Advice for Writers

11 August, 2015

What 4 top agents desire in a memoir

Thanks to veteran editor, Alan Rinzler, for including me in this insightful interview with some esteemed colleagues.  Memoir is so popular, but also challenging to publish.  Here’s what you might want to think about in relation to crafting and publishing a memoir.

12 July, 2015

Listen to Your Agent — Or Not?

Like most agents, I have a wonderful relationship with many of my clients.  Most.  I think that my enthusiasm for their work and caring is generally evident.  This is my own company.  Whheadshot_joelledelbourgoy would I put my name on something I did not love?  Additionally, I bring more than 3 decades of experience as an editor and publishing executive to each author’s work and career.  I apply the same skills that I learned from the inside at such distinguished houses as Random House and HarperCollins to author representation.

But every once in awhile, something goes awry.  As with any other relationship, there needs to be trust–and a click. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there.  Sometimes an author doesn’t want to hear what an agent tells them, especially when the news isn’t good.  Or there is just a difference in vision or style.  That’s to be expected.  Not all relationships work.

If as a writer that happens to you, ask yourself.  What is this disparity about?  Is it a true disagreement or am I just uncomfortable?  Can this relationship be healed?  As anyone knows, breaking up is hard to do and there is a wrong and a right way to do it.  If you truly believe that you are with the wrong agent or that your agent doesn’t understand you and your work, ask if you can schedule a call to talk about it.  Even if you do end up parting ways, there’s a gentle and respectful way to do so.  Remember that agents are not paid for their time–only for their results when they sell a book.  If an agent has put a great deal of time and thought into your work and you walk away, the agent has nothing to show for it.

The same is true if an agent no longer wishes to work with a particular client.  Perhaps the agency wants to refocus its efforts, or reduce the number of clients it represents or the agent just feels she’s reached the end of the road.  At that point, it is essential to communicate with sensitivity and explain your reasoning, trying to mitigate any hurt you might cause.  This is a professional relationship and needs to conducted in a professional way.joellecaricature

Relationships are about expectation and communication.  If these are clearly communicated, there is a greater chance for a positive partnership.  But if for whatever reason, either party wants out, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and do it with grace.

–Joelle Delbourgo

18 March, 2015

Query Letter Tips: How to address a query letter to a literary agent

It seems simple, right? It’s just a salutation. What could be easier?AIbEiAIAAABDCLG685W5porlUiILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKDkxMTljMWNi_002  But actually, in the digital age, addressing any business letter, not to mention a query to a literary agent is not as obvious as it might seem.  Whether you are sending an e-mail query or an old-fashioned snail mail letter, here are some clear do’s and don’ts:

*Do check agency guidelines before you send a letter to any given agency or agent.  Advice will vary from one agency to another in terms of whether it is OK to query multiple agents at an agency or not.  At Joelle Delbourgo Associates Literary Agency, we prefer to that you write to one of us.  Querying more than one agent is annoying to us because it requires two of us to take the time to read your query and respond to it.  But every agency thinks differently on this point.

*Do address your letter to a specific person at a literary agency.  Don’t address your letter to “Dear Sirs” or “Dear Madam” or “Dear Literary Agent” or”To Whom It May Concern.”

*Address your query to a single agent and a single agency at a time. Avoid the temptation to send out a mass mailing to a list of literary agents and agencies or even worst, to “undisclosed recipients.”

*Do make sure that the agent you are addressing is actually the right person at the agency for the subject matter or genre you are submitting.  Again, the agency website and other online resources will help you target the right person.  So, if you are sending a query for a mystery, you want to avoid sending it to the person who only handles nonfiction, and vice-versa.

TakeawayDo your homework.  Research who you are sending the letter to and personalize your salutation.

More posts to come on every part of the query letter in the weeks ahead, so check our “Buzz” blog often!

–Joelle Delbourgo



15 March, 2015

Where I Write: Theresa Kaminski

Theresa KaminskiThis edition of “Where I Write,” our series in which authors share their favorite writing spots, is from historian Theresa Kaminski.

