Agent Monday: I Need a Hero!

happinessHappy summery Agent Monday, everyone! Just when things should feel especially lovely and relaxed season-wise, suddenly the world feels uncertain and topsy-turvy. Cough cough *Brexit* cough cough. We are also mourning terrible violence and ignorant hatred. It can make you feel truly helpless. So this is a call to action from a literary agent. Are you listening, writers? It’s time to use your super power: Power of the Pen. (Cue music: “I Need a Hero.”)

A writer’s super power truly is the ability to enter the minds and hearts of readers and influence them in a positive way. So, now more than ever, I’m looking to represent manuscripts that will do just that. Give us a hero we can really root for, show us the world how it should be, the person we can aspire to emulate, or scare the crap out of us with how it might be if we are careless with our choices.

Inspire us to act, and inspire us to hope. But be artful about it, too.  The story’s the thing (sorry for the paraphrasing, Shakespeare…). A novel is not a lesson, but it could convey one.

So think about the books that have inspired you. Think of the change you’d like to see. Realize your own power of the pen. And create as if the world’s future depends upon it, because it just might… We all need a hero, and it could be your main character, and by extension, it could be YOU.  BTW, my submission guidelines for queries can be found 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: Dig Deeper for Ideas

Red Lightbulb in Fixture

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Last day of February – WOOT!  I’m all about springtime and being outdoors and longer days and digging in the garden – and I can’t wait for all of that. I’m also eager to dig through the submissions in my agent inbox to find  the next engrossing read. However, what I’m often finding are manuscripts that, while well written, are just all too familiar. That’s a real shame. The writers have skill, but the idea behind their book is one I’ve seen too many times before. I wish that these writers could dig deeper so that more original plotting can grow.

What do some of those all too familiar plots look like? Here are a few examples:

For middle grade or YA: A child or a teen must spend the summer with a grandparent or other relative they hardly know – and it’s always in the middle of nowhere or on some waterfront setting. There the kid uncovers some sort of mystery they must solve, whether magical or spooky or historical, and an unlikely person ends up helping and becoming a close friend. In the end, the kid learns about themselves, and also sees that unknown relative in a new light.

For women’s fiction: A young woman has tried to make a go of her career and love life, but finds embarrassing failures and is forced to go back to her home town with its small town ways. There, she eats humble pie, sees that simple life as not so simple and even sophisticated and enviable and heartfelt, and that old flame of hers is there to rekindle a different life path.

For women’s fiction or memoir: A person’s life falls completely apart, and they go on a journey to leave it all behind and are challenged in new and surprising ways that change everything.  For a memoir, this can be a trek or a world tour or some other adventurous trip. For fiction, it is often spurred by a death in the woman’s family, or a divorce by a cheating spouse, and the heroine either inherits or buys some rundown home in some isolated place and is challenged to make a go of things – of course the attractive but surly and mysterious handyman is there to help.

There are many other too familiar plots I could site. Just conjure up ideas of dystopian fiction, fantasy middle grade, silly picture books, and you will likely come up with a number of familiar story lines yourself. Call them tropes if you like, and they could be entertaining, and well done. But I say talented writers can go deeper in their ideas and plotting. As an agent, I’m looking for originality and fresh journeys to go on. In a weird way, it’s a lot like trying to find something on NETFLIX to binge watch. You want something engrossing and interesting and wonderful. Something worth investing your time in, and you want to be surprised and delighted in the adventures that enfold. You don’t want to watch a few minutes and have many things figured out, and to feel like you’ve seen something just like this before.

Pile of LightbulbsSo what’s a writer to do? I say dig deeper. Find what you most love about your idea, and then as you plot, don’t go to the first or second idea of what could happen next. One technique that I really like to use when plotting my own novels is from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (a craft book I highly recommend). Think of what could happen next in your story. Then write, say, 5 more ideas. Then 5 more.  Take that last idea on your list and use THAT. You’ll be using something on a much less obvious train of thought.

And you’ll be creating something that may just surprise and delight you, and please agents and readers too.

 

*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.

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Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*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: Time for Something New!

Red TulipsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Spring is finally here in the Northeast, bringing with it a quickening of step, buds on trees, new beginnings, and people emerging from their dark burrows blinking their eyes at the bright sun. Now’s a time for new beginnings. As a literary agent, I’m seeing in my submission inbox far too many tired subjects that have been done to death. What I want is for writers to dig deeper and explore things in NEW fresh ways. Here are some things I’m seeing far too much of:

1. Bullying – Bullying may seem to be the “new hot topic,” but it has been around since people have existed. If this is a topic that you are writing about, are you plotting to teach a lesson to readers? Please don’t. Not in fiction. That’s icky. And, are you bringing anything new to the table at all? Or seeing things in a fresh or witty way? Too many submissions are just trying to capitalize on what a writer sees as something somebody might want.

