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Building Lasting Relationships with Clients: Interview with Literary Agent Vicki Selvaggio

   
   

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ears of working both as an author and a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators: Northern Ohio prepared Vicki Selvaggio for what some might consider a dream job—working as a literary agent for the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Selvaggio is passionate about helping other writers succeed, knows that the query letter is only the starting point of a submission (she reads every query personally, despite receiving 50-100 queries on any given week), and admits her personal taste runs the gamut between creepy thrillers and lyrical picture books. She counts Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and Stephen King’s Pet Semetary among some of her older favorite titles.

With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria A. Selvaggio comes to The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Agent with over 6 years of actively working as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency. Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Vicki is currently looking for lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction, but finds she’s especially drawn to middle grade and young adult. She loves thrillers and all the elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it makes her think and think long after she’s done reading, send it to her! On the flip side, she yearns for books that make her laugh, cry and wonder about the world. Find out more about what Vicki is seeking by visiting The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency: http://www.jdlit.com. Visit her website at ttp://www.victoriaselvaggio.com, and connect with her on Twitter at @vselvaggio1.

We recently chatted with Vicki to learn more about her background, how to navigate through writing conferences, how to research prospective literary agents and more. Please join us in welcoming Vicki.

WOW:  How did you come to work with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency?

Vicki:  One of my rewards, as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, provided wonderful opportunities to meet some of the best editors/agents/art directors/published authors and/or illustrators in today’s publishing world.

In 2013 at the SCBWI: Northern Ohio conference, I had the privilege of meeting Karen Grencik, Agent, Red Fox Literary and Linda Epstein, Associate Agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Before meeting them, my determination to help writers and illustrators reach their publishing goals was limited. As a Regional Advisor, I could do only so much. Both Karen and Linda provided wonderful insight, and a few months after the conference, Linda introduced me to Jennifer De Chiara, President and Owner of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. We connected instantly, and soon I started to read manuscripts for the agency. This only added to my desire to help writers and illustrators, and within a short time, I joined this wonderful agency.

I can’t speak highly enough of Jennifer De Chiara and her agents: Stephen Fraser, Marie Lamba, Linda Epstein, Roseanne Wells, (and me)!

WOW:  As you mentioned, you joined the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency after seven years of working as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for the SCBWI Northern Ohio. What advice would you give to writers preparing to attend their first writing conferences?

Vicki:  Writing conferences can be very beneficial for both writers and illustrators, regardless of genre 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.

WOW:  What is your idea/definition of a "lyrical picture book? And why does this appeal to you?

Vicki:  A lyrical picture book flows smoothly, capturing the eye as the movement of text portrays the story. When read aloud, the text is melodious.

I love to see writers and/or illustrators play with format, showing movement of text on a page.

A lyrical picture book, for me, does not need to rhyme. And if it does rhyme, it needs to be “perfect, ” including the rhythm/meter.

Lyrical picture books remind me of my childhood memories, and those of my children.

But...I’m open to all picture book formats, not just lyrical.

“Don’t apologize for having NO publishing credits. This is a process.”

WOW:  I know for me, personally, when querying literary agents, I practically have a panic attack before hitting the “send” button. If you could tell aspiring writers three things to avoid doing in a query letter, what would those be?

Vicki:  I can relate to this, as an author myself. Most importantly, relax...take a few moments to review what you’ve written and make sure:

  1. You’ve addressed the query correctly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a query with my name misspelled, my title mysteriously changed to “Editor,” or another agent and agency is listed. When I respond, I will make sure I’m addressing it correctly, and if I make a mistake (by listing “Ed” as opposed to “Edward”), you’ll see another e-mail from me apologizing. First impressions are important, and for me, when connection is key—taking those extra moments to double-check may make a difference.
  2. Don’t apologize for having NO publishing credits. This is a process.
  3. Don’t appear “beat down or weak”...saying something like “You’re my final attempt at my life-long dream. ” As with #2 above, this is a process. Show pride in your work and let how much you believe in yourself and this manuscript shine through!

While there are many other tips I could add, being professional tops the list!

“I’m not a huge fan of the query letter.”

