Agent Monday: 6 “To Do’s” if You Write

Mixed Race girl on floor with a computerHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I know, I know — it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. But I have been SO busy in a really good way with doing agenty stuff. Okay, so I’m STILL really busy, but I do think it’s time to get our Agent Monday show back on the road, don’t you? So here is my “6 To Do’s if You Write” post. Are you doing these 6 things? And if not, shouldn’t you?

Last week, I was honored to be the featured speaker at Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. As I prepped for my talk, I began to think about what would have helped me when I was in college. Back then, becoming a published author still felt like a distant dream. As an aspiring author, what I really needed were guideposts that would help me truly get where I wanted to be.

Now looking back, I realize there were 6 things I did that definitely helped me achieve my dream of being a published author, plus these ensured that writing would be my life-long career. I hope this list will help you, whether you are just starting out, or are in the thick of things, yet feeling stuck.:

  • IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS A WRITER – Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, believe that you ARE a writer. Tell yourself that, and tell that to everyone you know.
  • DON’T BE DETERRED – Plenty of things will get in your way…lack of support…writing that isn’t quite ready for prime time…tons of rejections. Just remember that the only thing that can really stop you from writing is you.
  • BE STUBBORN — BUT NOT TOO STUBBORN – Yes, believe in your voice and vision, and persist in getting your work out there. BUT also be open to revision and constructive criticism. And move on to write the next book, and the next.
  • EXPECT MAJOR SETBACKS – AND TAKE A LONG VIEW OF THINGS – Bad things will happen in your writing life and in your personal life. REALLY bad things. But see what you can take from them and look ahead. You can get beyond it (see Don’t Be Deterred above).
  • MAKE IT WORK IN THE REAL WORLD – Realize that there is nothing romantic about a starving writer. Fit writing in, live within reasonable means, AND find a way to make money. Most published authors do this.
  • KNOW THAT WRITING IS AN ART, BUT PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – While your writing is very personal to you, for publishers it’s a way to make money. If they pass on acquiring your work, it’s not personal, it’s business. Learn how to act professionally (lots of posts on this blog will help you with that), and it’ll help you share your art with the world. And don’t forget to be appreciative to those on your team. Publishing is made up of humans – a lovely thank you goes a long way!

*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: 7 Steps to Writing Success

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:

 

 

  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.

 

*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: On Sticking to Things

Soccer Goalie Blocking BallHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks with a variety of writer friends. Some already published, some working hard to get there. And we started chatting inevitably about careers. An unpublished writer said she was worried about what to write next because it has to get an agent. She has to get an agent or what’s the point? So today I thought I’d chat a bit about setting goals – the good and the bad, and on the goodness of sticking to things with that long view of your career.

Remember, I’m not only a literary agent, I’m an author, too. So I understand how it’s hard to justify in a practical way taking time away from your family, and from a “sensible” income to write as much as you can. Why? Do you have a book deal? Do you have an agent? Do you have a decent income? Many writers do not. And many writers can have an agent but no book deal for a length of time. Or a book deal, or several, and still need another source of income. You should definitely work hard toward goals. You deserve to give your creativity your best efforts. But if you are a writer, you are one no matter what. And you don’t know what is around the next corner. Ups and downs alike.

That’s why I cringe a little when I hear aspiring writers saying things like, I have to get an agent this year. This book has to sell. I’m going to write in this genre because it’s hot now and it’s going to sell.

Hey, it’s smart to know the market. It’s smart to work hard and strive. But I think it’s cruel to your muse to set up goals in a way that will send you the signal to stop. That if you don’t achieve this goal at this time, it’s never going to happen and you should quit.

How well I remember sitting in an accountant’s office with my husband as the accountant frowned over my income and looked over our books. He sat back in his big leather chair, pressed his fingertips together and said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s give your little writing thing, oh, another year. And if nothing comes of it, then you can get a real job.”

My husband’s eyes met mine. I knew he was on my side and believed in me. Even though, despite national magazine article gigs and yes, even a book contract, I still made less than a McDonald’s worker. Far less. I found myself spluttering to the accountant that I wasn’t some hack. That I was a writer. Period. And I could see in his eyes he didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.

