Agent Monday: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

half shyHappy Agent Monday everyone!  I hope you are all coming off a very restful 3-day weekend sated with too much barbecue and lots of feet up on the lounge chair time.  Fun summer fact about this literary agent: I love to spend summery hours working on a way-too-hard puzzle, glass of iced tea with mint sprig in hand. I love puzzles in general (but don’t send me puzzles, please…), but here’s something that gets my puzzler sore: why don’t so many submitting writers seem to have a clue of what I do and don’t want? Why don’t they cyberstalk agents…in a good way?

Here’s what I’m talking about…Look me up anywhere online and you’ll see that I do not represent genre sci-fi or genre romance. So what do I get in my inbox? Yup. Queries for science fiction romances. I also do not represent Christian fiction or non-fiction. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of queries for this. So I tweet that I do not represent this…and I get a bunch more.

Folks, this is all sorts of bad. Bad for you the writer because it’s a red-flag to anyone you wrongly submit to that you haven’t bothered to even look up the bare minimum of info on the agents you are subbing to. Also bad for you because instead of focusing with laser-eyes on the right agents and getting yourself closer to representation, you are spinning your wheels and wasting your time. It’s bad for agents because so many writers are clogging up agent submission inboxes with stuff that is wasting their time. That means it’ll take even longer for them to get to the queries that might just be of interest to them…and that query just might be YOURS!

So, writers, spread the word and help yourself…You and your fellow authors should be cyberstalking agents…in a good way!  A week or so ago I was at the NJ SCBWI annual conference with my wonderful client and amazing author Tracey Baptiste presenting workshops about the author-agent relationship. Each time we did the workshop,Tracey mentioned that before she queried me, she cyberstalked me. And each time some writers in the audience took notes as if it were something they hadn’t really thought of before.

Now, what is cyberstalking in a bad way? Messaging an agent on Facebook. Please don’t do that. Commenting on their family pictures and putting odd comments all over their blog about your manuscript. Also not good.

Cyberstalking in a good way is much more behind the scenes. You are gathering info, not putting yourself in front of people you are going to be contacting. So google the agent you are submitting to. Read their submission guidelines and follow these. Now look beyond those guidelines.  Google the agent’s name in quotes followed by: agent (especially if that person has a common name…you don’t want to drown in useless info about people who are not that agent). For example, in the google search line you would type for me: “Marie Lamba” agent.

Now, what turns up is likely more than a static agency website (though that’s a good starting point – you won’t believe how many people clearly don’t even look at that for guidelines). Like with me, you’ll find my twitter feed – with that note about Christian fiction, about other current likes and dislikes. You’ll also find interviews I did that highlight what I’m looking for, my interests, my style. After reading through these, you may discover that I really don’t want to see anymore paranormal romance novels, and you’ll cross me off your list. Or you will see that I’m searching high and low for the next Bridget Jones in woman’s fiction, something smart and funny but ORIGINAL and not a Bridget Jones knock off. And you just happened to have written something that might be a fit… Hey, now you can query me and say something along the lines of “I saw in your interview with xyz that you are searching for the next Bridget Jones…”

Now you’ll have my attention. This is a query from someone who has done their homework and carefully targeted a submission.

You might also see something in your cyberstalking that you like about a particular agent. Their philosophy, the authors she represents, her humor, whatever. You can point to that in your query. Or you might find something you really don’t like. A site with numerous complaints about unethical practices? An agent saying things that seriously rubs you the wrong way? Is this someone you want to go into a business partnership with? If the answer is no, then cross them off the list and move on.

Cyberstalking in a good way can yield the most current agent guidelines and help you narrow your list of agents to the best and most-likely fits for you. Start there in your query process and you’ll find yourself closer to the yes you seek.

I know that I’ll pull up my agent inbox today and find it full of queries from people who don’t have a clue of who I am or what I do or do not want. Sigh. But I know that you won’t be clueless, right? And because of that, you will stand out. Of course, there is no guarantee an agent will offer representation, even if you target them well. But, like chicken soup, it definitely wouldn’t hurt.

