Add another item to a year full of firsts. Our agents and editors panel this year includes a mother-daughter super-team! Marie Lamba has been a long-time supporter of the conference, both as a teacher and an agent. Cari Lamba joined her mom at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency and is carving out her own experiences helping writers achieve their dreams. PWC Board Member Gregory Frost interviewed Marie and Cari about agenting and writing life, here is what they had to say.
Marie, for quite a while you were a writer with a number of successful YA novels. What got you interested in being an agent?
Marie: Actually it was MY agent’s idea. I’m represented by Jennifer De Chiara of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, and she saw me promoting my novels, working well with others, editing my work, etc., and she felt agenting would be a good fit for me. I was very surprised when she asked if I’d agent for her company, and was unsure at first, but it’s proven to be the exact right thing for me. I love mentoring, helping great and talented people succeed, and I’m very driven. Add in my momma bear protectiveness toward my clients, and you get the full picture!
What’s the view from the other side of the table?
Marie: It’s very business-like. I see how, even when an editor falls in love with a manuscript, that editor must then convince the publisher and sales force that it is worth making an offer on. Sometimes potential offers fall apart at this stage. We always have to remember that a book must make money for a publisher. That’s where knowing the marketplace and the audience is so important.
What have you learned as an agent that you wish you’d known as a writer?
Marie: It takes a LOT of patience to be a writer – you really need to think long game in this career. As a writer, I thought once I had my agent and my first book deal, that was that. I was set. But the truth is that you always have to work, and that lots of things can sidetrack you and your writing. So – long game. Always write. Work on that next book before the first one even comes out. And expect anything.
Also, it really helps to understand just how long everything takes when you know all the pieces of the puzzle. Even after you get an agent, SO MUCH then goes into getting a book ready for submission, and into pitching, and it takes so very long for editors to read those full manuscripts, for deals to be negotiated, for contracts to be finalized and signed. Pack your patience.
How did it come about that Cari joined the Jennifer De Chiara Agency, too?
Marie: Cari was actually an intern for Jennifer De Chiara several years before I became an agent. Cari read requested full manuscripts for Jennifer and made recommendations on them. Jennifer knew Cari was super talented and had a great eye for literature and she immediately offered her a position at the firm when Cari graduated college.
Cari, what drew you to agenting?
Cari: I always knew I wanted to be involved in the publishing world. I was drawn to agenting because I really wanted to be in a position where I could help writers. I love that there are so many different aspects to being an agent including editing, working with clients, presenting at conferences, going through queries, the list could go on. It makes every day different and interesting!
Where do you both specialize, and how do you avoid in-house conflicts?
Marie: I represent picture books, middle grade, YA and adult fiction, and some memoir. Overall, I go for works that tug at my heart strings and are very voicey. Cari does picture books, middle grade and adult commercial fiction. She’s a huge mystery fan and loves culinary tie-ins. Writers should only submit to one agent at a firm at a time, so that avoids conflicts. Sometimes writers don’t know this and sub to everyone at once, but we find that those writers are folks who haven’t done their homework, and their work usually reflects a similar lack of sophistication.
Ever fought over representing a client you both wanted?
Cari: Like Marie said, we have a policy where writers should only submit to one agent within the agency at a time, so we have never come across a time where we have had to fight for a client.
What advice do you each have for writers approaching an agent for representation?
Marie: Make sure your work is REALLY ready. Edit well, be professional in your query, and do your homework so that you are targeting the agents who are really interested in the type of book you do. If your work is sloppy and you aren’t being professional, you’ll rack up lots of rejections, on the other hand, if you do things well, your path to publication will definitely become smoother.
Cari: I second everything that Marie said and would also add to be patient. Projects take a lot of time for us to consider, and we are always balancing other tasks as well. We want our clients to be writers we believe in and want to help them succeed, so a lot of consideration goes on before offering representation.
Thank you so much for your time and the information this provides to PWC attendees. -gf
Do you want to pitch to Marie or Cari, or hear additional insights about their world on the Friday Agents and Editors Panel? Register for the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference here!