Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Danielle Chiotti

Today, I'm thankful for e-mail. Do you remember going to that strange place called the post office every time you wanted to send someone a letter?

Oh, we’ve got another good one. Today’s interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Ms. Chiotti’s a regular contributor to Upstart Crow’s blog, so I asked her the blogging agent questions. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Happy reading!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

DC: I just went through a huge pile of queries yesterday, so it's a good day to answer that question. To be honest, even if I'm not crazy about the query letter, I'll always glance at a few sample pages, because a query letter isn't always indicative of how good (or bad) a project will be. The only time I don't read at least a few pages is if the project is outside of the genres I represent.

And now onto the tough question: How often do sample pages interest me enough to request a full manuscript? Let's see: Yesterday, I read 75 queries. I requested one manuscript. And I'd say that's generally how it goes for me.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

DC: A strong voice that immediately sweeps me away, a strong sense of character, and simple, beautiful writing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

DC: I see a lot of pacing problems, meaning the story is either too fast or too slow--most often too slow.

I also see a lot of point of view problems. It seems like a lot of writers try to write in a first person present point of view, but in order to pull that off successfully, there's got to be a really strong voice to help carry it off. Without the strong voice, it's probably better off in the third person.

Finally, I see a lot of "copycat" problems. Oftentimes, an author sort of writes herself into a corner and then relies on a tired trick plucked from a perennial bestseller (TWILIGHT, THE HUNGER GAMES, you name it) to try and get herself out of it. So what had potential as an original concept becomes unoriginal, and thus disappointing.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

DC: I don't sign manuscripts I like, I only sign manuscripts I love! For me to offer representation right away, it truly has to be a stayed-up-all-night-reading-it, love at first sight kind of situation.

When I fall in love with a project, the first thing I do is have a phone conversation with the writer to see if we click and to bounce around my ideas for revision. If we seem to "get" each other right away, I'll usually make an offer of representation, and then we'll begin work on revisions together.

If I have a manuscript that I like, but that I think needs more work, I'll usually have a phone conversation with the writer and share some notes for revisions with them, and ask them to resubmit. That gives me a chance to see if the revisions can push me over the edge from "big crush" to "true love."

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

DC: That's a great question! She should ask what the editorial process between us will look like and how long I think it will take. She should ask how often we'll be in touch during the submission process and how the submission process works. She should ask about Upstart Crow so I can tell her all of the many wonderful things we offer to our clients. She should ask me about what books I've read recently that I love. And most importantly, she should ask me if I prefer cookies or cake (I prefer cookies).

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

DC: There are several books coming out soon that I'm particularly excited about. One is currently titled FRENENQER (but this will most likely change), and it will be out from Dial Books for Young Readers in 2012. It's a gorgeously written young adult love story. The author is quite young--she was 18 when I signed her and sold her book--but immensely talented. I was drawn to the project because of the delicious writing and fantastic characterization. I remember writing the author an e-mail when I was only 50 pages into the story. It was so good that I was literally tingling with excitement. So I wrote to her and told her: I'm not that far into the manuscript yet, but if I love it as much at the end as I do right now, I'm going to offer you representation. We signed contracts a few days later.

Another is called LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, which will be out from HarperCollins in 2011. It's an absolutely charming novel in verse full of quirky characters and adorable turns of phrase. I remember that I started reading it on my Kindle very late one night, and I just couldn't put it down. I kept elbowing my husband awake and saying: "Listen to this line! Isn't that fantastic?"

And last but not least, there is SHUCKED: MY YEAR IN OYSTERS, which is a memoir about the author's year spent on an oyster farm in Duxbury, MA. It's a fantastic blend of personal memoir, informational narrative, and good foodie facts. St. Martin's is publishing it in 2011. The author came to me by referral, and we worked for months shaping the proposal to get the tone and content just right. It was such an enjoyable process, I was almost sad when the proposal was ready to go out to publishers!

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

DC: I'd love to see more high-concept YA fiction that's realistic rather than paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic. I'd also love to see more foodie-centric nonfiction projects.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

DC: The best way to query me is via our submissions guidelines, which can be viewed at www.upstartcrowliterary.com/submit.

Told you this was a good one:) Thanks again, Ms. Chiotti, for these responses. As for your question about cake or cookies, I say, “Both!”