 

*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.

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Agent Monday: Everyone’s Different

SnowflakeHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Hopefully you are making it through the winter okay.  Not letting the relentless snow get to you… Washing your hands and not letting the germs get to you…  And feeling hopeful all around. Days are getting longer and longer. March isn’t too far off (do NOT tell me about big snowstorms that tend to happen in March, please). And nothing can stop you from writing, not even a power outage. Ha!  Take THAT, winter. But sometimes we writers can fall into the doldrums. It can happen at any time of year. We feel this way when we don’t get validation. Our critique group gives us some harsh advice. Our agent isn’t 100% on board with our newest manuscript. Our efforts to get an agent isn’t met with the roaring praise and success we’d hoped for. Our manuscript on submission to editors isn’t an instant sell. They like it, but… And WHAM! Just like that we doubt ourselves. We see others having success. What’s wrong with our writing? What’s wrong with us? So, today I’d like to just remind everyone that writing and publishing (and agenting) isn’t an exact science. EVERYONE’S DIFFERENT.

A few weekends ago I spent an awesome weekend as a guest agent at the SCBWI conference at Asilomar, CA. Hey, it was in California, so I’m allowed to say awesome.  Not only was it a blessed escape from the hell-hole snow and ice storms that have fallen upon the Northeast every other day, but it was also yet another reminder of just how different every person truly is in this business.  And how important it is to remember that as a writer, no matter what stage you are at in the biz.

Nowhere was this more obvious than at the agent pitching roundtable that we held.  I was the agent sitting at one table, and Jennifer Unter, who is lovely, was at the other. Jennifer and I met and clicked earlier that day. We seemed to have the same sense of humor and passion for great books, so you’d think we’d like the same sort of things, right? Nope. The writers got to pitch to the agent at their table and the other writers there got to listen in and take in our reactions. What did we respond to? Were we interested? What did we think about the pitch style and how could it be improved? What did we say about the market potential for a work?  Then I switched tables with Jennifer and I did this with the group she’d just heard from, and she took my group and did the same. The result? Interesting, for sure.  We each shared some opinions, sure. But we each also had very different interests too. I liked some things she didn’t. And vice versa. I liked or didn’t like certain things in the pitches, and that sometimes varied too. The big takeaway? Everyone’s different.

This isn’t an exact science. Yes, it certainly helps that I know lots of things about the editors that I pitch to.  But there is always that “I’ll know when I see it” factor in play. They can tell me they are looking for such and such, but there are tons of intangibles. That idea they didn’t know they were looking for until they saw it. That type of book they’d never thought they’d buy…until they saw such an unusual take on the subject and were completely blown away. And readers are fickle too. That book that was supposed to be a mega-hit, but fizzled. That sleeper that wasn’t supposed to go too far, and then broke all the records.

It’s not an exact science. It’s about your gut and your instinct and your unique point of view.  It’s about connecting with others, too. So listen to what the world says about your work. Take it in and think about it. Take what will make you a better writer and use that. But keep being yourself and believing in your voice and writing.

Everyone’s different, every book’s different. Every agent and editor is different, too. So work hard, keep improving your craft, love what you do, and have faith that you’ll find your audience.

*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: The Big Conference Question

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Here I am, hydrating at a panel talk with fellow Liars Club authors at the Princeton Public Library.

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  As you writers set new goals for the new year, you may be stewing over whether it’s worth including writer’s conferences as part of your plan.  Why, exactly, should you go to a conference. Is it worth the money? Couldn’t you just spend that time writing and then learning what you need to know via online research? These were some of the questions writers in my own critique group were chatting about at our last Rebel Writers meeting.  So today, I thought I tackle The Big Conference Question: should you go?

