Marie Lamba is the author of acclaimed young adult novels including “Drawn” and “Over My Head.” Publisher’s Weekly called her humorous YA novel “What I Meant…” “an impressive debut” and Kirkus described it as “realistic and well-paced.” She’s also author of the upcoming picture book “Green, Green,” co-authored with her husband Baldev Lamba and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. More than 100 of her articles have been published in regional and national magazines, including “Writer’s Digest.”
She’s also an Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. It was in that capacity that I interviewed her for the quarterly newsletter of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The piece was intended primarily for writers. But even if you’re not an aspiring writer, I hope you find it interesting. (And if you’re NOT an aspiring writer, consider becoming one. It’s a blast. And you meet lots of cool people. Like Marie.)
Be sure to check out her very informative blog here.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an agent and a writer?
A: I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 10. I never guessed I’d be an agent, too. But my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara, saw I had the skills to be a solid agent, so she offered me the gig a few years ago, and I love repping writers and illustrators!
I bring to the table experience in publishing as an editor and a book promotion manager, I’m an award-winning public relations writer, and I know what it’s like from an author’s point of view to create a manuscript, send it out into the world, see it published, and then promote it. This all informs my actions as an agent selecting manuscripts, working with my clients, and selling manuscripts to publishers. My recent sales as an agent include picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult fiction. I’m actively building my client list, and you can find my current list of clients and my submission guidelines here: https://marielamba.wordpress.com/about-marie-the-agent/
As for my writing self? I’m the author of the contemporary YA novels “What I Meant …” (Random House) and “Over My Head,” and the time-travel novel “Drawn.” I’ve had essays in anthologies, a short story in Liar Liar” and more than 100 articles in national magazines, including “Garden Design” and “Writer’s Digest.” You can also find my articles in this year’s editions of “The Writer’s Market,” “The Guide to Literary Agents” and “The Children’s Writer’s Market.” Plus my first picture book, which I co-authored with my husband Baldev Lamba, is titled “Green Green” and it’s coming out through Farrar Straus Giroux in the next year.
Q: What are the benefits of having an agent?
A: Access. So many publishers are closed to non-agented writers. As soon as you have an agent, all of those doors are open. If you have an agent with an established firm (even a new agent which such a firm), that person can pick up the phone and call any editor at any level and get their attention. I know, because I have done just that. J
Career development. An agent will be engaged in growing your career. Getting the best deal for you at the best publisher that they can. Helping you direct your writing in a productive way. Giving you realistic market-informed feedback when you need it.
Cheerleading. An agent will be your number one supporter. Speaking up for you to the world.
Creativity. With an agent taking charge of pitching your work, and managing your contracts, etc., you are more free to WRITE.
Contracts. Your agent will negotiate the terms of your contracts, and make sure everything is in order before you sign. They’ll also be there to make sure things are carried out as promised. And to go to the matt for you if needed.
Q: How should a writer go about finding an agent, and what are some things he or she should keep in mind?
A: There are SO many does and don’ts out there. The first thing you MUST do is finish your manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you simply must do your homework. There are a ton of articles with query submission tips and other insider’s advice posts over at my site http://www.marielamba.com. I do an Agent Monday post nearly every week, so if you subscribe to the site, you won’t miss any. And you must Google the agents you are querying to find their guidelines. Follow those guidelines, or you will most likely be deleted without ever being read. There are great resources out there to help you, including pred-ed.com, querytracker.com, and agentquery.com, plus the annual market books put out by “Writer’s Digest,” etc. And if you are really serious, subscribe to publishersmarketplace.com, even if only for a month, to research agents, who represents who, and what deals are being done in your genre. Great up-to-the-moment info you won’t find anywhere else.
Q: What are some things that would encourage you to represent a particular writer?
A: Professionalism. Someone who has a strong voice. Originality. Someone who is in the business for more than just this one book, and ideally is working on a number of other projects.
Q: What would lead you to reject a writer?
A: Something I’ve seen before. Sloppy or boring writing. Not following guidelines. Obnoxious in the cover letter. Unprofessional online presence — like dissing agents and editors online. Not understanding their readership. Preachy tone.
Q: Are there any current industry trends that you think would be valuable for writers to know about?
A: Career-wise, I think the opportunities for writers are growing the farther away we are getting from the not-so-great-recession. This is a very important thing for writers to keep in mind as they move ahead. Are you creating scaled-back future goals based on the crap the recession years handed you? That is probably a mistake. Expect more and dream big.
As for fiction trends? I’m sure your readers know that Horror is no longer a “dirty word” in the industry, and you’ll see more agents and editors including the word “horror” in their guidelines. In general, novels with speculative elements that also appeal to mainstream audiences are being sought more widely.
I personally don’t represent straight genre fiction, and so I’m speaking from the point of view of an agent who deals with the top commercial presses. (Niche presses that specialize in speculative fiction are a different bag of apples.) In general, for the top commercial publishers, dystopian fiction is a hard sell these days, as are zombies and vampires. Agents have seen a LOT of it, and so have editors. I’ve also seen a ton of fae and mermaid and werewolf stories. That doesn’t mean these are completely dead (they never really die, right?), but it DOES mean that you need to be completely unique if you are approaching this market. If you are writing a dystopian, say, and your book features a fractured society with a wall and a wasteland beyond that wall, well, it is going to feel VERY familiar. Strong characterization is key, as is a unique setting and a fresh voice.
In the YA market, thrillers are still hot, and speculative elements (again, with very strong characterization and a unique take), when blended with an authentic YA voice, are doing well. Middle grade novels are always a strong market for fantasy elements, especially when they are rooted in the real world, and for mysteries and the creepy crawly elements of horror done with a lighter touch.
Strong realistic contemporary novels are longed for across all age groups. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after all the complicated and drama-filled stories — ah, to have a simple story told in an elegant and page-turning way… Diversity is huge! Representing the underrepresented voices in fiction in an authentic way is especially sought after right now. But PLEASE don’t force your manuscript into the diverse category by suddenly giving a character an accent, or a disability. I’ve seen a lot of these, and they ring false.
Thanks for having me here! I wish everyone much writing success.