Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Tagged middle grade

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 2 – The Difference Between Young Adult And Middle Grade

STATUS: We folks here in Denver like to take the Groundhog seriously. If he says 6 more weeks of winter, we say let’s kick it off with 2 feet of snow. Bring on the winter. I’m the only who made it in today. Of course I have an advantage. I walk to work.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WE ARE YOUNG by Fun.

Invariably when I’m at a writing conference, I always get asked this question. So last weekend, I sat down and organized my thoughts on what I believe to be the core difference between the two.

And today’s entry is simply the first in a couple of videos I’ve recorded on this topic. Enjoy!


Potpourri And Funnies

STATUS: This week was defined but what wasn’t on fire with gasoline explosions. Seriously, I was coming to work each day with the thought: “Can just one thing not be an issue today? Just one.”

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WE GET TO FEEL IT ALL by Indigo Girls

But I can also define this week by some really cool things.

1. Got a revised cover for an author who had a hideous cover just last week. New cover is awesome! I’m so pleased and relieved.

2. My colleague Sara held a big big auction for a middle grade boy fantasy novel that went in a major deal (THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann). Squee.

And the best thing ever? Today my author’s editor had her baby and get this, she named the baby boy after a character in my author’s novel for whom she is the editor.

Okay, nothing beats that. That is just “Yes Way” cool.

And because it’s Friday, how can I not share with you www.awkwardfamilypetphotos.com? I read the article in PW, had to check it out. Huge Beverage alert. The below photo was hands down my favorite. Oi!


An Observation On Character Development

STATUS: It’s such a gorgeous day in Denver. I’m ready to pop out early and take Chutney for a long walk.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

This weekend I did my first SCBWI conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I just had a blast.

As I’ve done in the past, I did my 2-pages or First pages workshop where writers submit their opening pages, it gets read aloud, and I say yay or nay–would I have read on and why.

This time, I had something happen that has never happened before. My reader chose the first three at random and read them aloud. I would have read on for all three.

That’s rare. I’ve given this workshop a dozen or so times and I’ve usually found only one submission that I would have read further on. 99.9% of what we see isn’t quite ready for an agent to review. By the way, this is not to stay it will never be ready. Just that it wasn’t quite there in this incarnation.

Trust me, I don’t want to stomp on writers’ dreams!

For this workshop, I noticed a couple of beginning writer mistakes that I haven’t really talked about yet so I thought I would tackle some.

Beginning Writer Mistake: Opening scenes that make it clear that the writer has not thought through the character’s backstory and history before writing the scene.

What do I mean by this? I can tell from reading the scene that the writer is simply trying to create an exciting opening and if the writer had stopped to think about it, there is no way the characters would react as written if the characters had a clear history with either the other character in the scene or to the event.

For example, a Grandma loves to drive fast, in direct opposition to most people’s perception of how a grandmother would drive. So the writer wants to show this quirky trait and thus writes an opening scene from the grandchild’s perspective who is reacting wildly to the grandmother’s driving.

However, if the character is often driven by her grandmother, she’d be used to her Nana’s rather erratic speed demon driving habit. So given that history, she wouldn’t react dramatically to it; it would be normal.

Do you see what I mean? The writer should approach the scene with the above assumption. Now the writer can still have this opening erratic driving scene but the grandchild character’s reaction would be written differently with this history in mind.

And if it’s the first time the grandmother has ever driven that character, then that would need to be made clear and then the character could react dramatically. The scene would then work.

But I often see slush pile submissions where it’s clear to me that the writer hasn’t quite gotten knowledgeable about his or her characters before jumping in to writing scenes about them.

Just another writing tip to keep in mind!


What’s Hot Down Under

STATUS: I was very glad to hear that New York City didn’t get as hard from Irene as anticipated but my contacts on Long Island are still without power. Eep.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

As I’m based in the U.S., it’s easy to get tunnel vision on what is hot because obviously I’m mostly focused on this territory. Now granted we sell a lot of projects abroad and some of our authors are wildly popular in places like Japan more so than in the US so I’m certainly aware of territorial differences but I still find it fascinating all the same.

So when I was in Australia, I had a chance to visit with a couple of editors. One publishing division was housed in a charming old Victorian-style mansion and others had sleek modern offices. I rather liked both settings.

Some things I learned took me by surprise. For example, in talking with ANZ children editors, they are still having a wonderful market for picture books. I don’t rep this genre (so please don’t send me queries for it) but I’ve heard any number of editors and agent friends who handle picture books in the US bemoan the state of trying to break out a new author in this arena. The climate is tough here but Down Under, they are still seeing really great success–even for new authors. This could partly be because the Indie bookseller market holds a significant sales percentage still in that country.

