Pub Rants

What They [Editors] Want

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STATUS: Having a great time in the Big Apple. I’m calling this my “children’s tour.” I’m only meeting with editors for teen and middle grade stuff. So if you write for the adult market. Sorry. You’ll just have to wait for my June trip for Book Expo. Then I’ll be meeting with a variety of editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RADAR LOVE by Golden Earring

Today I was at the Penguin Children’s Group all day. I spoke with many different editors but it’s Karen Chaplin and Jennifer Bonnell who gave me the lowdown for what they wish they had in their acquiring hands right this minute.

Ready? Grab a pen.

1. Paranormal YA that’s not vampires or werewolves.

2. A YA psychological thriller (we couldn’t even come up with comparable examples that’s how unusual it seems to be.)

3. Middle grade mysteries

4. Boy middle grade ANYTHING

Sarah Shumway at Dutton Children’s mentioned that she’s been paying special attention to this:

She’s been receiving great pitches but then when the manuscript comes in, the characters or the writing isn’t developed quite enough so she passes.


She’s receiving manuscripts with good characters and solid writing but there’s not enough of a hook to make it stand out and so she passes.

Penguin Sales reps want to be able to sum it up in one sentence.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. Never underestimate the importance of high concept for young adult projects.

More tips and inside scoop tomorrow.

28 Responses

  1. Kimber An said:

    Paranormal YA? Oh, sure, I’ve got one of those. Heck , I’ve got three. But…do you have any idea how depressing it is to be excited about working on one kind of story while knowing the world wants something else? I’ve been told that to be a successful, published author, one has to put out the goods that are called for and on time too.

    But…I don’t waaaant to!

    Okay, okay, I’m done whining now. I’ll go dig through my Heaps & Piles. (Kimber flings SFR and Historicals over her shoulder, searching for her YAs.) For the record, I can’t stand vampires or werewolves, so that is totally not a problem.

  2. Libby said:

    YA psychological thriller… I’m thinking LORD OF THE FLIES or THE HOLE, something like that. Close?

  3. R.J. Anderson said:

    OMG, I am currently in the final stages of outlining a paranormal YA with psychological thriller elements. And that isn’t spin, it’s the honest truth of what’s in the story. And here I thought nobody would be interested in such an oddball project. Wow.

    It also has SF elements, though, and I’ve been hearing SF is a tough sell these days?

  4. Miss Guzzums said:

    Paranormal? That’s popular? Weird. The only books I see people my age carrying around have to do with either humor, gossip, or something controversial. And almost all the main characters are sarcastic.

  5. Jane Holland said:

    OMG. I’ve been working on a paranormal YA that is NOT vampires or werewolves for some months now, and feeling a bit despondent, you know: ‘No one will want this sort of stuff, who am I kidding?’

    I’m published in other fields but have never placed a children’s book before, also currently without agent after being with one of the biggest UK agencies in the distant past. But this blog post has given me fresh impetus to finish the book and find a new agent.

    So thanks! Onward and upward!

  6. Patrick McNamara said:

    I’ve just started into a YA boy’s SF after the suggestion in your newletter but I’m delaying the work on it because I figured out how to improve a boy’s fantasy that I had done (and one you rightly rejected). I feel more comfortable about working on this than romance.

  7. Anonymous said:

    How funny…My MS went to 3 editors last week and 2 of them are on your list of the 3 you talked about. It’s a small world!!

    So….. no mention of other girl-centric YA? You talked about high concept at the end but all you mentioned they wanted was really paranormal/pyschological.

  8. Eileen said:

    At the risk of showing my age in the 80’s there was an author- I think Lois Duncan- who did sort of psychological thrillers. I may even remember one of the titles (and here I thought all these brain cells were damaged in college) I know what you did last summer.

  9. Tracy said:

    Very interesting information. I’ll look forward to your adult market post in June. As to your travel woes…I thought Mercury in retrograde was over!

  10. Alison Ashley Formento said:

    Boy Middle Grade ANYTHING—Hooray! Right up my alley.

    Kristen, Thanks again for the great workshop at the Writer’s Weekend. Enjoy the Apple!

    Scott, middle grade boy books: Think Bruce Coville. Also JigSaw Jones Mysteries, A to Z Mysteries and Hardy Boys are still popular, too.