And now on to the really fun part. Leave a question in the comments before 5:00 p.m. EDT (that’s 2:00 p.m. PDT), then find an answer down there later. It’s as easy as cake or cookies pie.

56 comments:

Pam Harris said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing, Krista--and thanks for participating, Ms. Chiotti. :)

My question: you said you would love to see more realistic YA fiction. Has there been a contemporary YA novel (aside from your clients) that recently knocked your socks off?

Krista V. said...

Okay, I have a few more questions... *dodges the tomato someone lobs from the back row* :)

First, along the same lines as Pam, you said you'd love to see more high-concept YA fiction that's realistic rather than paranormal or dystopian. What would be an example of high-concept, realistic YA, either in actuality or in theory?

Second, are you interested in YA fantasy and science fiction at all, or are you tired of those genres?

Janet Johnson said...

Great interview! Really informative . . . especially the part about the questions to ask an agent during the call.

Danielle Chiotti said...

Hi, everyone! So excited to be a part of the blog today. Am getting settled into my morning work, and will be back to answer questions shortly.

Elena Solodow said...

Great interview!

Danielle: is there one book in particular that inspired you to become a literary agent?

Most writers have dream agents. Who's your dream client? (Can be in terms of personality, not necessarily a specific author.)

Jennifer Pickrell said...

My question is the same as the ones above about the YA high concept examples.

Thanks for the interview!

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms. Chiotti, I'm curious as to whether you send out responses to requested partials? If so what is the average reply time? Also, do you read your manuscripts in any specific order?
Thanks so much for being here today!

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Pam Harris:

Thanks for your question. I guess I should start by explaining that even though I'm hankering for some realistic fiction these days, that doesn't mean that it has to be completely rooted in reality. Basically, I'm growing very tired of vampire/werewolf/shapeshifting/teens with secret powers. Rather, I'd love to see fiction that is mostly based in reality, but that has some fantastic elements that take it from "ordinary" to "high concept."

I think When You Reach Me is a great example of this. I also really loved The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, which isn't YA but MG.

Esther Vanderlaan said...

I love this! What kind of manuscripts do you take? Is it OK to send you an unfinished one?

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if it's taboo to say that my manuscript doesn't fit into any category? What if I honestly know of no other novel like it, can I make the case that it's marketable - or should I take it for granted that the agent will figure it out?
Or does it even matter?

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Krista:

As I said in Pam's answer, I'm okay with having some fantastical elements rooted in more realistic fiction, such as When You Reach Me.

It's just that I see such a glut of "me too" concepts flooding into my query box, and I would like to challenge aspiring writers to push beyond the "me too." I don't want to sign a new client version of a concept that everyone has seen before--I want something that totally breaks the mold. THAT'S the type of project that's going to get me excited.

I read something on submission a few months back (didn't sign it--darn!) that I absolutely fell in love with that I think exemplifies what I mean by high concept and realistic. It was a period story, set in Paris in the early 1900's about a girl who was hired to be the "ugly" friend for the daughter of a wealthy family. It explored complex themes of female friendship and betrayal, self-image, and of course the rich setting of a long-ago Paris.

And finally, to answer your question about fantasy and sci-fi: I don't do sci-fi at all, but I can definitely fall in love with projects on the lighter side of fantasy.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Elena:

I don't think there's a specific book that inspired me to become a literary agent--that decision was dictated more by my wish to have more freedom in the types of books I was working on (I was an editor before I was an agent).

That said, (and for those of you who have checked out the Upstart Crow website, you probably already know this) the book that made me fall in love with books and writing was Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. And that's pretty much where it all started for me--back in the third grade.

And as for my dream client: Someone who writes what's in their heart, who is not afraid to take chances or push limits of fiction, someone who makes me laugh, someone who writes a humble yet compelling query letter.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Jennifer Pickrell:

I hope my comments above answered your questions, but if not, feel free to check back.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Anonymous Commenter #1:

I do send out responses to requested partials--I try to send responses for everything I request. My average reply time is anywhere from 1-3 months.

I tend to read manuscripts in the order in which I receive them, to keep things fair.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Esther:

You can check out my list of tastes and learn a bit more about me at www.upstartcrowliterary.com/submit. I generally do not read manuscripts that are not completed.

