Agent Monday: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

Q. Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

Q. What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

Q. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

Q. To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and movies?

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

Q. What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Webinar for YA Writers – with Critique and Q&A!

MP910220840Hot summer tip time… Attention writers of YA novels! Literary agent Cari Lamba and I (we’re both from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC) are teaching the live Writer’s Digest Webinar “Write And Sell Your Young Adult Novel – Must-Know Info For Getting Published” on Thursday July 12th at 1 p.m.

This 90 minute webinar will help you craft and sell a novel that literary agents, publishers and readers will love. It covers the YA market (including the 10 things the top NYC editors are asking for right now), tools that will help you craft a strong and focused YA novel, and details on how to create a professional and artful query letter that will impress literary agents.

The webinar includes a Q&A plus a personal critique of your query letter and your YA novel’s opening pages.

A bit about us… Cari and I are both agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.  We represent authors of fiction for children through adults, pitching their novels to all the major publishers. In addition, I’m an author of picture books and young adult novels (including the Random House novel WHAT I MEANT…, and the novels DRAWN and OVER MY HEAD), so along with our literary agent point of view, I’ll bring my YA author perspective to this webinar as well.

*Can’t attend the live webinar? Registration still entitles you to a copy of the on demand webinar, plus the critique. So you can still go for it!*

Interested? Act quickly, the webinar is SOON! Eep! For info and registration click here.

 
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Fix Your Middle Grade Novel

Rear view of class raising handsHi everyone!  Happy Agent Monday!  Okay, YES, it’s Tuesday, but it’s never too late to learn about how to fix your novel. Today’s focus?: the middle grade novel. As an agent, I see so many submissions that are instant rejections because they don’t fit into that middle grade category in a fundamental way.  That’s a book I can’t sell. So is your middle grade missing the mark, and how can you make it really shine?

This Thursday, Agent Cari Lamba and I will be teaching a live webinar through Writer’s Digest called WRITING AND SELLING THE MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL: MUST-KNOW INFORMATION FOR GETTING PUBLISHED. It starts at 1 p.m., includes a Q&A with us, as well a personal critique of your query letter and the first 5 pages of your middle grade novel. There is still time to sign up! For more info, and to register click here. (Note that even if you can’t attend this webinar live, you can still register and get the recorded webinar, as well as get your personal critique.)

In this webinar, Cari and I cover the many ways that writers unwittingly ruin their chances at publication. We realized that there is a lot of need-to-know stuff – A LOT! So if you are writing in the middle grade category, DEFINITELY do your homework before submitting to any agents, whether by attending our webinar, or through extensive research. It’s simply a must.

For example, middle grade novels are geared at 8-12 year old readers, yet, because kids “read up” they are typically about characters aged 10-13 or so. So if your main character is only 8 years old, that’s too young! Also note that middle grade is not synonymous with middle school readers. Those readers are typically reading young adult novels, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Middle grade novels are of a certain length. Go too long or too short on the word count range and you’ll be hurting your story’s chances of acceptance.  Another vital thing to keep in mind?: subject matter and how it’s handled. Can you handle tough stuff? Sure. But the way it is handled in a picture book, vs. a middle grade novel, vs. a young adult novel is vastly different. In the webinar, we’ll cover how to handle tough subjects for this market in an age-appropriate way.

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Study up, writers! The webinar includes a Q&A

There is a lot of ground we’ll be covering, but one important tip to keep in mind is that you must understand where kids are developmentally at these ages. Look that info up, and you’ll find a range of great themes and concerns that can help appropriately shape your story and your character’s point of view.

Also – are you up to date on current middle grade novels? If you are only reading classics, or ones you remember from your childhood, then your own novel may not be up-to-date enough when it comes to pacing and themes and voice.  We’ll cover what elements are essential in great middle grade fiction today, as well as share the top 10 things top editors have personally told us they are seeking in middle grade right now. We’ll also cover how to put together a strong query letter for your novel, and we’ll include examples of queries that actually led to representation and then to book deals.

So is your middle grade novel a good fit for its audience? Or are you creating a manuscript that won’t fit on any shelf because you are mixing up elements, subject matter and point of view? I often have to reject MG novel submissions because of this, so please do your homework, and make sure you understand what a middle grade novel is, and what it isn’t. This will help your novel become one that will make agents and readers alike take notice.