Two chain sellers–Borders and Angus & Roberson–had closed doors and editors were greatly concerned. With it went 20% of their sales market. In consequence, print runs were down by several 1000 depending on the author.

I was also surprised to see Costco in Melbourne and Sydney. I didn’t realize that company was there. (I also saw a few Targets). Interestingly enough though, neither venue sells books in Australia yet. I mentioned that it tended to be a strong sales venue in the US so I will be watching to see where that goes, if anywhere, there.

In ANZ, for young adult, dystopian has not taken off in a big way yet. HUNGER GAMES is certainly popular and they’ve had nice success with some other dystopian titles but no big break out. Well, let’s hope Marie Lu’s LEGEND will help jumpstart that trend. I’d appreciate it.

In a similar vein, paranormal romantic YA is equally hot there as it is in US (no surprise). What has gotten harder is literary YA–and that use to be a good market for them.

For middle grade, the ANZ publishers bemoaned the dearth of MG boy adventure stories (that sounds familiar!) and Wimpy Kid blew it out there. No surprise really. That’s a series that feels really universal.

In the adult realm, they publish a lot of Australian authors (as they should) and they always do it in trade paperback. There are very few hardcovers published there. They still love beautifully written stories so US imports like a recent debut THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is having nice traction.

Another interesting tidbit is that an adult title called THE SLAP did mildly in the US but really broke out Down Under (and it was from an Aussie author so maybe no surprise) but it did well in Europe too.

Editors like what they call “watercooler” books. Fiction that tackles issues that readers can dig in and talk about around the proverbial watercooler.

That’s a wrap. By the way, this blog entry is not meant to be the end-all be-all of the ANZ literature market. It’s just smattering of random bits of info but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.


Riding the Cultural Zeitgeist?

 

Status: I only own an umbrella for when I’m in New York. So ready for the perpetually sunny skies of Denver.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker

Even though we agents and editors have seen this phenomenon repeat itself for years, it still strangely takes us by surprise.

Sometimes a theme or a type of story will hit the cultural zeitgeist and suddenly we will see a slew of submissions that have very similar story ideas.

And I’m not talking about obvious trends. For example, in Young Adult, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that paranormal romance has been “hot” for a while (thank you Twilight). Then the Hunger Games took off and dystopia became the new trend. As titles released in that, the latest is now SF or speculative fiction.

These are popular trends.

This is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about storylines that suddenly start popping up that are potentially outside of these trends but for some reason, the stories all hit our submission inboxes around the same time.

For example, over the last 6 months, there have been a lot of queries and sample pages for fairy tale retellings (and this started happening before Little Red Riding Hood and Beastly hit the screen).

I was out to lunch with a children’s editor yesterday and for him, he had suddenly started seeing a ton of submissions that were what he called “man vs machine a la Terminator-style.”

The submissions came from different agents/agencies and yet all had very similar settings and main storylines. And this isn’t actually a rare occurrence. As an agent, I’ve seen this happen any number of times in my career.

So, there is something percolating in the cultural zeitgeist where any number of totally different authors who don’t know each other will have eerily similar story ideas for their novels.


Riding the Cultural Zeitgeist?

Status: I only own an umbrella for when I’m in New York. So ready for the perpetually sunny skies of Denver.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker


Even though we agents and editors have seen this phenomenon repeat itself for years, it still strangely takes us by surprise.


Sometimes a theme or a type of story will hit the cultural zeitgeist and suddenly we will see a slew of submissions that have very similar story ideas.


And I’m not talking about obvious trends. For example, in Young Adult, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that paranormal romance has been “hot” for a while (thank you Twilight). Then the Hunger Games took off and dystopia became the new trend. As titles released in that, the latest is now SF or speculative fiction.


These are popular trends.


This is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about storylines that suddenly start popping up that are potentially outside of these trends but for some reason, the stories all hit our submission inboxes around the same time.


For example, over the last 6 months, there have been a lot of queries and sample pages for fairy tale retellings (and this started happening before Little Red Riding Hood and Beastly hit the screen).

I was out to lunch with a children’s editor yesterday and for him, he had suddenly started seeing a ton of submissions that were what he called “man vs machine a la Terminator-style.”


The submissions came from different agents/agencies and yet all had very similar settings and main storylines. And this isn’t actually a rare occurrence. As an agent, I’ve seen this happen any number of times in my career.


So, there is something percolating in the cultural zeitgeist where any number of totally different authors who don’t know each other will have eerily similar story ideas for their novels.