Thank goodness I didn’t care. I cared about my craft and my voice and I kept writing. And my income wouldn’t impress an accountant. Maybe my writing income never would. But I love what I do. And that matters.

So don’t quit. You don’t know when the next great thing will come from your efforts. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, your dreams will never come true.

I wonder if that practical accountant tossed his dreams aside along the way. Hm…and now he tries to quash the dreams of every creative that comes into his office. A possible plot!

Boy Playing SoccerI just want to say hang in there, writers. Dream big. Plot your own career with a long and positive trajectory. And enjoy the ride. That is a gift in itself.

*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: On Luck

Green CloversTop ‘o the mornin’ to you all!  Happy Agent Monday AND St. Patrick’s Day.  With the luck of the Irish and pots of gold being much talked about, today I thought it’d be a fine time for me to talk about luck and the writer. Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting a good review, getting great sales, even getting that perfect idea for a book at the perfect moment.  Some people are just lucky, and some people never get any breaks, right? Well…

As someone who is an author and an agent, I’ve had my share of good and bad luck. Looking back, the most significant bad luck I ever had as a writer was completely out of my control.  Debuting as an author (after MANY years of struggling to break in) just as the recession was starting? Beyond my control. Being one of the very first Random House titles to not be automatically picked up by Barnes & Noble and Borders (remember Borders?!!!)? Also out of my hands. And, because of being one of those very first titles, my already written and approved sequel was immediately canceled. This bomb was dropped on me just 3 weeks before my debut title came out.  My editor (and champion) left the business at that moment. Seriously horribly rotten luck, right? Terrible. Tragic. WHY ME AFTER ALL MY HARD WORK rotten luck. And all out of my hands.

I’m sharing this with you so you’ll know I get it. I get that sometimes not only do the stars not align, but the planets crash down on your head and whomp your dreams to pieces. But still, luck is in your control. That’s because it’s what you do from that moment on that makes all the difference.

Do you quit? Do you wallow in self-pity and misery? Or do you make your own luck?

For me, I was determined to make sure that my debut didn’t fail and that my sequel saw the light of day. So I took charge of marketing in every way that I could. I pursued every out-of-the-box idea I could think of and worked non-stop. And because of this, my debut YA novel WHAT I MEANT… didn’t disappear, and neither did I. It was embraced by readers, it went into reprint multiple times, this title earned out its advance, and it is still in print as an ebook to this day. That was all hard won. Also, I took charge of my standalone sequel OVER MY HEAD, which seemed to be doomed. And I put it out myself. It’s earned great reviews and reader praise, and it’s available now in print and in ebook.

And while I would never have chosen this hard route for myself, it shaped me and I’ve taken away so much from these experiences. While I started out with some P.R. and book promo experience in publishing, this twist of luck transformed me into a truly informed book publicity machine (and now I pass this knowledge on to my clients), and it taught me where indie publishing really fits into a writer’s life, and it showed me just how awesome my own agent Jennifer De Chiara is when it comes to supporting a client through thick and thin (something I strive to emulate with my own clients now).

You can take your luck into your own hands, and it’s important to, as a writer, see where the control rests. Sure, you can’t make an agent represent you, but you CAN strive to write the very best most polished manuscript you can and to research to find the right agent, and to follow that agent’s guidelines, and to write the most skilled of query letters.  None of that is luck – but it improves your luck, doesn’t it? It leads you to that pot of gold.

And if that path to the gold is strewn with land mines, it is up to you to chart a new path, a better one. To take control wherever you can and to make your own great luck. To write beautiful stories that will inspire people.

MP900314154The real truth about good luck, I think, is that it is not some passive thing that just happens to people. We have a hand in it. Making sure we say yes to opportunity wherever it rests, and that we work hard to make the most of it. (Haven’t we all seen people, even ourselves, screw up something or run away from something wonderful that has been practically tossed into our laps?) Making sure that when something diverts our good fortune, we learn from that and reroute ourselves back to our own good fortune, making an even better path.

That’s what I think dreams are really made of.

Good luck!