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences by now. First as a writer, and now as a literary agent as well.  Some have been amazing. Some have been, well, eh, in value. But I’ve always learned from them and I’ve never been sorry to attend.  In fact, I landed my own agent, the lovely Jennifer De Chiara (who still reps me, and now I also work as an agent for her firm…yeah, we talk a lot!) and secured my first book deal as an author through conferences, and you can read about all that here in my post WHY CONFERENCES.

Go ahead. Give that one a look.  I’ll wait…

Taps foot…

Done reading that? Okay. So that shows how all the stars could align through attending conferences, and how it did for me. In today’s post I want to go a little deeper into what you might look for in a conference and truly expect, and point out some of the not-so-obvious ways you can benefit beyond the “I landed an agent!” and the “I got a book deal!”, which, truthfully, does not typically happen first time out of the gate. With me, for example, those things were achieved after years of conferences, tons of learning on my part, and tons of polishing of my own writing in between…and then the contacts I made via conferences led in a lovely straight line to my goal.

So, what is YOUR goal. Yup, getting your book published, and published well.  But those who are most successful understand that takes a bunch of intermediary steps. So those who dive into a conference with the sole hungry purpose of getting published will probably blow the many opportunities offered to them at a writer’s conference.  They’ll be too focused on landing an agent to absorb what an agent, who may not be asking for their manuscript after a pitch, is offering in the way of advice on how to improve that pitch. I see that as an agent a lot.  The writer flies across the country and spends mucho bucks on hotel and conference fees to pitch face to face with agents. That writer pitches to me, and the pitch is confusing. I pass, and offer advice on how the pitch is unclear, how, perhaps the writer could focus it better.  But the writer, herself so focused on landing an agent, has shut down the moment it seems like our conversation is not going her way. She hears NO and is done with me and dashes off.

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Here I am studying opening pages at a pitch session held during the Push-to-Publish Conference in Rosemont, PA

Do you see why that level of single-mindedness is a fail when it comes to conferences? If the writer had listened to what I said, she might have discovered a way to improve her pitch, and the next agent she’d pitch to that day, might have said yes.

So, again, I ask you to think about YOUR goal. Here’s a good one: to learn.

At conferences you can figure out the best way to present yourself and your work, whether in a query or in a live pitch. You can hear agents speaking and find out if they are looking for the sort of writing that you do, or not. If not, cross them off your list of submissions, but still listen and take notes – they might offer you a tidbit of advice that’ll help you when contacting agents who are into your type of writing.  Also, it does give you the opportunity to see what a particular agent is really like. You want someone who will represent you well to editors.  Does the agent speak well? Do you like the impression they give off? If the answer is no, then do you really want them to be the face and voice of you and your career? 

You can learn so much about the business side of writing through conferences – the sort of stuff you can’t glean just through reading magazines and books and blogs. Sit in on a panel of editors, and you’ll discover how the acquisitions process works, what they like and don’t like taste-wise, what they will expect from authors they are interested in. And that will all help you.

And then there are elements of craft. Over the years, I’ve learned amazing plot techniques from picture book authors (even though I was writing YA at the time), and research ideas from non-fiction authors (which I used for my historical YA fantasy DRAWN), and gathered so much inspiration from many presenters that kept me chugging along as a writer even when chugging along was pretty tough.

But here’s the most overlooked benefit of attending a conference: the people sitting beside you there!  Talk to the folks around you, and on breaks between sessions and at meals. You’ll find your peers. Swap info on the writing life, and the sort of writing you’ve done. You’ll meet people who get you. Who are doing what you do. Some will have book deals and agents and endless wisdom to offer. Others will be up and coming and be able to offer bits of info you can use, and you can do the same for them. Collectively, all of this will propel you closer to your big goal.  Friends, critique partners, contacts, a bit of info about a writing organization you should get involved with. These are amazing stepping-stones to your success.

