Pub Rants

When Editors Come A-Calling

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STATUS: It’s Monday. Need I say more? Actually, it was an okay day. There are a few ongoing fires I’m dealing with but nothing new. Thank goodness for that. I’m still concentrating on client material but my partial inbox is calling to me. I know there’s some good stuff in there I need to read soon.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? IT’S NOT UNUSUAL by Tom Jones

What I feel like doing most right now is knocking my head against my desk.

Why? There’s nothing worse than having an editor ring up and say, “What’s up babe? You got anything in the hopper for me. I’m itching to buy, buy, buy.”

Okay, the editor didn’t really say that (or call me babe) but she did email me and say, “Do you have any upcoming young adult projects for me to look at?” (Translation: Darn your YA titles are selling really hot right now–which they are–and I want a project with you.)

The Editorial Director of the imprint no less.

And this is the second email in a week’s time from two different editors.

And there is nothing worse than having to say no, I haven’t got a darn thing.

It’s not from a lack of looking at YA projects either.

This is what frustrates me with the recent sample pages I’ve reviewed. Some of them have been great concepts (and I mean good stuff) but with flat, one-dimensional characters and what feels like teen standardized dialogue rather than something authentic.

That drives me crazy. Just because it’s YA doesn’t mean the writing standards are different.

I’ve been reading some cool stuff lately. Edgy. Like Printz medalist John Green’s latest AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES. Cool concept. Top writing.

And what’s really interesting is that I do think some of the stuff I’ve looked at will get representation and potentially sell.

And that’s fine. There’s a market and audience for all types of readers.

I guess I just don’t want to be the agent to sell it.

25 Responses

  1. Dana Y. T. Lin said:

    Miss Kristin,

    Can you clarify something for me? I’ve always assumed YA novels run around 40-50K in words; however I just stumbled across another agent blogger who said that amount is for middle grade. Which is which, and does it really matter?

    My current WIP will be under 50K and there’s no way it can be middle grade because of the content.

  2. Elektra said:

    This is why I never read much YA stuff–it always annoyed me that authors didn’t take the time to learn how school systems work nowadays, or how relationship issues have changed since they’ve been in high school. It’s nice to know that agents take that into consideration, too.

  3. Lexie Ward said:

    Keep your chin up, Kristin. Monday only comes around once a week. Survivors get to move onto Tuesday, which is one day closer to the weekend…

  4. Kimber An said:

    Ahhh! Can you hear me screaming all the way up here in Alaska? I just queried you this morning about my young adult novel, a space opera greatly inspired by Chinese mythology and with a teenage heroine so realistic that I have to tell her to shut-up and go to bed myself! But, I know you’re incredibly busy, so I’ll just wait my turn in your email inbox.;)

  5. Anonymous said:


    Listed below is the word count for various YA novels. Hope it helps.

    The Clique – 45,989
    Twilight(Stephenie Meyer) – 118,975
    Speak – 46,591
    Princess Diaries – 58,954
    Sloppy Firsts – 76,846


  6. Sue said:

    This is why the editors like you, you are discerning and not willing to settle. They know you deliver the goods.

  7. E is for Editrix said:

    Ah…YA. My favorite topic, and genre that encompasses a lot of my life….

    YA has a range in terms of length. Mostly what you deal with is something in the ballpark of 50-65,000 words. That gives you a nice trade paperback with a page count in the 256 range (depending on layout of course). But that doesn’t mean YA isn’t longer. Much longer. Or even shorter. What really defines it is target audience. Good YA is intended for high school kids, but assumes that middler schoolers are reading it. It should tackle relevant issues and be real. These are smart kids.

    And just to make a quick point to the anonymous lister of word counts, I’ve been seeing Sloppy Firsts and the other Megan McCafferty titles in the adult section, thought I think they can go either way.

    Essentially it boils down more to level than word count, but I usually tell writers to shoot for 50-60,000.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Well, I just queried you with a YA…of course, I think it’s wonderful 🙂 To quote Jane Austen: “My friends tell me the dialogue is truly a wonder.” At least I crack myself up!

  9. Marie S said:

    I must have read “The Count of Monte Cristo” in French (as it’s my first language). Dumas wrote it in 3 volumes. I must have read it about 7 times when I was 13 to 15 years old (junior high or so). I didn’t read it that many times because I had a problem with the language. I read the story because I just loved it to death.

