Marie Lamba (marielamba.com) is author of the picture book Green, Green (Farrar Straus Giroux, ’17), and the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head, and Drawn. Her work appears in the short story anthology Liar Liar (Mendacity Press), the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing), and her articles are in more than 100 publications including national magazines such as Writer’s Digest and Garden Design. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, has taught classes on novel writing and on author promotion, and belongs to The Liars Club. Marie is also an Associate Literary Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC (jdlit.com).
interview by BWG member Diane Sismour
For over two decades The Liars Club, (a successful group of authors and people in the publishing industry of the Great Philadelphia area), invited other writers of all genres and skill levels to meet monthly to discuss Industry News and the Writing Craft. Marie Lamba and I met at one such meeting many years ago, and have reacquainted at numerous conferences and workshops ever since. When she became an Agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I felt karma had rewarded her for staying dedicated to her craft, and for all the great work, she and the other Liars Club members did to help countless others succeed. I am pleased to introduce our readers to Marie Lamba. D.S.
Bethlehem Writers Group: Hi Marie, can you please tell us a little bit about your role at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, and the type of novels you acquire.
Marie Lamba: Hi Diane. Thanks so much for having me here! I work as an agent representing authors who write and illustrate picture books, and who write middle grade and young adult novels, as well as adult novels and some memoir titles. It’s a busy job for sure. I’m a very editorial agent, so I work with my authors very closely to ensure that a submission is in its very best form, then I pitch it to editors. Once offers come in, we move on to the contract negotiation stage. Even after the contracts are signed, I’m here by my author’s side as they go through the publication and even the promotion process.
BWG: What interested you in becoming an agent, and how did you make the switch from being a full-time young-adult author to a full-time agent?
ML: My agent is actually Jennifer De Chiara. She saw how I interacted with others, handled promotion and marketing, as well as editing, and thought I’d be a good fit as an agent. After much thought, I decided to trust her gut. She was right–being an agent was a great fit for me.
BWG: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting your husband and daughters on several occasions. In light of the diversity movement in publishing, has your multi-ethnic family influenced your view of diversity in fiction, and if so, how?
ML: When you are part of a diverse family, it’s just a part of your everyday life–not a movement. I’ve always included diverse characters in my stories, long before any movement developed. Diversity is part of life, and should be a natural part of fiction. When it fits naturally within a story, that’s a wonderful thing, and I’m always appreciative of that.
BWG: All agents seem to have at least one reason for needing a stress ball in their desk. What is your biggest pet peeve as an agent?
ML: When writers throw away their one shot at querying an agent because they haven’t taken the time to learn the basics about how to do it right. It’s so simple these days to google how to write a query letter, how to format a manuscript, etc.
BWG: What is one piece of advice that you would like writers to heed when on submission?
ML: Make sure your manuscript is really in its final form and is edited to perfection before you start sending it out.
BWG: From an agent’s standpoint, has being an author given you a different perspective when relating to clients?
ML: Definitely. I know how hard it can be to wait, and how sensitive a writer can feel to a rushed email from a busy agent, etc. Because I know both sides of this experience, I can reassure my authors every step of the way and being a writer myself helps me to anticipate their concerns and questions.
BWG: Has your writing changed since becoming an agent, and if so, how?
ML: Being a new agent is very much like running a start-up business…it takes tons of time. Because of this, my writing time has become brief. Instead of writing YA novels, lately I’ve been writing magazine articles and picture books. I’m hoping to have more time to devote to novels in the future, though.
BWG: Should an author have a social media presence prior to going on submission? If so, do you have any suggestions on how to develop one, and which markets to target?
ML: It’s important that when an agent googles your name that they find you, and that what they find is positive. It’s easy to start a twitter account and follow and retweet professional tweets. You should also have a website in your name (not in the name of your book) that can function as your online business card of sorts. Start slow and keep it positive.
BWG: How beneficial are writing organizations and groups to authors, and do you have any suggestions for readers as to which ones to join?
ML: It really ups your professional game when you get to talk with others doing what you are trying to do. One of the best ones out there is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators–a group that taught me a ton when I was trying to break into kid lit. Now I’m honored to be on the faculty at many of their conferences. Another solid group is the Romance Writers of America.
BWG: There are many writing conferences held each year. Do you believe they are helpful, and if so, what is the biggest advantage they can provide to pre-published and published authors?
ML: Conferences are fabulous. I loved as a new author going to smaller conferences where I could actually interact more with editors and agents and authors I’d meet. You learn so much, get your questions answered, and make friends within your sphere of interest.
BWG: I’ve noticed that the publishing industry changes trends more now than ever before because of instant marketing through popular networks like Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. What trends in the industry are you paying attention to that most excite you now?
ML: I do love the #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) movement–not only is it a great cause, but it also demonstrates how taking a stand can actually make a difference in publishing in a positive way. Honestly, though, as an agent there is only one thing I’m interested in: finding beautifully written books to represent. This transcends trends, and it’s what it’s really all about.
BWG: Do you have a favorite writing manual or writing tool guide that you can suggest other authors read?
ML: I always use Donald Maas’ HOW TO WRITE THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK when I revise my first drafts. It’s excellent.
BWG: Is there any information you would like pre-published authors, or fans of your novels, to know that you would like to share?
ML: Don’t give up, ever. And be sure that you are always doing something to improve your writing skills every day. Do this, and I guarantee that every year you’ll see a huge improvement in your work.