2. Diverse Just Cuz it’s Hot – There’s a great thing about everyone being represented in literature – I’m ALL for that. Hey, I’ve been “fashionably” multicultural even before there were hashtags for it! But that’s not why I wrote about biracial teens in my own novels. These were my characters because my own kids are biracial – and it was close to my heart. I wanted my kids to see people like them reflected back in stories that weren’t about “OMG I’m biracial!” I wanted them to see heroes they could relate to out there in fiction. Now, what I’m seeing far too much of is a novel suddenly featuring a character as a particular race or with a particular disability because, look!, my book is diverse and that is HOT and will SELL. Folks, if this doesn’t occur naturally in your writing, please please please don’t just insert it into your story so it’ll sell. That’s gross.

3. Strange Picture Books – And I’m not talking about zany or wacky or out of the box. I’m just talking bizarre — not in a good way. Odd plots that just make you scratch your head and say huh? Supposed issues that no kid I’ve ever known can relate to. Situations that are just trippy instead of fun and fascinating. Creativity is great, but these writers have forgotten that a reader needs to relate to a story somehow.

4. Already Seen it Befores – There’s a movie or a book series or a news story that has become “the thing,” so then for the next year or two I’m flooded with that same story in different incarnations over and over and over. If I’m getting these, you can bet every other agent is too. As soon as I spot a submission as a reboot, my eyes glaze over. 50 Shades…Divergent…Hunger Games…Twilight…Fault in our Stars… etc. etc. etc. I can guess, just from the premise, all the twists and turns that a book will take. I’m actually looking for fresh and original stories only you can tell. If you are still working in the realm of the obvious as you plot, or redoing the last great thing to catch a wave, then your submission isn’t for me. Dig deeper with your writing and dare to start the NEXT commercial hit.

So, think fresh and original, but don’t forget your audience. If something suddenly seems like a “hot topic” and it doesn’t come naturally to you, please don’t go chasing the market by inserting it into your story. Don’t offer up heavy-handed lessons, either. It’s about the story. It’s about your voice, and the way only you can tell that story.

Dig deeper. Let things grow naturally from you. Prune and weed and tend your story till it’s ripe and unique. That’s something that’ll take root.

Happy Spring!

*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: New Lit Agent Victoria Selvaggio!

0011Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a new Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Victoria A. Selvaggio!  With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria has also served several years as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Vicki’s a writer herself (her most recent publication is in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market), and she has been a valuable and skilled manuscript reader for the agency. Now she’s excited to read compelling manuscript submissions to shape her own list of clients.

Welcome Victoria! What types of submissions do you want to see?

I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me! On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.

What are some of your favorite reads?

Some of my “older” favorites: THE GIVING TREE written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by author E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis. PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. THE TALISMAN by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And I could go on and on!

How should writers submit to you?

Please email a query to vselvaggio@windstream.net and put “Query” in the subject line of your email. For queries regarding children’s and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.

For queries regarding a non-fiction book, please attach the entire proposal as a Word document (the proposal should include a sample chapter), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of your email.

Thanks, Victoria, for stopping by and sharing your wish list here with us! For more info about our agency, visit the agency website by clicking here. And follow my website, marielamba.com, to catch every new Agent Monday post!

Three YA Authors Chat about Writing and the Biz

Hi everyone!  I recently had the privilege of speaking on a panel with fellow young adult authors E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott. We volunteered our time to speak at Haverford High School as part of the PA Authors Speak Up for Libraries campaign.

Happily, the school taped our talk for their cable station, and I’m giving you all the link here because the panel covers so many interesting points about the writing process, the writing life, and I also answered questions about what I’m looking for as an agent when it comes to young adult submissions. Plus we each read a bit from one of our own novels — in my case, I read an excerpt from my YA novel DRAWN. The bright audience of high school creative writing students asked some very smart questions.  I hope you all enjoy watching this talk. Just click here for the link.

Talk with E.C. Myers and Ellen Jensen Abbott 2014

 

Agent Monday: What this Agent Does and Does Not Want

pumpkinsHappy Agent Monday everyone!  Here in the Northeast it’s a crisp glittering fall morning, the kind of weather that makes you feel you can really take on the world. If you writers are feeling the same, you may feel that extra zing of energy to send out some queries to agents for your latest work. Good for you!  For some help in this department, I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what I do and do not want…

susan-coventry-200But first of all, I want to send out a huge welcome to my newest client, author Susan Coventry!  Susan’s debut was the historical YA The Queen’s Daughter (Holt), which nabbed the 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year honor. She caught my attention with an unusual manuscript that’s a retelling of the little known Arthurian courtly love story about Enide and Erec. It’s vivid, sharp, witty and fresh. Basically, it’s a cross between The Princess Bride and The Once and Future King (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite books EVER).  So I lift a mug of mead (okay, it’s coffee) to Susan in welcome. I’m so thrilled to represent her.

