Pub Rants

Too Many Space Ships Spoil The YA

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STATUS: Heading out to check out the Off Broadway musical Altar Boyz.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AUTUMN IN NEW YORK by Harry Connick, Jr.

It was late when I wrote yesterday’s blog so I can be forgiven but I totally forgot a key point the editor from RH had shared. She’d love to see urban fantasy with a male protagonist. They’ve been kind of scarce and there seems to be room for a new Dresden Files type work (nod to fav agent friend Ms. Jackson).

Today I had breakfast (so rare to get the editors out early!) with an editor at Tor who acquires young adult and adult SF&F.

We mostly talked about her children’s list so here’s the lunch plate of the day.

If you didn’t already know this, SF children’s is a tough sell. It has to be the right balance between SF elements and a recognizable world that has a larger general appeal. Good author examples of successes would be Garth Nix and Scott Westerfeld.

This editor is dying for something that will be accessible to a wider audience and all she seems to be getting is space ship stories, zombies, and disaster scenarios—all of which feel tired or a bit old-fashioned. She also sees a lot of stories where the parents or all the adults have kicked the bucket and it’s up to the teens to save themselves, the planet, or all of the above.

Now it’s not to say that these elements won’t work in the right story with a fresh twist but it’s the fresh part that seems to be missing.

She wants stories that are about social issues but have a cool SF element that is integral to the story. Some good Tor examples are Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER and debut author Isamu Fukui’s TRUANCY.

17 Responses

  1. bookfraud said:

    i’m surprised that juvenile sci-fi is such a tough sell, but the “balance” between reality and fantasy makes sense. i was so besotted with science fiction as a child that i would read any such book, no matter the balance…then again, i was reading “adult” science fiction at a relatively early age and thought that’s what everyone else read, too.

  2. Nora Coon said:

    I’d love to write an urban fantasy with a male protagonist. Sadly, the way that teenage guys think remains a mystery to me.

    I’m curious, would something like YA cyberpunk or steampunk be considered sci-fi?

  3. Anonymous said:

    It’s just so much easier to have a female protagonist! I know I should switch this up and I’d have more success with my stories… but sadly, every time I try, it ends up being a disaster. I am just not able to understand the character enough to fall in love with him myself… so why would a reader? Sigh.

  4. Just_Me said:

    Thank you! You’re giving me hope. I don’t aim for YA, but I think what I write would be accessible to high school students, maybe middle school, and then the older crowd as well.

    And by golly I do have a male protgonist! Now I just need to polish the manuscript and query! (she said as if it were actually easy)

  5. beth said:

    It is SO GREAT to get your takes on this. I’ve said it before, but not often enough: THANK YOU for sharing your experiences with us!

  6. Anonymous said:

    Not only do we appreciate all of your invaluable insight – but thanks for bringing the snow with you from Denver!

  7. Anonymous said:

    For those of you who don’t know that publishing is subjective, and get confused about blog posts, don’t trash your vampires yet. This direct quote was posted on an agent blog this week: “Another is still looking for sexy vampire and werewolf stories.” It’s an agent explaining to someone what an editor wants. This is a good, reputable agent, and the editor has a good track record.

  8. Anonymous said:


    I am working on an urban fantasy with a male protagonist. Well, maybe it’s not urban fantasy a la Dresden Files, but it’s fantasy and it is in a comtemporary setting. Something between urban fantasy and magical realism.

    I am also working on a YA SF story involving a time travel agency. This one deals with some social issues, but not in an overt, in your face way. Also? Male protagonist.

    Here’s to hoping there will be a market when I’m done 🙂

  9. Anonymous said:

    Although i’m an avid reader, and although i do appreciate the advice, i’ve become cynical. The publishing world is rife with advice and short on personal interaction with prospective writers. The mantra from agents is that they are overwhelmed with queries. I’ll grant that. However, i would bet that out of those hundreds of queries received weekly, there are at least fifty with merit. Isn’t there a place for a slush editor, one who at least sends a brief note indicating why the query was rejected? Has the publishing industry always been this pompous? Has the publishing industry always dictated the market? What the reader may want seems rather subjective to me, a catch-22 since the industry fronts and markets books it believes the public must want.

    There, that little rant makes me feel better.

  10. Anonymous said:

    to Nora
    “Sadly, the way that teenage guys think remains a mystery to me.”

    If you want to plumb the teenage male brain, just look at some of the computer RPG games and video games that are out there and you can see where their heads are.

  11. Anonymous said:

    to anon @10:42

    Yes. The publishing industry has always been this pompous; it was even worse before there was an Internet. Go figure.

    But the problem with the internet is that we have so many new agents, writers and editors handing out all kinds of subjective advice that writers get confused, and that’s dangerous. So don’t take any of it too seriously.

    When you read a blog, or see advice on the net, take into consideration that this is opinion, for the most part,and then take it all with a grain of salt and continue to write.

    You might want to limit your blog reading to a select few as well; to those who have been in the business for a long time, with proven track records.

    I really hate to see nice people discouraged.

  12. Kimber An said:

    This would worry me if I hadn’t already talked to real teens who read science fiction, spaceships and all. They head straight for the adult section. Ditto on Fantasy.

  13. Merc said:

    I’d love to see more UF with male protagonists!

    This gives me hope, as my urban fantasy novel features a MMC (four, actually). I’m so glad to hear someone other than me wants more guys in center stage (and on the covers) when it comes to UF. 😉


  14. Rose Green said:

    Thanks for passing along the commentary about the YA scene! I’m sure that poor editor at Little, Brown just wants to run away when she hears about vampires now.

    Twilight aside, themes that are currently inundating editors’ (or even agents’) desks are not always obvious, however, to writers browsing the bookstore. So it’s nice to get the view from the other side of the window.