Pub Rants

What They Don’t Want

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STATUS: I’m always an optimistic. It’s no longer morning (shoot, it’s almost dinner time) but I am going to blog today. TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT YOU NEED by INXS

Sometimes it’s just as interesting to find out what editors don’t want. I’ve perused my notes to come up with this little list to share with y’all.

1. Thrillers where the conclusion is obvious.
2. Police procedurals that try too hard to be multicultural rather than authentic.
3. Romance that is too soft and fuzzy with no real meat to the emotional story.
4. Romance set in the Regency ballroom. Let’s mix it up some.
5. No stories about women over 40 starting a new life. Seen this too many times. Even if well written, it’s going to be too hard to push.
6. In YA and MG, taking popular trends and trying to make the story deep and literary.
7. MG fantasy that is too average and with the regular story tropes.
8. Epic fantasy—unless something really unusual or phenomenal writing.
9. Chick litty YA with no substance.
10. A bad story poorly told

Just wanted to check that you were really reading…

And just to top it off, in film, dark stories with no happy ending are a tough, tough sell.

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58 Responses

  1. Sue said:

    I’m trying to understand the middle ground between taking trendy YA to a place that is too literary and chick litty YA with no substance.

  2. Tricia J. O'Brien said:

    Thank you for this post, Kristin. It’s useful information. Could you expand on epic fantasy. I’ve been working on a YA set in an alternative British Isles/ Elizabethan era. I’ve been worried that this might be a hard sell even though I think my character is unique. It seems urban fantasy is hot now, unless you are established like Tamora Pierce. I considered making it contemporary or Victorian/steampunk. Anyway, if you could expand on why epic fantasy is a turn-off it might help. Thanks.

  3. M. Dunham said:

    Excellent, my romance manuscript about aliens in the Regency ballroom with lots of gushing is safe. There was no mention of sci-fi in the no-no’s.



  4. Tracy said:

    Well, I’m glad they didn’t say anything about a substance-free MG romantic chick litty epic fantasy thriller set in an alternate Regency era with an obvious conclusion, or I’d really be in trouble.

  5. K. Andrew Smith said:

    I have to admit, it seems very odd to see epic fantasy on the list, since that’s nearly an entire genre. Are the editors exlcuding that the ones that normally publish epic fantasies, such as Tor, Del Rey, and Eos (Harper Collins)?

  6. Sharla said:

    Hmmm, seeing that my new wip is about a 40 year old woman starting over…yyyyyyyyeah. Hmmm. That’s a warm fuzzy, reading that. It’s paranormal with a smartass daughter and a hot ghost that she loves but can’t have…does that make it better??

  7. Haste yee back ;-) said:

    Hollywood – the land of smoke and mirrors – always wants happy endings, but the happy endings have to be happy in a different happy unexpected way each time… just like what sold BIG before!

    Haste yee back 😉

  8. Amy Sue Nathan said:

    Love the blog, the advice, the insight, the comments.

    Hate the list.

    Lists like this create second-guessing and doubt for me. I envy those who embrace them, or disregard them.

  9. kmari03 said:

    Hi…new commentator here. Ditto Sue on some clarification on the middle ground between MG/YA that’s too literary and MG/YA that’s too chick lit.

    Um, so, what would constitute a middle ground there? 🙂

  10. Liana Brooks said:

    How are sci-fi and sci-fi/rom going?

    I’ve been checking the new releases and seeing a lot of the game-derivative books, but fewer independent series. Is no one writing sci-fi? Or is it just a tough market right now?

  11. Anonymous said:

    I’m very curious as to why there’s a big no against Epic Fantasy…

    Unless everyone’s definition of Epic fantasy is slightly different than mine, it seems that one of the biggest selling books of the last few years was Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Name of the Wind.’ Why was it so huge? Not only because it is brilliant, but because there is no other Epic Fantasy for us fans to buy.

    So why the big no? I’d dearly love an explanation…

  12. Karen from Mentor said:

    I just gasped. Out loud. Really out loud. #5 really? NO stories about women over 40 starting new lives?

    I just did that in real life…does that count? I also wrote about it, but apparently it won’t sell. lol
    Great blog.
    Karen 🙂

  13. Keren David said:

    Taking popular trends and trying to make the story deep and literary? What sort of popular trends? Any examples? Really intrigued by this but not sure what you mean!

  14. Anonymous said:

    What the… I was just finishing up a “bad story poorly told.” You mean there’s no market for this!

    Now you tell me!

    Lists like this crack me up big time. For MG/YA — no chick lit w/o substance, but also no adding depth and literary qualities to chick lit? Um, okay… Also, no trends regardless of substance issues, no epic fantasy unless its whacked out of its gourd, and no “average” fantasy. Does anyone that writes fantasy, think they are writing “average” fantasy?

    I can break down YA books this same way:

    1) Chick lit w/o substance = “Audrey, Wait!” (no internal goal)

    2) Chick lit w/added literary depth = “Wintergirls.” (also an issue book, usually a no-no).

    3) No trends = “Wings” (extending the fairaey thing that Wicked Lovely started, except this reads younger)

    In other words the list describes books that have kicked ass all over the place recently. Yet they easily fit in the list.

