Agent Monday: Focused Writing Can Help Land an Agent

MP900178092Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Spring is in full bloom here, and as a Literary Agent, I’m here to help writers’ careers blossom and grow. To that end, I’ve been scouring my query inbox hoping for the next great writer to grab my attention and inspire me to offer representation. Too often, though, queries lack focus, or the writing does. So today, I thought I’d spend a few moments pointing out how focus can help you land an agent.

Focus on your genre… What is it? Your book should fit into one genre, and meet (and exceed) the expectations of those readers.

Focus on the agents that represent your genre… If I say I do not rep high fantasy, then don’t send me a high fantasy query (or pretend that your high fantasy is really something different). Spend your time and energy querying a receptive audience.

Focus your query… Make it clear what your book’s genre is, what it is about, why you have picked this particular agent to query (see points 1 and 2 above!).

Focus your writing… Make every word count, every scene vital to the story, and every action important to advancing your plot. Whatever you promise the reader in the beginning pages, be sure that you deliver exactly that!

Scattershot queries, writing that doesn’t fit anywhere in particular on a book store shelf or that crosses disparate genres (like a middle grade novel with a serious romance, or a picture book with adult themes, or a supposed thriller with a slow literary pacing), or books that disappoint because they promise something that they then don’t deliver — will hurt your chances of getting an agent, and finding an audience.

So think it through. What is YOUR focus? Zero in on that, and others will soon be focusing on YOU.


*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: 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: Too Soon?

9781585421466Happy sunny Agent Monday, gang! It’s too soon for shorts and bathing suits here in the Northeast, but the signs are there. Birds singing. Days starting to grow mild. The promise of hot sunny days ahead. But you can’t rush it. Likewise, in my agent inbox, I often see queries of books that are promising, but not there yet. So in today’s post, let’s talk about that important question writers should be asking themselves before submitting: Is it too soon?

To kick off this post, I have to tip my hat to a wonderful book: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Are you an artist of any sort (musician, fine artist, writer, etc.) who isn’t producing work the way you’d like? Or are you enjoying it less and less? Or feeling angry or stressed in some way that is impairing your true creative spirit? Dude, buy The Artist’s Way, follow the chapters and do every single exercise in there that feels right to you. It will change you and free you. I’ve been using this book myself for the past 8 months, and I am definitely different. I am better for it. It’s a gift you can give to yourself. Take it!

Okay, back to the Too Soon point. In Cameron’s book, she states something so simple and elegantly true: “An act of art needs time to mature. Judged early, it may be judged incorrectly. Never, ever, judge a fledgling piece of work too quickly.” She points out that many hits are sure things only in retrospect. “Until we know better, we call a great many creative swans ugly ducklings….We forget that not all babies are born beautiful…”

Some of these judgements come into our writerly minds before we set a word on paper. We think, eh, that’ll never sell. That’s been done. That is crap. And we never write that idea down, follow it to completion. Some of these judgement we inflict on our work after it is written. We say to ourselves, this sucks. No one will give a damn. We tell ourselves that we will never break in or break out. In all of these cases, we are the block between the idea and the possible future reader of our work.

And sometimes we are caught up in the rush of competition. I’ve written it. I’ve made my agent list. BAM! I’ve sent it out. Done!  But wait…no responses. Form rejections. The answer the writer can take away from this? My writing sucks. I suck. I’m done. I have another idea, but what’s the point?

Okay, so nothing promises success when you take your idea from inception and trot it out into the world. That’s the artist’s life. But, as I’ve said, I often see things that are half-formed. That have a good voice and style, but a half-baked idea. Or I see works that need more focus. Or people who are just starting out in their fiction writing and who have created their very first novel. Obvious ideas, mimicking other writers, stories that are really just their own lives told back. All the things that a new writer must work through before creating something more original and unique. In sum, I often see writers who show promise, but don’t have something they are showing me that is in a state of readiness that’ll make me sit up and think – yes! This is ready.

I’m talking far beyond spell checking and formatting something correctly. I’m talking about a writer not rushing. Taking the time to let a work sit and stew. And to then revisit it with revisions, and have others read and react to it, then let THOSE comments sit and stew, then revise again, tweaking what feels right. Only when you feel your work is fully developed, fully realized, only then should you be sending it out to an agent. And THEN you should move on to create something else. This may be a young novel for you. Maybe your next one will be more developed, maybe the one after that. But you’ll never know if you don’t give yourself the chance to grow.

I’ve said it before in this blog: you must take a long view of your career. That means that you should take the time you need to develop, produce, grow as a writer. — that’s something that never stops for the true artist, no matter how many books you write or even how many get published. You should look at setbacks as something to learn from and move beyond. Thinking that you will write X many books and stories and send out to X many agents and publications and that should definitely lead you to your shiny goal of publishing success is all well and good. BUT you will hit walls and you cannot control what’s on the other side.

Hey, if you as a writer are looking for reasons to stop writing, you will find them. TONS of them. But if you want to write, then don’t look for reasons to stop. Ever. Your ideas are valuable. Your voice is valuable. As Cameron says, “The need to win — now! — is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.”

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t be in such a hurry. Enjoy your creative process and see it thoroughly to the end. That fulfilling creative world will give you endless joy and rewards. And then send it out into the commercial world. And move on to create something new and well and thoroughly despite the outcome.

