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: Tips from My Writer’s Digest Articles

Marie's WD ArticlesHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  And a lazy August Agent Monday it is indeed. Well, not lazy for ME, but the world of publishing definitely slows down at this time of year. Few emails, fewer phone calls, and that means it’s a great time to catch up on reading client work and queries, etc. So, while I do that, I thought I’d point you to some reading you might want to do… like my two articles in the recent issues of Writer’s Digest magazine!

In the September issue, my piece titled “Reader is My Co-Pilot” is all about how to bring a deeper level of reality to your fiction. The trick is to fully draw in the reader by engaging them as the co-creator of your world. The more you invite them to fill in pieces in their own imagination, the more vivid and real your fictional world will become. In the article I include techniques I’ve figured out as an author of my own fiction, and I offer up concrete tips you can use for setting, imagery, emotions, plotting…stuff like that!

In the October issue (which, believe it or not, is now on the stands), my article “I’ve Got an Agent! Now What?” gives readers an inside peek at what you can realistically expect from an agent, what the submission process will be like, how to be a great client, and what are and are not signs of trouble in the agent/author relationship. It’s what I wished I knew when I was starting out as an author seeking an agent.

So check these out if you can. I’d love to know what you think of them.

*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: Too Many Points of View?

MP900321197Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Recently I’ve received a number of novel submissions with multiple viewpoint characters. Today I’m happy to welcome the following guest post by one of my interns – Colin Gironda. As a first reader for me, Colin has his own point of view on why multi POV’s sometimes work really well, but at other times can actually lead to a rejection.

So here’s HIS view of things. Take it away Colin…

A book written from one perspective can sometimes become limited in its scope, but using multiple perspectives in a manuscript can be a great tool because it allows for other characters to have a voice.

The way one character views themselves or others can be different from the way another character does. With two sets of eyes on a person instead of one, you can create better developed characters by revealing different aspects.

Also, perspectives can foil one another. Using this technique, you can place in the reader mistrust or curiosity about another character’s actual intentions. This allows a reader to be drawn deeper into the plot and to become more compelled to discover the truth. This can also help the reader identify more closely with a character –  we are choosing sides and deciding who we like and believe in.

But there can be pitfalls and dangers for writers using multiple points of view as well. Each perspective needs a distinct voice. Without that distinct voice, the plot can feel convoluted; the reader can lose track of who’s doing or saying what.

Each point of view character must also be well developed. If the character isn’t 3-dimensional, or they don’t have a large voice, you may want to refrain from using their perspective. The reader will likely become bored with them or confused at the presence of someone so minor.

When not used properly, multiple view points can spell trouble for your plot, too. Bouncing from character to character too quickly and too often can slow your story down, especially if the storyline itself doesn’t advance enough. Readers can lose track of what’s going on, and when they don’t feel invested in what happens next, or truly know why it matters, they might just stop reading altogether.

Multiple view points really can have multiple benefits in a story. But as powerful as this tool can be, it’s just that – a tool. Don’t let it become a distraction to readers or drag down the pace. Instead make sure it’s enhancing your story, adding depth. Get that right, and the end result will be complex and rich storytelling.

Colin Gironda is earning his Bachelors degree in Creative Writing at Franklin and Marshall College, and is an intern for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City .

*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: Passionate Writing

Highlights Foundation groundsHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I was so fortunate last week to sneak away for a few days to The Highlights Foundation, where I did an “Unworkshop.” That’s where you basically get fed amazing meals, and otherwise do your own thing. In my case, since I’m not only a literary agent but also an author, my “thing” was 3 uninterrupted days of working on my own novel. So inspiring!  In last week’s post, I touched on something I see too much of in submissions: manuscripts working too hard to fit in with what’s currently hot. Is THAT truly your writing passion?

It’s important, amid scrambling to get an agent, to get published, etc., that you don’t lose track of why you write in the first place. Your point of view and voice are unique. Lose that to try and fit in somehow, and you just won’t be you. You have to keep connected with your creative side…even as you dive into the business side of writing. Getting your manuscript ready for submission. Query letters. Literary agent research. Marketing trends. Yeah, it’s all important. BUT if your writing isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, then no matter how much research you do or how much of a “never give up” attitude you have, you’ll never really have the creative successes you so crave.

