Friday, April 29, 2016

Agent Interview & Critique Giveaway with Victoria Selvaggio of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (JDLIT)




Today we’re playing 20 Questions with my very own lovely agent, Victoria Selvaggio of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Welcome, Vicki!

When I was querying, I loved checking out all the agent interviews as part of my research. It was a great chance to get a feel for a prospective agent to see if we'd connect outside of their standard submission guidelines. So if Vicki is on your list (which she totally should be, just sayin’ (-:), I hope this helps you guys find your connection as well!

Oh, and in addition to spending some time with us, Vicki was also kind enough to contribute a query and first 10-page critique to one lucky writer. Yup. Lovely and generous! For more on Vicki and her submission guidelines, you can check out her JDLIT page here.

MEL:  QUERYING MINDS WANT TO KNOW: ARE YOU CURRENTLY OPEN TO SUBMISSIONS? AND HOW LONG IS YOUR GENERAL RESPONSE TIME? 

VICKI: SUBMISSIONS:
Yes! I am currently open to submissions, and I’m ACTIVELY building my client list. I represent all genres and all age categories (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all 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.

VICKI: RESPONSE TIME:
For clients, I respond daily.

For inquiries and questions, I generally respond within 1-2 business days.

For queries and manuscripts, I tend to be “slow” in my response due to my personalized rejection letters and the influx of submissions I receive. My response varies from 4-6 months to 7-10 months (cringe!). BUT I welcome those who’ve submitted, to follow up with a kind reminder after the noted response time on my website and the agency’s. For kind reminders, I generally respond within 7 business days.

I have contemplated using a form letter vs. my personalized letter, which, many will agree a form letter, while not as informative, does speed up the process…but for now, as an author myself, I rather take the time needed on each submission. Unfortunately, getting back to everyone in a timely manner is not an easy task, while handling the many things that an agent is required of on a daily basis.

MEL: NEW WRITER / PUBLISHED WRITER: DOES EITHER WEIGH IN MORE THAN THE OTHER IN YOUR DECISION TO OFFER REPRESENTATION?

VICKI:
Simple question…NO.
I consider many things before offering representation. This agent-author relationship is something that I take very seriously, and knowing that I connect with an author on a personal level is very important to me. An author may have hundreds of publications, but if I don’t feel that connection, or if I’m not passionate about their manuscripts (building their career) it would be unfair to waste their time and mine.
Being professional and having the ability to communicate are also important factors in my decision (and while being a client). When a person is incapable of either of these…NOT a good fit for me!

MEL:  WE ALL KNOW HOW BUSY AGENTS ARE. DOES YOUR HECTIC SCHEDULE STILL ALLOW A PERSONAL RESPONSE TO ALL QUERIES?

VICKI:
While I commented on this above, hectic doesn’t even come close to what an agent’s schedule is like. But while I’m “quite” busy... I still personalize my rejection letters. As an author, I’ve been on the other side of the desk and I know how valuable feedback can be, even if it’s only a few sentences. For me, I want the person to know why I’ve passed on their manuscript. And, if that person happens to receive similar feedback from another agent and/or editor, possibly it’s something to consider when revising.

MEL:  JUST BETWEEN US *LEANS IN* ...IN A SEA OF INBOX QUERIES, DOES A COOL OR WACKY TITLE IN A SUBJECT LINE PROMPT YOU TO SNEAK THAT QUERY UP IN THE CUE? 

(DON’T WORRY, WE WON’T TELL)

VICKI:
Another simple question.
Is everyone leaning in? I’m not a BIG fan of the query letter. Shocking! I know. I tend to scan everything, absorbing the information that is important for my review. Meaning, I move on to the manuscript within seconds (seconds!).
So no…the title won’t make me sneak that query up in the cue.

MEL:  LET’S STEP OUTSIDE OF THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR A MINUTE. *HOPS OVER SLUSH PILE* *MOSEYS ARM-IN-ARM* ...WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU’D LIKE A QUERYING WRITER TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR AGENTING STYLE? 

VICKI:
The reason as to why I became an agent. We are all destined for the “right” path. Becoming an agent was mine! After several years as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, and becoming a published author myself, I found myself limited on what I could do to help writers and illustrators reach their goals. I was able to provide tools (education, motivation, inspiration), but building careers was out of reach, so I strived to make it reachable.
For me, I love, love, LOVE, working one-on-one with my clients!