So, back to the land of queries… I spent several hours this weekend reading through my inbox. For those of you waiting on responses, I’m up to queries received on August 1st. (Yeah, there are still a lot more after that, but I DO read them all and answer them all.)

*If you sent a query before this date and never got a response, that means you broke a cardinal rule and were therefore deleted without a reply. Deletable offenses include: mass-mailed queries that aren’t addressed to me, titled things like Dear Sir or Madam, or with no greeting at all…Attaching your query (I won’t open query attachments from people I don’t know)… Openly offensive or rude statements in your query…

*Also, if you see on something like Query Tracker that I have a response time for some folk of like a day or a week, and yours has been sitting around for a month or two, don’t despair. I do like to breeze through queries as they spill in for a quick look – and if something is clearly a no – I’ll zap back a form rejection. If something is a zowie-gotta-look-at-that-immediately query, I’ll request the full right away…otherwise it goes into the queue for later.  And, yes, I have acquired clients from that “later” queue…

Okay, then… What I do and do not want.  Please read my guidelines, people.  You can find them here and also on the agency website.

MP900308953Some things I do NOT want:
Genre fiction. I’m not a fan at all, so please do not send me your sci fi, romance, high fantasy, or horror novels.
Extreme violence and gore. HATE that. Please do not send me violent serial killer novels, or slasher books, or blood-soaked stories whether fiction or memoir.
Horsey books. Confession? I’ve always been afraid of horses – I’m pretty sure they were put on this earth to bite my face off. Needless to say, I never “got” the girl obsession with horses, so if your book is about that? You’re neighing at the wrong agent. 😉
Things I’ve seen way too many times before. I’m over paranormal romance, dystopian, I never “got” zombies (bite off my face thing again?), or werewolves or stuff like that.
Things that feel too much like something else. I get a lot of almost fan-fiction-like novels. They aren’t in the same world as the original, but change a few names and it’s the same story.
Memoirs that are mainly a sad retelling of something that happened in your life. Divorce. A cheating husband. A common illness. The death of a loved one. While I can feel compassion for these writers, I’m looking for something a bit different in a memoir.
Memoirs that are mere nostalgia, or a telling of a fairly common experience. I get a lot of memoirs that feel like an older person who has decided to chronicle their life for posterity — this may be a lovely gift to pass on to your family, but it’s not a commercial product in my eyes. I also get a lot of “wow, I went on this trip,” or “wow, I went to college,” or “wow, I worked a lot of strange jobs” memoirs — to me, this is just life, and not remarkable enough for others to buy and read.
What they are now calling “sick-lit,” inspired by The Fault in Our Stars success. I’m not interested in “someone is dying” as the theme driving a YA or women’s novel. It feels a bit too overwrought to me, and there needs to be a lot more to the plot for my taste.

Young Girl ReadingOkay, so what DO I want?
Something fresh and original with a recognizable voice.
Something that moves me to laugh or cry or both without being sappy or stupid.
Something that takes me somewhere I’ve never been before, or shows me something in a brand new light.
Something with a hook, meaning it has an understandable and unique theme and conflict, and a clear audience.
While I don’t DO romance, I’m open to romantic themes in YA and women’s fiction — just please don’t make it predictable or the heroine shallow and all about the guy! Also, what IS it with guys who have green eyes and a crooked smile? Jeesh! Is this every girl’s fantasy or something? (To those guys out there with green eyes and a crooked smile, be on your guard for rampaging women…You have been warned.)
SMART women’s fiction that can become the next great chick flick — and that is NOT just a rehashing of Bridget Jones, Stephanie Plum, Shopaholic, Sex in the City.
A YA that is smart and real ala Sarah Dessen.
Brilliant writing that is accessible. I’m not one for literary fiction with a meandering plot, but I adore gorgeous writing.
Strong characterization. I’m not one for merely plot driven fiction. I need to care.
Hilarious and moving middle grade.
I’m open to elements of fantasy, a fun or moving ghost story, I love the shivers (without blood, please). But DON’T give me genre writing.
Diversity, but only if it is genuine and intrinsic to your story.
Memoirs that bring more to the table. Incredible voice, unusual humor, revelations for readers, a takeaway for readers, real heart, a truly unique inside peek at something…
Books that leave a lasting impression. 

Take a look at my client list here. You’ll see a range of people who are very serious about their craft. You’ll see that their ideas are unique, and that their books stand out on the shelf as something fresh. Read their work and you’ll see their voices jumping off the page.

And if you have these qualities, I definitely want to see your query!

 

*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.