Query.Sign.Submit. with Carmella Van Vleet

Carmella Van Vleet

Carmella’s debut middle grade novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, is now available from Holiday House! She is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.


Eliza Bing

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literary agent and authorNow for Carmella’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission.


If querying was a long time ago for you, what do you remember most?

What I remember most is how disheartening the whole process could be. Every time I’d feel like I was making progress or getting closer to an offer it would fall through and I’d have to start all over again. Or I’d hear a story about someone who landed an agent right out of the gate, and I’d think “Why can’t that be me?” I’ve been writing professionally for over fifteen years; I have a pretty thick skin. But it still got to me at times.

What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?

That you never know just how close you are to your “Yes” or having all the stars line up. In my case, my agent wasn’t an agent yet. I guess I just needed to wait for her to show to the party, so to speak!

Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?

Yes. I’d queried numerous agents with other projects, including a couple of picture books and a young adult novel. I was getting good feedback but no offers in the end. My agent has since sold one of those other projects as well as the book I queried her with.


How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

It may sound cliché, but it was a gut reaction. From our first phone conversation, I felt like I’d known her for a long time. She was new to agenting and I was the first person she’d offered representation to. That might scare some writers, but I embraced it. I felt like we were taking a chance on each other and getting to do something special - start our careers together. (The fact she was working at a respected, well-established agency also helped convince me.) And she was a writer herself. I knew she’d really understand what it was like in the trenches.

How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?

Marie is very editorial. And, because she’s a writer herself, I expected that. Like most writers, I have strong feelings about my work and I sometimes “process out loud.” By that I mean, I talk out ideas or explain why I did something I did. Marie is good about respecting that. I make changes when I feel they improve the work and stand my ground otherwise. There’s a mutual respect, I think. And that helps. Your agent can’t do a good job of selling your work if they don’t genuinely like it or believe in it. That’s my opinion at least.

Do you send sample chapters to your agent or do you wait until the manuscript is finished?

Marie left that decision up to me. I tend to prefer waiting until a manuscript is finished. Maybe I’m afraid of jinxing myself or maybe I’m just not comfortable showing something before it’s ready! But either way, I wait until something is in at least reasonably decent shape before sending it in Marie’s direction.


Do you see the feedback from editors?

When we started submitting, Marie asked me what I’d prefer - to see feedback or wait until an offer. I felt okay about seeing feedback. In most cases, it was actually very encouraging because I could see that it wasn’t necessarily a problem with the writing but the market. For example, the publisher had a similar title or whatever.

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Write another book. Read. Paint your living room. Take up running. Seriously, keep yourself busy. If you’re waiting by the phone (or computer), it’s going to be a long, stressful process. There’s nothing you can really do, so let it go. Put it all out of your mind.

Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?

We knew that the book was making the rounds with everyone at Holiday House. (The editor told Marie as much.) But we suspected there’d be requests for revisions first. It was a surprise when they offered a contract straight out.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

That night, my daughter and I went out to get a giant, decorated cookie. I also treated myself to some fancy nail polish. My main character gets herself into big trouble because of nail polish and the irony didn’t hit me until I was half way to the check out counter!

Thank you, Carmella!

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1 comment:

  1. Fancy nail polish -- your id is driving your choices as a writer and person! Nice interview and congrats, Carmella.


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