Agent Monday: Meet New Agent Cari Lamba!

Cari LambaHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so excited to have an interview with Cari Lamba, the new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. She’s actively building her client list, so if you are looking for an agent, you’ll find this especially useful. Cari is awesome, and I should know —  since she’s my daughter.

Welcome, Cari! And thanks so much for stopping by and answering questions for us. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

For middle-grade fiction I love any Roald Dahl books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Artemis Fowl series, all for the same reason – they’re clever books. I really appreciate novels that have childlike wonder, while also having well thought out plots and witty characters that will make you think and feel for them. In fiction, and specifically mystery, I’m hooked on the classic mystery novels of Agatha Christie. The plotting and twists keep me guessing, and I want to find something that will draw me into the characters like Christie does. I’m also a fan of the bloodless murder mysteries that focus more on plot than on the crime. I also love the humor that Janet Evanovich brings to her Stephanie Plum novels, which kept me with the characters for so many books.

To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

One of my favorite TV shows is Parks and Rec; I’ve watched it through so many times. Leslie Knope is one of my all-time favorite characters and I would love to see a book that reflects her strong and caring spirit. I also absolutely love Sherlock. As for movies, I’m all about the chick flicks. Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love are two of my favorites. I also really enjoy a movie that will make me think, like The Imitation Game.

What’s in your reading pile?

Right now I’m reading the Eyre Affair, which combines two things I love: a good mystery and Victorian novels.

You have a long history with books – as a reader, as a book promoter and event organizer, as an intern, and as a journal editor, and you’ve had an unusual view of the writing and agenting world. Can you share some details about this, and how it’s shaped who you are now as an agent and as someone working with authors?

So I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been around books and to have worked with many authors. I studied literature at Franklin and Marshall College and at the abroad program, Advanced Studies in England. I also have a lot of practical knowledge doing things like setting up and running events for authors, doing social media promotion, and reviewing the marketability of books. I think that it helps me to see both sides of the publishing world: the business and the craft part. Both sides are needed in order to make a book successful.

How did you get into agenting?

I became a reader for Jennifer De Chiara when I was in high school, and at the time it was more about just reading than about having an interest in the business. As time when on I found that I really loved being involved in the process of making a book successful. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

I’m looking to represent middle grade fiction, and adult commercial fiction. I’m really hoping for something that ties the culinary world into a mystery. I’m obsessed with Food Network and I’d be very excited about finding something that involves elements of that world . I would also love to see middle-grade and adult fiction that have really sharp and witty female main characters. For more specifics about what I do and don’t want, folks can visit my submission guidelines here.

You’ve interned with the agency for 8 years. Over that time, you’ve seen a wide range of query letters and requested manuscripts, so…

What makes a successful query to you?

Simply following the submission guidelines. I also like to see that the author has done their homework and shows that they are querying me because they really do think we’d be a good fit together. Also, using the first person. It’s a query, not a biography.

What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

Well, I’ve already had a few queries come in for genres that I just don’t represent yet. It’s so easy to check if an agent represents your genre. Following that, if the author clearly hasn’t read the guidelines and does something like attaches the whole manuscript, or doesn’t even paste sample pages in the email (as my guidelines allow), it’s going to be a no from me. Also if there are any typos anywhere in the email or in the following pages, it shows me the author isn’t ready, and I can safely assume the manuscript isn’t going to be in good shape.

When you were an intern, what made you recommend a manuscript for representation?

If I thought that the manuscript was able to combine a well-written story with an intriguing plot and characters that I really cared about, then that manuscript was recommended. It didn’t always have to have an element of humor or wit, but it did have to make me care about what was going to happen, and be original in plot.

How did requested manuscripts make it past the query stage, and first 20 pages read, but then wind up rejected when you saw the full?

There are actually a lot of ways that a manuscript can end up being rejected after being requested for the full manuscript. There is only so much you can tell from the first 20 pages. So if the plot then falls apart, or becomes too predictable, or I end up not liking the characters enough, that manuscript is a no go. The manuscript needs to live up to what it promised in the first 20 pages.

Do you think you’ll be a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

If I think a manuscript is worth the time and effort, I will help the author get it to where we both think it needs to be to sell. But it has to be a novel that really draws me in before I get to that point. Being an editorial agent means that you want to help the author, which is what I will be doing, but not with line edits or grammar mistakes that should have already been cleaned up.

What is your idea of an ideal client?

I think my ideal client is an author who is passionate about their work, while also understanding that it is a business. We would be able to talk through both the craft and business side of things with ease.

Where can folks go to follow you online?

