The Philadelphia Writing Workshop (thanks to Chuck Sambuchino for having me along). There were some seriously good pitches coming my way. These were well-crafted, and writers were able to convey a cool story idea within the 10 minute time frame we had together. But other times, writers buried their stories in such a way that I didn’t have a clue about the plot, the genre, and sometimes I struggled to figure out what, exactly, they were trying to present. It was like I had to play detective to get any real answers.

As not only a literary agent, but a writer myself, I get how this can happen. It can be nerves. Or perhaps the writer is having trouble boiling their complex book down into that one pithy line followed by a brief description. Sometimes we writers are so wrapped up in how a book was put together, or why we decided to write it, or in trying to impress an agent with our overall persona, that we forget that none of this really matters as much as the story itself and how it will engage readers.

Yes, when I see a pitching author squander their time on everything BUT their novel’s story, I do stop them and start asking questions to parse out what I need to know. But that doesn’t always work. Sometimes writers get flustered, or they truly haven’t thought out the answer to: what’s my book about?

Don’t let that happen to you.

First some do’s: Tell me the title, the manuscript length (in words not pages), and the genre right away! Then tell me a one line description that captures the overall plot of the book. Then you can elaborate on the story a bit more. And you can add in a bit about yourself, plus leave time for us to chat a bit.

Now for some don’ts: Don’t fill up your pitch time with talk about yourself, about your motivation for why you write, or about the mechanics of your writing. Discussion about how awesome you are at your full-time job, or about the way you transition from paragraph to paragraph is not going to draw an agent in.

Don’t waste time telling an agent details about things that have nothing to do with the actual story you’ve written. Just don’t.

Don’t spend lengthy time explaining about all your followers on Twitter and Instagram, etc., unless your social media presence and platform is startling (like a hundreds of thousands of followers), and don’t share every moment you’ve ever spoken in front of a group of people (unless you did something really extraordinary like were on Oprah or something). Just say: I’m active in social media and will be an eager promoter.

Don’t waste a ton of time talking about a book you’ve written that isn’t the one you are actually there to pitch. Just don’t do it.

Don’t put yourself down. Time and time again writers tell me that their pitch is going to be awful, or that their book probably isn’t any good, or that there are probably a ton of these types of books out there already, but…  Stop that! Seriously STOP! Best foot forward, people.

And do not come with papers for me to read or an ipad with a manuscript you want me to skim. Pitches are verbal. If you are nervous and must refer to your own notes, that’s okay with me. But I won’t take your book or manuscript or massive media kit home with me. Not even your first chapter. If I’m interested, I’ll ask you to email me material. If an agent is too polite to say no to your offered stack of papers, chances are VERY GOOD (like 100%) that these will end up in the trash minutes after you go. Save your money, people. No props required or bling, or printed up stuff.

Just a pitch. About your story. No mystery there!

 

*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: Phew!

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Phew, this here agent has been BUSY in every which way over the past week. It’s included traveling and going to conferences and meeting clients and taking pitches and traveling some more, and pitching books and coming back each time to more and more and MORE stuff in my inbox. So, while I now hunker down and catch up here, I thought I’d just post some pix today of the action.

Here goes:

At the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, OR (thanks, Willamette folks for a great conference!)… Hanging out with our fabulous film agent Kim Guidone, and the hilarious Rich Johnson, editor at Inklit, Penguin…

photo_3(2)While in Portland, I got to meet with my client, author Jon Price, for the very first time! That was a blast. Jon is the author of the very witty middle grade novel CREEP VIEW

photo_2(1)Back East, I grabbed a coffee with my great client Erin Teagan, and we chatted about her clever middle grade novel STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES, and about some future ideas she’s got brewing…

photo_1(2)Then off to a book launch for the thriller DEAD OUT, written by my very good buddy Jon McGoran! Jon’s book just got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. So excited to read it!…

photo_4(2)THEN it was off to New York for a gorgeous day and an informal picnic in Central Park with my fellow agents from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. These are seriously not only the most talented and smartest people you’d ever want to meet, but the nicest too!…

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

And now? Soaking my feet, catching up on everything, and staring at my empty refrigerator. Time to catch up and rest up and forge ahead yet again.

Happy August, everyone!

*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 Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Agent Monday: Conferences from the Agent’s Point of View (Revisited!)

Happy Agent Monday – and Happy Labor Day to you all! Last week I reposted a column about writer’s conferences and writer’s nerves, etc.  And today I’m including part two – which details writer’s conferences from the agent point of view.  Planning on attending a conference?  Read on!

Here’s part 2 of the encore post:

Asian Women Chatting over CoffeeLast week I shared some things I learned as an author about meeting agents and editors at writer’s conferences. So, BAM! Let’s switch pitch table sides. Now, as Associate Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I really am on the other side, taking pitches, sitting on the panels, and walking around conferences to meet writers and hear what they have to say. So here are some thoughts, and some tips.

