Pub Rants

The Accidental Children’s Agent

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STATUS: Got the cover for Helen Stringer’s middle grade novel SPELLBINDER today and it rocks! Flat out I can’t wait to share when it’s ready, ready. I just love it when the cover works completely. The concept, the art, the font. It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s my very first middle grade novel sold. Squee!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STRANGE by Patsy Cline

When I first started my agency back in 2002, I repped adult fiction and nonfiction. Within two years, I knew that my heart wasn’t in the nonfiction projects. I enjoyed reading it; I didn’t enjoy repping it. But all my agent mentors told me that you couldn’t have a successful agency without nonfiction. I was told again and again that it was so much easier to sell then fiction.

Obviously I didn’t get that memo because for me, my experience was the exact opposite. Take on a novel, sell. Take on a self help project, a root canal would be better then that submission. It just wasn’t my talent.

And I didn’t represent anything in the children’s realm. I hadn’t read any titles in years; I mistakenly assumed I wouldn’t be any good at it.

Then a client of mine had written a YA novel and asked if I would rep it. This was at the beginning of 2004. Not having any experience in this realm, even at my previous agency, I had to learn. I analyzed all the deals and tidbits I could find on Publishers Marketplace. I called up several agent friends who specialized in children’s and said, “tell me who do I need to know.” They did and off to New York I went to meet with those editors.

The minute I walked into an editor’s office, which had a life size cut-out of Glinda The Good Witch, I knew I was in the right place. It was just a moment of powerful realization.

I ended up selling my first young adult project at auction in under two weeks. Then I was hooked. Because all I had on board at the time were writers writing for the adult market, I sent out an email to all my clients to see if anyone else was interested in writing for the young adult market.

You guessed it. The only client who emailed back with interest was Ally Carter—and I don’t think I need to retell that story! The accidental children’s agent.

I remember talking to my husband right after my first YA sale and I mentioned just how much I was enjoying this whole other aspect of publishing. My hubby replied, “Duh, it’s a no brainer that you would like it.”

“Why is that I asked?” genuinely puzzled.

He said, “look at our DVD shelf. What do you see?” I went over to peruse the titles and sure enough, there was an impressive amount of high school-set titles.

I was rather sheepish. I hadn’t even realized but he was so right. It was an obvious and natural fit that now I can’t figure out what took me so long to get a clue.

But I’m here now, accident or no, and how sweet it is. I can’t wait for my first two MG projects to publish this fall.

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14 Responses

  1. Beth said:

    I hadn’t heard of Ally Carter before reading your blog, but now I’ve read both of her Gallagher books and am looking forward to her next one.
    Honestly, I often find YA books more interesting in their approaches and subjects than books written for adults.

  2. Devon Ellington said:

    It just proves that when you follow your heart, (as well as putting in the work), it all falls into place.

    That is such a great story — and I’m so glad that you listened to your own instincts!

  3. Heather said:

    I feel like the accidental YA writer, so I can completely relate.

    I wrote mainly adult shorts and fairy tale picture books in college, got out and wrote a MG novel. I was convinced that was my path. And when a friend told me I should write a YA novel, I totally balked… “YA is all about rich kids dating. Like I could write about that.”

    Needless to say, she made me actually start reading YA, and the first words out of my mouth were “I could so do that!”

    Six months later I had a finished 450+ page manuscript and notes for two more books in the story arc. The writing has never flowed like that in my life. It was my perfect fit.

    And, like you, when I stopped to think about it, it so made sense. I mean, I worked with high school kids for over ten years, then worked at a youth camp for three. Loving and supporting and encouraging kids that age was my passion for ages.

    I think sometimes you just have to have it knocked into your head by the people who love you (and annoyingly know you better than you know yourself).

  4. Marianne Mancusi said:

    I’m an accidental YA author, too! I was writing adult romance for Dorchester and it was my editor who told me I should try my hand at a YA book. I fell in love with writing for teens and now I can’t imagine doing anything else!

    Besides, how else could I excuse my Gossip Girl obsession as “research”?

    I’m really, really happy you decided to follow your heart cause it’s worked out well for all of us clients!


  5. Cassandra said:

    So — are you telling us that you see yourself, or the whole agency, moving to MG/YA exclusively, at least for new clients?

    Say it ain’t so! (But follow your heart, of course.)

  6. Carradee said:

    Beth: “Honestly, I often find YA books more interesting in their approaches and subjects than books written for adults.”


    I started writing at 14, so at first I figured “of course I’m writing YA–I’m one!”

    But then I started coming up with all of these interesting ideas that were rather… well, dark. (Is it bad that Evanescence’s “Missing” and “Tourniquet” are two of my favorite songs?) So I assumed the grittiness meant I was doing adult stories.

    Then I started actually reading YA fiction. (I’d sort of skipped it in my reading development after reading two bad ones in 6th grade.)

    I tend to prefer YA fiction, nowadays, and ever since I admitted to myself that dark YA fantasy is what I’ve been writing all along, my writing’s flowed so much more easily. I might actually have a second novel’s draft ready for revision by Christmas.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Here’s my question.

    I’ve written a handful of nonfiction books, and two novels published with Doubleday in the last few years.

    I love my agent, but he’s definitely not a YA kind of guy. And forget about middle-grade!

    So. Better to try to do the research myself, figure who to submit to, etc., and ask him to send my YA stuff out as directed, or just ask him if he’d be okay with me trying to find a children’s-only agent to rep those projects?

    Do agents who focus on children’s literature often (or ever) … clientshare? … with agents who focus on adult stuff?


  8. AC said:

    YA is such a cooler market than it used to be. When I was growing up (in the 90s), there were series like Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley, etc. but I grew out of those by the end of middle school. And then there was just…nothing. My mom would have to wrack her brain and comb the library for adult books that weren’t too mature (or too boring) that she thought I’d like.

    Now there are tons of fab older YA titles. YA is definitely an exciting place for an author so I bet it’s awesome for an agent, too 🙂

  9. Richard Lewis said:

    I’m also an accidental YA writer. My first novel THE FLAME TREE (out of stock indefinitely which basically means out of print but still tied up, so this is not a plug) was written for an adult market, and my agent marketed it as such. But because the protag is a 12 year old American boy in Java, it was a YA house that bought. I had to cut out some subplots, but the story stayed essentially the same.

    The readers who responded were adults, not teens. They loved the novel. I still think it’s adult, not YA, so do most who have read it. My subsequent three were strictly YA — funny, I didn’t “write” any differently, told a story same as I always did, but with a YA audience in mind, there is something different that happens.

  10. Ali said:

    How would I go about finding an agent that reps my genre? What genre do you rep? What if a book blurs the boundaries between genres? I love your blog! It’s so informative. I have no understanding of the publishing world and will soon be attempting to have some work published.

  11. Donna said:

    Add me to the accidental YA author ranks. It was like a moment of epiphany and once I just let it flow, it kept gushing and I’m just loving it.

    Isn’t it an awesome feeling when you find something that fits so perfectly with your jive?

  12. Arovell said:

    I loved reading this story because I’m a YA writer. Nothing accidental. If anything, I’m under pressure to age up my audience, but I love the journey of identity you can only incorporate into the story of an adolescent. And YA also allows wide room for a fun voice.