“While I was growing up, this secretary was in the corner of my parents’ dining room, and my father used it as his home office.  With six people crowded into a small ranch house, it was the only available space.  I have the secretary now and it is in the corner of my dining room, which I have chosen as my work space because it is open and airy, with great window views of the neighborhood.  The secretary reminds me every day of my father, who went to the Philippines with the U.S. army after World War II, and passed along his interest in the islands to me.” — Theresa Kaminski

Theresa’s latest book Angels of the Underground about American women who were active in the resistance against the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines during WWII will be published by Oxford University Press in Spring of 2015.

Follow Theresa on Twitter to learn more about her and her work.

13 March, 2015

Guest Post: Selling a Seller–Writing a Killer Overview in a Proposal, John Paine

John Paine photoThe beginning section of a nonfiction proposal is called an Overview.* Its function is to attract an acquisitions editor’s interest in a book. If the Overview does not do that job, he may not bother to read the other sections. He reviews hundreds of proposals a year, after all, and his time is valuable.


A number of authors I have edited regard this opening section as a descriptive exercise. They provide details from their chosen field, such as cardiology, as a way to show off their knowledge. Or, they give these details to show that the general public is interested in what they plan to write about in the book. This professional insider’s meandering can go on for pages, as the different topics of interest are displayed in what the author feels is a warm, welcoming style.


Now let’s return to that acquisitions editor. Most of the time, she specializes in a particular field of nonfiction. It is very likely that she knows a great deal about cardiology, say. She may have taken pre-med courses in college. What she wants to know is: why is your book a valuable addition to the field?


A journalist knows that he has to grab a reader’s attention with the lead paragraph. That’s the same way you should approach the Overview. Assume that the editor has no patience. The first paragraph can be descriptive, setting the stage, but you better put forth a selling point for your book before the paragraph ends. The next paragraph had better contain a second selling point and hopefully a couple. What is new and different about your book? Why should I read your book rather than the already published books on the same subject?


If you have achieved a degree of fame, or have written other books, you should blazon your credentials on that first page. The editor needs to know that you are an expert in your subject. If you are a chiropractor, you can’t call yourself a doctor—because she will know right away. She’s actively looking for your creds, because down the road, the reader will too. If you’re not an M.D., why should I listen to your medical advice?


Before you reach the bottom of the page, you should have made your pitch. You can go on for another few pages (anywhere from 3-5 pages, normally). You can give a paragraph-by-paragraph summary of the chapters’ main points. But first the battle must be won on page 1. You list your best selling points in the hope the editor will bother to turn the page.


Exercise: Draw up a list of points that you know no other trade book contains. Hopefully, they are new and exciting. Pick the best of the lot and organize your opening page around them. If you are a doctor, don’t assume that editors are mewling children like your patients. They are on top of their game, and in this case that game is: proposals.


“No crime is so great as daring to excel.”

—Winston Churchill


*A proposal can also start with a brief section called a Concept Statement, and the Overview follows.


Copyright @ 2015, John Paine





1 March, 2015

Where I Write: Kerstin March

This entKersten Marchry in our “Where I Write” series is from Kerstin March whose debut, Family Trees, will be published by Kensington in Spring 2015.

“Although I have a desk to file my research and drafts, my favorite place to write is also my favorite place to read… my favorite chair in our living room. And today, when Minnesota’s weather is being compared to the North Pole and Mars (!), and making snowflakes with the kids inside is preferable to playing in the snow outside, I’m happy that there is also a fireplace in my “office” and a coffee pot percolating nearby.” — Kerstin March

Check out Kerstin on website,  Twitter and Facebook.


23 February, 2015

How to communicate with your publisher

Congratulations!  You have a book deal.  You are so excited.
Suddenly, there is complete silence.  Your literary agent, who had communicated regularly during the submission process, appears to be have moved on.  Your new editor, who seemed so eager to buy the rights to your book, does not reach out.  headshot_joelledelbourgo
What to do?