While all jobs have their disadvantages, I can’t seem to find many as an agent. I love going to work every day. It’s as simple as that!
My dream client:
·      Hard-working
·      Intelligent and knowledgeable about the publishing process
·      A good understanding of business and the market
·      Respectful
·      Patient
·      Realistic
·      Sets goals and reaches them
·      Great communicator and open to sharing thoughts/feelings, especially if we disagree
·      And finally, has researched me—feels there’s something that will “click” when we talk for the very first time, regardless if it’s those first couple of e-mails, or my telephone call offering representation. Connection is key and not just with the story. I want to build lasting relationships with my clients, and I want my clients to feel the same way!

MEL:  RED-PEN QUESTION: WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST WRITING OR QUERYING PET-PEEVE?

VICKI:
With a query letter (while I scan them, I see this often!), many times a writer apologizes for being unpublished. Depending on how this is written, it may come across as a writer not being confident in what they are trying to pitch (the reason for the query—get an agent and/or editor’s attention). The most important thing for a writer—be confident! Believe in your manuscript and in yourself. Remember, it’s fine if you’re not published.  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?
In the past, have I guessed? Sure, but as an agent, I shouldn’t have to.

MEL:  #MSWL: IS THERE A MG CONCEPT YOU’D DROOL AND KITTEN FIGHT OVER? 



VICKI:
Hmmm…I tend to get a lot of everything. Ask for “out of the box, weird, creepy” and it appears.
I’d love to see more fairy-tale-themed and Greek Mythology-themed manuscripts. And something I haven’t seen a lot of is manuscripts that weave elements of Astrology or use the Zodiac Signs, which I find so fascinating. Not that I believe in horoscopes…but the premise has potential (I’ll pen a manuscript on this one day…unless someone sends me one!).

MEL:  SLUSH VS. ONLINE CONTEST: DO YOU FEEL EITHER ONE HAS AN ADVANTAGE OVER THE OTHER? 

VICKI:
I’m experienced with both—reading queries from my slush pile and participating in online contests. Overall, I do feel the contests have an advantage as they offer the freedom to select those manuscripts that connect with what I’m looking for. Additionally, some contest organizers work with the participants or have mentors who work with the participants, helping craft those pitches and/or the query letter for the contest.
I have requested manuscripts from both, though. And I have offered representation due to both (those who submitted to me directly and those who submitted to me through a contest).
Do I think writers should do both—absolutely! I will note, though, that if you do both, make sure to notify agents and editors who may already have your manuscript, that you’ve received a request or an offer (if it happens).

MEL:  SPEAKING OF ONLINE, HOW IMPORTANT IS A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM TO YOU?

VICKI:
Will I not offer representation because someone doesn’t have a social media platform? No. If I love the manuscript, this won’t deter me. But if I offer representation and the person accepts, I will encourage ways for my client to begin and build their social media platform. With today’s technology, it is quite simple and affordable to have a social presence. If not a website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and starting a blog are a few places to begin. The most important thing: how can your audience find out about you and your newly released book(s)?
Finally, what genre are you writing for? Some factors are definitely more important when writing nonfiction (credentials/creditability).

MEL:  RAVENCLAW? HUFFLEPUFF? GRYFFINDOR? OR SLYTHERIN? (IMPORTANT QUESTIONS)...INTERVIEW PEN DOWN. If anyone hasn’t been sorted yet, here’s the link. I’m a proud Ravenclaw, btw.

VICKI:
Well…we have more in common now—I’m a proud Ravenclaw, too!

MEL:  IF YOU LIKED THE FEEL OF A QUERY, BUT FELT THE STORY WASN’T QUITE “THERE” YET, WOULD YOU ASK FOR AN R&R (REVISE AND RESUBMIT)? IF SO, HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU GENERALLY EXPECT THE WRITER TO RETURN THE REVISED MANUSCRIPT OR PAGES TO YOU?

VICKI:
Yes. And as a hint, I always ask for revision (I generally send the manuscript back with comments, track changes and a detailed e-mail.) before offering representation. Why? Because I want to see how the writer and I will work together. I also want to see how the writer uses my track changes and comments—will mine be accepted, or will the writer use them as a guide, revising in their own voice (hint…revising in their own voice is what I want to see).
In most cases, I won’t put a time limit on a revision. Why? While I want to know that a writer can meet deadlines, I want the focus to be on perfecting the manuscript. Deadlines will come from me, but generally after representation has been offered and accepted.

MEL:  ALL ABOARD THE TARDIS! PAST, PRESENT, OR FUTURE: WHAT STORY WOULD YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE TO JUMP INTO? 