So, looking ahead to writer’s conferences this year, which should you choose? I say start with smaller ones closer to home if you can, for starters. Ones with several decent editors and a few agents. You’ll have a lower price tag, more face time with everyone, and a great start.  If you find one farther from home, look carefully at what you’ll get out of it. Are you one of thousands? Do you have opportunities to learn in smaller workshops and have more personal time with fellow writers as well as industry professionals? There are a ton of writer’s conferences out there, with more popping up every day.  Know your goals for attending, and keep an open mind as you go from event to event at a conference. Keep your focus on learning however you can, and you’ll find endless ways to do just that. And remember, that knowledge will help you get where you want to be in the end!

To see where I’ll be this year, check out my Appearances page, which I continuously update as needed.

*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: The Positive Side of Rejection

MP900178845Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you live in the northeast, then you have just experienced a weekend full of sparkling sunlight and glittering orange and yellow leaves.  That’s gotta make you feel great, right?  So this is the perfect time to talk about…rejection!  The “R” word. I know, it’s dreaded, negative, a buzz kill, depressing. But let’s take a sparkling sunlit view of it: the positive side of rejection.

Last week, through Philadelphia Stories Magazine, I was able to present a full-day workshop to writers where I focused on the marketplace, what agents do and don’t do, and how to approach and snag the right agent for a writer’s work. It was part of their annual Push to Publish Conference at Rosemont College. One of the first things I did in this workshop was to share my own twisted path as a writer, full of plenty of starts and stops, leading to where I am at this moment as both an author and an agent. I was frank about the tough decisions I had to make in my career, which didn’t always make sense to the world but were right for me (What? You stepped down from a slew of contributing editor positions at magazines to write a novel no one seemed to be interested in???), and the years of rejection I faced.

It’s not that unusual a story. It’s something all writers share. Rejection. And that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. But one thing I always emphasize is this: “The only thing I knew for sure was that if I quit, my dreams of becoming a published author would never happen.”

Okay, so after this intro, I had people at my workshop introduce themselves and share what they were working on and the path they’d taken thus far. It ranged widely from already published people, to folks just starting out and exploring their love of writing. But a few themes quickly emerged: the writing life is full of starts and stops. And rejection and other perceived “stops” can stop a writer cold.

The writing life is full of starts and stops.

Just because you’ve had a book published, doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In this audience alone, there was the book that came out through a press that didn’t promote it well, another book that was printed but never left the distribution center! Just because you’ve gotten an agent, doesn’t mean your writing career will then go smoothly. In the audience, there were writers who had agents who had suddenly left the business, or who were operating unethically and had to be dropped.

These writers, however discouraged they may have felt, didn’t stop. They were ready to move ahead. They’d learned a bit about the importance of not just publishing, but publishing well. And about not just getting an agent, but about the importance of getting the right agent.

And they didn’t let any of this stop them in the end.

The writing life isn’t about that one big break. It’s about many opportunities and adversities. It’s about learning from these, and getting smarter and more focused and moving forward. Kinda like life, right?

Rejection can stop a writer cold.

Rejection hurts. When someone rejects your novel idea, it’s like someone called your baby ugly. How do you move on? How do you put the hurt in the right place and not let it stop you?

At the workshop, some folks admitted that they were afraid to send out query letters, or to send out many of them. One writer quite honestly admitted that if she didn’t query widely she could always tell herself that there was the possibility that someone would take the book. She wasn’t ready to really put herself out there and find out that she simply wasn’t good enough.

Who hasn’t felt like that?

Here’s the thing: you gotta really be honest with yourself. Are you standing in the way of your own goal of getting published? If you never submit, or rarely submit, then, yup, you are. The writing life is full of starts and stops and starts again. And there isn’t one editor, one agent, one publisher, but many, with many differing opinions. And you are not a writer with one static piece of writing. You can edit it, and try again. You can write yet another piece and try again. You can learn from the rejection process and improve over and over again.

Like the writers who had some success but then a surprising roadblock, and went on to do even better, you can learn from rejection and move on, and move closer to your goal.