First, be patient.  Understand that  your agent worked hard to make the deal happen and is now finalizing details of the deal.  The editor is drafting a request for the contract, which involves a lot of paperwork and a lot of different people signing off before a contract draft can be crafted and sent to your agent for review.  That can take weeks, and it has been known to take months.  Once your agent receives it, she may first send back lengthy comments to the publishing house, with requests for changes.  There can be quite a lot of back and forth, and believe me, it is not fun.  It is arduous, meticulous work.

While all this is going on, your editor is preoccupied.

So…if you have not heard from editor, ask your agent if it is OK to send a personal note, thanking the editor for taking on your project or novel.  Perhaps your agent can make the introduction.  Follow up with a gracious and enthusiastic note, letting the editor know how thrilled you are to be working with the publishing house, how much you will value the input you receive, and how hard you plan to work to market your book successfully–with his help.

Once things get beyond the contract stage, you can ask the editor for feedback and for how that editor likes to work. Do they prefer to see the work in progress or as a whole?  How often would they like you to communicate.

While I personally prefer phone, many editors, especially younger ones, may prefer to use email, which allows them to take the time they need to respond.

There is little question that an author who is warm, positive and collaborative is one that everyone works harder for.  Strive to be that kind of author.  And if you don’t hear back, nudge gently.   Still no response?  Ask your agent for advice before you do anything. Your agent may know, for example, that the editor is at a sales conference, and that’s why she hasn’t gotten back to you.

The good news is that most editors are wonderful and want to hear from you.  So reach out and get the conversation going.

–Joelle Delbourgo

11 February, 2015

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Avoid Rejection

It’s widely known that agents (and editors) are inundated with queries and submissions.  I scroll through my query inbox at least once a week and probably reject 98% of what comes in.  Some of these rejections might have been avoided, at least leading me to consider the query seriously.  Here are some obvious common mistakes writers make and how they can be avoided:

*Never send a group email to agents.  We like to feel special.  It may feel like a lot of work but address each query you send out to an individual agent.

*Never use a generic salutation.  “Dear Madam” or “Dear Sir” or, simply, “Dear Agent” puts you in the rejection pile, without your letter even being read.

*Never catalog your rejection woes. Telling us how many others have rejected your work or how exhausted you are from sending out queries and being ignored or receiving form rejections does not do you any good.  You sound pitiful.  Is that how you really want to present yourself?

*Never tell us that your book will be the next mega-hit.  Let us be the judge of the potential of your book to succeed.  Gloating about how much money we are going to make together is not persuasive or attractive.

*Never tell us that you know nothing about publishing and are looking to us to educate you.  That is not our job!  Your job is to do some research about the process befoe you ever contact an agent.  In future posts, I’ll share some excellent resources you can use to do just that.

–Joelle Delbourgo

3 December, 2014

How Authors Can Better Use Facebook to Promote

Random House has an excellent newsletter for authors and agents.  Here’s an article from the latest issue that every author who is on Facebook should read:

–Joelle Delbourgo

21 August, 2014


The relationship between author and agent is such a central one. There’s loads of information out there about how to get an agent to represent you, but much less information about what to do with the relationship once it has been established.4

Your agent is not simply a person who pitches your book, sells it and negotiates a deal on your behalf. Yes, these are essential functions. But an agent is—or should be—a sounding board, sometime muse, advocate, midwife, editor, and marketer. This applies to the early stages of developing and shaping an idea into a saleable proposal or manuscript. Your agent can provide invaluable perspective on what is happening in the industry, trends, how tastes and agendas change within publishing houses, literally minute to minute. Your agent generally (or should I say “hopefully”?) has a feel for the kind of book you write, and most agents have great taste and instincts for whatever they choose to represent. We actually love your work and derive a great deal of pleasure from making a contribution to your developing career as an author.

So, talk to us. I love to hear from my authors, not just when there is a problem to be solved. Tell me what you are up to, what you are thinking about, what worries you, what you are dreaming about. What are your goals? Let me know when you are promoting your book so I can post it on our social media and let a wider world know what you are doing. Ask us questions about any aspect of the business as it affects you or any stage of the creative process.

We are here for you. We are tuned in. So, talk to us.

–Joelle Delbourgo