Agent Monday: Why Some Queries Work

MP900439510Happy Agent Monday, everyone. And dare I say, Happy Spring? Okay, I’m putting away my snow shovel. That’s that. This weekend, as I plowed through queries in my inbox, I started thinking  about why some queries work, and why some just fail to grab my interest. I’m talking about queries that are fairly well-written and professional looking. The answer, for me rests in what makes me buy a book at the bookstore.

1. The Subject is of Interest to Me

Seems simple enough. When I enter my local bookshop, I go directly to the sections that I’m interested in. These could include general fiction, memoir, YA and the children’s section. I do not go to the strictly non-fiction reference section, or the category romance shelf, or the science fiction section. That’s just not my interest.

Likewise, if you query me about topics that I’m not interested in, I’m going to pass you by.

2. The Title Draws Me In

If a book is something generic like: A Breeze Blows, or Time, or whatever, then it’s not going to prompt me to think, Hm, now THAT sounds interesting, and to pick it off the shelf.

Likewise, I think writers querying me often forget that a title is the first thing that can spark interest in an agent. It should give some flavor of what’s to come and make me think, yeah, I’d pick that one up to find out more.

3. The Jacket Copy Sounds Interesting

When I pick a book off the shelf, the very first thing I do, after noticing how long or short it is, is to read the back jacket copy, and the flap copy. Does it build on the promise of the title? Do I want to find out more? If not, I place it back on the shelf and move on.

With queries, this is an important moment for the author. You need to describe the book in a way that will make me want to read those sample pages. If you can’t do that, I won’t bother to read those pasted in opening words, and a rejection will be sent.

Too often, the writer will tell me about how the book was written…like alternate points of view, or in three parts, or in short chapters. I don’t care. I want the story to draw me in. WHAT’S THE STORY? Make me want to read it.

Or they’ll wax on about why their book is important and the message that the writer wants to convey. Honestly, I have to say that’s secondary to THE STORY. If it’s not a non-fiction proposal, that info doesn’t matter much at the outset.

I also mention length here, because, truthfully, if a fun escapist women’s fiction novel is 1,000 pages long, then, nope, I’m not lugging that thing home. Also, if a book is really really slim, as a book buyer I gotta think, hm, is this worth even spending money on?  As a querier, know the proper length for your genre, and try to keep your manuscript within an acceptable length.

4. Opening Pages Make Me Have to Know What’s Next

Me at the bookstore again: Next thing I do? I flip open the book and begin to read the opening pages. Not too many of them, mind you. Just enough to know that the book is not for me at all. Or that I’m loving what I see. That I have to read what happens next. Mind you, I don’t flip to a later chapter to see if things pick up. I don’t let a reader bore me or waste my time. This book is for my entertainment.

Likewise for a query. My guidelines allow for the first 20 pages to be pasted into your query email.  Even if you have been able to pull me in with the subject and the title, and I see the length is right, and the premise sounds really interesting, if those opening pages fall flat for me, there is no way I’ll ask to see the full manuscript.

BUT, if you deliver on all those aspects and have 20 rocking opening pages, I’ll ask for that full manuscript. Just like I’ll buy that book off the bookshelf.

Hey, it’s that simple!

 

*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.

Advertisements

Agent Monday: Quick Checklist for Submitting Writers

pencilHappy summery Agent Monday, gang!  Today, a quick checklist for submitting writers.  Are you in the process of querying agents?  Or about to be?  Then this post is definitely for you.  It’s a quickie post today (hey, it’s summer, right?)  Hope this list is helpful.  (Note: I’m talking about FICTION submissions here, since non-fiction is a little bit different.) Here goes:

1. Complete your manuscript.  You can’t query with just an idea or a few chapters when it comes to fiction.

2. Edit it to perfection!  You don’t really get second chances – so don’t just use agents as sounding boards as to whether your book is good enough.  Give us your very best!  Also, don’t expect the agent to bite on a rough manuscript just cuz the idea is pretty cool. And don’t think that it’s up to editors at publishing houses to do all the basic editing for you. Nuh-uh. You must deliver a manuscript that is as perfect as possible.  Use beta readers. Put the manuscript through your critique group. Hire an editor if needed.

3. Know the genre you are writing for and where your book fits in.  Be able to tell the agent exactly who the audience is for this book.  Mainstream? Middle grade contemporary? Young adult thriller? You need to know.  And you need to also deliver a manuscript with the right point of view for that audience, and one that runs the proper length for that genre.  Get that wrong, and you hurt your chances.