  11. McKoala said:

    Wow. I have actually written a YA psychological thriller. It was my first novel and it went to a few agents and did garner some nice replies and one near miss. In the meantime I moved on to novel no. 2 and the YAPT is currently spending some quality time in the bottom drawer waiting for a rewrite. Hmm. Maybe I need to dust it off pretty darn soon.

  12. Anonymous said:

    To Alison who mentioned Jigsaw Jones and Hardy Boys for middle school anything.
    No way. I have a 6th grade boy (in middle school) and a 4th grade boy (even younger) and they would both consider those baby books.
    My 6th grader has two books on the floor next to his bed right now – The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne Duprau and Endymion Springs by Matthew Skelton.

  13. Anonymous said:

    for ya psychological thrillers, i thought of lois duncan too–her stories and some of roald dahl’s i think were the ones that i read until i “graduated” to steven king’s stuff and then later to thomas harris. ya psych thrillers–woo.

  14. Alison Ashley Formento said:

    To anonymous about MG books: School librarians and editors I’ve heard from consider those chapter books I mentioned as MG’s for 7 to 10 year old readers who aren’t quite ready for longer fiction. Obviously, you have great readers there, but that doesn’t mean those books I mentioned are “baby books,” especially since reading levels vary so much for elementary kids.

  15. Anonymous said:

    Again comments directed to Alison:
    I thought the target reader was middle school? Middle school can range from 6th to 9th grade, which means ages 11-15 years of age. Therefore librarian recommendations for 7-10 year olds are another topic entirely. Yes, Hardy Boys and Jigsaw Jones would be fine for them. I still contend that today’s boys want something more contemporary. I’m in a book club with my 4th grader (who is, by the way, a very average reader) and they’ve read Eragon (Christopher Paolini) and Magyk (Angie Sage) and Among the Hidden (Margaret Peterson).
    Oh, and I just remembered one of my 12 yr. olds favorite reads this year: Maximum Ride by James Patterson.

  16. P. Salomon said:

    My nephews range in age from 9-15; guess what age group I’ve been writing for? I’ve spent a great deal of time with them talking about their reading habits. All are voracious readers, but tend to avoid like the plague those books actually geared towards their age range. Harry Potter is the standard: books targeted towards all age groups but written well, with engaging characters their age or slightly older (rarely younger). I was surprised at the reaction to such series as the Elfstones of Shannara, they loved the ‘romantic’ aspect as much as I did at that age but more than I had expected. It’s difficult to ‘get’ this age group since they’re nothing like I was as a 10-15 year old boy and what they actually are into changes before they can even explain what it is.
    One short story I wrote, geared towards a specific audience for a local publication, was ‘geared’ towards 10 year old girls. The reason I mention it is because I was pleasantly surprised at how much my nephews, as well as my 8 year old son, enjoyed it despite the definite lack of male characters. When pressed, the ‘mystery’ of the story itself was of more importance to them than the genders of the sleuths (in this particular case only; they mentioned some female characters they didn’t relate to in other stories). Also, the friendship between the characters was cited as being something they all wished for with their friends. Jason Robert Brown, the composer, has a new show that recently premiered in LA entitled ’13’ about, yes, 13 year olds. There is a wonderful song called ‘What It Means To Be A Friend.’ That bonding is important, both within the story and in their lives.
    I kept hearing about how the friendships within a story, as evidenced by the trinity of Harry, Ron, Hermione are vital to their enjoyment. It’s not why they first pick up the book (it’s not something blurbed on the back cover: ‘Great Friendships Inside’) but it’s why they recommend the book to their friends and read all of the sequels.
    Another short story I wrote, aimed at an even younger audience, didn’t capture their imagination as far as what they would want to read but lead to further discussions about what does capture them. It would be impossible to distill those conversations into a comment, other than to say I hope that the manuscript which their input has led to will do so (and I keep testing it on them and…well…so far so good!).

  17. Camilla said:

    I recent YA thriller I read was Malorie Blackman’s Crosses & Naughts–very excellent.

    I’m not a YA writer, but I’m getting into YA and am glad to see that the genre is expanding outside of the bubble-headed “Gossip Girls” type stuff.

  18. lisa said:

    Hey Kristin. I’ve just read this so please excuse the late comment. Wow! Does paranormal include a parallel universe where very cool modern-day fairies use quantum physics to help humans by bending time? If so, I’ve got a YA novel and a ready screenplay. Interested??

  19. Ron D. said:

    “Never underestimate the importance of high concept for young adult projects.”

    What the heck is “high concept?”