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At the Unworkshop…a dark day full of creative spark

Every writer needs to encourage his creative side in order to explore and experiment and grow. Always! For me, the Unworkshop was a chance to carve out some mental space without any interruptions. It was affordable for me, and amazing!  But not everyone can get away, of course. Still there are so many ways to nurture your creative self and let your mind daydream and dabble. Here are some things that I do:

– Journal
– Take early morning walks
– Reread a favorite work
– Hide in a library or coffee shop with a notebook in hand
– Turn off the TV in the evenings and instead, spend that time creatively – whatever that means
– Have FUN with my writing, without adding on the pressure of “I gotta sell this,” and then see where things go
– Try to remember what made me want to write in the first place, and hold that feeling close

Hey, life gets busy. We’ve got to live, make money, etc. But writers are artists first and foremost. So take care of your artist. Make sure your writing is your passion, that your manuscripts mean something to you. Only then can your writing mean something to someone else — literary agents included!

So what do you do to keep in touch with your passion while you write? Please share your ideas in the comments. We writers can always use fresh ways to fill our creative wells.

 

*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: Why Some Queries Work

MP900439510Happy Agent Monday, everyone. And dare I say, Happy Spring? Okay, I’m putting away my snow shovel. That’s that. This weekend, as I plowed through queries in my inbox, I started thinking  about why some queries work, and why some just fail to grab my interest. I’m talking about queries that are fairly well-written and professional looking. The answer, for me rests in what makes me buy a book at the bookstore.

1. The Subject is of Interest to Me

Seems simple enough. When I enter my local bookshop, I go directly to the sections that I’m interested in. These could include general fiction, memoir, YA and the children’s section. I do not go to the strictly non-fiction reference section, or the category romance shelf, or the science fiction section. That’s just not my interest.

Likewise, if you query me about topics that I’m not interested in, I’m going to pass you by.

2. The Title Draws Me In

If a book is something generic like: A Breeze Blows, or Time, or whatever, then it’s not going to prompt me to think, Hm, now THAT sounds interesting, and to pick it off the shelf.

Likewise, I think writers querying me often forget that a title is the first thing that can spark interest in an agent. It should give some flavor of what’s to come and make me think, yeah, I’d pick that one up to find out more.

3. The Jacket Copy Sounds Interesting

When I pick a book off the shelf, the very first thing I do, after noticing how long or short it is, is to read the back jacket copy, and the flap copy. Does it build on the promise of the title? Do I want to find out more? If not, I place it back on the shelf and move on.

With queries, this is an important moment for the author. You need to describe the book in a way that will make me want to read those sample pages. If you can’t do that, I won’t bother to read those pasted in opening words, and a rejection will be sent.

Too often, the writer will tell me about how the book was written…like alternate points of view, or in three parts, or in short chapters. I don’t care. I want the story to draw me in. WHAT’S THE STORY? Make me want to read it.

Or they’ll wax on about why their book is important and the message that the writer wants to convey. Honestly, I have to say that’s secondary to THE STORY. If it’s not a non-fiction proposal, that info doesn’t matter much at the outset.

I also mention length here, because, truthfully, if a fun escapist women’s fiction novel is 1,000 pages long, then, nope, I’m not lugging that thing home. Also, if a book is really really slim, as a book buyer I gotta think, hm, is this worth even spending money on?  As a querier, know the proper length for your genre, and try to keep your manuscript within an acceptable length.

4. Opening Pages Make Me Have to Know What’s Next

Me at the bookstore again: Next thing I do? I flip open the book and begin to read the opening pages. Not too many of them, mind you. Just enough to know that the book is not for me at all. Or that I’m loving what I see. That I have to read what happens next. Mind you, I don’t flip to a later chapter to see if things pick up. I don’t let a reader bore me or waste my time. This book is for my entertainment.

Likewise for a query. My guidelines allow for the first 20 pages to be pasted into your query email.  Even if you have been able to pull me in with the subject and the title, and I see the length is right, and the premise sounds really interesting, if those opening pages fall flat for me, there is no way I’ll ask to see the full manuscript.