Maybe I’ll *see* you at the Webinar!

Happy writing!
Marie

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Why it’s Positively Medieval!

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Castle drawing by Marie Lamba…from my sketch pad during my college semester abroad in England (illustration copyright M. Lamba)

The DRAWN Haunt party continues! I’m celebrating the 5-year-anniversary of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN all month here. In today’s post I take a close look at those knights in shining armor — why does the idea of chivalry still haunt us? First, a quick reminder! ***Today is the last day to get the Kindle version of my award-winning time-travel novel DRAWN for just 99 cents by clicking here!   This special 99 cent sale ends today, Wednesday 10/11 at 8 p.m., when the sale price will then become $1.99, but only through this Friday. After Friday at 9 p.m., DRAWN‘s ebook will return to its regular $3.99 price.***

To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts this month, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

Now, about why chivalry still makes us sigh. Here’s my essay on…

WHY IT’S POSITIVELY MEDIEVAL!

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“…this book deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops! The author’s imagination and plotting skills are phenomenal. I think this is the 4th or 5th time I have read Drawn, and each time, the second I start that first paragraph, I am a captive in her perfect, imaginary world, and I never want to leave.”
— The Geekery Book Review

A knight in shining armor… Yes, there’s definitely something swoon-worthy here.  But why is a medieval hero so appealing?

It may have something to do with sheer strength, or perhaps with those high leather boots. But what I really think it’s about is a romantic sensibility that took root in those times. Tales of ill-fated lovers like Tristan and Isolde, or Guenevere and Lancelot. Countless ballads of longing and lost love.

This tradition definitely influenced me as I wrote Drawn. In the book, a young artist from New Jersey named Michelle De Freccio has just moved to England with her dad when a guy starts appearing in her sketches. When she meets him in person, she’s pretty sure she’s losing her mind. She’d definitely have to be crazy to fall for a guy who has been dead for several hundred years.  Or to become entwined in his past and the mysteries and dangers that surround him…dangers that include treachery and murder. Talk about ill-fated.

Michelle tries not to get involved, but she’s drawn to Christopher:

He suddenly grabs my arm. Pulls me close. “You are the one who is not of this castle. No one knows of a Michelle from Jersey. Not one soul swapping the latest news in the castle courtyard has heard of you. What is your game?” When I don’t respond, he says through gritted teeth, “Tell me!”

“There’s no game,” I say, my voice unsteady.

“Liar. For some reason you are sent to undo me. Or you plot about things far worse, far more traitorous. And fool that I am, I had thought you were the one who would…”

We are very close now. His intense eyes grow sad. I am all too aware of his fingers wrapped around my arm. Of his face bent toward me. Of his auburn hair falling over his forehead. Of his soft full lips. I again feel myself drawn powerfully to him. Feel my breath catch as his grip loosens and his hand slides up my arm. This is crazy.

MP900385307While writing this novel, I did a ton of research about the 1400s. I wanted to create the feel of another era, but I also wanted to connect to a world that really wasn’t so different from our own. What I found was that people back then spoke of love in ways we can still relate to today. In fact, at one point in Drawn I have Christopher express his feelings using words I’ve lifted from the Paston Letters (a collection of family letters that dates back to the Middle Ages).  Here’s a glimpse at that scene in my book:

I feel Christopher’s hands tighten at my waist.

He swallows. “I realize you do not feel so of me, yet I must avow my heart to you. If we can secure my noble title and wealth through deeds for the Earl, then I will not have need of a wealthy wife.” He takes a deep breath. “And then I could lay my very life down to give you my protection and love, no matter what obstacles rest between us. Your indifference is to my heart a very spear. If I had even the slightest hope you would one day suffer to have me…”

And in a later scene in my book, I have a wounded Christopher sing the following authentic medieval ballad to Michelle:

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again

As a writer, it’s fun to breathe fresh life into these long-forgotten words.  And because some of the phrases I use in my book are from private letters, it feels a bit like spying and then tattling, which I find wickedly entertaining.