    The story was by far from a short work of 50-60K so I’m proof that young adults read long novels without any difficulties.

    Okay, so I was that age quite a while ago (like 20 years). I still think there are YA who read long fiction. TV did exist then too.

  10. Anonymous said:

    what sue said. I’d rather wait for something great than read mediocre proposals.

    As for length, 50,000 is standard, but SO not rigid, at least from an editor’s standpoint. if the book is fabulous, I’m not going to complain if it’s a little shorter or a little longer.

    in my opinion, sloppy firsts, et al, are adult with big YA appeal. they’re published by an adult imprint, and are generally shelved in adult. they happen to deal with that in-between age of college and beyond, but I don’t think they’re YA=YA

  11. Simon Haynes said:

    That’s what happened with my novels here in Australia. They were published as adult books, then someone realised kids were enjoying them in large quantities and now they’re listed in school catalogues.
    There are no YA themes, no teen characters and no concessions to younger readers, just plain language and humour clean enough for kids to laugh at.
    They’re 80,000 words each, and I recently spotted reviews by a couple of school kids on the Young Australian Readers’ Awards website: Book 1 and Book 2. What amused me was that in each case the reviewers (one aged 12 and the other 15) both thought the books were ideal for their own age group. Nobody told them they were adult books 😉

  12. eleora said:

    YA market question: My writing group thinks my 90k fantasy should be marketed as YA and I am starting to agree. The characters are younger but it does have a rape scene. Would this disqualify it?

    I have noticed some pretty dark titles in the teen section, so I am hoping this might work out.

  13. kim reid said:


    I asked Kristin the same question, and she told me to aim for 60K. Thought I’d answer since she doesn’t usually do Q&A from comments. But I’m hoping I can get away with anon 10:38’s target when I submit my ms. to her.:)

    A client

  14. Debby G. said:

    That’s encouraging! At the National SCBWI conference a few weeks ago, it seemed that all the editors wanted middle grade novels. I’d switch over from YAs, except I love to write about sex.

  15. Anonymous said:

    Ooh! I want to know which editors! Must be nice to know who’s especially hungry right now. I have 2 YA fantasy novels I’m about to submit. (I do have a fantastic submission list for both, but still…)

    Thanks for linking me, Kristin. I linked you on my blog too.

    Also, I know what you mean about passing on projects you feel will sell, but… they just don’t get you excited enough to want to be the one to sell it.


  16. Gabriele C. said:

    Lol Marie,
    that’s so my story. I always went for the big books because they promised a longer time of fun. Which lead to me writing War and Peace fanfiction during boring school lessons (don’t know which grade; the German system is different). 🙂

  17. Lara said:

    I have a feeling your “Stories with Portals don’t get looked at” rant a few months ago may have discouraged a few YA writers to submit…or I could be completely crazy.

    Portals rule! (I only say that because I have a great YA story…with a portal…)

  18. Kim Strickland said:

    Dear Kristin,
    Thank you! I just found your blog (love it!) via Publishers Marketplace. I queried you several years ago (rejected, alas) but found great inspiration from your website at the time and started going to writers conferences because of it. Anyway, long story short, I found an agent (Sha-Shan Crichton) and now a publisher (Three Rivers Press). I’m just writing to say thank you for being so forthcoming with your insight into the publishing industry.
    Just thought you might like to hear from someone, who wants nothing from you, but achieved her goal because of you! Thanks again.

  19. Anonymous said:

    It’s kind of frustrating to read something like this because my agent says my YA manuscript is with three editors now and I haven’t heard a thing in months! To read that editors are calling and actually seeking YA out is kind of disheartening. Give me a rejection or something…anything.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Anon 8:03. At least you’re not in my boat. Kristin just recently rejected my YA partial.

    Hastily reviewing to see if characters come across “flat,” aagh, is this blog post for me? Hope not, but must learn, study, etc.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Anon 8:03 – Obviously there’s no way to comment on whether your manuscript has the sparkle that Kristin is addressing . . . but, as she stated, it’s not for a lack of supply. There are plenty of YA manuscripts in the world clogging up the in-boxes of overloaded editors (agented, even; “perfect,” even) that just don’t have that special something.

    Originality, voice, commercial potential — it gets boring to hear, but never boring to read.