I have a twitter account that is open for anyone to follow that I’ll be keeping up to date on all things literary with a side of sass every now and then: @CariLamba

Your link for submission guidelines?

https://www.jdlit.com/cari-lamba

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Just that I’m very excited to see the projects that come my way!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Cari!

*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: Passionate Writing

Highlights Foundation groundsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I was so fortunate last week to sneak away for a few days to The Highlights Foundation, where I did an “Unworkshop.” That’s where you basically get fed amazing meals, and otherwise do your own thing. In my case, since I’m not only a literary agent but also an author, my “thing” was 3 uninterrupted days of working on my own novel. So inspiring!  In last week’s post, I touched on something I see too much of in submissions: manuscripts working too hard to fit in with what’s currently hot. Is THAT truly your writing passion?

It’s important, amid scrambling to get an agent, to get published, etc., that you don’t lose track of why you write in the first place. Your point of view and voice are unique. Lose that to try and fit in somehow, and you just won’t be you. You have to keep connected with your creative side…even as you dive into the business side of writing. Getting your manuscript ready for submission. Query letters. Literary agent research. Marketing trends. Yeah, it’s all important. BUT if your writing isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, then no matter how much research you do or how much of a “never give up” attitude you have, you’ll never really have the creative successes you so crave.

Highlights lodge 2

At the Unworkshop…a dark day full of creative spark

Every writer needs to encourage his creative side in order to explore and experiment and grow. Always! For me, the Unworkshop was a chance to carve out some mental space without any interruptions. It was affordable for me, and amazing!  But not everyone can get away, of course. Still there are so many ways to nurture your creative self and let your mind daydream and dabble. Here are some things that I do:

– Journal
– Take early morning walks
– Reread a favorite work
– Hide in a library or coffee shop with a notebook in hand
– Turn off the TV in the evenings and instead, spend that time creatively – whatever that means
– Have FUN with my writing, without adding on the pressure of “I gotta sell this,” and then see where things go
– Try to remember what made me want to write in the first place, and hold that feeling close

Hey, life gets busy. We’ve got to live, make money, etc. But writers are artists first and foremost. So take care of your artist. Make sure your writing is your passion, that your manuscripts mean something to you. Only then can your writing mean something to someone else — literary agents included!

So what do you do to keep in touch with your passion while you write? Please share your ideas in the comments. We writers can always use fresh ways to fill our creative wells.

 

*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 Agents Sell Books

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, world! A few weeks back I asked folks to chime in with questions they’d like to see me answer from the agent’s point of view. I got a lot of great suggestions, and a bunch of those questions were answered here. Today, I’m answering questions sent in by Stacy, who wrote: “Though posts about craft and the market are always helpful, I am very curious about how an agent sells books.”

Stacy went on to list 5 specific questions related to this. I’m sure different agents do things differently. But here’s how I do things…

1. How do you package pieces to sell to an editor?

The first step is to always make sure the manuscript is as perfect as the writer can make it. I work with my author, reading through the pages, sending along notes and edits, until we are satisfied it is tight.

I do the same with the synopsis. I prefer to have a short synopsis, so we usually keep it to two pages, max. And we finalize the author’s bio. These steps can sometimes take close to no time at all (the manuscript comes in clean, and little work is needed), and sometimes it can take months (the author needs time to do a more extensive rewrite before we are ready to submit).

Next I create the pitch. This is one or two lines that capture the heart of the manuscript and hopefully the interest of the editor.

As soon as I first see a manuscript, I’m already starting to think of who would love to see this, which publishing houses would make the best home for it. Now it’s time for me to make a more final list. Over the years, I’ve collecting info on an extensive amount of publishers and editors, and I’ve kept track of who has moved where, and how their tastes have changed. Still, every manuscript is just a little different from one I’ve done before, and so I always research editors with fresh eyes.

How? I go through my own collected data to form an initial list of editors who seem a fit. Then I dig further into recent deals made and new developments, trends, imprints to see who else I should consider. Now I have a solid list of editors in hand.

I pick up the phone and start calling editors. My pitch is in front of me, but I don’t read it. By now I’ve internalized what I want to say. I have this wonderful novel… It’s about… It’s unique because… The author is amazing because… I think it’s right for you because…

The editor says, great! Send it! So I do, along with the bio and synopsis, and in the email that I send to the editor with these attachments, I further detail my pitch, plus outline some markets it would be great for — stuff than I want the editor to keep in mind as she reads, and that can help her to “sell” it to her publisher.