But back to the whole knight in shining armor thing.  Maybe the appeal has to do with chivalry.  A man who not only opened the castle door for his lady but also wore her scarf tucked in his armor as he fought to the death defending her honor. These days guys wear sneakers instead of those high boots, they wield cell phones instead of swords, and go off clubbing instead of off to battle…

Fortunately love and romance do remain today. In the pages of books like Drawn, in the stories and ballads of the past, and, yes, in the arms of modern guys, too. Sure, today’s guys may wear sneakers and carry cell phones, but the good ones are still propping open that castle door.

***Remember, the 99 cent sale of DRAWN ends today, Wednesday, 10/11 at 8 p.m. Then the ebook will be sale priced at $1.99 till Friday at 9 p.m. before returning to it’s original $3.99 price. To take advance of these special DRAWN Haunt celebration prices, Click here!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Catching a Spirit

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A Night Owl Reviews Top Pick: This is a thoroughly enchanting novel. The characters are beautifully written, and the story is witty, charming, and an utter delight to read. I could not put it down. This is a fantastic romantic and tender story that will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”

October means dark chilly nights and ghostly goings on. So I say lets have some spooky fun here! I’m declaring this DRAWN Haunt Month in celebration of my award winning novel DRAWN‘s 5-year anniversary. It now has a brand new cover, and every day it’s being found by more and more new readers, including OUTLANDER fans looking for the next smart time-travel romance. I’m so happy that my book is still making readers swoon!

Throughout October I’ll be featuring special DRAWN-related posts about magic, fantasy, spirits, romance, writing, and time-travel (plus some special deals). So cozy up and enjoy the DRAWN haunting! And if you want your own copy of DRAWN to read as you sip hot cider by a crackling fireplace, order your copy by clicking here.

Now let’s kick off the fun with…

CATCHING A SPIRIT

There’s something about touching a letter that was handwritten hundreds of years ago. Or walking through an old graveyard at dusk. Or exploring the abandoned corridors of a musty medieval castle. At these moments, the barrier between the present and the past feels as thin as a sheer veil. The people of those long ago times seem almost palpable. Have you ever felt this?

In a castle I notice the worn steps, the ancient graffiti cut into a wall, and to me the air is suddenly thick with long lost memories, heartaches, whispers.  With people not so different from us. If only I could turn a corner fast enough, maybe I’d catch them unaware. That breathless maiden racing up the staircase to meet her lover. That young knight trying to swallow down the fear of his first battle. With his dagger he etches his initials in the coarse stone wall.  He wishes to be remembered…

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As an artist myself, I made sketches of my hero Christopher as I was working on DRAWN. Here’s one I imagined Michelle might have made in her sketchbook. (Drawing by Marie Lamba – note: copyrighted material)

I guess you could say Drawn is my way of finally catching a spirit by his sleeve, and really getting to know him. In my novel, Michelle De Freccio first draws a mysterious young man in her sketch pad. And later, when she runs into him, she does far more than catch his sleeve – she captures his heart.  At first she definitely doesn’t realize just who and what this guy is. But by the end of the novel she’ll learn just how close the past really can be.

Here’s a glimpse of their first meeting for you. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Drawn:

The smell of cinnamon fills the air. Past the tapestry, a very narrow flight of stone stairs leads toward a dim light. I immediately decide I won’t go up. It’s too confining.

But the cinnamon smells even stronger here. It makes me think of warm cookies and my home from a long, long time ago. I change my mind and climb the steps. A small alcove is at the top and someone sits at a wooden table with his back to me. He studies a paper by candlelight. His auburn hair reaches his shoulders and he looks familiar.

With a jolt I remember the drawing of that guy in my sketchbook. To get his attention, I clear my throat.

In an instant, he stands, grabs my arm and shoves me against the wall. His face is close. His eyes filled with fury.

Sharp stones bite into my back. Tears spring into my eyes. “Let go!” I shout. I try to pull from his grip.

His glare softens, his grip loosens. “Forgive me. I thought…”

“You thought what?” I pull my arm from him.

He takes a step back. “I beg your pardon. I was taken by surprise. There have been dangers…”

I’m rubbing my arm. Blinking away tears.

“I have hurt you.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. He’s around my age and wears a brown woolen cape over an emerald-green tunic that fits him better than most of the rental costumes I’d seen tonight. His square jaw and strong chin add ruggedness to his face, and his eyes…

His eyes are studying me. I feel my cheeks burn. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Let us begin anew. I am Christopher.” He bows his head.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Please, join me.” He pulls out the only other chair.

