Monday, October 3, 2016

ASK THE AGENT, PART 2: By Sherri Jones Rivers

     I first "met" Vicki when she responded to a twitter nonfiction pitch about a year ago. I sent her, as requested, my manuscript, along with author notes and bibliography. I didn't really expect much in return, as I was well aware of the busy life of an agent. Boy, was I surprised. She sent an email with several paragraphs, including what she liked, as well as suggestions for improvement. I can tell you that she is thorough and caring in her approach to authors.  I got to meet her this summer at WOW, and I found out she can add dancing to her talents.


    What are you specifically looking for!

    I am currently looking for board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, and adult. I am interested in nonfiction and fiction in all genres. I especially love thrillers and elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it's out of the box and it will make me think and think, long after I'm done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.

   What things does a writer need to think about when approaching agents?

   There are many things to consider. First, does the writer have a need for an agent? Or is s/he educated on the publishing process and has the ability to negotiate contracts? Does s/he want to submit to closed houses? While these are just a few of the many questions a writer should consider, understanding what an agent does is just as important. 
    Before querying agents, a writer should have the general knowledge of the publishing process and industry. Lots of research should take place before sending out manuscripts. Why is s/he submitting to this particular person should be a question to ask and answer.

   What can a writer do to be better prepared to submit?

   VICKI:  Attending writers' events/conferences and participating in contests will help educate writers and will provide wonderful networking opportunities. Receiving feedback on paid critiques from published authors, illustrators (if applicable), agents, and editors is also important. Also being in a critique group (or several) is a great thing that every writer should do in all stages of submission and beyond, even after a writer has accepted representation from an agent. Faithfully visiting the library, and reading, reading, reading is also important. Studying the market and competitive titles provides a basis for a writer to see how his/her manuscript measures up. You can research this further at Bookstores, and Publishers' Marketplace.

   What do you think your strongest asset is as an agent?

   While I think I have many, I love the collaboration process and like to think I provide my clients with lots of suggestions for improving the strength of their manuscripts. Our working together as a team is important to me and to the success of our author-agent relationship.

    How can a writer best determine the time when a manuscript is ready to share?

    Being involved in a critique group a writer feels works for them, or having a writing partner to share finished manuscripts with is something a writer should do before sending that manuscript out. Have it proofed, and not just for punctuation and grammar. Have your writing partner or critique group look for inconsistencies. Have them critique your pacing, main character(s) and their development, your dialogue/language/diction, voice, and setting.
     While there is such a thing as over-revising, a writers should consider and revise any areas within the manuscript where the comments resonated with him/her. After a final revision, writers should distance themselves from the manuscript for a few weeks. Then, read it out loud. This should be a great indicator if the manuscript is ready.

   What's your process after you get a manuscript you think has promise?

   VICKI:  If I read one that lingers with me--those characters are floating around in my mind, compelling me to think about them and their journey, I will email and request to see other manuscripts. I'm more about building a client's career than selling one book. Of course, it's fine if the writer doesn't have anything else ready, but I do consider many things before scheduling a phone call.
   But, if it feels right, via email, I schedule a phone call. I have the opportunity to speak with the writer and I hear the enthusiasm in his or her voice, and they ask the right questions, and we connect on a personal level---and I feel I've found a dream client and I'm ready to work hard to make their publication dreams come true....I offer representation.

   Can you give us a few of your most important "Do's" and "Don'ts" when submitting to you.

   VICKI:  With a query letter, and I see this often, a writer apologizes for being unpublished. It often comes across as a writer not being confident in what they are are trying to pitch. The most important thing for a writer--be confident! Believe in your manuscript and in yourself. Highlight the things that are relevant to your writing career and omit the things that aren't.
    With a manuscript, a writer should know the genre, targeted age group, and word count, and each should be listed correctly on the title page. Many times this information isn't listed on the manuscript or even in the query. This makes me wonder if the writer knows what genre and targeted age group they're writing for. And if they don't know, how will I? Remember: A rejection is a rejection, but you've made another connection in the world of publishing. For me, I have a detailed database. I keep track of everything. Always try to leave a pleasant impression.
     The most important "Do": Research me! (Vicki asks that if you submit to her, Please put "GROG Post Query) in the subject line.)

     Vicki is an Associate Agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency based in New York City, which is a full service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer's Digest Magazine. Vicki has a strong background in business ownership and comes to the agency with over nine years of working as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI, Northern Ohio.



  1. Appreciations to both Sherri & Vicki for all this info.
    There is always so much to learn about publishing, especially for the children's market.

  2. Thank you for bringing us part 2, Sherri and Vicki. Really helpful information.

  3. I am currently looking for board books, picture books, chapter books, middle-class, young adults, the new adults and adults. I am interested in the scientific literature and fiction in all genres. I especially like thrillers and bizarre elements, creepy stuff. If it is out of the box, and it will make me think and think for a long time after you finish reading, send to me. On the other hand, I miss the books that make me laugh, cry, and wonder about the world.
    Oxbridge Masters