2. How do you analyze an editor’s preferences (how know what ms. will interest which editor)?

This is an ongoing process, ever-changing because editors’ wishes change, editors move to different houses, and imprints are ever-shifting. I call editors and ask them what they are looking for now. I meet with them for coffee and over lunches and at their offices to get to know them and their preferences. I talk with them at conferences. And I keep up with what’s reported online – new deals posted, new interviews with editors, etc. Even when I call an editor to pitch a manuscript, after that pitch is complete, I’ll ask them: have your editorial interests changed lately? What else are you looking for right now? The team of agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency is doing all of this constantly, and sharing this info with everyone else in our firm, so there’s a constant flow of information.

3. How do you analyze a publisher’s preferences?

Working frequently with a broad range of publishers, we know what their houses seek. One imprint skews literary, another skews highly commercial, still another is heavy on fantasy, while another is focusing on edgy contemporary. Again, I talk with the editors and do my research.

4. How do you handle rejection as an agent (you loved a manuscript, but the editors didn’t)?

Every rejection is a learning opportunity, in my view. Why did the editor pass? As an agent, I typically get details beyond the “no thanks.” This helps me to refine what to send that editor next time, and it helps my author and I in future rounds of submissions. If a number of editors pass for the same reason, perhaps the manuscript can be edited to correct this issue before it goes out again? Also, I’m reminded again and again that this is at times a highly subjective area. One editor rejects a book because she loves the plot but not the voice, while the very next day an editor rejects that book because she loves the voice but not the plot. And that very same book goes on to be sold at auction in a two book deal! So I never let rejection get me down.

5. What are the houses you work with often, and why?

This varies. Every manuscript is just a little bit different, and I represent a wide range of projects from children’s picture books, middle grade and YA through to adult fiction and memoir. (You can find my submission guidelines here.) I’m always looking for the right fit at a press that creates beautiful books. Often this is at one of the top commercial presses, but sometimes a smaller press that does award-winning titles is just right.

That’s a wrap! Have a great week, everyone, and special thanks to Stacy for all the great questions. If you have any burning questions you’d like to see answered in future posts, leave those in a comment below.

 

*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: Digging for Buried Treasure

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m so relieved that it’s March. A definite sense of “phew we made it-ness” has pervaded my mind.  A huge snow storm was predicted for today, so imagine my glee when I flipped up the shades this morning and discovered we’d gotten not 12 inches but barely an inch! HA! Take that winter. So instead of wasting time digging out mounds of white stuff I can devote a little extra time to digging for buried treasure. That’s right! It’s time to hunt through my inbox for that query that’ll tempt me to request a full manuscript. Wanna come along for the adventure? Pack your treasure map and your spy glass and follow me. Arrrrrr….

First query – science fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent science fiction. Rejection sent.

Second query – non-fiction. My guidelines say I don’t represent non-fiction (aside from memoir). Rejection sent.

(Are you noticing a trend here? If so, here’s the link to my own treasure map, er, I mean submission guidelines.)

Third query – memoir. Something I actually represent. Yeah! Unfortunately, I found this one to not be unique enough, and the sample chapter was stilted. Rejection sent. (For what I think makes a memoir stand out, check out this post.)

Fourth query – YA, something else I actually represent. But this one is not at all ready for prime time. The writer needs to learn a lot more about the market and about writing before being at a professional level and ready to submit to agents. Rejection sent.

Fifth query – Women’s fiction, something I’m looking for. Length of the manuscript is right and the query follows my guidelines, but I’m not drawn in by the premise. I read a little of the sample pages pasted in below the query (something my guidelines allow for) and I’m not crazy about the voice or the writing. Rejection sent.

Sixth query – Category romance. My guidelines state I do not represent category romance. Rejection sent.

Seventh query – Women’s fiction. I found the query letter to be flat and it didn’t evoke anything for me. Rejection sent.

Eighth query – YA. The themes were cliché and the language used didn’t feel like it belonged to a teen. Rejection sent.

Ninth query – Middle grade fiction. Definitely looking for these. But this one didn’t sound unique, and the writing wasn’t up to snuff to me. Rejection sent.

Tenth query – YA. Strong query, except for a cliché tossed in. Opening pages have a nice voice.  I’m still worried about the cliché, though. Hm…  No rejection, but no request for more yet either.  I’m setting this one aside to look at again later, maybe after another cup of coffee.

Eleventh query – YA. I like the query and the plot hangs on an interesting hook. Encouraged, I read the opening pages, but quickly find myself skimming. Lots of back story. Pacing is way off. Rejection sent.

