Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:

 

 

  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.

 

*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: Too Many Points of View?

MP900321197Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Recently I’ve received a number of novel submissions with multiple viewpoint characters. Today I’m happy to welcome the following guest post by one of my interns – Colin Gironda. As a first reader for me, Colin has his own point of view on why multi POV’s sometimes work really well, but at other times can actually lead to a rejection.

So here’s HIS view of things. Take it away Colin…

A book written from one perspective can sometimes become limited in its scope, but using multiple perspectives in a manuscript can be a great tool because it allows for other characters to have a voice.

The way one character views themselves or others can be different from the way another character does. With two sets of eyes on a person instead of one, you can create better developed characters by revealing different aspects.

Also, perspectives can foil one another. Using this technique, you can place in the reader mistrust or curiosity about another character’s actual intentions. This allows a reader to be drawn deeper into the plot and to become more compelled to discover the truth. This can also help the reader identify more closely with a character –  we are choosing sides and deciding who we like and believe in.

But there can be pitfalls and dangers for writers using multiple points of view as well. Each perspective needs a distinct voice. Without that distinct voice, the plot can feel convoluted; the reader can lose track of who’s doing or saying what.

Each point of view character must also be well developed. If the character isn’t 3-dimensional, or they don’t have a large voice, you may want to refrain from using their perspective. The reader will likely become bored with them or confused at the presence of someone so minor.

When not used properly, multiple view points can spell trouble for your plot, too. Bouncing from character to character too quickly and too often can slow your story down, especially if the storyline itself doesn’t advance enough. Readers can lose track of what’s going on, and when they don’t feel invested in what happens next, or truly know why it matters, they might just stop reading altogether.

Multiple view points really can have multiple benefits in a story. But as powerful as this tool can be, it’s just that – a tool. Don’t let it become a distraction to readers or drag down the pace. Instead make sure it’s enhancing your story, adding depth. Get that right, and the end result will be complex and rich storytelling.

Colin Gironda is earning his Bachelors degree in Creative Writing at Franklin and Marshall College, and is an intern for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City .

*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: THE Hottest Trend

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! This past Friday I was excited to sit on the industry experts panel at the YARWA (Young Adult Chapter of Romance Writers of America) event held at the RWA annual conference in NYC. The panel included a mix of literary agents and editors and we were asked in a number of ways to share what was in…what were the hottest trends in YA lit right now…what was selling…what were we looking for most of all. So, since many of you didn’t get to hear what the hottest trend in YA lit is right now, I thought I go ahead and reveal it right now in this post.

The biggest trend in YA literature right now is…

DRUM ROLL PLEASE!

PLUS CYMBAL CRASH!

…A great fresh story well told.

Wait, what? What about selkies? Or dystopians? Or vampires? Or fantasy? Or sick-lit ala Fault in our Stars? Or contemporary? Or diverse fiction? Or, or, or…

A great fresh story well told. This is what editors and agents are looking for. That’s what folks on the panel said – every one of them.

So what’s that mean for you writers? That means be authentic and write what really matters to you. Make it original and perfect your craft so that it is the absolute best writing you can possibly create.

Send us THAT and YOU will be the trend.

Now you know!

*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: The BEA 411

BEA 2015Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Remember me? Yeah, it’s been a very busy few weeks, so Agent Monday posts have given way to Agent Monday action. Last week was all about BEA – that’s the big book expo held each year in NYC. It’s jammed with publishers and editors and librarians and book sellers and authors and, of course, agents. So today I thought I’d give you the BEA 411.

BEA is many different things to different people. If you’re a publisher, it’s the place to highlight your upcoming line of books, hype your newest authors, and to interact with book sellers and readers and rights agents and anyone else who connects with your business. For authors, it’s the place to have your own new title on display, perhaps do a signing at your publisher’s booth and build buzz. For readers, it’s where you can hear some of your favorite authors speak, where you can grab a ton of free books, and where you can nab some autographs.

But what do agents do there? Well, my day started off with a meeting in the rights department with an audio publisher. There they shared what they’re looking for, and I clued them in on some of my clients’ upcoming projects. Next? I zipped down to the conference rooms and caught a panel of editors buzzing their upcoming young adult titles. I love hearing these panels because the editors share what drew them into the books. I take notes – and when one of my clients has a book that touches on something that one of these editors specifically noted loving – well, that makes them the perfect editor to pitch to.

After the panel is done, I talk to the many other editors in the audience that I spot. Some I’ve met before, and some I’ve spoken to on the phone before.  Lots of chatting and biz card sharing ensues.

