Agent Monday: Inside Query Land

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you don’t see me posting for a few Mondays, it’s simply because I’m THAT BUSY. This past Sunday, for example, I spent 6 straight hours delving through queries in my inbox, and I barely made a dent. Still, I did request 3 manuscripts – and that IS how I’ve found a number of my wonderful clients in the past. So what’s it really look like inside of Query Land? Here are some quick thoughts before I get right back to work here…

First of all, folks who don’t follow my guidelines get instantly deleted. And including your query as an attachment…anything as an attachment… I’m not gonna open those – would you?

Folks who can’t even bother to find out who I am or what I do? Deleted – Dear Sir. I know you are looking for Non-Fiction (I’m NOT! I don’t even rep it…and not a sir, thank you very much).  Addressed to no one, sent to EVERYONE. Saying please publish my book (I’m not a publisher…).

Writing your query as if you are your character NEVER WORKS. First it confuses me, then it once I figure out that you are not you, it comes off as really gimmicky and ridiculous.

When I send you a rejection, please don’t write back to ask me for advice or tips. I don’t have time and that is really not my job. Remember, an agent lives off a percentage of what her authors make once they sell…and that I spend HOURS reading queries just to find a person that has a manuscript that MIGHT interest me. Think of the 6 hours I’ve spent on a Sunday morning, in addition to a full week of extra long hours working for my own clients, and ask yourself, where would you spend your precious time if you were me?

When someone tells me their book is a young adult picture book romance thriller, I know they don’t know anything about the business. A book must fit onto a shelf and appeal to a certain audience.

An author’s writing is their product. When they can’t compose a simple query letter, I won’t be interested. Terrible grammar, multiple spelling errors, and long rambling prose? Not interested.

Please don’t tell me your book is the next bestseller, or that your neighbor read your book and loved it. A query should be composed so that I will love the book.

Conclusion? Yes, this is a business. Be a professional in your dealings, and I will feel confident I can deal with you and put you in front of an editor. The queries that prompted me to request a full manuscript? Well, they addressed ME, their queries were professional and intriguing, and the writers followed my guidelines.

That’s Agent Marie reporting from the query trenches. Over and out!

 

*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: Two New Agents at JD Lit!

YHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The sun has peeped out for a few hours here AT LAST, so I thought this would be a good time for some sunny news….two new agents have recently joined the ranks of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. So help me extend a warm welcome to Associate Agents Damian McNicholl and Alexandra Weiss!

Damian is a former attorney, and author of the critically acclaimed novel A Son Called Gabriel (CDS Books/Perseus Books Group).  As an agent, he’s looking for great nonfiction and fiction that appeals to a wide audience and makes people think, laugh and sob. In fiction, his interests are accessible literary, upmarket commercial, historical, legal thrillers, LGBT, and some offbeat/quirky. Nonfiction interests are memoir, biography, history, investigative journalism and current events especially cultural, legal as well as LGBT issues that can help lead to meaningful change in society. For more information about Damian, and his submission guidelines, click here.

Alexandra is a Books Writer for Bustle.com, the PR Manager for a local Chicago circus, and an all-around literary bookworm. She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Publishing from Columbia College Chicago, has interned as a publicist, and was an acquisitions editor for the award-winning anthology Hair Trigger. As an agent, Alexandra is looking for young adult, especially in the areas of realism, science fiction and fantasy, and she loves stories that include diverse and risk-taking subjects, including culture, race, sexuality, and identity. She’s also looking  for adventurous, silly, and out-of-the-box children’s and middle-grade books.  And for general fiction, she’s not looking for romance, but she is seeking strong literary voices that take the notion that every story is a love story to new levels. She’s also drawn to books that include uncommon formats, incorporating things like letters, photos, or poetry. For more information about Alexandra, including her submission guidelines, click here.

*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: Much More than an Idea

Pitcher of Red BeverageHappy Agent Monday, folks!  If you’re like me, you are sitting there blinking, saying, “AUGUST? Already???”  But we are already getting slightly shorter days, cooler nights and those cicadas are buzzing as if to say “hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry.”  So now’s the time to squeeze in your summer moments, and to revisit those writerly goals. Like many writers, you may have set aside summer to finish up work on a book and get it ready for subbing to an agent. And in writer world, September seems to be the time for submission ACTION. Inboxes explode with query letters, agents quicken their steps, editors perk up in their chairs ready to find the next “one.”  Is it your book?  Truthfully, I see a lot of pretty cool ideas in my own agent inbox, but I also send out a ton of rejections.  So today, as you ready yourself for your own submission adventures, I’d like to talk a bit about how a great book is much more than an idea.

So here’s the thing.  A great idea will make me nod and read on, hoping upon hope that you can pull it off. But all too often, writers don’t pull it off. Here are some things that get in the way and quickly yield a rejection:

1. Unprofessional

Reaching out to an agent is, in fact, applying for a professional position in a business relationship.  If you label yourself as unprofessional, I’m not going to work with you no matter how cool your idea is.  Sending out mass email queries where you don’t even have the courtesy of addressing me by name? How would that go down if you were applying for a job? Not good. Query letter and manuscript riddled with poor punctuation, spelling, grammar? This is a WRITING JOB, so also not good. Acting like an a-hole in your query? (Saying things like, “You’d be lucky to have me,” or “I know all you agents aren’t going to answer me and only take on people who pay you off, but…” etc.)  I’m not going to work with you. The end.