BUT, if you deliver on all those aspects and have 20 rocking opening pages, I’ll ask for that full manuscript. Just like I’ll buy that book off the bookshelf.

Hey, it’s that simple!

 

*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: How Fast Do Agents Respond to Clients?

Speed skaterHappy Agent Monday! Almost spring time. Take THAT little mound of dirty snow left in the parking lot! Last week I talked a bit about how fast editors respond to agents. This week I’d like to chat about how quickly a writer can expect their own agent to respond to a manuscript when they submit it to that agent. A hot second? A day? A week? A month? Several months? The answer is YES. Here’s why.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I am only one person with one set of eyes, and two hands, and I have a list of clients. Unfortunately there is no organized scheduling of when my clients submit manuscripts or revisions of manuscripts to me. They finish them and hit send.

That means that in a given week, I can suddenly have 6 full-length novels ping into my inbox for a careful review and response. And they can arrive on top of a stack of already received manuscripts from clients. So, the clock starts ticking in a writer’s mind… They expect a quick turnaround. A month at the most, right? Isn’t that what other writer’s get from THEIR agents? Well… not exactly.

Some agents might hand these off to readers, who will respond to the writer with comments – in that case, the agent may not even see the manuscript. Me? I always read my client manuscripts myself. That takes time. Perhaps some projects don’t require a lot of time, and can be quickly handled and answered. If that’s the case, I might be able to flip it back to the writer ahead of other projects in my queue. This can happen with a quick polish where the changes have been tracked, or with a very clean manuscript that needs just a read, or with a shorter manuscript, like a picture book or chapter book that is in great shape. Other projects DO require time and thoughtful comments. Tick tock, right?

And since the agent is only human (gasp – WHAT???), other things should be factored into the writer’s expectations. Things like: did I submit it just before the Christmas holidays? If so, while the agent might be doing work during that time, should it be expected and counted as work time? Hm. Perhaps consider those two weeks off. How about if the agent is off at conferences within this time period? Perhaps spending a few days at BEA and then presenting elsewhere. That will set the clock back a bit (by the way, you DO want your agent doing these things, since it ups their visibility and contacts with editors). And while your manuscript is there with her, it is 99% likely that other manuscripts ahead of yours are also being pitched, and authors are calling, and editors are emailing, and film rights people are demanding attention, and fires are being put out.

So, message to writers: Don’t expect a month turnaround. Expect your agent to do her best.

What do I do when client manuscripts come in to me? Well, I always acknowledge receipt and let them know I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Next I log it into a spread sheet, so I know exactly what came in when, and what is still pending. And I let that list nag at me. I’m one of those people who hates having things unfinished – so I am ALWAYS aware of what I still need to do. I then typically take those projects on one by one. The exception? A quick turnaround project. If I have a tiny bit of time where I can’t even begin to get into a novel, but I can finish up on responding to something shorter, then, yup, I’ll get it back to the writer ahead of others.

My clients are a prolific bunch. So that leads to another exception: multiple projects spilling in from the same client. Okay, so if you do send me a novel in need of heavy revision, and it’s logged in, then two weeks later, you send me a shorter project, or one that is nearer to completion and that I see is nearly market ready, I will take that one and work with you to get it out into the world. What does that mean for the other novel that is tick tocking away in my spreadsheet? It means I stop the clock on that one till the other is complete.

That’s important for writers to know. I will go back to the original project, but I also do represent other writers. I’m moving all of your careers forward in every way I can, which means that I can’t drop everyone else for weeks or months while I’m working on everything that’s come in from you.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a prolific client. But it’s a step by step business. It’s okay to check in on projects and to see where things stand. Your agent-writer communication is important. And it’s also important to know that the “well, my agent ALWAYS gets back to me in a month” comment from other writers needs to be taken with a vat of salt. If you find yourself waiting more than a month, I say look at the real situation at hand. Is a month realistic for your project, given the form it’s in? Is your agent responding personally to your submissions while others get “reader’s reports” perhaps? Is the timing a factor? (Holidays, conferences, etc.?) Is the agent already amid another project from you, and therefore dealing with that one first? Or have you since sent one (or more than one) project that is a hotter property or a quicker turnaround, and therefore keeping her currently busy? Just how busy is your agent?