Monica B.W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monica B.W. said...

Thanks so much for this interview! I had lots of fun reading it!
But now I want to eat cookies--and hubby ate them all yesterday :(

Here's my question:
If you like a book but don't love it, do you send it to readers or interns to see if they love it before making a decision?

And... Just so we know how far behind are you with requested fulls now?
It's just that I'm so bad at waiting :o)

Thanks again!

Jodi R. said...

Thanks you Krista for a wonderful interview, as per usual. And thank you Ms. Chiotti for taking part and sharing your preferences and insights.

I think you've both covered all of my questions brilliantly, so just wondering if either of you have done the cake vs. pie tournament prompted by NCAA March Madness?

http://jezebel.com/5496714/march-madness-the-cake-vs-pie-tournament

Sure, it's pie instead of cookies, but it is fun!

Jodi
(I make awesome cookies, by the way...)

LS said...

Thanks for the interview! Krista ALWAYS has the best interviews. :)
I have TWO questions:
1) Do you respond to all queries?
2) Do you normally request fulls or partials?
Thanks again. Every question and answer so far has been fab.

Krista V. said...

Danielle, great clarification. Thanks.

Everyone else, you are very welcome. I actually enjoy setting up these interviews, so it's no chore:)

Anne R. Allen said...

Another "Thanks!" to you Krista. Your interviews are thoughtful and helpful. Danielle sounds like a fantastic agent. I'm always impressed when an agent is that enthusiastic about her clients.

I'm totally a cookie person too. Cupcakes are cute, but compared to a fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie...? No way.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Anonymous Poster #2:

I tried to answer this earlier, but Blogger ate my comment!

I don't think it's taboo to say that you don't know where your manuscript fits. Come as close as you can, or combine categories--paranormal/romance or romance/adventure, dystopian time travel romance (with werewolves!), whatever.

Here's the thing: I don't want to spend a lot of time reading in your query letter about how you don't know what category your book is. Just give it the best guess you can, and focus instead on making your book great. If/when you find an agent who loves it, they'll help you with the category.

I would like to speak for a moment, though, on the "there's nothing else like it" line. I have to say, this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Again, I don't want authors to waste time in their query letter telling me that they've searched high and low, but can find nothing like their book.

Because here's the harsh news about that: You just didn't search hard enough. Like it or not, there's ALWAYS a comp, and when I get queries from authors who spend whole paragraphs telling me otherwise, it usually sets of a warning bell that the author has not done enough research, or has not read enough books to firmly entrench themselves in what they are writing.

So don't waste precious word space telling me that there's no comp for your book (or that you're a natural for Oprah). Instead, work on telling me what your book is about in a clear, concise, compelling way. That's what really matters.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Monica BW:

If I'm truly on the fence about a manuscript, I'll usually let it go. There have been a few times that I've had colleagues or interns take a 2nd look, and in those instances, I've always ended up passing. So if I'm on the fence, I'll pass. It's really got to be a total LOVE for me to sign it.

As for where I'm at with my queries: Better than usual, I can tell you that! I'm just over a month behind, so somewhere around September 29th.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Jodi R:

Have never done the cakes vs. pie tournament, but it sounds like my kind of tournament!

Danielle Chiotti said...

For LS:

I respond to each and every query in my box, so if someone hasn't heard back from me, then their email either got lost in cyberspace, it got bounced back when I tried to send it (in that case, I'll usually try one more time, but if I get two bounces, I give up), or I haven't gotten to it yet.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks for the great interview, Ms. Chiotti. Here are my questions:

1) What's your favorite kind of cookie? (Don't worry, I'm not a stalker and I will not be running out to FedEx an entire box of cookies to you. Just curious if your tastes run similar to mine or if you're more like my husband who prefers -- imho -- weird cookie flavors. *grin*)
2) And on that same thought train -- do you ever eat the dough or are you a cooked-cookie-only person?
3) How many clients do you currently have and how many would be too many? I'm wondering if you're currently feeling close to maxed out, or if there's still lots of room for new clients on your list.

Thanks to you, too, Krista. You really do give the best interviews!

Amy

Megan Kelley Hall said...

