Agent Monday: Querying? #MSWL a Must!

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Some Monday mornings are harder than others – and today requires extra java somehow…  But not everything is difficult. One thing that is really easy and helpful? Using #MSWL. What’s that, you ask? Well, if you are a writer querying literary agents, it’s time to find out!

#MSWL is a twitter tag that stands for Manuscript Wish List. Head on over to twitter, and search for the tag.  Go ahead, I’ll wait… Taps foot…  What you should find there are entries made by editors and agents about what they are looking for RIGHT NOW. It’s pretty awesome. And simple to use, which is really key.

It’s simple for me as a Literary Agent, because, even BEFORE that second cup of coffee, you’ll see that this morning I tweeted a whole bunch of things I’m really looking for in queries. Things like diverse meaningful fiction, spooky ghost-like tales, heartfelt and funny middle grade with a STEM tie in, riveting memoirs – especially with a foody slant, hilarious and fresh women’s fiction, smart and edgy contemporary YA with a romantic touch. Got one of those? Definitely send me a query! But please follow my submission guidelines, which can be found by clicking here.

And it’s simple for querying writers to make use of #MSWL too. You can search for the tag on twitter, but this isn’t limited to twitter. This info also gets compiled into a searchable website. Cool, right? Go to www.manuscriptwishlist.com and search away. While you are there – look me up!

This will add an up-to-date twist to your agent hunt that just might give you and your manuscript the edge you need.

Happy querying!

 

*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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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.

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: 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.

Marie Lamba, Literary Agent

I know that lots of my posts are tongue in cheek, but this time I’m actually serious. I’m pleased to announce that I am now an associate literary agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York.

Actually, I’ve been doing this for a few months but as a “secret agent,” reading manuscripts on the sly…maybe wearing black leather boots, dark shades, and slinking about clandestinely, who knows?  But now it’s finally time to fess up.

Yeah, I’m still an author, but being a writer plus an agent feels like the next natural step for me. And I’m hoping to bring my years of experience as an author, an editor and an enthusiastic book promoter to the table in a way that will benefit future clients.

I’m especially thrilled to be a part of Jennifer DeChiara’s firm.  Jennifer has been, and continues to be, my literary agent, and she’s an agent of the best sort.  She doesn’t just represent a book, she represents and supports an author over that person’s entire career, through all the peaks and valleys.  When I take on clients, I plan to do the same, looking beyond just the one title the writer presents to me and onto the entire career of that writer. It’s about making smart moves for that writer, about mentoring, and about building their future successes. It’s exciting stuff!

Here’s my agenting bio:

As an agent, Marie is currently looking for young adult and middle grade fiction, along with general and women’s fiction and some memoir.  Books that are moving and/or hilarious are especially welcome. She is NOT interested in picture books, science fiction or high fantasy (though she is open to paranormal elements), category romance (though romantic elements are welcomed), non-fiction, or in books that feature graphic violence.

Some recently favorite titles on her shelf include Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, Paper Towns by John Green, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, Twenties Girl by Sophia Kinsella, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Shug by Jenny Han, and Doing It by Melvin Burgess.  She also admits to watching many many chick flicks.

To contact her, send only a query letter with the first 20 pages of your manuscript pasted into the bottom of your email to marie.jdlit@gmail.com.

…So, if you have something that you think I’d be interested in, please do send your query letter to the above email.  I ask that you use only this email to contact me in my agent capacity. To keep things sane, I will not respond to unsolicited manuscripts or to queries that come to me via other avenues, including other email addresses, social media venues, etc.

Thanks!

Book Review: The Art of Saying Goodbye

“Odd, how in the afterglow of someone else’s life, your own looks so much brighter.”

This line from Ellyn Bache’s new novel The Art of Saying Goodbye (William Morrow, 2011), gives you a sense of the glowing feel you will gather from this artful novel.

In the novel, golden girl Paisley suddenly learns she has a late stage cancer. It is unthinkable, and throughout the course of the novel, we see the women who know Paisley re-examining their own lives, revealing secrets and shames, and finding new footing in this redefined world. Instead of a book of darkness and mourning, the author has created a book that is at once real and luminescent, where the characters look beyond sadness to a fuller view of their interlinked worlds.

Bache (whose short story collection The Value of Kindness won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize) has built this novel with a series of chapters that each feel like a perfect little short story all their own. Her writing craft shines, and I found myself eager to pick up the book again and again, feeling that each chapter was a gift I gave to myself to savor.  Give this book to yourself and others, and enjoy!  Highly recommended.