I meet up with fellow agency mate Linda Epstein, and together we “walk the floor” – not as spicy as it sounds. Actually it just means we walk through the zillions of publisher’s exhibits on the main floor. It’s so instructive to see what each publisher is highlighting. Plenty of editors are manning the booths, and this leads to many conversations with these good folk. Business cards are swapped, and info exchanged. What are they looking for now? Would they like such and such? I’m building up my editor info file, taking copious notes, and I’m also pitching various client manuscripts I’m about to go out on submission with.

Folks, this takes a lot of organization. Since I represent picture books and chapter books and middle grades and YA’s, and adult fiction and memoir, you can bet I have a wide range of projects almost ready to go. As an agent, I need to keep in mind which publishers would truly be a fit for a project, and which wouldn’t. No point in pitching a memoir to a house that doesn’t handle those, right? And I have to be ready at the right moment to pitch each book well. PLUS I have to do all of this while not being pushy – so, yeah, you have to know when to pitch, and when to just chat. I gauge an editor’s particular interest while speaking with them. If they express a particular interest, then I can pursue that saying something along the lines of, “I think I have something you’ll really like. Would you be interested in…”  They are! I make a note of it, and this week I’ll be sending out a range of submissions to a range of editors as a result.

So Linda and I walk the floor together for about an hour, and then I head off on my own to grab some food and rest my feet… Looking through my conference brochure I see that my dad’s favorite author is signing RIGHT NOW. Crap!  I gobble down the rest of my food and scramble back to the exhibit floor. Eeek!  There’s a huge line, but I’m not too late.  I nab a copy of Nelson DeMille’s latest novel, and get in line – I’m #140, and the cut off is #150. I patiently wait on line, and 40 minutes later I get his signature.  Father’s Day gift – check!

Dennis signing at BEA 2015

Author buddy Dennis Tafoya (far right) signing his fab crime novel THE POOR BOY’S GAME

Okay, the next 3 hours are spent with more walking the floor action, plus a few appointments with editors where we sit down and talk business. I also see authors I know, agents I’ve met over the years, and book sellers I’ve worked with as an author. It really is an amazing community out there full of some seriously cool and fun people.

Still, I’m fried. It’s 4 p.m. and I’ve been going since 5 a.m. But I’m not done yet. Now I head out of the convention center and walk uptown to do something I’ve been looking forward to all day – meeting my author Harmony Verna and her husband Jay! We meet at a pub and hoist a cold one, toasting Harmony and her upcoming debut DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA. If you’ve loved THE THORNBIRDS, then this novel will take your breath away. Actually, it’ll take EVERYONE’S breath away – it’s that spectacular. And we have lots to celebrate. Just the day before, Kensington Publishers sold translation rights for her book to a publisher in Germany. Huzzah!

Marie and Harmony at BEA15

Meeting up with my client, fab author Harmony Verna! (right)

NEXT, the three of us head over to the BEA cocktail party hosted by Kensington Publishers. More celebrating!  We meet her fab editor and foreign rights team and publicist and other authors. So fun.

And now? Now I’m done.  But wait!  There’s just one more thing I have to do.  As I head back to the train station to go home, I step over a gushing subway grate and zip! My skirt does a full Marilyn Monroe.

Yup. THAT’S BEA.

Resting up till next year, but first I must jot down one more note: NEXT TIME WEAR PANTS.

*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: How Fast Do Agents Respond to Clients?

Speed skaterHappy Agent Monday! Almost spring time. Take THAT little mound of dirty snow left in the parking lot! Last week I talked a bit about how fast editors respond to agents. This week I’d like to chat about how quickly a writer can expect their own agent to respond to a manuscript when they submit it to that agent. A hot second? A day? A week? A month? Several months? The answer is YES. Here’s why.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I am only one person with one set of eyes, and two hands, and I have a list of clients. Unfortunately there is no organized scheduling of when my clients submit manuscripts or revisions of manuscripts to me. They finish them and hit send.

That means that in a given week, I can suddenly have 6 full-length novels ping into my inbox for a careful review and response. And they can arrive on top of a stack of already received manuscripts from clients. So, the clock starts ticking in a writer’s mind… They expect a quick turnaround. A month at the most, right? Isn’t that what other writer’s get from THEIR agents? Well… not exactly.

Some agents might hand these off to readers, who will respond to the writer with comments – in that case, the agent may not even see the manuscript. Me? I always read my client manuscripts myself. That takes time. Perhaps some projects don’t require a lot of time, and can be quickly handled and answered. If that’s the case, I might be able to flip it back to the writer ahead of other projects in my queue. This can happen with a quick polish where the changes have been tracked, or with a very clean manuscript that needs just a read, or with a shorter manuscript, like a picture book or chapter book that is in great shape. Other projects DO require time and thoughtful comments. Tick tock, right?