WOW:  How do you evaluate a query...will you review the manuscript, even if you’re not connecting with the query?

Vicki:  I’m not a huge fan of the query letter. While I review queries faithfully, I’m more interested in the manuscript, and I will read the submission regardless of how I feel about the query letter.

The query, for me, is nothing but a tool in which I use to find out information about the project you’ve submitted, why you’ve submitted it to me, what other projects you have and/or the genres, what other publication credits you have (don’t fret if this is “none. ” And don’t apologize for that!), and most importantly, to get an overall feel of you as a writer and your project.

WOW:  Before signing on the dotted line, what are some important questions writers should ask of the agent?

Vicki:  Actually, a writer/illustrator should be extensively researching an agent/agency before querying.

When an offer does take place, the writer/illustrator should already have a good idea of the agent and agency’s reputation (What genres does this agent represent? What interviews, blogs, websites tell me about this agent/agency and does this match my logic/needs?).

Depending on the agent/agency, and how the offer will come about (For me—I only offer representation over the phone, or if possible, in person—an e-mail will be sent first inquiring of times/dates when we can discuss the manuscript and other projects, and future writing/illustrating goals), both parties will have numerous questions/comments.

Some possible questions/comments:

  • Expectations—deadlines, submitting protocol, overall interaction during representation.
  • Career-related goals—interested in all projects/genres or is the representation limited/specific for one project/genre. Overall process on interest vs. no interest on a project.
  • Contract—specifications.
  • Marketing/Promotion/Submission process.
  • Revision—Is the agent an editorial agent? If so, how does the collaboration process work?
  • Social Media—the do’s and don’ts.

And more! I could go on and on...

Most importantly—do you connect with the agent, and does he/she connect with you? Connection, for me, is key! I not only need to connect with the manuscript/illustration, I also need to connect with the author and/or illustrator.

“Connection is key and not just with the story.”

WOW:  What qualities does your dream client possess?

Vicki:  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!

WOW:  What does an average day look like in the life of a literary agent?

Vicki:  Busy! From handling client’s needs/submissions/contracts to reviewing queries to more! An agent is constantly prioritizing. Each day is exciting, whether I’m working on client tasks, and/or reviewing queries. I never know what is waiting for me, and I don’t want to miss anything!

I do receive hundreds of queries a week, which makes my response time slower than I’d like to admit. But...I do respond personally to every question, every query, and every submission. Patience is appreciated!

In addition, I love attending events/conferences where I can meet writers and illustrators. For me, connection is key! And I love to meet other faculty—as connection is important when submitting to editors.

WOW:  The idea of building a writer’s platform before publication can be intimidating for some writers. Do you think it’s more important for a non-fiction to have a platform than a fiction writer, or are they equally important?

Vicki:  For me, I feel it’s equally important, but building a platform, like crafting your manuscript/artwork takes time. Please note, though, some factors are definitely more important when writing non-fiction (credentials/creditability).

WOW:  In addition to being a literary agent, you are also a writer. Can you tell us a little about what you like to write?

Vicki:  As I’m open to all genres for submissions, I’m open to writing/reading that way—I write/read all across the board. I love all elements of creepy, while I adore precious and sweet!

My last publication appeared in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.

My background also includes some self-published titles, which while I’m happy for the experiences they’ve brought, I do find myself wishing I had learned more about the publishing industry and the writing process. While neither title was ever submitted to an agency or editor, neither title was ever revised (revision is a huge part of the writing process). I do wish I knew back then, what I know now!

But, every experience brings forth knowledge!

WOW:  Thank you, Vicki, for sharing your expertise with us and offering up some great advice!

Contact information:

E-mail: vselvaggio@windstream.net

Please put “Query” in in the subject line of your email. For queries regarding children’s and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.

For queries regarding a non-fiction book, please attach the entire proposal as a Word document (the proposal should include a sample chapter), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of your email.

Renee Roberson

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Charlotte Parent, Lake Norman Currents, The Charlotte Observer, The Writer and more. When she’s not working on client projects, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing young adult and middle grade fiction.

Visit her website at: www.FinishedPages.com


 

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