Chances are good that she is VERY busy. I’m working ALL the time on my client’s behalf. So trust in that. Communicate. Being aware of all that she is dealing with can help you to see what is realistic.

Then write more while you are waiting!

 

*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: How Fast do Editors Respond?

MP900341375Happy Agent Monday, folks! Hopefully, like me, you are some place where spring is FINALLY trying to assert itself. And it feels about time. Speaking about time… (See what I did there?) This past weekend I was delighted to be a speaker at the Eastern PA Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Forward event. Our panel took a bunch of questions from writers, including this one: How long does it take for an editor to respond to a submission from an agent? One day, one week, one month, three months, longer? My answer was: YES. Here’s the long answer:

The truth is that sometimes editors respond in a flash, and other times, well, not so fast. There are a ton of factors at work here, and this likely does not reflect on the clout of your agent at all (since I suspect some writers might be thinking, hey, my agent didn’t hear back from so and so for three months — maybe my agent’s not bad-ass enough).

First of all, it can depend on the submission. Picture book manuscripts can be read at once, while novels will take some time. And an editor will have a pile of novel manuscripts to read through that have been subbed by other agents as well. Some manuscripts are completely timely, and so demand immediate attention, like if something is in the news NOW. And that can prompt a fast read.

Second of all, it can depend greatly on the editor. Some editors are just so swamped, that try as they might, they find themselves putting out fires instead of staying on top of submission piles, even if there is a really tempting manuscript waiting to be read. Sometimes it takes action on that manuscript, like another editor putting in an offer, before that editor puts that read at the top of their priorities. Why is an editor so swamped? Well, they can be working somewhere with limited support staff, and a high volume of responsibilities. It can make a real difference when an editor has assistants to log in submissions, to pre-read for the editor, and to help with their many time-consuming tasks along the way.

And it can depend on how the imprint acquires things. Some tippy top editors can just walk into their publisher and say, “I want this. I want to make an offer,” and they can be quickly given the power to make a certain offer. With other editors, they may need to wait for scheduled acquisitions meetings to present their case for a title they are interested in. And at certain places, no matter how high up an editor is, they first will have other editors give it a read and an opinion before taking it to acquisitions…and each of those editors has their own work load to contend with.

So you can see that you can’t always gauge the interest of an editor or the ability of your agent by the time of response. As someone at this past weekend’s event said, publishing is a business of hurry up and wait. It can move slowly, and it can move very fast. That same, carefully considering imprint can suddenly do a turnaround and have an offer in within a day if they feel they must (like when they know another offer is already on the table and it’s do or die).

What can an agent possibly do to speed this process along?

– Well, she can target her submissions very carefully. I only send to editors who I know are looking for this very type of manuscript, and who have a special interest in the subject matter.

– She can pique the editor’s interest when she pitches, so that the editor will really want to read the submission as quickly as possible. When I pitch to an editor, I really try to put in their mind what makes this particular project exciting and unique. And when I then send the requested manuscript to the editor, I add in a note detailing sales hooks that the editor can use to convince their publisher that this one is really worth an offer.

– The agent can keep on top of things. I always make sure that the editor did, in fact, receive the submission. I check back every few weeks in a pleasant, professional way, to see if they’ve gotten to it yet.

– And the agent can learn from submissions which editors are most responsive and which never reply at all, because, sadly, there are a few outliers to watch out for. If an editor, for whatever reason, never responds to any of my calls or emails, then chances are pretty good I won’t be pitching to them again any time soon. Sometimes I learn that something was going on in that editor’s life at that time which would explain this lack of response as a mere blip — then I’ll make contact with that editor again and give them another chance. But in some cases, I learn this is just par for the course, and I’ll spend my time (and my client’s time) differently in the future.

So there you have it. The long and short of submissions!  I’ve had quick acceptances and quick rejections. And I’ve had submissions take a long time with an editor, and wind up with a robust offer. It can be all over the place. As an agent, I try to be as efficient as possible on my end, and as a writer, you can do the same.

Waiting can feel like FOREVER, I know. The best antidote? Work on your next book and make the time really pay off.

 

*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.