And since the agent is only human (gasp – WHAT???), other things should be factored into the writer’s expectations. Things like: did I submit it just before the Christmas holidays? If so, while the agent might be doing work during that time, should it be expected and counted as work time? Hm. Perhaps consider those two weeks off. How about if the agent is off at conferences within this time period? Perhaps spending a few days at BEA and then presenting elsewhere. That will set the clock back a bit (by the way, you DO want your agent doing these things, since it ups their visibility and contacts with editors). And while your manuscript is there with her, it is 99% likely that other manuscripts ahead of yours are also being pitched, and authors are calling, and editors are emailing, and film rights people are demanding attention, and fires are being put out.

So, message to writers: Don’t expect a month turnaround. Expect your agent to do her best.

What do I do when client manuscripts come in to me? Well, I always acknowledge receipt and let them know I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Next I log it into a spread sheet, so I know exactly what came in when, and what is still pending. And I let that list nag at me. I’m one of those people who hates having things unfinished – so I am ALWAYS aware of what I still need to do. I then typically take those projects on one by one. The exception? A quick turnaround project. If I have a tiny bit of time where I can’t even begin to get into a novel, but I can finish up on responding to something shorter, then, yup, I’ll get it back to the writer ahead of others.

My clients are a prolific bunch. So that leads to another exception: multiple projects spilling in from the same client. Okay, so if you do send me a novel in need of heavy revision, and it’s logged in, then two weeks later, you send me a shorter project, or one that is nearer to completion and that I see is nearly market ready, I will take that one and work with you to get it out into the world. What does that mean for the other novel that is tick tocking away in my spreadsheet? It means I stop the clock on that one till the other is complete.

That’s important for writers to know. I will go back to the original project, but I also do represent other writers. I’m moving all of your careers forward in every way I can, which means that I can’t drop everyone else for weeks or months while I’m working on everything that’s come in from you.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a prolific client. But it’s a step by step business. It’s okay to check in on projects and to see where things stand. Your agent-writer communication is important. And it’s also important to know that the “well, my agent ALWAYS gets back to me in a month” comment from other writers needs to be taken with a vat of salt. If you find yourself waiting more than a month, I say look at the real situation at hand. Is a month realistic for your project, given the form it’s in? Is your agent responding personally to your submissions while others get “reader’s reports” perhaps? Is the timing a factor? (Holidays, conferences, etc.?) Is the agent already amid another project from you, and therefore dealing with that one first? Or have you since sent one (or more than one) project that is a hotter property or a quicker turnaround, and therefore keeping her currently busy? Just how busy is your agent?

Chances are good that she is VERY busy. I’m working ALL the time on my client’s behalf. So trust in that. Communicate. Being aware of all that she is dealing with can help you to see what is realistic.

Then write more while you are waiting!

 

*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: How Fast do Editors Respond?

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, folks! Hopefully, like me, you are some place where spring is FINALLY trying to assert itself. And it feels about time. Speaking about time… (See what I did there?) This past weekend I was delighted to be a speaker at the Eastern PA Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Forward event. Our panel took a bunch of questions from writers, including this one: How long does it take for an editor to respond to a submission from an agent? One day, one week, one month, three months, longer? My answer was: YES. Here’s the long answer:

The truth is that sometimes editors respond in a flash, and other times, well, not so fast. There are a ton of factors at work here, and this likely does not reflect on the clout of your agent at all (since I suspect some writers might be thinking, hey, my agent didn’t hear back from so and so for three months — maybe my agent’s not bad-ass enough).

First of all, it can depend on the submission. Picture book manuscripts can be read at once, while novels will take some time. And an editor will have a pile of novel manuscripts to read through that have been subbed by other agents as well. Some manuscripts are completely timely, and so demand immediate attention, like if something is in the news NOW. And that can prompt a fast read.

Second of all, it can depend greatly on the editor. Some editors are just so swamped, that try as they might, they find themselves putting out fires instead of staying on top of submission piles, even if there is a really tempting manuscript waiting to be read. Sometimes it takes action on that manuscript, like another editor putting in an offer, before that editor puts that read at the top of their priorities. Why is an editor so swamped? Well, they can be working somewhere with limited support staff, and a high volume of responsibilities. It can make a real difference when an editor has assistants to log in submissions, to pre-read for the editor, and to help with their many time-consuming tasks along the way.