So send out a few queries. Get only form rejections? Then redo your query and send out a few more. Make sure you are targeting the right agents who are actually interested in what you write. Start getting pages requested? Then your query is doing its job. Not getting the right response for those pages? Then see if you can learn from those rejections and improve your writing.  And write something new, too. Always move forward.

Group of Children Lined Up Against a Wall with One Girl (8-10) Making a FaceLearn from your rejection. And keep your chin up. Take a moment. Revitalize yourself, doing whatever inspires you. Read something you love. Take a walk through the glittering autumn sunshine, and get back to writing and sending your stuff out. It’s a process, and you are NOT alone.

And you might want to remind yourself of some of the subjectivity of our business by getting yourself a slim little book I always keep on my shelf: ROTTEN REJECTIONS. It’s a compendium of just that.

Here’s one of my favorites from that book, which Nabokov received for LOLITA:

“…it is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation…”

So go forth, writer. And be not afraid!

*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: Conferences from the Agent’s Point of View (Revisited!)

Happy Agent Monday – and Happy Labor Day to you all! Last week I reposted a column about writer’s conferences and writer’s nerves, etc.  And today I’m including part two – which details writer’s conferences from the agent point of view.  Planning on attending a conference?  Read on!

Here’s part 2 of the encore post:

Asian Women Chatting over CoffeeLast week I shared some things I learned as an author about meeting agents and editors at writer’s conferences. So, BAM! Let’s switch pitch table sides. Now, as Associate Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I really am on the other side, taking pitches, sitting on the panels, and walking around conferences to meet writers and hear what they have to say. So here are some thoughts, and some tips.

First of all, like I said in last week’s post, the important thing to remember is that agents and editors are people. And most are pretty nice, too. Take the folks at the great Push to Publish conference which I’d attended (in 2012).  (NB: this Oct. 2013 I’ll be the Push to Publish pre-conference presenter where folks can spend the day with me – registration info here.) I wish I had time to hang out with these agents and editor and swap stories about our clients and our projects. But that’s one thing many conferences are tight on: time.

So as an agent, I arrive with a schedule in hand. For some conferences, I may have just been whisked over from an airport, and have barely arrived before I’m “on.” I love to meet my fellow agents and editors. But above all, I want to meet you writers! But time is short. So I meet with you during pitches, or chat with you during registration, or swap ideas with you during panel talks.  Longer conferences are great because there are more chances for real exchange. Exchange of biz cards, yes, but also exchange of conversation and ideas. There can be time during a cocktail party or in line for breakfast, or just hanging out in the hotel lounge after the main events are over.

But there are often many of you and few of us agents, so when we do get time with you, it’s important to use it well. I’ve done pitch sessions that have run anywhere from 5 minutes to 15. If a writer comes to me and is especially nervous, I understand. Sometimes however, this wastes our valuable time together as we spend our minutes more on getting focused than on talking about a book. In these cases, I think it’s best for the writer to have their pitch written out. If you just admit right up front that you are really nervous and ask if it’s okay to read your pitch, I for one will smile and say of course.  Then you can take a deep breath, read the pitch, and then our conversation can begin from there. And I bet you’ll feel better after that.

Some writers are naturals with pitches and with chatting. And for me, it really is a chat. As if we are sitting together for a moment at a coffee shop, talking shop. These writers smile, and introduce themselves and shake hands. They then sit and say something to the effect of, “I’m here to tell you about my new memoir called ‘About All That.'” And then they say their brief, focused pitch. These authors allow me to then respond with my reaction to the pitch. They listen to any questions I may have and answer them as well as they can. And they ask me questions like what do I think about this sort of book in the marketplace? They listen and allow us to interact, with note-taking happening after our allotted time.  This is all time well spent.