4. Write the perfect query letter.  Need tips on that? There’s plenty of info out there for you to gather on it, plus scroll through my Agent Monday posts for more specific do’s and don’ts.

5. Research agents that actually represent what you write!  Don’t waste your time on folks that aren’t interested in your type of manuscript or who aren’t currently accepting clients.  Do your research.  The Internet is your friend!

6. Follow the guidelines.  Please!  Do a search to learn more about your agent list, pull up their guidelines and follow them.  Not following them can earn an instant rejection. Trust me on that.

7. Send out queries in waves.  Don’t hit 50-100 agents at once.  Start with, say, 10. If you are getting 100% form rejections back, then perhaps you need to improve your query letter.  Then send out another wave.  Starting to get requested pages or full manuscripts?  Then you are on the right track.

8. Keep writing!  Writers write. Don’t let the query process stop you cold.  It’s something that should go on while you are also working on your next piece of fiction.

Happy querying, and good luck!

 

*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: Some Depth Perception

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day weekend and spent time with special people.  Writers are special people…and I spent an evening last week with my own special writing critique group the Rebel Writers discussing our own work (cuz I’m an author as well as an agent). And we had an interesting discussion about our own careers as writers and what we do vs. how we are perceived by agents.  Honestly, before becoming an agent myself, I saw things very differently. I thought the most important thing for me to do was to create that one perfect book and that would be what an agent would want. But now as an agent I see things a bit differently. Yes. I want that perfect book. But I also want more from a writer. More writing, yes, and more from the writer as a pro in the publishing world. I’m looking for depth.  So today, I’m offering you all some depth perception.

But wait, isn’t it all about that book you’d choose to represent?  Isn’t a writer’s job just to get that right?  Well… yes and no. Yes – you’ve got to do it right. But I’m representing you, the author. Not just your book.  So if I take you on as a client, that means I’m interested in you and your career over a span of time. Dash out one book and have no patience to fine tune it before we sub to a publisher – then I’m not interested.  Spent 20 years on your novel and never plan on writing another?  I’m also not interested – unless, perhaps, it’s such an earth-shattering book that it’s all that’s ever needed from you in your life (not likely, though). Write beautifully, but you are difficult to deal with? Then I’m definitely not interested. I’ll move on to an author who is the complete package – talented and professional.

So I’m looking for depth, for the complete package.  A writer who is productive, who is professional in manner and rewarding to work with. Someone who is as serious about their career over the long run as I am. I’m investing a lot of time in a client, and if I’m going to do that, it means I expect them to do the same for themselves and their own writing.  Publishers expect that too.

Think of it this way… An editor falls in love with a client’s manuscript that I present to them and makes an offer. They are doing so in good faith that I am giving them a total package author – one that is talented and that the editor can work with. Not a prima donna. Not an argumentative person. Not someone who won’t follow through on deadlines. Not someone who is difficult at every turn.  The publisher is taking on this writer and investing a crap load of money into them that goes beyond that advance – and they would very much like a return on that investment. They are, in essence, building you up as your own brand and developing your audience of readers. But what good will that end up being if you never write another book, or you take 10-15 years before you complete your next volume?

So here’s the depth perception I’m talking about: you, the author, need to work on a number of fronts to make sure you are the total package.  And here’s where I was wrong in my own career as an author in the past: I was very much a one book at a time kind of person.  I wrote the book, and then worked to market it to an editor or an agent and that was my mission.  But I wouldn’t write another book until that first one was repped or sold. I was single-minded and goal-oriented, something that helps me as a writer when it comes to writing a novel till the end, but it was also problematic.

Selling books, getting representation, it all takes time. By waiting for a return on my time investment, I also slowed my career down.  I should have been more productive, I should have been working on the next book, and then the next (though NOT a sequel, because that is a poor investment of time if that first book never sells).  I am sort of a one thing at a time writer, but once the book is complete and sent out, I should have mentally let it go and moved on to another project – still doing what I needed to market it, but also creating the next project.

Writers who continue to write and produce even as they try to get representation for their work are awesome finds for an agent. Say I read your manuscript and fall in love with it, and give you a call…  I’m going to ask you about your goals as a writer. I’m going to see what other writing you’ve done and plan to do in the future.  If this is your one and only piece of writing and you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, it’ll make me pause.  If you’ve got several other projects to show me, I’m going to perk up. You are serious. You are productive.