Danielle is the most amazing person/agent/friend ever!! She was my editor a few years ago when I first got published and she is just incredibly smart and talented. Danielle, you rock for posting this interview online. You give some awesome advice. Anyone would be lucky to have her as an agent because she is so enthusiastic and passionate and involved and I could go on and on, but you get the picture...(Though, I still wish you were my editor... big sigh...) ;)

Jennifer Pickrell said...

Thanks Danielle, you DID answer my question :)

"When You Reach Me" sounds good, I'm adding it to my list to read - I love books set in that time period...still modern, but without cell phones and computers everywhere

Monica B.W. said...

Thanks, Ms. Chiotti for your answer!
Good to know... and I meant where are with your fulls and partials ;)

Merrin said...

Danielle,

I am wondering about revision requests. If you like a book but think it needs a little work before signing it, but the author has interest from another agent, how do you handle that? I read a blog post from another agent regarding this, recently, and it seems like every agent handles it differently. I have a revision request from an agent right now, and a different agent is reading my full. If I get an offer from the second agent, should I tell the agent who gave me a revision request? It seems like there is not a whole lot of information about this, and what an author should do.

Anonymous said...

I love it when agents post the date of where they're up to on queries.

Would you still consider a MS with scifi elements - like a speculative fiction that combines fantasy, paranormal and scifi (I know your looking more for contemp fic now).

Krista V. said...

Jennifer, WHEN YOU REACH ME was fantastic! I finished it in about a day. Usually, I like to pace myself when I'm reading a book I love, but I couldn't stop reading WHEN YOU REACH ME. I had to know - HAD TO KNOW - what was going on:)

Brandy said...

Danielle,

Thanks so much for doing this interview (thanks to Krista too!). My question is this: say (hypothetically) that I queried you with a YA urban fantasy, but my next project is contemporary YA, do you usually like a writer to keep writing in the genre that originally caught your interest?

Along those same lines, if you read something and you love the writing and the characterization but just don't love the story do you ever ask to see something else the writer may have?

Thanks again.
Brandy

Dustin said...

Ms. Chiotti,

What has been your experience, either as an editor or agent, with authors writing in multiple genres? Is this something you generally dissuade?

For those of us with aspirations publishing in several genres, are there any tips you can give?

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions!

Best regards,
Dustin

Sara-Anne said...

Great interview, Danielle! You're the best!

Danielle Chiotti said...

For A.L. Sonnichsen:

It's really really hard for me to name my favorite type of cookie! There's a stand in the Union Square Greenmarket that sells chocolate chip oatmeal butterscotch coconut cookies. That's kind of the pinnacle cookie for me, I suppose. At home, I make a lot of chocolate chip, and ginger spice.

I am an equal opportunity eater, meaning that I eat equal amounts of raw dough and finished cookies!

As for clients: I am not feeling anywhere close to being maxed out. As a matter of fact, since I'm still pretty new at this (a little over a year), I'm still looking to actively build my client list. That said, I'm incredibly careful (some may call it picky) about what I take on, so I can go a long time between signing clients.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Monica BW (#2)

Oh! On requested fulls? Waaay behind on those! But hoping to get all caught up in time for Thanksgiving!

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Merrin:

Thanks for the great question. You're right that every agent handles this type of thing differently. And it's also up to you as to how you'd like to handle the revision request, or when you'd like to do it.

I can't really tell you what to do here-- you have to figure that out yourself. But I can tell you things from my perspective, and how I feel about them.

I'm working with a (very talented) writer right now, and I've requested revisions from this person. They've agreed to do it. I know that I'm taking a chance, as they have the ms out with other agents--and at least one other request for a full. If they were to receive an offer of representation, I would want them to inform me of the offer--and of their intention.

In an ideal world, they would provide me with a the chance to make an offer of representation as well (should I decide to do so), and then choose the agent they think is the best fit for them. But there have been times when I've requested revisions and an author has agreed--only to write me out of the blue a few weeks later to tell me they've signed with another agent. So I put the time into giving them extensive notes, and in the end, they didn't even give me a chance to offer on their project. Ouchy!

Doing revisions is a gamble for both writer and agent. You are both gambling with your time and intentions, in the hopes that it pays off.

