Webinar for YA Writers – with Critique and Q&A!

MP910220840Hot summer tip time… Attention writers of YA novels! Literary agent Cari Lamba and I (we’re both from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC) are teaching the live Writer’s Digest Webinar “Write And Sell Your Young Adult Novel – Must-Know Info For Getting Published” on Thursday July 12th at 1 p.m.

This 90 minute webinar will help you craft and sell a novel that literary agents, publishers and readers will love. It covers the YA market (including the 10 things the top NYC editors are asking for right now), tools that will help you craft a strong and focused YA novel, and details on how to create a professional and artful query letter that will impress literary agents.

The webinar includes a Q&A plus a personal critique of your query letter and your YA novel’s opening pages.

A bit about us… Cari and I are both agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.  We represent authors of fiction for children through adults, pitching their novels to all the major publishers. In addition, I’m an author of picture books and young adult novels (including the Random House novel WHAT I MEANT…, and the novels DRAWN and OVER MY HEAD), so along with our literary agent point of view, I’ll bring my YA author perspective to this webinar as well.

*Can’t attend the live webinar? Registration still entitles you to a copy of the on demand webinar, plus the critique. So you can still go for it!*

Interested? Act quickly, the webinar is SOON! Eep! For info and registration click here.

 
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her 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: When I Won’t Respond

recycle binHappy Agent Monday… What?  It’s TUESDAY?  Okay, I know that. But I just spent a wonderful and very busy three days at the NJ SCBWI conference, so Agent Monday turned into Agent Recovery Day.  (BTW, if you are looking for a great writer’s conference for kidlit, keep your eye on your regional SCBWI conferences. They always do a phenomenal job.) Today, I thought I’d cover something you should all know: I ALWAYS respond to every query I get, except for when the person querying me has made some serious errors. Errors that merit a delete instead. For example:

1. They have mass mailed the query to me
Signs of this? There is no Dear Ms. Lamba. No greeting at all. The entire query is generic with no reference as to why they specifically sent it to me. The email has clearly been sent to multiple agents at once (sometimes every agents’ email address is even there in the send-to field). Delete.

2. The query is sent as an attachment or has attachments
And I haven’t requested an attachment from this writer, as I might if I’d met them at a conference. Would you open this? I won’t. Delete.

3. The writer has sent this query to me before
Sometimes the writer changes the details of the query, or the title, or even the email it is sent from. I’ve even gotten the same query 3 or 4 times from a writer. Guess what? I remember. Delete and block sender.

4. The query has a greeting that is generic and/or wrong
Recent queries that have been sent to me have been addressed to Dear Sirs, Dear Agent, Dear Mr. DeChiara, Dear Publisher. Delete!

5. The query and/or querier scares the bejeebus out of me
Threatening language, creeps, etc. Delete, block and wash hands!!!

You get the idea. So, if you have queried me and haven’t heard back in a few months, and you haven’t done any of those crazy ass things I’ve mentioned here, then check your spam folder. Chances are you’ll see my response there. Because if you are not a crazy-ass querier, I will respond.

FYI, if you are querying me and I’ve met you before or you have a personal reference, then I might take a bit longer to respond to your query than the average time you’ll see on a site like querytracker. That’s because I know it will take a more personal response from me and I need to set aside time for that.

Happy July!Tropical Drink by a Swimming Pool

 

*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: Quality Queries

english bulldogs dressed up as santa and rudolphHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Sitting here sipping tea with one of my interns who has also seen the bulk of the queries that have come through my inbox over the past year. Since she’s about to move on to bigger and better horizons, we thought this would be a good point to reflect on what is and isn’t a quality query.

First, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I want to add in that I actually personally look at every query that comes in, so… Onward.

In the spirit of the letter Q, let’s do this in a Q and A format, where I’ll ask my intern the Q’s, and she’s got the scoop for you all… Here goes.

Q: Ready intern?

A: Ready, Santa!

Q: Why do some queries get deleted without a response?

A: They are not addressed properly. Like Dear Sir/Madam. Or addressed to a different agent (!) Or they say dear literary agent and are mass mailed.  It’s just disrespectful.

Q: What are some of the worst things you see in queries?

A: When the writer goes on about themselves and it has nothing to do with their writing career or has any point to it. Like when they tell you about their cat Fluffy.  Attaching things to the query, like newspaper clippings or the entire query letter.  It’s annoying and a no-no. It’s also really awkward when writers do their bio in the third person – we realize it’s you writing it…  Another icky thing: when the writer does the entire query in the character’s voice. Major cheese. And let’s not forget massive typos and just plain old bad writing peppered with grammatical errors.

There’s not much to a query. How can you screw it up so much? It should just have a brief intro, a synopsis and a bio. Three parts!

Q: Okay, sassy intern. What are some of the best things you see in queries?

A: If they have something really interesting about themselves that they put into the novel and then that shines in the bio giving authority to their writing.  Like your client Yvette Ward-Horner – her novel involves a woman who does adventure ice climbing, and she happens to be an experienced ice climber.

Also, the best queries are the ones that stick to the format – those three parts. Honestly, we don’t see as many good queries as we do bad ones, so the ones that are professional and stick to the format really rise to the top.

A query also stands out when it’s clear the writer did their research. They know something about the agent and they can point out how their work fits what the agent’s looking for.

I also like when the author’s personality comes through in a positive way.

Of course an interesting subject is top priority.

Q: So what are the subjects that you see far too much of, and how does that affect the queries chance?

A: If you send us anything with vampires and supernatural elements, and you’re not spoofing it, you’ve targeted the wrong agent.  We see far too many of these.  Also, we really don’t want to see YA novels where the main character is all – oh, I’m so popular, I have everything, including the hot guy… No sympathy building there.  Memoirs have been the hardest.  We get a number of really sad stories, but there is no light at the end of it or resolution, and in the end it doesn’t read as a memoir.

Q: Alright, what are some things you don’t see enough of in queries?

A: Characters being smart. Teens are dumbed down.  The teen voice seems hard for writers to get.  Either they are written too young and naive for their age, or they are too adult to be believed. We don’t see enough contemporary novels with realistic settings… Or books with some romantic interest in it, but that’s not the main focus of it.  We’d also like to see some humor!

Q: Any advice for people sending queries to me in the future?

A: Just proofread your query. Make sure you’re proud of each part of it.  This is the thing that is representing your work.  You want it to represent you well.

MP900441064Thanks, Faithful Intern, for your wise and witty insights!  We wish you well on your future pursuits (and she’ll be back to help us more next year – yeah!).

*Intern waves!*

 

*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.