Pub Rants

Not Because It’s Good For Me

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STATUS: Happy. It’s almost 80 degrees in Denver. Had lunch outside with the Hubby. Finished a submission. No contracts awaiting my attention since final copies need to arrive for the final vet. Three of my clients had release dates this week: Becky Motew for COUPON GIRL; Shanna Swendson for ONCE UPON STILETTOS; Ally Carter for I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU. On top of that, Jennifer O’Connell’s YA debut PLAN B is selling super well. All in all, I’m having a great day.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BELLE from Walt Disney’s Beauty and The Beast soundtrack

Do you want to know what turns me off when reading a query letter for YA or a middle grade project? Even if you don’t, I’m going to tell you anyway. I love this blog sometimes.

Nothing will generate a quicker NO than highlighting the “educational” value of your children’s work in your query letter.

For picture books or lower level middle grade, it can make sense. The books might be geared towards education and specifically designed to be a learning tool. (As a reminder though, I don’t handle either.)

But for Harry Potter level middle-grade and especially for YA, the “educational value” is the kiss of death to a query in my book. Why?

Goodness, don’t you remember reading as a kid? I certainly didn’t pick up a novel because I thought I might “learn” something from it. Ick. I choose a novel to read because I thought the story would be wildly entertaining. And, if I happened to learn something because the writer was that good, well then, bully for me. The educational value was the absolute last thing on my mind (but boy did I incidentally learn a lot from some of my favorite novels).

Same should apply to your query letter. If you can’t sell me on a really original and engaging story (that would actually be enticing to young people), I’m not really interested and all the educational value in the world won’t change my mind.

All I’m thinking is boy, that would be dull as dirt. Who wants to read because it’s good for me? I certainly didn’t as a tween and I’m guessing that things haven’t changed all that much in the last 28 years.

Tell a good story. Highlight that in your query. If you’ve got that, I’m positive you are a strong enough writer to embed lessons worth learning in the novel because it would be a natural part of the story unfolding.

8 Responses

  1. 2readornot said:

    Tangent: I was once told by an agent (NOT Kristin, though she may agree with this agent for all I know) that I needed to read everything I could in my genre so that THOSE AUTHORS WOULD ALSO READ MY STUFF?? she also lectured me for a brief time about how I needed to ‘read to learn’…sorry, but this was also too much like school for me, and although I liked this agent as a person, I couldn’t imagine working with someone who would talk to me like I was a student/child still (regardless of how she may think I act;)…so I completely agree with this outlook on books…good advice.

  2. April said:

    Funny, I never imagined someone trying to write YA and thinking it needed to be educational… I guess they need to get in touch with their market so to speak. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Anonymous said:


    Maybe the agent didn’t make her point clearly. They often recommend reading everything in the genre to learn something very important: how to write for the genre.

  4. 2readornot said:

    And I agree with that…but she did this without even knowing how much I’ve read — which is a great deal…maybe I was just tired and grumpy when she said it, but it definitely sounded like a lecture…sigh. But thanks for the thought 🙂

  5. joanr16 said:

    I can’t imagine Kristin ever, ever speaking to any authors– clients, queriers, conference attendees– as if they were children. She does make thoughtful, well-informed and experienced suggestions, from which one can learn a great deal.

    Over the years I learned the hard way that you don’t write good fiction to a “theme,” for instance: I’m going to write a novel to raise the alarm on global warming! I do, however, sometimes start writing to address a particular question that’s plaguing me (What would it feel like to stand on that stage, playing Lady Macbeth?) If the right story takes hold, the original question is long forgotten, and a host of new questions are raised. As a reader, often I have much the same experience. I’ll read Toni Morrison’s Beloved to be moved, and then, because I am moved, go to the library to read the true accounts of escaped slaves.

    In short, sometimes good fiction educates unintentionally, in ways the author could never predict. And sometimes just having fun reading good fiction is quite enough.

  6. 2readornot said:

    Well said, joan! And I want to be sure everyone knows that Kristin was NOT the agent who made those comments to me…from what I’ve seen, I have to agree with you — she’s never talked to writers as if they were children at all, and I appreciate that!

  7. Bernita said:

    One supposes though, since kids don’t agent or publish the books, the writers thought the “educational” tag would be attractive to those who do.

  8. Lynne said:

    As a librarian, I have to say that “educational” is the kiss of death for us, too. We don’t buy fiction – for any level! – that’s marketed as educational. That’s the job, in my opinion, of non-fiction. And some of that is so well-written that it can also be used for leisure reading. But fiction should fire the reader’s imagination and tell a great story. No kid wants to read educational stuff. And no librarian trying to help a kid find a book to read – even for a school assignment! – is going to make points with that kid if she pushes a book for its educational value. Trust me on this …