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.