Sometimes writers squander their pitch time because they come to me unfocused. They haven’t thought ahead about the market of their novel (is it YA or mid grade?), or come up with a succinct way to describe the novel to me. So we spend our time together learning about the author, her approach to writing, what she wanted to achieve, the many ways she approached creating this book. Everything but what the book is actually about. And because of that, I can’t give any viable feedback or know if this novel is something I want to look at.

Sometimes writers come into the pitch with only one goal: sell!  I’m not naive. I KNOW that is the goal. But I think this sort of over-focused writer can miss out on great opportunities that lead to the sell. It’s not just about getting that jazzed reaction from the agent and the green light and that book deal. Seriously. It’s about coming into it ready to learn and pick up cues and adapt and make connections. And all of these things can lead you to the sell, so don’t be short-sighted.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A writer comes up to me very confidant with a pitch. She’s ready to sell it, and is sure a smart agent will snap it up. So I hear the pitch. I may be interested, but I’m confused about something so I ask a question. Over confident writer immediately deflates, convinced they’ve failed. Or withdraws, upset (yes, I’ve seen tears in response to questions). Or grows hostile, convinced I’m ridiculous to say no (which I haven’t even said yet) and that there is nothing more I can do for them and so they should just move on to wow the next person.  Every single one of these writers is simply blowing it. Why? Because as long as we have minutes together we can be learning from each other.

I can learn more about the novel in response to my questions. If my concerns are addressed, then maybe I will be interested. The writer can spend time building a relationship with me. Maybe this book won’t fly, but another book might in the future. Why burn bridges? The writer can also be paying attention to my reaction to this pitch. Even if I’m not the agent for you, did I become interested in certain things? Did I become puzzled? Did I express concerns about certain aspects? Then perhaps you can tweak your pitch and your queries to future agents based on this, and be more successful at your next pitch appointment. Ask me, “what do you think?” And if I say I’m not interested, ask me, “do you have any advice that I can use?”

When it comes down to it, I’m looking to work with pros. Even a debut author can be a pro. People who are open to discussion about their books, who are open to suggestions, who are folks I’d consider working with. If you are overly emotional, then I can’t picture you handling changes from an editor or meeting deadlines. If you are hostile or a prima donna, I’m never going to want to work with you. There are many talented people, and even if you are a major talent, if you are sending up flares that you are a difficult person, then I’m not interested.

When I go to conferences, I’m there to meet you, chat with you, and swap ideas. I’m hopeful that I will be finding my next client sitting right across from me. Someone who is professional and interesting and ready to work hard. I meet tons of fascinating people at every one of these conferences. Not all of them end up as my clients, of course. But many of them end up as people who I hope to hear from and interact with again.

I encourage you to remember that a pitch is more than a sell. Conferences are a place to meet people, to make contacts and to learn.  Get questions answered. Try out different pitches for your novel at different conferences and learn bit by bit which parts are most effective and which are not working so well.  Remember all of this can lead to a sell. I always enjoy meeting people who are passionate about their writing. It’s energizing and exciting.

Enjoy the process, and best of luck!

*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.

Agent Monday: Close Encounters of the Conference Kind

Happy Monday! This week I’m getting ready for Saturday’s Push to Publish Conference, where I’ll be on a few panels, plus doing “Speed Dates” with writers. So this seems like the right moment to share a little bit of my own experiences on both sides of a pitch table, as both a writer and an agent. Close encounters of the conference kind can really instill fear. But they don’t have to, and if you keep a few things in mind, they can be so helpful to a writer’s career. And, dare we say it, enjoyable?

Nerves! We all get them.  As a writer, I well remember the sweaty heart-pounding panic that filled me when I realized that right there next to me was THE dream agent or THE dream editor.  Palms became damp just before I’d shake hands. I’d speed talk and ramble a bit.  I did manage to pull myself together enough to talk coherently, but after a close encounter, I felt like I’d aged a few years.  Zowie.

Some of us writer-folk are shy. I’m not exactly the shy type though, so what was going on? First of all, this was all so new to me. Fish out of water, and all that. I didn’t really have a good idea of what was expected of me, or how to act, or what, even, I really wanted from an editor or agent. No wonder I felt awkward.