Slow and steady can win the race. And if that race is artistic fulfillment vs. success, that is a race you can definitely win. And I would argue that artistic fulfillment will open up all sorts of success.

So what’s the hurry?


*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: 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.

Writer Wednesday: My Learning Novel

A number of years ago an idea took hold of me. It was actually from this really cool dream I had as a teen of a secret staircase hidden in an old house. A path to another time. So when I decided I really wanted to get serious about novel writing, that was the notion that took hold of me. First I called the novel Magic in the Fireplace.  Then I called it In and Out of Time. I worked on this novel, polishing and revising and submitting it to publishers countless times. It was never published.

Since that seemingly endless time of hard work and revision and heartache and hope, I’ve gone on to write 3 more novels with happier results. And now I can look back at In and Out of Time and see that it was my “learning novel.” My non-MFA thesis. Through writing this book I struggled and discovered better openings to books, more effective pacing and focus. I fought with and sometimes won my own battles to discover better dialogue and more vivid imagery. I found and learned to value critique groups and writers conferences. I met editors and agents and other writers. I grew a thicker skin as the file of rejections grew.

I learned. I spent 10 years on it.

But still the novel never got published.

Sometimes that path felt tortuous. I’m a determined person. When I vow that something is going to succeed, I’m not one to give up. But finally I didn’t really give up, I decided to move on.  Good decision. The next novel I wrote took only 4 months to complete. Within a year I had both an agent and a publisher.

I really had learned.

Looking back, I wished my own “personal MFA” had been quicker. More efficient. But I’ve also met some wonderful and successful novelists who had 5 or 6 learning novels sitting in a drawer at home before they wrote the one that sold.

When you think of that, you realize the deep level of commitment and determination that writers bring to the page when they create.

These days, when I talk to others about what it takes to be a successful writer, I always say something like this: If this is what you love, you can’t give up. Nothing’s for sure, but one thing’s certain – if you give up, then it will never happen for you…

Then I whip out my massive stack of rejections, along with my published works.  The message is pretty clear.

But what about that novel of mine, In and Out of Time? Its got some cool stuff in it, but maybe too much cool stuff. It was a middle reader novel, but some part of the plot was too grown up…so I actually stole the heart of that and used it in my YA novel DRAWN. And with In and Out of Time there are three different time periods that characters travel to. Hm, couldn’t each one form a separate adventure and novel?

But how to do that?  Well, I’m not sure yet.

I’m still learning.

Agent Monday: What’s Love Got to do with It?

From time to time, I’ve heard discussions among writers who have received rejections from other agents that basically said, “Sorry, but I didn’t fall in love with this.” One reaction writers then say is, “I don’t care if you love it or not. Just represent it and sell it!”  This often leads into writers saying that this whole need to “fall in love” with a project is a ridiculous notion. It’s just a form letter. It’s because they don’t know what else to say. So in today’s Agent Monday post I’d like to share my view of  “What’s love got to do with it?”

Now I’m speaking about FICTION here, since at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency I don’t personally represent non-fiction. So bear that in mind…  But with a fiction manuscript, yeah, I’ve got to fall in love with it.  Why? Because if I don’t finish that manuscript and feel my heart completely ripped out, or my world rocked in some way, I don’t want to invest myself in that book.  I need something I truly believe in.

I want to be able to convey my passion to an editor.  And I want that editor to feel, at the end of her read, that her heart is completely ripped out or her world is rocked in some way.  That’s kinda the point.

But what about the “meh” book that I know will sell because it hits all the marketing points? It’s steampunk, which is supposedly hot. Or talks about bullying, which is a book people will “gobble up?”  Well, if I’m not in love with it, I don’t personally believe an editor be in love either…and an editor must turn around and “sell” the book to the marketing committee and they must sell it to the world, and reviewers must feel the love, too.

What I’m looking for is a book that will sell because it’s exceptional. If it hits all those marketing points, groovy.  If it doesn’t, but it’s exceptional, it’ll find its audience and that’s groovy too.

From my agenting point of view, I have to live with this manuscript and this author.  If I’m not in love with their book, but I sniff dollar signs in the air for some reason, am I respecting that author? Am I excited enough to read through the manuscript over and over again and edit it? To create a passion-filled pitch and offer it up to top editors?  And if I think of it as “meh” but an easy sale for some reason, what if it doesn’t sell easily? Will I have the drive to continue to market it with passion? Will I feel like just giving up and cutting you loose? You see where I’m going with this?

I invest a ton of time in my clients, and I choose them carefully. I go with my gut, and believe that their talent will take them far over the course of their careers. They are more than one book, one quick sale to me.  I’ve passed over books that may have sold, but that I just didn’t care about. Why would I take that writer on, when I can invest my heart and soul and countless hours in someone whose writing I do care about?  I’ll also definitely take on books that may not be the easy sell, but that feel important and strong and that I believe HAVE TO BE READ. And I’ll work my tail off making sure that happens.

It’s important that I believe in your work and in you.  You deserve that and should demand it.  If I don’t “fall in love” with your novel, then I’m not the agent for you, and you should find an agent who will.  Because that is the person who will best represent your work. Who will champion you and all your efforts with energy and drive. Who will believe in you even when the world doesn’t seem to, and continue to submit your work with conviction until the world finally sees the light.

And who will eagerly await your next book, and your next.

*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.