The other front – the professionalism part of you – should also be well-developed. You need to read deeply. To have realistic expectations in your dealings with agents and editors and realistic attainable goals for your career. You need to understand the publishing business so you’ll know how to talk to an agent, how to deal with an editor, the do’s and don’ts of your desired career. That means research, getting knowledgeable through conferences and through professional writing organizations, which offer a strong educational component through their events, magazines and online forums. And you need decent personal skills. If you can’t speak civilly to people, if you are rude, or passive aggressive or arrogant in your dealings with others – you’d better work on yourself.

When I make that call, I try to suss out your expectations, your professionalism, and if we can work well together. If I detect some red flags, that offer of representation will not be made.  And if, once we start working together, a pattern of difficult behavior emerges, then representation will be withdrawn. Why? Because my reputation is on the line. If I match up an editor with a difficult author, just imagine how many problems can come from that. How will that publisher regard the next author I might present to them after that? Yeah. Not good.

So, back to my Rebel Writers critique group and our conversation last week.  Those writers in my group have the professional part down to a tee. They are wonderful to work with, and understand the business. Any agent or editor would be delighted to work with them. Could they get their work out into the marketplace more? Absolutely.  Not spending enough time on subbing polished and finished works is definitely a missed opportunity.  Could we all be more productive? Many of us have other jobs. Life throws plenty of obstacles at our feet. And it’s hard to keep producing when that last book doesn’t seem to have found a home yet. But yeah. We all need to keep our creative head in the game, no matter what’s going on with our other manuscripts once they are being marketed. We all need to keep kicking ourselves in the pants and write that next book, and that next one.

Because we can get better with each book we write.

Because it shows how serious we are as authors.

Because it will give us a body of work to share with readers once we do find a home in the marketplace.

Because writers write.

And because agents/editors/publishers are interested in the total package.  They are interested in a writer with depth. And creating that depth is totally in your, the writer’s, hands.

 

*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: Promises, Promises

Girls Running Lemonade StandHappy sunny Agent Monday to you all!  As I raise my second coffee cup to my lips and contemplate the queries I’m about to read in my inbox, I can’t help but think about how hard this whole process can be. Yup, it’s hard for you writers to find the right agent who will “get” you and your writing enough to champion your work (remember, I’m a writer too, so I totally understand). But on the agent end of things, it’s hard too. Agents are looking to connect with novels, but all we get is a query and a few sample pages. When we latch onto something that really interests us in a query, it’s like a promise that the manuscript we request will deliver even more of that interest. So, promises, promises.  Are you keeping your promise to me?

Too often, I’m seeing these promises broken when I dive into the requested full, and, yes, that’ll result in a rejection.  It’s like a thirsty traveler happening upon a lemonade stand, plunking down a dollar with eager anticipation, only to find she’s walked away with a glass of tomato juice.  Not cool.

I think two things are happening with queries, neither one of which will help you get an agent…

Thing One: You do not have a clear vision of your novel, and because of this, you misrepresent it in a query. You call it a thriller when it’s really a contemporary. You say it’s contemporary when it’s really a paranormal. You call it a YA when it’s really a middle reader novel. You tell me it’s a dark emotional novel when it’s really a comical parody.

Thing Two: You do have a clear vision of your novel, BUT you’ve also read up on what’s hot and what I’m looking for and you recast your query to fit that so you’ll get me, the agent, to ask for it. You may think that if you could just get me to read your full novel I’ll fall in love with it and forget that it isn’t anything like what I’m looking forward to.

But Thing One or Thing Two = EPIC FAIL. Sorry, gang.

Truth is, when I’m settling in to read that requested full, I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve promised to deliver. When it doesn’t deliver those elements, or the focus quickly veers from what I was eagerly anticipating, I’m not delighted. I’m disappointed and confused. What happened to that quirky character the initial pages had me intrigued about? Or that contemporary tale I was looking for? Or that thriller you foretold.

Like with any commercial transaction, the old bait and switch ain’t gonna work. I’m gonna return that product to the seller fast and never look back.

So be careful what you promise. The query builds an expectation. Keep your promise, and I’ll keep interested.

Happy writing and querying! 🙂

 

*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: Do Your Homework!

MP900386224Happy Agent Monday, all!  Today I’m shaking my finger at you in a very motherly way, and saying: “Stop messing around and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!”

Here’s the thing: too many of you submit queries to me without doing what you should have done first. Namely, found out what I want, how I want it, or even who the heck I am!  Jeesh.

Want an instant rejection? Well then you’re good.