 

*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: It’s an Investment

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Okay, it is so cold in the Northeast that folks coming to the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philly had to contend with cancelled trains. Why? Because the train doors were frozen shut. That’s what I heard. Not kidding!  Fortunately, my trains had working doors and I braved the cold on Friday and Saturday to attend the conference. Was it worth it?  Definitely. I got to meet with a ton of editors, talk to publishers from all over the country and from Canada, and see a number of writers that I know as well. But what really warmed my soul was seeing the products of my first two book deals being launched! Publishing takes time, and agenting takes patience and persistence and lots of work, just like writing does. It’s an investment.

All that time I put into finding the right authors to represent, working with that author to get the manuscript ready for submission, making up the perfect pitch, learning about who the right editors may be for a work, contacting editors, following up, taking deal offers, negotiating contracts… Phew.  I love what I do, but it does take time.  And that time is all worth it when I see this:

ALA Midwinter 2014 - 1

Here are two of my very first deals, published and on display side-by-side at The Holiday House publisher’s booth at the convention. And they are both on sale now. Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet is a fabulous middle grade novel about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the very end.  This is Carmella’s debut novel, and it has already been honored as a Junior Library Guild Selection.  I’m not surprised.  Eliza’s an unforgettable character!  Mending Horses, a YA historical by award-winning author M.P. Barker, is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered. Michele (the M. in M.P.) writes with such confidence and skill that you are completely absorbed in this tale about Daniel, a young indentured servant in 1800s New England, who is suddenly set free and must find his way alone. He finds a family of sorts in an old peddler, a young runaway and a traveling circus, but all is not well. The performing horses are mistreated, and a dangerous secret puts everyone at risk. Daniel fights to protect the horses, but can he save them all?

To view the cool trailer for this book, click here and then click on trailer video.

It was a great moment for me as an agent to hold these two books in my hands. To have a part in bringing these wonderful books to readers. But it took time. And not just for me, of course. The authors spent so much time perfecting their writing, creating their novels, revising them, finding an agent, then revising again, then working on revisions with the publisher. It’s an investment.

But it pays off – over time.

I look at my career as an agent thus far as a start-up business. I put in my own time to learn the ropes, to scout out clients, to build my list, and now, two years into it, things are chugging along. My authors are working on second and third manuscripts for me. I have a number of projects out on submission. New books are slotted for publication in 2015. It’s a process.

I guess that’s what I hope writers will take away from this post. It’s a process. An investment. It takes time. It’s worth it.

I always tell my authors to take a loooong view of their careers. That means don’t just write one book and wait for it to sell. Work on something new while the other is on submission.

Writers, don’t let past discouragements in your career stop you from writing and moving ahead. Learn from it and keep going. I’m a writer, too, and there are many times that I could have stopped and said, enough! But I didn’t, and I’m so glad I gave myself that time. When things derail your writing career, it can be hard to have that sort of perspective. But keep working and you will look back after 20 years of writing and producing work and see that stumbling block as something small in perspective. If writing is your passion, keep going. It’s an investment.

And expect an agent that will invest in you. A good agent will be viewing you over the long career you have ahead of you. Not dropping you if a project doesn’t immediately sell. You will continue to write, to grow and to get better and better. Writers with talent are worth investing in.

Now back to work, everyone!  Put in that time.

*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: Some Depth Perception

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day weekend and spent time with special people.  Writers are special people…and I spent an evening last week with my own special writing critique group the Rebel Writers discussing our own work (cuz I’m an author as well as an agent). And we had an interesting discussion about our own careers as writers and what we do vs. how we are perceived by agents.  Honestly, before becoming an agent myself, I saw things very differently. I thought the most important thing for me to do was to create that one perfect book and that would be what an agent would want. But now as an agent I see things a bit differently. Yes. I want that perfect book. But I also want more from a writer. More writing, yes, and more from the writer as a pro in the publishing world. I’m looking for depth.  So today, I’m offering you all some depth perception.

But wait, isn’t it all about that book you’d choose to represent?  Isn’t a writer’s job just to get that right?  Well… yes and no. Yes – you’ve got to do it right. But I’m representing you, the author. Not just your book.  So if I take you on as a client, that means I’m interested in you and your career over a span of time. Dash out one book and have no patience to fine tune it before we sub to a publisher – then I’m not interested.  Spent 20 years on your novel and never plan on writing another?  I’m also not interested – unless, perhaps, it’s such an earth-shattering book that it’s all that’s ever needed from you in your life (not likely, though). Write beautifully, but you are difficult to deal with? Then I’m definitely not interested. I’ll move on to an author who is the complete package – talented and professional.