Query twelve – Fantasy. While I like fantasy elements, full-on fantasy is not my thing (as I say in my guidelines). Rejection sent.

Feeling a bit discouraged here.  Will there be any treasure in them-thar hills or not? Shall we shoot for lucky thirteen? Okay pirates, take a swig of rum (or coffee) and let’s journey on to one final spot.

Query thirteen – Horror. Guess what? I’m not at all into genre horror. Plus, I’ve seen this plot before in a very famous novel. Rejection sent.

MP900341872Ah well, fellow treasure hunters. Be not discouraged. The majority of my clients have been found through the query process, so treasure hunting does pay off.  And for you writers, know that crafting an interesting query plus a fascinating manuscript is what it’s all about. And here’s a takeaway that is simple, yet pure gold: read an agent’s guidelines and follow them!

Until next time, me mateys, Arrrr!

*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: Is Summer a Good Time?

Girls playing at the poolHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  I hope you’ve done at least a FEW summery things so far.  Like had a barbecue, walked barefoot, sipped iced tea with fresh mint, taken an evening walk and looked at the night sky… If you haven’t yet, well get moving!  Summer is a good time to slow down, take a deep breath and just relax.  And word has it that NY publishing does just that every year around this time. So does anything happen in the publishing world in the summertime?  And is summer a good time to query?

Writers often ask me stuff like this.  Let me just say that there is SOME difference between summer and the rest of the year. When I pitch to editors, they are more likely to have “I’m away till” messages on their voice mail, or to be just about to leave on vacation. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening. Trust me, they ARE happening.

For me as an agent, I try to grab those editors before they go off on those trips.  Guess what they read on the plane, on the beach, etc.? Yup. Submissions.  And summer is also a great time to grab those editors who, because the general office is a bit more quiet, are hanging out in their own office with slightly fewer meetings and slightly more time to catch up on things.  It’s a nice time to grab a lunch with them or a coffee or just spend a few more minutes on the phone to connect.

And publishing doesn’t stop. It never stops.  Maybe before the recession hit and made us all a bit more hungry, there was a time when things pretty much shut down (I can’t tell you for sure, cuz I wasn’t a part of that world then). Maybe that’s why writers still think: “Oh, don’t bother to send anything out in the summer.”  That’s old news now.  Now manuscripts are actively being pitched and read and offers made and contracts negotiated.  It’s a busy and productive time.

And guess what?  My inbox has thinned out.  There are less queries there, and I bet that’s true with most agents. Writers, I think, are waiting for September. Um, why? So you can be buried amid all the other querying writers who decide it is clever to wait until then?

Tropical Drink by a Swimming PoolOkay, it’s true that at the end of August some agencies actually close, or that is a favored time for an agent to take a vacation. But I’d keep on sending out those queries. After all, even agents have to read something while they are sipping those drinks with those fancy little paper umbrellas in those frosty glasses.

Things have definitely changed over the past 7 years in the world of publishing. Big changes and not so long ago. That means that some of the old wisdoms that are still hanging around aren’t as wise as they used to be.

So enjoy your summer. Wiggle your toes in the sand. But keep on 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: What I’m Looking for – Part 3

beach read

Me reading requested full manuscripts on my ereader…looking for one that meets my #mswl needs!

Happy Agent Monday, folks!  Hope everyone had a relaxing lazy weekend.  Here’s the continuation of my What I’m Looking For series where I go into more depth explaining what I tweeted for the #mswl (manuscript wish list) event a few weeks back over at Twitter…since 120 characters or so just can’t possibly say it all.

If you have the next Bridget Jones – smart, funny, relatable w/ heart – I want to see it!

Okay, here’s the thing: I am a bit of a chick flick fan. I like my flicks touching and heartfelt, hilarious and smart. Mean Girls, She’s the Man, 13 Going on 30, all the Bridget Jones flicks, Never Been Kissed, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. etc. etc. So it’s not surprising that I’d love to find a book that I can fit into that sort of category. A funny and SMART read.

What is surprising?  How hard it has been to find one of these.  First of all there is the whole cliché slippery slope that most of these submissions fall into. If it’s been done before, then it’s not going to cut the mustard.  I deal with major publishers and their top imprints and they aren’t looking for knockoffs. Neither am I.  That’s why as a viewer I was so taken with the movie Silver Linings Playbook. It was as fresh as fresh can be and kept me guessing and intrigued and drawn in every step of the way.  I know. I keep talking about movies!

