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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Interview with Marie Lamba, literary agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Agency and author

Marie Lamba
Note: Don't ever miss a post on Quick Brown Fox. Fill in your email in the box to the right under my bio, and get each post delivered to your Inbox. ~ Brian

Marie Lamba is the author of the picture book Green Green (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017), of the upcoming picture book A Day So Gray (Clarion), and of the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head, and Drawn. 
Her articles are in more than 100 publications, and she’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, has taught classes on novel writing and on author promotion, and belongs to The Liars Club. 
Marie is also a Literary Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC, where she represents picture book writers and illustrators, middle grade, YA and adult fiction, plus memoir. You can follow her on Twitter @marielamba, and like her Facebook page: Marie Lamba, Author, and visit her blog here.

QBF: Marie, a big welcome to Quick Brown Fox.
Marie: Thank you so much for having me here!

QBF: On The Jennifer De Chiara Agency's website, you express interest in Middle Grade and Young Adult books with a STEM tie-in. Can you expand on that?
Marie: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. When fiction ties into one of these areas, it adds a dimension to the work that really appeals to schools and libraries, because they are looking for books that encourage kids to nurture these skills. Books with a hook – meaning they have something about them that easily draws people to them – tend to sell better. But more importantly, a STEM tie-in is so helpful to kids who are interested in these topics. They love to see themselves reflected in literature in a positive way. This is especially important for girls because we need more girls in these fields.
Some great examples of STEM tie-in books I represent? Check out The Friendship Experiment (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a debut middle grade novel by Erin Teagan about a science-loving girl struggling to find the perfect formula for her mixed up life. Also, give a look at To the Stars! (Charlesbridge), a picture book written by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong, which is about Dr. Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space!

QBF: Also, you mention looking for MG and YA novels with diverse points of view.  What sorts of voices are you hoping to find in submissions?
Marie: I’m a strong believer in representing all voices and points of view in literature. That means representing stories with folks from diverse races, LGBQT people, various religious backgrounds and nationalities, as well as people with disabilities.
My own kids are of mixed race, and I never saw mixed kids represented as heroes in stories, so as an author myself, I wrote two young adult novels that did just that: What I Meant… (Random House), and Over My Head. The response that I got from mixed kids around the world was moving – they really appreciated seeing themselves reflected in books.

QBF: Any other books you’re especially looking for? Anything you see too much of or that seems overdone these days?
Marie: I’ve definitely seen enough of the snotty popular teenage character and her crew ruling high school type of books. Do we really only care about being popular? Or about snagging that hot popular guy who seems shallow but secretly has a heart of gold? Instead, I’d love to see more young adult novels that are nuanced and that reflect the complexities of what teens really go through these days.
I’d also love more heartfelt middle grade novels that make me laugh but that also make me tear up and ache for the main character.
And I’d love to find works that reveal true heroes – stories that we can all be inspired by.  Oh, and some fun middle grade fantasy that doesn’t feel like a copycat of something already out there.  

QBF: Can you tell us about your process when you’re considering a project…
Marie: Sure! First comes the query letter. Is it well-written, and does it draw me in? Honestly, if a writer can create a one page letter that is compelling, then I’m not going to have faith in their work.
Next, and only if I’m interested in what the query said, I’ll read the 20 pages pasted in below the query (my guidelines allow that). Often I’ll lose interest within just a few lines, simply because the writing isn’t of good quality.
But, if I zoom through those pages and I’m longing to find out what happens next, I’ll Google the writer to make sure what I find online is professional and positive. If I find that the writer has nasty posts bashing agents, editors or writers, or I find the author is in some way offensive online, then I’ll reject that person. Remember, I have to work with them over the long term. But if everything looks good, I’ll ask for the full manuscript.
If the full not only lives up to its promise, but completely wows me (and it feels like the type of project I know I can help the writer with and market to commercial publishers), I’ll schedule a call with the writer to chat with them about their goals and expectations. If we seem to be on the same page, then I’ll offer representation.

Green Green – Marie's latest book, available from
Macmillan Canada here and Macmillan US here.
QBF: Are there things you come across in query letters or manuscripts that will get them immediately rejected? If so, what are a few of them?
Marie: Yes! I think all of these are no-brainers.  Like if the writer is obnoxious, saying they know agents are all greedy and not interested in quality, or they include anything rude and unprofessional. If the writer doesn’t address me by name (then I know it’s a cut and paste to everyone), or says things like Dear Agent, or even Dear Sirs! Whenever a writer sends out a query to all agents in the world (all cc’d), I delete without reading it.
If the writer includes attachments, makes the query itself an attachment, or asks me to look at online links rather than giving me a query. Also, poor grammar and sloppy writing is, of course, a no-no. As is sending me things that I specifically say in my guidelines that I don’t represent.

QBF: How do you decide if a manuscript is worth considering?
Marie: I’m drawn in by the description, and then? The writing really adds to my interest and excitement. If I feel lost in the writer’s world and just have to see more, then I know there might be something special there.

QBF: How many pages do you usually read before you give up on a manuscript?
Marie: It varies. Terrible writing can stop me within a line or two. Wonderful writing can pull me through the initial 20 pages and get me to request the full, but sadly, the majority of manuscripts do tend to lose my interest by around 50 pages in. I suspect that writers spend so much time polishing their initial chapters, but everyone should really pay attention to pacing and structure throughout so that the quality shows up on every page.