Want to snag an agent? Then get to work!  In the past few days alone I’ve received a slew of queries with my name misspelled. A ton of queries were for things I have NO INTEREST IN REPRESENTING, like high fantasy, non-fiction, gory fiction.  A bunch of queries were sent to me without the first 20 pages pasted into the query, or they had the entire manuscript attached. No no no!!!

More finger shaking.

Come on, gang.  It isn’t that hard.  Back in the day, writers used to have to slog over to the library and beg the reference librarian for the current issue of Literary Marketplace for a semi current listing of literary agents. A listing, mind you, with only the most basic contact info.  If you wanted to know who else that agent represented, you had to pull books off the shelf and hope the authors thanked their agent in their acknowledgements. It was tough in many ways.

Today? You go online and google the agent’s name for current info featured about them in blogs and interviews. You go onto their agency website and find out exactly what they want and how they want it. It’s not that hard.

And if you aren’t doing this, you are flagging yourself as unprofessional and, sadly, not too savvy. You are just begging for a swift rejection.

Is that what you want?

Of course not! So stop messing around and DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

And while you’re at it, eat your vegetables too.

 

*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.

Agent Monday: Writer’s Regression

Signpost of TimeHappy Monday! As an author of YA novels I, like many writers, felt my career rocked by the recession. And as an Associate Agent, I encounter many extremely talented authors who have had their careers derailed by the economic downturn and are still reeling to this day.  I feel your pain, and I am one sympathetic agent. So today I want to talk a bit about what I call the Writer’s Regression.

There are many writers who struggled to break into print at a time when everything in the publishing biz was dramatically contracting. Hard indeed. But in some ways it was even harder for those of us with debut novels in 2007-2009.

These writers worked sometimes for decades to finally land an agent and a book deal. This was the beginning of their true career as a published author!  What happened instead? Many of these writers lost their editors when jobs were cut, and that resulted in the loss of their biggest cheerleader at their publishing house. Booksellers, in their own panic over the economy, decided not to carry this particular author’s books at all.  The book didn’t receive any other push, and certainly no sizable advertising budget from the publisher. And even though a novel may have gotten awesome reviews, and perhaps even earned out its modest advance (though just barely), and even though this earning out was a feat in itself given the odds…well, the profit numbers to a cold and clinical eye may have seemed kinda, well, “eh” when stacked up to previous years.

So, though that writer was exceedingly talented, and the book was beautiful, and what happened is no fault of the author’s, that same author couldn’t interest that publisher in doing another book with them. And everyone else from agents to publishers seemed to look at that author with a jaded eye. It’s not personal, it’s just business. And the author didn’t sell big, right? So perhaps it was safer to just pass…

Okay, I’m generalizing here. Sure, there are cases where debut midlist authors did manage to land another contract with the same publisher, etc. But I must say I’ve run into many many fine writers who have found their careers stumble to a halt. For these authors, the economic recession feels like a writer’s regression.

Sure, they published a book, but since then, nothing. They feel stuck and hurt, and sad. Will they ever have that chance again to wow readers? Will big publishers ever give them another go? The writer can’t help but feel that maybe they are somehow at fault. That maybe they just aren’t good enough. If they were dropped by their agents because manuscripts just weren’t finding a home, the authors worried if any other agent would ever take them on.  As one very talented author said to me just last week, “What do I do? Do I give up my dream?”

Writers are a tenacious bunch, but even the most tenacious author will begin to lose heart when 2, 3 even 4 years go by and there is no new book contract in the works.  Well, if an author is talented and dedicated, I for one want to see their work.

I don’t believe that an economic downturn is the end of your career, and I think you need to know that it hasn’t diminished your considerable abilities one bit. It’s good sound business to recognize talent and promote that talent to the world. In my eyes, it’s the smart thing to do.

You know, when I research editors I want to pitch my clients to, I don’t even consider the deals that editor made prior to 2009. Honestly, that was a different world. The publishing biz has changed that dramatically. And I believe that looking back on the whole mess with our feet set nearly into 2013, smart editors and publishers get that too. The clever ones will parse out what happened at that time as really not about that book or that author.  And the smartest of editors and publishers and agents will see this as a great opportunity to snap up this talent floating around in the stratosphere.

Because it’s not always about the next new thing. Or that same tried and true thing over and over again. It’s about talent and voice.

So don’t give up on your dream. Please believe in your words. Step back into your writing world and hold your head high. Move forward.

Your lucky readers are waiting. Me too.

For my submission guidelines, click here.

*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.