“Oh.” The space around us feels tight. “I don’t think—”

“Please,” he says.

So I sit. He shakes back his hair and sits beside me. I notice the fine gold embroidery around the wrists of his tunic, the bear-shaped golden clasp that holds the cape around his shoulders. “You really look authentic.”

“Do I?” He seems confused. His eyes are a strange pale green. Like the color of a glow stick just before it fades. Then again, maybe this is just from the reflection of the candlelight.

“Yeah, this is great.” I wave my hand toward his outfit. The candle flickers. “Much more authentic even than the prince or the king.”

His jaw tightens. “Be careful of what you speak, Milady.”

“Careful? Why?”

He rests his chin on his fist. “You are obviously a newcomer, and a delightful one at that.”

“Really?” I rest my chin on my fist too.

“And your words have a most unusual quality.” He leans closer.

“It’s just a plain old Jersey accent.”

“Jersey? I think it is lovely.”

“You do? Huh.”

“I do,” he says, very, very softly.

He leans in even closer.

It’s crazy but I find myself leaning toward him, as if I’m drawn. My heart pounds. The smell of cinnamon saturates the air. I wonder if his lips will be soft like his voice, warm like fresh cookies. Sweet. He closes his eyes. My heart races. Our lips nearly touch when an icy blast blows through the room, ruffles the papers, snuffs out the candle and leaves us both in the dark. The smallness of the room seems to close in around me. I give a nervous laugh. “At least I’m not alone, right?” When he doesn’t answer, I reach out my hand.

He’s gone.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Webinar for Young Adult Writers

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHi fellow writers! Just a heads up that there’s still time to register for the online webinar I’m teaching next week through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter. This may be a good fit if you are currently working on a YA novel and/or trying to get an agent for it.

The 90 minute webinar covers a lot of stuff, including trends in YA, plus what is and is NOT YA material in terms of age, point of view, length, story arc, etc. (as a Literary Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency I see submitting writers trip up on these things all the time). I’ll also cover how to write your best query letter, some insider tips on querying do’s and don’ts, plus I’ll critique your YA query letter afterwards. The webinar also includes a Q&A.
 
It runs live next Thursday, June 23rd (but can be viewed later, if you can’t catch it live), and the cost is $89.99. For more info and to register, you can go here.

As both an agent of YA fiction, and an author of a few young adult novels myself, I’m especially looking forward to helping aspiring YA writers through this webinar. Hope to *see* some of you there next week!

Marie

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Agent Monday: Two New Agents at JD Lit!

YHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  The sun has peeped out for a few hours here AT LAST, so I thought this would be a good time for some sunny news….two new agents have recently joined the ranks of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. So help me extend a warm welcome to Associate Agents Damian McNicholl and Alexandra Weiss!

Damian is a former attorney, and author of the critically acclaimed novel A Son Called Gabriel (CDS Books/Perseus Books Group).  As an agent, he’s looking for great nonfiction and fiction that appeals to a wide audience and makes people think, laugh and sob. In fiction, his interests are accessible literary, upmarket commercial, historical, legal thrillers, LGBT, and some offbeat/quirky. Nonfiction interests are memoir, biography, history, investigative journalism and current events especially cultural, legal as well as LGBT issues that can help lead to meaningful change in society. For more information about Damian, and his submission guidelines, click here.

Alexandra is a Books Writer for Bustle.com, the PR Manager for a local Chicago circus, and an all-around literary bookworm. She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Publishing from Columbia College Chicago, has interned as a publicist, and was an acquisitions editor for the award-winning anthology Hair Trigger. As an agent, Alexandra is looking for young adult, especially in the areas of realism, science fiction and fantasy, and she loves stories that include diverse and risk-taking subjects, including culture, race, sexuality, and identity. She’s also looking  for adventurous, silly, and out-of-the-box children’s and middle-grade books.  And for general fiction, she’s not looking for romance, but she is seeking strong literary voices that take the notion that every story is a love story to new levels. She’s also drawn to books that include uncommon formats, incorporating things like letters, photos, or poetry. For more information about Alexandra, including her submission guidelines, click here.

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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