But this newness was also exciting and challenging. It propelled me to go to the next conference, and then the next to get smarter, more comfortable, less mouth-flappy. I read up ahead of time about the editors and agents who were there. What were they really interested in? What was interesting about them? And what questions did I have for them based on this info? I also spent time at conferences listening more, learning, and talking a ton with other writers there. Fellow writers, I soon learned, were eager to swap thoughts and of course they make great friends, too.

I also think my nerves stemmed from me telling myself that this is it! The big moment! My huge chance! I can’t blow it!!! In this scenario, OF COURSE a writer will be nervous. You see the editor or the agent as your savior. The one person who will make your dreams come true. They are iconic. And you have this one and only chance…

Blah. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think after you are in “the business” for a number of years most of us “get it.” There isn’t one chance, but many continuous ones that build like a chain from one experience and encounter to the next. There isn’t one book, but many books and ideas that will flow from you, each a stepping stone to better and better things, even when some stones seem to be leading you backwards. You are learning and growing. You are meeting people and making contacts. And hopefully you are having some fun, too.

I remember standing in a pitch slam line waiting to talk to an agent. The writers waiting there shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous smiles. And one lovely writer turned and said to me something like, “I just try to remember that they are people. That we all love books. And we are just having a nice little chat. An exchange of ideas.”

Genius. They are people… That, more than anything else I read or heard, helped me so much.

Now that I’m an Associate Agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I see the wisdom of this statement even more. When writers approach me as a person, and share their idea in a friendly way, we connect and enjoy it.

And when writers approach me all nervous and sweaty, I smile and tell them I understand, and that it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna do just fine. Then we enjoy our own little chat. And it IS just fine.

In next week’s Agent Monday post I’ll share what it’s been like for me to now be on the other side of the pitch table as an agent, and some things I’ve learned along the way. Stay tuned!

*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.

Why Conferences? (Or, How I Got My Editor and My Agent)

It’s conference season. Tons of workshops with authors, editors, agents. Panel discussions. Pitch sessions. As you receive glossy brochure after glossy brochure, you’re probably wondering, is it worth it? Why go to a conference at all? Well, here’s an article I wrote a few years back, and I’m including it here in the hopes that it might motivate you to step out of your house, and meet some editors and agents face to face.  Some seriously great things can come from it.

Why Conferences? (Or How I Got My Editor and My Agent)
by Marie Lamba

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Take the time to network with others in the writing biz.

Okay, none of the following can help you if your manuscript isn’t ready. I mean completely free of errors, completely interesting, completely wonderful. But what if it truly is? How can you get on the speedy (and speedy is a relative term here) road to publication? In a word: conferences. Seriously. Here’s how it worked out for me.

First I applied and was accepted to the amazing One on One Conference held annually at Rutgers University (children’s writers only). If you are writing for children, this is the ultimate place to be. The editors and agents there know you have some semblance of talent to be able to get in, and they are extremely available to talk with you throughout the day. You are paired up with an author, an editor or an agent who works in your genre and you get to talk with them one on one for 45 unbelievable minutes. Then you get a 5 on 5 round table discussion with your match plus four other pairs. Plus there’s chatting with anyone you dare to over lunch. Plus there’s a keynote and a panel discussion. Absolute heaven.

I was paired up with the very kind Alvina Ling, editor at Little Brown. Not only did she enjoy my first few pages and ask to see the whole ms (yeah!), but she also asked if I was interested in finding an agent. She recommended a small handful of agents she especially respected that dealt in my genre, and said I was welcome to say that she had referred me. I’d say that was the best $75 dollars I’d ever spent, wouldn’t you?