So the best advice I have for you is to keep all parties informed of what is happening. If you agree to do revisions with an agent that doesn't mean you are obligated to sign with them, should you receive another offer. That said, it's general courtesy to keep all parties informed and give them time to make a decision, should you wind up with multiple offers on the table.

Wow. I just babbled a whole lot. I hope this makes at least a little bit of sense, and that it's helpful to you!

Anonymous said...

For Anonymous #3:

I am open to projects with sci fi elements if combined with other elements, but straight sci-fi just isn't for me.

Also to clarify: Just because I said I'm tired of paranormal doesn't mean I'm not considering it--it just has to be very different/unique for me to sign it.

One more point: Just because I'm looking for realistic fiction doesn't always mean it has to be contemporary. A unique time period can make for compelling realistic fiction as well!

Danielle Chiotti said...

Sorry for the confusion--the comment above is meant to be from me to Anonymous #3.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Brandy:

Thanks for your question. I don't expect any writer to keep writing in the same genre. I expect them to write what they think is a great story, and I'd never want to put limits on that!

Same goes for my clients. I have a client whose first novel is sweet, realistic YA. But she's just delivered her second novel, and it's edgier, with a paranormal twist. It works in a big way, and I'm quite excited about it. Basically, as long as the work is good, anything goes! I'm not looking to trap anyone into a particular genre.

And yes, if I read a novel and didn't love it but I think the author shows potential, I'll usually tell them to think of me for anything else they might have.

Danielle Chiotti said...

For Dustin:

I think my answer to Brandy's question should satisfy you, but if it doesn't, feel free to write in with a more specific question, and I'll be happy to answer.

Monica B.W. said...

Thanks again!! Great to know I just have like 20 more days to wait :D (btw, I can't believe the year is almost over!)

Anyway, I had so much fun with this interactive interview! :D Thanks Krista and Ms. Chiotti--you rock!

Oh, and I must say I prefer to eat dough (but don't tell my kids, lol.)

Esther Vanderlaan said...

Do you like to be an agent? BTW, thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

Danielle Chiotti said...

Esther: I LOVE being an agent.

Thanks, everyone, for a great Q&A. Write well!

Mary said...

What does "high concept" YA fiction mean?
Thanks,
Mary

lotusgirl said...

This was a great interview and comment thread for me. Thanks, Ms. Chiotti. I hate I was around to ask questions yesterday. Even still it gave me a good feel for your personality. I had talked with Chris Richman at the SCBWI conference in Charlotte about my current WIP, and he thought it might be of interest to you. If I can get it the way I want it *crosses fingers*, I think you may like it. *crosses fingers again* Hopefully it will be ready in another couple months.

Krista V. said...

Mary, Danielle won't be back to answer questions, but you might check out this recent post from Nathan Bransford, in which he gave an awesome definition of the term:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/08/what-high-concept-means.html

Lotusgirl, so awesome that one of Danielle's colleagues suggested you query her. She was really easy to work with as we set up this interview, and I think any writer would be lucky to have her as an agent.

Myrna Foster said...

I think this is the best interview I've read on your blog, Krista. Thanks to everyone for their questions and to Danielle for answering!

Krista V. said...

Wasn't this a great one, Myrna? I can tell you, though, it had a lot less to do with the interviewer and a lot more to do with the interviewee.

Mary said...

Thanks for leading me to the forums, Krista!
Mary

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, Mary. Even though Nathan Bransford is no longer an agent, I'm sure his website will continue to be a great resource for writers.

Kelly Bryson said...

Again Krista, thanks for these interviews. You have some of the best info out there. And thanks for the link to BookReadress up there:) -Kelly

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, Kelly. Anything for a beta:)

Melanie Stanford said...

Great interview! And just an interesting tidbit... I queried Ms. Chiotti last year and got back the nicest, most helpful rejection thus far. It could've been form, who knows, but I really appreciated it just the same. I took her comments to heart and re-edited based on what she said. I wish I could query her again to see if my changes made any difference- but don't worry I won't! Thanks though for the nice rejection!
Melanie (daydreamertowriter.blogspot.com)

Krista V. said...

Melanie, thanks for sharing your experience with us@ I completely agree. Danielle is encouraging, on-the-ball, and certainly a spectacular agent. Anyone would be lucky to sign with her.