And it can depend on how the imprint acquires things. Some tippy top editors can just walk into their publisher and say, “I want this. I want to make an offer,” and they can be quickly given the power to make a certain offer. With other editors, they may need to wait for scheduled acquisitions meetings to present their case for a title they are interested in. And at certain places, no matter how high up an editor is, they first will have other editors give it a read and an opinion before taking it to acquisitions…and each of those editors has their own work load to contend with.

So you can see that you can’t always gauge the interest of an editor or the ability of your agent by the time of response. As someone at this past weekend’s event said, publishing is a business of hurry up and wait. It can move slowly, and it can move very fast. That same, carefully considering imprint can suddenly do a turnaround and have an offer in within a day if they feel they must (like when they know another offer is already on the table and it’s do or die).

What can an agent possibly do to speed this process along?

– Well, she can target her submissions very carefully. I only send to editors who I know are looking for this very type of manuscript, and who have a special interest in the subject matter.

– She can pique the editor’s interest when she pitches, so that the editor will really want to read the submission as quickly as possible. When I pitch to an editor, I really try to put in their mind what makes this particular project exciting and unique. And when I then send the requested manuscript to the editor, I add in a note detailing sales hooks that the editor can use to convince their publisher that this one is really worth an offer.

– The agent can keep on top of things. I always make sure that the editor did, in fact, receive the submission. I check back every few weeks in a pleasant, professional way, to see if they’ve gotten to it yet.

– And the agent can learn from submissions which editors are most responsive and which never reply at all, because, sadly, there are a few outliers to watch out for. If an editor, for whatever reason, never responds to any of my calls or emails, then chances are pretty good I won’t be pitching to them again any time soon. Sometimes I learn that something was going on in that editor’s life at that time which would explain this lack of response as a mere blip — then I’ll make contact with that editor again and give them another chance. But in some cases, I learn this is just par for the course, and I’ll spend my time (and my client’s time) differently in the future.

So there you have it. The long and short of submissions!  I’ve had quick acceptances and quick rejections. And I’ve had submissions take a long time with an editor, and wind up with a robust offer. It can be all over the place. As an agent, I try to be as efficient as possible on my end, and as a writer, you can do the same.

Waiting can feel like FOREVER, I know. The best antidote? Work on your next book and make the time really pay off.

 

*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: Memoirs with Meaning

Eyeglasses atop BooksHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The LAST Monday in February. We’ve nearly made it through this bitterly cold month, and better days are a-coming. Hang in there!  Speaking of tough times and hope, I thought I’d weigh in on memoirs today. What makes them work, what makes them stumble, and what makes me as an agent interested in representing one.

So memoirs are tough. I’ve been looking for one to rep, and in the past few years, I’ve only made an offer of representation on one so far. And two others had merit, but weren’t right for me, so I passed them over to another agent in our firm. It’s not that I’m not getting memoir submissions. I am. And a number of these are even well-written. So what’s the problem?

Well, here’s the thing about memoirs. They need to be well-written, definitely. Simply put, many are not well-written, and the story isn’t spectacular enough to merit a ghost writer. (Publishers sometimes pull in a ghost writer for a high-profile memoir — such as a celebrity’s story.) A well-written memoir should be told in an accessible way, with a clear voice/personality, and revealed in a novel-like style that has a narrative flow.

Memoirs must also be about something remarkable. I get plenty of “I went on a trip” memoirs, or “I broke up with my husband” memoirs. Or “I had a baby” memoirs. While these are remarkable things in your life, they aren’t tales that will draw in someone who doesn’t personally know you. Are there exceptions to the more everyday sort of memoir? Sure. Look at Marley & Me, about, essentially, a boy and his dog. But this was written beautifully in a way that drew in the reader and made an everyday story truly remarkable. Not easy to do.

I also get, sadly, many a memoir where someone has gone through a terrible illness or addiction or abuse, or experienced the death of a loved one. Heart-wrenching, yes. But if that is all there is to the memoir, unfortunately I pass. It’s hard to send a rejection to someone who has gone through so much. But while I may feel sorry for what they’ve gone through, that still doesn’t make their memoir something that will succeed in the commercial marketplace.

Why? What’s missing? Well, in essence, something for the reader. What makes the reader care, feel involved, want to read this? What can the reader get out of this book other than a voyeuristic glimpse into suffering? These are key elements to a successful memoir.

So, a successful memoir needs to be well-written, reveal a remarkable life, AND offer something for the reader….a reason to care, something they can take away with them after they read it, an entertaining journey, and, I’d add, a new way to view their own lives.

Get all of this right, and you’ll have a memoir that transcends the “this is what happened to me” sort of manuscript and have a book that will matter to many. And it will matter to me. Send THAT memoir my way.  You can find my submission guidelines here.

 

*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.