First of all, like I said in last week’s post, the important thing to remember is that agents and editors are people. And most are pretty nice, too. Take the folks at the great Push to Publish conference which I’d attended (in 2012).  (NB: this Oct. 2013 I’ll be the Push to Publish pre-conference presenter where folks can spend the day with me – registration info here.) I wish I had time to hang out with these agents and editor and swap stories about our clients and our projects. But that’s one thing many conferences are tight on: time.

So as an agent, I arrive with a schedule in hand. For some conferences, I may have just been whisked over from an airport, and have barely arrived before I’m “on.” I love to meet my fellow agents and editors. But above all, I want to meet you writers! But time is short. So I meet with you during pitches, or chat with you during registration, or swap ideas with you during panel talks.  Longer conferences are great because there are more chances for real exchange. Exchange of biz cards, yes, but also exchange of conversation and ideas. There can be time during a cocktail party or in line for breakfast, or just hanging out in the hotel lounge after the main events are over.

But there are often many of you and few of us agents, so when we do get time with you, it’s important to use it well. I’ve done pitch sessions that have run anywhere from 5 minutes to 15. If a writer comes to me and is especially nervous, I understand. Sometimes however, this wastes our valuable time together as we spend our minutes more on getting focused than on talking about a book. In these cases, I think it’s best for the writer to have their pitch written out. If you just admit right up front that you are really nervous and ask if it’s okay to read your pitch, I for one will smile and say of course.  Then you can take a deep breath, read the pitch, and then our conversation can begin from there. And I bet you’ll feel better after that.

Some writers are naturals with pitches and with chatting. And for me, it really is a chat. As if we are sitting together for a moment at a coffee shop, talking shop. These writers smile, and introduce themselves and shake hands. They then sit and say something to the effect of, “I’m here to tell you about my new memoir called ‘About All That.'” And then they say their brief, focused pitch. These authors allow me to then respond with my reaction to the pitch. They listen to any questions I may have and answer them as well as they can. And they ask me questions like what do I think about this sort of book in the marketplace? They listen and allow us to interact, with note-taking happening after our allotted time.  This is all time well spent.

Sometimes writers squander their pitch time because they come to me unfocused. They haven’t thought ahead about the market of their novel (is it YA or mid grade?), or come up with a succinct way to describe the novel to me. So we spend our time together learning about the author, her approach to writing, what she wanted to achieve, the many ways she approached creating this book. Everything but what the book is actually about. And because of that, I can’t give any viable feedback or know if this novel is something I want to look at.

Sometimes writers come into the pitch with only one goal: sell!  I’m not naive. I KNOW that is the goal. But I think this sort of over-focused writer can miss out on great opportunities that lead to the sell. It’s not just about getting that jazzed reaction from the agent and the green light and that book deal. Seriously. It’s about coming into it ready to learn and pick up cues and adapt and make connections. And all of these things can lead you to the sell, so don’t be short-sighted.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A writer comes up to me very confidant with a pitch. She’s ready to sell it, and is sure a smart agent will snap it up. So I hear the pitch. I may be interested, but I’m confused about something so I ask a question. Over confident writer immediately deflates, convinced they’ve failed. Or withdraws, upset (yes, I’ve seen tears in response to questions). Or grows hostile, convinced I’m ridiculous to say no (which I haven’t even said yet) and that there is nothing more I can do for them and so they should just move on to wow the next person.  Every single one of these writers is simply blowing it. Why? Because as long as we have minutes together we can be learning from each other.

I can learn more about the novel in response to my questions. If my concerns are addressed, then maybe I will be interested. The writer can spend time building a relationship with me. Maybe this book won’t fly, but another book might in the future. Why burn bridges? The writer can also be paying attention to my reaction to this pitch. Even if I’m not the agent for you, did I become interested in certain things? Did I become puzzled? Did I express concerns about certain aspects? Then perhaps you can tweak your pitch and your queries to future agents based on this, and be more successful at your next pitch appointment. Ask me, “what do you think?” And if I say I’m not interested, ask me, “do you have any advice that I can use?”

When it comes down to it, I’m looking to work with pros. Even a debut author can be a pro. People who are open to discussion about their books, who are open to suggestions, who are folks I’d consider working with. If you are overly emotional, then I can’t picture you handling changes from an editor or meeting deadlines. If you are hostile or a prima donna, I’m never going to want to work with you. There are many talented people, and even if you are a major talent, if you are sending up flares that you are a difficult person, then I’m not interested.

When I go to conferences, I’m there to meet you, chat with you, and swap ideas. I’m hopeful that I will be finding my next client sitting right across from me. Someone who is professional and interesting and ready to work hard. I meet tons of fascinating people at every one of these conferences. Not all of them end up as my clients, of course. But many of them end up as people who I hope to hear from and interact with again.

I encourage you to remember that a pitch is more than a sell. Conferences are a place to meet people, to make contacts and to learn.  Get questions answered. Try out different pitches for your novel at different conferences and learn bit by bit which parts are most effective and which are not working so well.  Remember all of this can lead to a sell. I always enjoy meeting people who are passionate about their writing. It’s energizing and exciting.

Enjoy the process, and best of luck!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.