You know how they say never email an agent a query, especially one who says on her website “no emailed queries?” Well, ha! I decided to be bold, and I found out that when your message line says “Recommended by (insert the name of the editor or top author here…only if they’ve actually recommended you, of course),” that they would in fact read your query immediately. And if all goes well, that agent will email you back in a matter of hours asking to see your whole manuscript. It went well. So I jumped the queue, saving myself about 3 months of waiting just to hear a response to my query. So far so good.

I’d like to say that the response to the manuscript was as fast. You know. The agent waits with baited breath, reads your manuscript overnight, gets back to you immediately. Well, that didn’t happen. So I figured if I didn’t hear back in the next week, or at least the next month, then I was toast. One month went by. Two months. Three. I sent a cheerful little note to check on its status. Three and half months went by.

Blah. So, time for another conference. This time I decide to attend the BEA Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. The agent I’d hoped to get would be there. Perhaps we could meet? I email her. She’s too busy. Still, I’m hopeful about the conference. I tell her I’ll try to get on her line for the one-minute pitch session to say hi. There seems to be a large number of children’s editors on the roster, and I hope to talk to lots of them. Surely not every attendee will be a children’s author, right?

To my relief I am right about this. The lines for the adult fiction editors and agents snake out the doors and through the corridors. People in those lines are lucky if they can see one of their choices. In the room featuring the children’s editors and agents, the lines only have about 20-25 people on them. I’ll get to talk to as many of these folks as I wish. I’m the first in line at the desk of Jim Thomas, Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books. The format is rigid. The organizers ring a bell, and you race to a seat and give your pitch. After one minute, the bell rings again, and it’s time for the editor or agent to talk with you and ask questions. One minute later, the bell rings again and you have to evacuate the seat for the next person. The hope is that by the third bell you’ll have that person’s business card in hand with an invitation to mail your manuscript to them.

I had practiced my pitch ahead of time, driving my whole family nuts in the process. I felt ready. I even had my manuscript with me in my bag (something they tell you never to do…but still). So the bell rings, and I start my pitch and Jim reacts with shock and interest at the topic, and then, to my total surprise, asks if I could read the manuscript to him. (See? It’s a good thing I had it, right?) I fumble through some papers and yank the book out and start reading in a fast and steady pace. DING! Times up. Jim is smiling. “You see that person on the end? That’s Lisa Findlay. She works with me at Random House. Get on her line. I think she’ll like this.”

Wow! Another referral. So I jump onto Lisa’s line. Tell her Jim sent me. Pitch her the book and she hands me her business card asking me to mail sample chapters. Things are really going great here.

I get on the long line leading to Jennifer DeChiara, my sought after agent, and finally get my chance to chat with her. She seems tired but attentive, and I tell her she’s already got my book, but I just wanted to say hi. I discover that even though her website says she responds in 3 months to manuscripts, 6 months or even a year are more realistic dates. Good to know.

Flash forward several months. I haven’t heard from Jennifer DeChiara or Lisa Findlay. Sigh. That’s okay, right? I start working on a new book. I try not to think about it. BUT NOTHING SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING. Then something happens. It’s September and it’s like the publishing world has returned to work from a long long summer break. Lisa Findlay asks to see my entire novel, so I send it. Great!

Then I get an email from Jennifer DeChiara. Something to the effect of: I am reading your manuscript tonight. Okay. Is this one of those form emails or something? I try not to read too much into this.

Then, THE phone call comes. It’s Jennifer, in person, saying all these incredible things we writers only dare to tell ourselves in our deepest slumbers. Would I sign with her? Would I?

So now I’m absolutely floating. I dare to dream and all that stuff. But it gets better.

Within a week, Lisa Findlay gets in touch. She loves the book, has some suggested changes, but would love to sign me at Random House. Me? Me! Okay, after I get up off the floor, and call my husband who seems to only be able to say, “You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” I immediately contact Jennifer to deliver the amazing news.

So both of my pursuits for an amazing editor and an amazing agent were successful, and within a week of each other. Pinch me!

And sign up for conferences. Lots of conferences.