QBF: Besides the writing and publishing credentials – and loving their work, of course – is there anything else you like to know before you decide to represent an author? Do you like to meet with prospective authors?
Marie: I have clients all over the world, some of whom I’ve never met (but would love to some day!). But if I’m interested, I always connect with a writer over the phone before offering representation. I want to make sure that they are cooperative and open to edits, and that they know they must take a role in marketing their own writing online and in person. I also want to understand what they’re looking for in an agent and to see that their professional expectations are realistic. Also, I want to be sure that we click, since we’ll be partners for, hopefully, a long time in their career. 

QBF: Can you tell us something about how you work with authors….
Marie: As an author myself, I take an author’s career very seriously. I know we writers want to know what’s going on in the background, so I always let my clients know when things have gone out, to whom, and I share editor responses as they come in. Communication is so important, so I really try to keep my clients in the loop.

QBF: How much editorial work do you do with your clients?
Marie: I’m extremely editorial, which means that if a novel needs work, I’ll point out specifics that need attention, as well as offer up suggestions. I work closely with my authors in order to make sure that submissions are in their very best form before going on submission to editors. While this takes a lot of time on my end, it’s proven very worthwhile, and editors have reacted so positively to submissions that I’m happy to put in the time on this aspect.

QBF: Can you tell us something about how you pitch to publishers. Do you make preliminary editing suggestions to your authors before pitching the work to a publisher?
Marie: Once the manuscript is in tip-top shape and I’ve worked with the author to create an appealing brief synopsis and a tight author bio, I next spend time shaping my verbal pitch. Sometimes this takes me days to get just right. It’s so important to capture the essence of the work and to convey to an editor why they should be excited to read it.
Next I spend a solid amount of time pulling together my list of editors, and I research recent developments to make sure that these folks’ interests haven’t shifted. Then I get on the phone and start calling, and pitch the book to the editor. I then follow up with a well-crafted email that includes a bit more about the book and the author, and attach the manuscript, the synopsis and the bio.

QBF: About what percentage of books that you submit to publishers actually get accepted?
Marie: Great question! I’ll never have the answer to that one – because this is a subjective business and it’s impossible to know which books will be snapped up immediately and which ones may not find a home. I believe that everything I send out is compelling and of high quality, but if the market is starting to move away from an element in a book or an editor has something in the pipeline that feels a bit too similar or they, for some reason, just don’t fully connect with a project, editors may pass.
I do think it’s important as a writer to know that your agent will do everything possible to find a home for your work, but getting an agent doesn’t guarantee a book deal.

QBF: Is there any book (or books) that come to mind that taught you something about the publishing industry, and what did it teach you?
Marie: Good question! For me, success in this industry really rests in writing a well-crafted book. So I tend to read books about the writing craft, more than about the industry. One of my very favorites as a writer and an agent is Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. It breaks down how books can fail when it comes to plotting and structure and tension, etc. And it includes ways to fix these elements. Knowing these elements helps me spot weaknesses in works.
And I’ve found it pays to listen to what editors say to me when they do pass on a client’s work. Sometimes these comments point to issues in the manuscript that can be revisited, and sometimes we’ve been able to address these issues in a revision, send it back out into the marketplace and seal some really sweet deals.
Best of luck to you all with your writing!

Query Marie at: marie.jdlit@gmail.com
Put "Query" in the subject line of your email, and please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email (no attachments), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis within your query letter. For her full submission guidelines see here.
  
Author Jennifer Mook-Sang
Brian Henry will lead Writing for Children & for Young Adult workshops on Saturday, May 13, in Caledon at the Bolton Library with Yasemin Uçar, senior Editor at Kids Can Press and author Jennifer Mook-Sang (see here), on Saturday, May 27, in St. Catharines with Anne Shone, senior editor at Scholastic Books (see here), and on Saturday, July 29, in Collingwood with literary agent Monica Pacheco (see here). 
Note: For updated listings of Writing for Children & for Young adult workshops and for weekly Kid lit classes, see here (and scroll down).

And don't miss the June in Algonquin Writing Retreat,  Friday, June 2 – Sunday, June 4 or Monday, June 5, at Arowhon Pines Resort. Details here.

Other upcoming workshops include: “You can write great dialogue,” Saturday, June 10 in Guelph, with author Hannah McKinnon, (see here) and Saturday, July 22, in London (see here) and “How to Write Great Characters,” Saturday, June 17 in Burlington (see here).

Author Hannah McKinnon
This summer Brian will be leading three creative writing courses, introductory to advanced:
Exploring Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, July 4 – August 22, in Burlington
Next Step in Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, July 5 – August 23, in Burlington
Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday afternoons, July 5 – August 23, in Burlington
      Details of all three courses  here.  

For more information or to reserve a spot in any Saturday workshop or weekly course, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca
Read reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Navigation tips: Always check out the labels underneath a post; they’ll lead you to various distinct collections of postings. Also, if you're searching for a literary agent who represents a particular type of book, check out this post. 

4 comments:

  1. I appreciated Marie Lamba's candid, enlightening answers. It's interesting and helpful to hear an agent's point of view!

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  2. A well - grounded interview and truly educational for anyone serious about their writing path.
    Thanks for sharing this Brian.

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  3. What a great interview. Thanks to QBF and Marie Lamba!

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