So back to books.  Too many of the submissions have been too predictable and too familiar.  Another problem? The tone and voice have been an issue.  Sometimes I’ll get a query for what sounds like a really spot on premise, but then the manuscript falls flat.  When you read a Shopaholic book, Becky’s voice is addictive. The way she talks herself into nonsense is truly funny, and she says things to herself that almost make sense (we’ve told ourselves the very same things from time to time).  Bridget Jones’ voice is a funny and perceptive everyman voice that we can’t help but root for.  Who wouldn’t applaud the result of happiness and true love even for a girl whose ass is roughly the “size of two bowling balls”?  My point here is that voice matters.  Tone, too, matters.

Some of the manuscripts I get have a tone that is just too strident. I don’t want to hang out for a few hundred pages with someone who is bitter, or completely selfish, or just plain stupid. Would you?

Another thing that many manuscripts have done is to put way too much emphasis on explicit sexual encounters.  I know that the whole 50 Shades craze feels hot – but, how shall I phrase this? It doesn’t get me hot to make an offer.  What I’m looking for instead is a novel where I care about the character, I worry about her, I feel her loss, I root for her, and I laugh with her as she encounters life’s crazy obstacles, and in the end? A satisfying, albeit unusual triumph. That’s not a category romance thing either.  If your query reads like a mechanical formula: she’s a girl who such and such, but he’s a guy who (just the opposite)…they are forced together when blah blah blah.  Feels dull to me, honestly.  I’m looking for something more original than that.

Too much to ask for?  I hope not.  I don’t want you to think that every submission of women’s chick-lit-like fiction has been a complete miss.  There have certainly been some close calls.  And, like Stephanie Plum, I remain optimistic, even when everything around me points southward.

So if you think you have written what might become the next great Bridget Jones novel, please send it to me.  I’m waiting – and so is our film agent!

Another #mswl explained next week!

*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: Know Your Genre

As both a writer and an Associate Literary Agent, I completely get it.  As a writer you have an idea, you fall in love with that idea, and you obsess over that idea as you write and write and write until that idea is a book, and as perfect as it can be. Then you approach an agent at a pitch session. Suddenly they are asking you how long is it (in word count, not pages)? What genre is it? What is it similar to? Who is the readership for this novel? Um, huh?  You know your characters and your plot, but what agents are trying to find out is: Do you know your genre? And where does your book belong in the marketplace?

At many pitch sessions I’ve attended as an agent at various conferences, I’ve found myself trying to pin an author down on her book’s genre. And I’ve gotten blank stares, blinking eyes, sometimes downright terror in response. Folks, I’m not trying to put you on the spot when I ask you stuff about your genre. Instead, I’m trying to position this book and see if it fits with a certain readership.

If you’ve done your writerly job beyond the writing part, then you’ll know what other books in your genre look like, what your competition and audience is, and you’ll already know you’ve created something just right for those readers.  I’m actually pretty amazed at how few writers take this extra step. Ideally, you as the writer should have this market info in your brain right as you begin to develop your novel.

I’ve seen novels that are far too short or far too long for their genre. I’ve seen subject matter that was inappropriate for a middle grade reader, characters that are too young for a YA novel, books that are copying what is already on the shelf.  All these really hurt your chances of getting your novel to print. Sure, you can argue that artists break rules and that there are exceptions all over the place, but if you don’t even know what the rules are and don’t have a solid reason for breaking them, then you are surely shooting yourself in the literary foot. Just sayin’.

So you’ve got to read in your genre, not only as a fan, but as a writer doing market research. Figure out where your book would really sit on a bookstore shelf and see how it compares to the other books beside it on that shelf.  If you can tell me what it has in common with those popular titles, plus what it brings to the marketplace that is new, then you are going to raise my interest level. And don’t use books from 50 years ago, use new stuff please. Sure, you can say “in the gothic style of Poe,” but also show some savvy about today’s market by referencing today’s books too.

Sometimes I get writers who say “there has been nothing like this ever before! It’s a brand new genre!” As my buddy, author Jonathan Maberry likes to point out in his informative talks to writers, last we looked, there is no “Brand New Genre” shelf at the local bookstore. That’s not a selling point.  But if you were to say something like, “This book will appeal to readers of Anne Tyler who are also looking for a dash of fantasy…” Well, then maybe I’ve got the beginnings of a pitch to an editor.

When I pitch projects to editors, they too are trying to figure out where a book will fit on their list as well as on bookstore shelves. It is the business end of writing, after all.

So I encourage writers to do a bit of homework while they are shaping their novels. And again when they begin their querying process, so they can refine their book description and pinpoint their genre and pitch. Because after all that hard work, you do want to sell.

*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.