2. Poor Writing

The greatest idea in the world can’t overcome poor writing. Clunky dialogue. Awkward word choices. Amateur mistakes such as info dumping in the beginning pages or starting the book at a point long before the real story kicks in. Going off on irrelevant tangents. And the worst crime of all: being boring. Again: the end.

3. Good Writing, But…

Sometimes the idea is great and writing is smooth and clean in those first 20 pages that come with the query letter.  Okay, I’ll bite and ask for the full manuscript.  BUT, here’s where, once again, you need to deliver more than that great idea. Much more.  More than adequate writing.  Over the course of the novel, I frequently see serious structure problems.  The story drags or veers seriously off course, leaving the reader far behind.  The book needs to get even better, more interesting, more intense as I read.  Somehow writers often drop the ball after that great start. Things get predictable, or repetitive, or the elements that drew me in at the start are forgotten. These are the manuscripts that I fail to finish. And it’s a shame. The idea and the start looked so promising…

Boy and Girl Running in Tall GrassYou need to bring your A-game if you are intent on getting an agent and cracking those top publishing markets.  So remember that a book is an investment in time, not just for you the writer, but, more importantly, for your readers. You need so much more than just a cool idea.

Give your manuscript and query letter a really close look and tight edit. Bring me your very best. Draw me in and keep me enthralled till that very last word.

And hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry. September is on its way!

 

*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: Haven’t I Seen this Before?

So sometimes, well, many times actually, I open up a query in my inbox and think to myself, “Self? Haven’t I seen this before?”

And sometimes I literally have seen it before. Folks think they can send the same exact query every few months because, hey, the agent reads hundreds and hundreds of these and won’t remember. Perhaps the writer has heard stories of writers doing this very thing, and one time getting a rejection, but the other time, getting a request and then getting representation. Wahoo!

Writers, please don’t do this.  I for one actually remember my queries.  And if I’m not sure? There’s a function in my email that enables me to search you out by your email, or your book title, or your name…even by key words in your query.  And when I find a writer, who I’ve already taken my time with by reading their query and responding to it, now trying to scam me, I’m not going to be pleased at all. I even had one writer use a different email address and change her book title. Not cool, guys.

But believe it or not, this is not what this Agent Monday column is actually about. Today I want to talk about the overused ideas that I see. Stuff that everyone seems to be writing about. I’m seeing a ton of YA’s where for some bizarre reason a teen is dropped off for the summer or the year at a grandparent’s house, and there they discover secrets and of course a cute guy, etc.

I’m seeing a slew of women’s novels where the woman’s left her husband or he’s left her, or he’s died, etc. and she picks up, to the shock of her family, and moves to some remote rugged coastal home and buys some run-down hovel…and the rugged handyman, who is crusty but hot, well, “fixes” her.

I’m seeing spin offs of The Hunger Games. I’m seeing vampires and zombies. I’m seeing teens who suddenly discover they have special powers or are part of a curse, and must harness these powers, etc., to save the world.

I’m seeing a bunch of novels about orphans in the 1920s who must go across the US (always heading West) to find the only family they have left (or something like that), and along the way they ride the rails and they meet other ornery kids, some of who become friends and travel along, and of course, there’s a ratty but lovable mutt trotting by their side.

These are just but a few examples of the “types” of stories I see over and over again. How does this happen? Okay, the vampire stuff I understand, but the rest? Writers are creative people. They work alone. They are not exactly looking over each other’s shoulders copying from another writer’s manuscript.

I think part of the problem is that we are all human, and as humans we share common experiences and archetypes that resonate with us all. You can argue that there are only so many stories to be told, but I say phooey to that. You each have an original voice and point of view to share.

If you write something, even if it is perfectly polished, and I’ve seen something like it before, I’m not going to represent it. It’s that simple.

So how does a writer know if they are being original or not? Well, reading plenty definitely helps. It helps you know the genre you are targeting and prevents you from reinventing the wheel. But it doesn’t open your eyes to what’s sitting in every agent’s inbox right now (stuff that you won’t find on the bookshelf because it’s just too obvious in some ways).

I think the answer may rest with you as a writer, not taking the first idea the grabs you, or even the third, but forcing yourself to dig deeper. In Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass, he has an exercise that addresses this. Maass has you make a list of things that can happen in your book’s scene.  Then he makes you list even more.  And he tells you to take the very last thing on that list and run with it.

Think about that.  There are a slew of obvious things that bubble up in our minds when we write…things that the reader can quickly think of as well. But some of our favorite works have taken twists we didn’t see, or were set in unexpected original worlds or circumstances, or have characters so memorable they stand out in our minds even now. These factors, combined with your own original voice and point of view, result in something fresh.

Something red hot I’ll want to read.

Something that definitely won’t make me say to myself, “Haven’t I seen this before?”

In this week’s Writer Wednesday post, I’ll continue this conversation about originality, talking about what we can learn from the movie Easy A.

“The Bucket List! The Bucket List!” (If you don’t know this line, then go rent Easy A NOW.)

*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.