So I’m looking for depth, for the complete package.  A writer who is productive, who is professional in manner and rewarding to work with. Someone who is as serious about their career over the long run as I am. I’m investing a lot of time in a client, and if I’m going to do that, it means I expect them to do the same for themselves and their own writing.  Publishers expect that too.

Think of it this way… An editor falls in love with a client’s manuscript that I present to them and makes an offer. They are doing so in good faith that I am giving them a total package author – one that is talented and that the editor can work with. Not a prima donna. Not an argumentative person. Not someone who won’t follow through on deadlines. Not someone who is difficult at every turn.  The publisher is taking on this writer and investing a crap load of money into them that goes beyond that advance – and they would very much like a return on that investment. They are, in essence, building you up as your own brand and developing your audience of readers. But what good will that end up being if you never write another book, or you take 10-15 years before you complete your next volume?

So here’s the depth perception I’m talking about: you, the author, need to work on a number of fronts to make sure you are the total package.  And here’s where I was wrong in my own career as an author in the past: I was very much a one book at a time kind of person.  I wrote the book, and then worked to market it to an editor or an agent and that was my mission.  But I wouldn’t write another book until that first one was repped or sold. I was single-minded and goal-oriented, something that helps me as a writer when it comes to writing a novel till the end, but it was also problematic.

Selling books, getting representation, it all takes time. By waiting for a return on my time investment, I also slowed my career down.  I should have been more productive, I should have been working on the next book, and then the next (though NOT a sequel, because that is a poor investment of time if that first book never sells).  I am sort of a one thing at a time writer, but once the book is complete and sent out, I should have mentally let it go and moved on to another project – still doing what I needed to market it, but also creating the next project.

Writers who continue to write and produce even as they try to get representation for their work are awesome finds for an agent. Say I read your manuscript and fall in love with it, and give you a call…  I’m going to ask you about your goals as a writer. I’m going to see what other writing you’ve done and plan to do in the future.  If this is your one and only piece of writing and you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, it’ll make me pause.  If you’ve got several other projects to show me, I’m going to perk up. You are serious. You are productive.

The other front – the professionalism part of you – should also be well-developed. You need to read deeply. To have realistic expectations in your dealings with agents and editors and realistic attainable goals for your career. You need to understand the publishing business so you’ll know how to talk to an agent, how to deal with an editor, the do’s and don’ts of your desired career. That means research, getting knowledgeable through conferences and through professional writing organizations, which offer a strong educational component through their events, magazines and online forums. And you need decent personal skills. If you can’t speak civilly to people, if you are rude, or passive aggressive or arrogant in your dealings with others – you’d better work on yourself.

When I make that call, I try to suss out your expectations, your professionalism, and if we can work well together. If I detect some red flags, that offer of representation will not be made.  And if, once we start working together, a pattern of difficult behavior emerges, then representation will be withdrawn. Why? Because my reputation is on the line. If I match up an editor with a difficult author, just imagine how many problems can come from that. How will that publisher regard the next author I might present to them after that? Yeah. Not good.

So, back to my Rebel Writers critique group and our conversation last week.  Those writers in my group have the professional part down to a tee. They are wonderful to work with, and understand the business. Any agent or editor would be delighted to work with them. Could they get their work out into the marketplace more? Absolutely.  Not spending enough time on subbing polished and finished works is definitely a missed opportunity.  Could we all be more productive? Many of us have other jobs. Life throws plenty of obstacles at our feet. And it’s hard to keep producing when that last book doesn’t seem to have found a home yet. But yeah. We all need to keep our creative head in the game, no matter what’s going on with our other manuscripts once they are being marketed. We all need to keep kicking ourselves in the pants and write that next book, and that next one.

Because we can get better with each book we write.

Because it shows how serious we are as authors.

Because it will give us a body of work to share with readers once we do find a home in the marketplace.

Because writers write.

And because agents/editors/publishers are interested in the total package.  They are interested in a writer with depth. And creating that depth is totally in your, the writer’s, hands.

 

*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.