VICKI:
Every conference and event I present at, I ask for this and I’m still waiting!
I LOVED the movie KING KONG. Such a fascinating premise, and I’d love to see this rewritten.
Only request:  I don’t want KING KONG to die in the end.


(US TOO, VICKI. US TOO )-:)

  

MEL:  YOU’RE STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR. WHAT BOOK, TELEVISION, OR MOVIE CHARACTER WOULD KEEP YOU THE MOST ENGAGED UNTIL THE REPAIR GUY CAME?

VICKI:
I would have loved AUTHOR—can I cheat? How about I revise your question? Writing is revising!
Most who know me personally, would know this answer:

STEPHEN KING



I find his path to publication fascinating.

I find his published works to be more than enjoyment for reading. For me, they’re instruments/tools—I’ve learned so much on mastering voice, playing with a manuscript’s structure, and even pushing those standard writing rules a tad. His publications encouraged me to write about the sweet and innocent, while weaving in the crazy and unimaginable. They helped me push my own limits as a writer--learning to not hold back, writing about my deepest fears, while sharing those things that show my vulnerability.

And mostly, they encouraged me to be me--to write what I need to write!

MEL:  WHAT TYPES OF STORIES DO YOU ENJOY WRITING? AND DO YOUR PERSONAL WRITING PREFERENCES STEER YOUR REPRESENTATION CHOICES?

VICKI:
I love writing psychological thrillers, paranormal, fantasy—a lot of Young Adult! But I do have my share of lyrical picture books that are simple and sweet.
No. My personal writing preferences are my own, and I love that I can keep them separate from what I choose to represent.


MEL:  I KNOW THAT SCBWI IS VERY NEAR TO YOUR HEART. CAN YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR HISTORY WITH THEM? 




VICKI:
I found out about SCBWI after I self-published a manuscript that I never submitted (didn’t know anything about submitting, queries, traditional published vs. self-published). And boy…did I find out that I had a lot to learn about the publishing industry. Being a writer since I could hold a pencil wasn’t enough…and so I joined SCBWI and began the process of learning everything I could. Within a year, I volunteered and the rest is history. After 9 years, I’ve held several positions on SCBWI: Northern Ohio’s Executive Board—most know me for my efforts as the Regional Advisor.
SCBWI is dear to me—while I worked hard for every opportunity that came my way, I also saw that my desire to help writers and illustrators was limited. I could only do so much as Regional Advisor.
Currently, I remain on the SCBWI: Northern Ohio’s Executive Board. While my title is different (Active Past Regional Advisor), I now get to participate in many wonderful SCBWI sponsored events and conferences as a presenter where I meet wonderful, talented individuals.
I highly recommend SCBWI to every writer regardless of what level they’re at in their career. While I’ve worked hard to be where I’m at today, SCBWI provided many of the essential opportunities.
I’m forever grateful!

MEL:  A WRITER, AN AGENT, AND AN EDITOR WALK INTO A BAR…I MEAN, A CONFERENCE. IN ADDITION TO THE AMAZING BOOK SWAG, WHAT SHOULD A WRITER TAKE AWAY FROM THE CONFERENCE EXPERIENCE? AND ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC CONFERENCES YOU’D RECOMMEND FOR A NEW WRITER? 

VICKI:
Writing conferences can be very beneficial for both writers and illustrators, regardless of genre, age category, and/or what career level (beginner, intermediate, advanced, published).

For any conference/event, writers and illustrators should:
·      Research faculty
·      Research/review books published/represented by/edited by the faculty
·      Research/attend the breakout session(s)/intensive(s)/keynote(s)/panel(s)/q & a session(s), that “best” suit writing/illustrating needs
·      Research faculty further if a critique is desired. And remember, getting a critique from a published author can be instrumental in providing those tips needed to push that manuscript/illustration forward. Usually, editor/agent/art director critiques sell out quickly—so register early, if a spot is preferred.
·      Network—meet as many writers and illustrators as possible, in addition to the faculty. You can never have too many friends in this career! Business cards are optional, but suggest using those only for other writers and illustrators (not editors/agents/art directors, unless they inquire/ask for one)—to keep in touch, after the conference.  As a note, most editors/agents/art directors accept after-conference submissions.
·      Keep expectations in-check, when it comes to your manuscript/portfolio/book dummy and critique. Many think they will find representation and/or have an editor purchase the manuscript/artwork. While this may happen, it’s best to stay grounded, remembering that there are many reasons for attending this conference/event.
·      Follow instructions, for registration and throughout.
·      Have fun and be yourself!
·      Listen, listen, listen…many faculty members will share tips, stories, things they’ve learned along the way. Bring something for note-taking—if using a laptop, make sure to have ample battery-life.                                                                              
·      Remember to thank your critiquer.
·      Remember to thank the conference/event planners, especially the Regional Advisor or President of the group.
·      Take home all the tips/suggestions/information learned, apply it to your own work, and submit per the instructions before the deadline.
·      As your submission is out, continue honing your craft. Start your next project. Plan your next conference/event to attend. And continue to work toward your writing/illustrating goals.