The New Buzz Word: Speculative

Status: Dashing out to next meeting in 30 minutes and sheesh, it’s hotter than blazes in New York City today. I’m melting. It’s suppose to be a high of 99 tomorrow. I may stick an ice cube in my bra. That’s probably TMI.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M MELTING IN THE SUN by INXS (I couldn’t resist putting this title on!)


It’s official. I’ve had three meetings with three different editors at three different children’s publishing houses.


The new hot thing is “speculative” fiction.


I guess we don’t want to call it science fiction, futuristic, and definitely not dystopian. LOL.


Speculative is SF though.


For some editors, they don’t want a huge science focus or an emphasis on technology (as is a bit more traditional in adult SF). They want it based more concretely in an Earth or contemporary society anchor.


One editor actually said screw that. Bring on the next Ender’s Game (and I say Heck Yes to that! I totally want to see that book).


Editors also want:

Horror—not gore but scary as in I Know What You did Last Summer

Psych Thriller

Jodi Picoult with hot topic but for the teen set

Literary but with a hook


Editors are seeing a lot of mysteries with a romantic elements. So far, that doesn’t feel overly appealing to them. Of course it only takes one to break that mold and then every editor will want one.


We know how that goes.



Another Children’s Editor Weighs In

STATUS: Is if Friday yet? Dang. Not yet…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? TAKE MY BREATH AWAY by Berlin

On what she’s looking for. And I’m loving this list. I’d be happy to see queries from writers for anything she mentions. Bring it on.

1. Contemporary YA where the heroine is not a victim.

2. Witches, MG or YA, dark or light

3. SF YA

4. Multicultural SF or fantasy

5. Humor

6. Strong novels with gay protagonists

7. Steampunk

8. Novels with the perfect blend of literary and commercial that will get starred reviews, win awards, and land on the Times list.

Oh that’s not asking for much! I’m getting right on that last one. *grin *


What Editors Are Looking For

STATUS: It’s almost 8 pm and I haven’t left the office yet. That pretty much sums up the day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD by Tears For Fears

I have to say that all your comments on my last blog entry about the Best Query Ever made me laugh and laugh. Much needed when 160 emails in my inbox mysteriously disappeared during an email migration to the cloud.

Talk about cleaning up your TO DO list in one fell swoop. Luckily the emails were finally recovered. My tech person was much relieved too!

A children’s editor reconnected with me today. In her email, she outlined what she was dying to see. I LOVE when editors do that. Sometimes as agents, it’s easy to get tunnel vision just based on what we are seeing. So if you are an editor and you’re reading this, don’t hesitate to email me your current wish list. I love hearing from you and since I’ll be heading to NY for BEA and doing my monthly stay, now’s the time to ping me.

But back to what editors might want. From this email, it was nice to see that she was not looking for apocalyptic YA (she might be an exception there) but she’d love to see the following:

Southern-set novels

Novels with authentic characters that transform

Psychological thrillers

Mg horror (oh heck yes is what I say!)

SF (sweet!)

I have to say I’m on board with that. I’d be open to any and all of the above.

And as always, this editor would love a “stunningly-written book with a great hook.”

Rather goes without saying… *grin *


Out Of The Mouth Of Babes

STATUS: Supposed to snow tomorrow. I’ll make it in but I think it will be a lonely day for Chutney and I.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN by Clash

Throughout any given year, I probably give at least 10 talks or workshops at writer’s conferences or other organizations. Plus, with my background in corporate training, I have to say that my public speaking skills are exceptional. And I certainly don’t feel any anxiety or nervous anticipation before any given talk.

That is, until this Saturday. I was tapped to do a talk for area 4th and 5th graders at the CCIRA Authors Festival. (Side note: CCIRA stands for Colorado Counsel International Reading Association.) That morning, I found myself kind of nervous. What an interesting new sensation. After all, with adults, you can fudge a talk; with kids, no way. If you’re boring, they’ll let you know. I also had never given a talk to people this young.

Much to my relief, the talk went great (phew!). Here’s a pic of the 90+ elementary schoolers in attendance (with a sprinkling of adults).

I actually confided that I was nervous and told them I was counting on their questions to carry me through so please don’t let me down. And I have to say, I was blown away by them. They asked the best questions I think I’ve ever received at a talk.

Here’s a sampling of what was asked:
1) What happens if you can’t sell a book to a publisher?
2) How do you know if a writer’s idea is a good one?
3) If Hollywood has bought the film rights, does the author get a share in the profit?
4) Can you publish your book yourself or do you have to have a publisher?
5) How do you decide if the cover art is good?
6) Do publishers show animation for cover concepts?
7) What happens if more than one publisher wants the book?

There were more but this is what I can remember. I’d do a talk for that age group again in a heartbeat.


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