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Agent Advice: Erin Clyburn of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Agent Advice (this installment featuring Erin Clyburn of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.

Erin Clyburn joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as Associate Literary Agent in 2019 after an internship and apprenticeship with a boutique literary agency. She has worked as a copy editor and recipe editor in the magazine industry and was general manager and director of collection development for Turtleback Books. 

(20 Literary Agents Actively Seeking Writers and Their Writing.)

She received her BA in English Literature from Mississippi State University and her MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Learn more on her agent page.

Erin Clyburn

Erin Clyburn

*****

How did you become an agent?

I had a winding path to agenting. After years working in magazine editorial for Time Inc. and receiving my MA in Children's Literature from Hollins, I spent five years as general manager and collection development director for Turtleback Books, a seller of prebound books to the school and library market. I eventually moved to be closer to family and returned to magazine editorial with Meredith, during which time I moonlighted as a children's librarian because I missed the book world so much. 

I discovered a remote internship with a boutique literary agency that sounded intriguing, and was accepted in summer of 2018. I quickly realized agenting married all of my greatest career loves: editing, buying, sales, and reading books. I started signing clients of my own two years ago, and now I can't imagine having any other career.

What's the most recent thing you've sold?

I have so many unannounced sales it's getting difficult to keep track! But my most recent sale is a twisty and terrifying domestic thriller about an overly trusting landlord. He lets a woman move into his property without doing the customary background check, and when she starts dismantling the house from the inside out, he quickly realizes she isn't who she said she is. It's a gritty, gripping read.

What are you looking for right now from writers that you're not getting?

I recently ran my stats for the year on the audience and genre breakdowns for the queries I received, and thankfully I can say that I receive so many queries that are right in line with what I'm looking for. 

I'd love to see more middle grade and YA when I reopen sometime in the new year. I receive so many more adult queries than children's.

Where do you notice writers going wrong in chapter one?

There are a few things I notice often in the early pages of a submission. Sometimes the story doesn't start in the right place; instead of hooking the reader by getting to the plot, a manuscript will open up with too much explanation and backstory and often not get to the real hook of the opening until multiple chapters in. 

(8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One.)

I also see an issue of manuscripts opening in ways that are overused: a kid waking up for their first day of school, a car ride to a destination on the first day of summer break, a couple moving into a new house. It's much better to try to set your book apart as much as possible from page one: Often an agent will only read a few paragraphs of a submission, so you really have to make sure your project stands out from the rest.

What's the number one mistake you see in queries?

If I had to pick just one, it's probably that many queries do not adequately set up the stakes of the project in their pitch. It's tough to do it concisely, but make sure your pitch for your book includes the internal and external stakes for your protagonist. What choices do they face in the book, and why does it matter to them? 

Often queries do a great job of setting up the backstory (who, where, when, etc.) but fall short in communicating what the choices are that the protagonist will face and what the stakes of their decision making are.

What's your best piece of advice for writers?

Right now, the book business is stranger than ever. Due to the pandemic, understaffing issues, the shift to remote work, supply chain issues, and so many other things, wait times are long and uncertainty abounds. My advice is not to lose heart. Keep writing when you can, and rest when you need to. 

(When Is My Novel Ready to Read?)

Take your time, and query your best, most polished work. And be patient, understanding how very long things are taking, and that a long wait does not equal a lack of interest from an agent or editor. It just means people are busy and tired. Focus on what is in your control, which is your work and taking care of yourself.

*****

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