And more! Honestly, I could talk for days on this, but this will get things started.

Of course, any SCBWI sponsored conferences are recommended!

MEL:  WE HEAR A TON ABOUT VOICE AND SUBJECTIVITY. DO YOU THINK VOICE CAN BE TAUGHT?  

VICKI:
A hard question…Voice is tough. But as with all things, I’m a firm believer that anyone who wants to truly master something…can.  How? Practice, practice, practice. Read, read, read! Write, write, write! Every profession (doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.) requires years of education, practice, work, with lots of challenges and rejections. Writing is no different.

MEL:  OKAY. SO, YOU’VE SEEN THE QUERY, CHECKED OUT THE FIRST TEN OR SO PAGES, MAYBE EVEN STALKED THE AUTHOR ONLINE...WHAT PROMPTS YOU TO MAKE THE FINAL OFFER OF REPRESENTATION, AND ASK FOR THE CALL?




VICKI:
Simple…I fall in love with the manuscript. After reading it, it lingers—those characters are still floating around in my mind, compelling me to think about them and their journey.
Then via e-mail, I request to see other manuscripts. For me, 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, but I do consider many things before scheduling a phone call.
Then (if it feels right) via e-mail, I schedule a phone call.
Then, I make the call…
When 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 my dream client and I’m ready to work hard to make their publication dreams come true…
I offer representation.

MEL:  AFTER THE OFFER, HOW HANDS-ON ARE YOU IN THE EDITING PROCESS BEFORE THE MS GOES OUT ON SUBMISSION?

VICKI:
This is my favorite part—I love the collaboration process. Why I ask for revision before I offer representation—we’re a team, and when I submit something to an editor, I want it to be as strong as we can make it.
Some manuscripts have gone through 9-10 rounds of revision before I submit. It’s a lot of work, but worth it when a manuscript makes it to an editorial meeting!

MEL:  AND FINALLY, WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE WRITERS WHO ARE CURRENTLY IN SEARCH OF THEIR DREAM AGENT? 

VICKI:
Wanting an agent, needing an agent, and being offered representation are all different things.

If you feel you’re ready for an agent, research as much as possible. Participate in contests (especially those for FREE). Participate in writer’s organizations such as SCBWI—any event that is FREE, attend—you never know what connection you will make and how it will help you in the future.

If you see a particular agent is presenting at a conference near you (and you can afford it), attend. But be realistic on expectations—don’t expect an offer of representation. And be professional—don’t stalk the agent.

Before submitting your query and manuscript have a trusted critique partner look it over—it is hard to see those errors at times.

When submitting—be confident! Believe in your manuscript and most importantly, believe in yourself.

Follow submission guidelines.

Always be professional. Never, EVER, post something that could be considered negative (even on Querytracker).

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.

Set yourself up to succeed!

And push forward until you’ve reached those publishing goals.



I know right? Isn’t she awesome?

Thanks again for joining us, Vicki! We loved having you on the blog!!

Now here's your chance to enter our Rafflecopter giveaway to win a query and first 10-page critique. Good luck! (-:



a Rafflecopter giveaway

16 comments:

  1. Great interview! Such helpful info on querying. Thanks, y'all! -- Jennifer Dillard @JMCDillard

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  2. So glad it was helpful, Jen! And thanks for sharing it! (-:

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  3. Vicki and Mel: What an amazing interview, full of fun and relevant information. I really enjoyed it;)

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    1. Thanks, Sandra!! (-: I'm so glad!

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    2. And Vicki was a really good sport! I had a lot of fun doing this interview with her!

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  4. Really helpful advice in a really helpful interview. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Replies
    1. And we loved having YOU! Thanks again, Vicki!xo

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  6. Brilliant interview, Vicki. So many useful tips! :)

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  7. Great interview, thanks so much for sharing! :)

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  8. I enjoyed the interview. Lots of information. Thanks!

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  9. Very informative interview,and great giveaway. Thanks!

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  10. Wow! Such helpful information! Thank you Vicki. Bummed I missed the contest deadline, though.

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