    As for:

    4)A bad story poorly told = well, I won’t go there… I’m glad when books get published and do well even if they don’t appeal to me. Plus, it’s all subjective, anyhow.

    So, yeah, I’m still confused by what editors want.

  15. Mariana said:

    Hello! As usual I’m absolutely grateful for your wonderful insights Kristin, thank you!

    Still, I share some doubts here. For instance, when you say “YA and MG taking popular trends and trying to make the story deep and literary” I assume the writer didn’t succeed, right? I mean, it seems that the word *trying* is the key here. Am I right?

    I also don’t understand why so many people have been saying that Epic fantasy is absolutely undesired. I speak solely for myself when I say I love it! And in my view new well written stuff should always be welcome. Too bad the editors disagree with me…

  16. Sara Creasy said:

    >How odd…I could have sworn that space pirates would be on the list. 🙂

    Whew, I read the list twice to be sure. Space pirates are safe.

  17. min said:

    Darn, I had a bad story that was poorly told all ready for query. Back to the drawing board.

  18. Anonymous said:

    Editors don’t want Epic fantasy? Well that would explain the avalanche of rubbish vampire/faerie/werewolf urban fantasy books out there today, since that’s what Editors want rather than the really good, epic ones. Wow! Now who’s to blame for the state of books today – writers or editors?

  19. Anonymous said:

    Looks to me as if deep, literary = ‘Speak on Twitter’.

    And substance-free chick litty = Teenaged Shopaholic.

    I dunno. Looks like there’s plenty of room between the two.

  20. Amy said:

    Thanks for the list Kristen! Last thing I want to do is spend a year writing something editors don’t want.

    That was so 2007 when I wrote a chick-lit.

  21. hippokrene said:

    @ Karen of the Moment,
    It’s transsexuals, dropping the second ‘s’ is a common mistake.

    @ Anonymous 7:34,
    There’s a great deal of epic fantasy available right now. GRRM is supposed to publish the latest book of A Song of Ice and Fire this year. Sanderson finished his Mistborn Trilogy and will finish Jordan’s Wheel of Time with three books, the first will likely come out in November. There’s Ambercrombie’s The First Law trilogy that just finished, and his Best Served Cold comes out this June. Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen has 10 books out so far and plans to have one come out per year for another three years. Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora series has six more books projected.

    If anything, I’d say Epic Fantasy is bloated right now. We have very popular authors with a strong following putting out one book per year, and new authors seem to be struggling to get in.

  22. therese said:

    What hope! What joy! I can now got to bookstores and video stores and get the latest KNOWING I won’t encounter any of these…

    Crap. The DH rented WWII videos for the weekend. Why aren’t they on your list?

    And when can we trust all those bad stories, told badly, won’t be available any more….

  23. Anonymous said:

    I’m surprised about the forty-plus aversion. I read a whole lot of women’s fiction and see very few books with 40 plus protags and definitely wish there were more. The only ones that come immediately to mind (Red Hat Club, Hot Flash Club) were NYT bestsellers.

    Seems underserved rather than over served considering the largest group of readers are females who are 40 plus–unless they’re speaking of novels where the woman is dumped by their husband and re-invent themselves.

  24. Karen from Mentor said:

    I agree. I’m over forty and I made my protag over forty because then she gets my jokes and my cultural references.(someone needs to laugh at them with me)
    I realized after I posted that Kristin probably didn’t mean mysteries with over forty protags with new career paths.
    I ended up meshing two wip yesterday and they go together seamlessly, seamlessly I tell you!

    My question? What’s a good word count for a mystery in the market?

    Thanks Kristin.

  25. Anonymous said:

    To all the people saying, “Wow, thanks, because I don’t want to spend a year writing what an editor doesn’t want…”

    You do realize that this “list” hasn’t actually told you anything, don’t you? First of all, we don’t know who the editors are, and second, everything in this business is subjective. Because a few editors that ate lunch with Kristin don’t want a literary YA that is also trendy, doesn’t mean another editor won’t.

    Also, the list doesn’t quantify any of the terms. WHAT consistitues literary/trendy? WHAT are the so-called YA trends? WHAT is too superfically chick-lit for YA? WHAT is “average” MG fantasy?

    This list has told you nothing.

    As far as no trends, well, editors and agents have been saying that since the beginning of time. I would assume vampires are a trend in YA since Twilight. But Kristin herself just sold a fellow lit-agent’s vamp book a few posts back — so apparently she didn’t take these editors’ advice either.

    Books are about EXECUTION. It’s often not WHAT something is about but HOW it’s about it. The vague “list” takes none of that into consideration. I can’t possibly be the only one who noticed this, can I?

  26. Deb S said:

    The list is great for reference, but I think most of us are going to write what we love regardless.

    And who knows by the time we finish writing and polishing our epic fantasy the trends may have changed.

  27. Dara said:

    I’m echoing the same sentiments as Anon @ 7:19. I wouldn’t worry too much about the list. Editors seems to constantly be changing their minds too, even over a period of months. What’s on the “no” list now may very well be something they’re looking for in another year or two (well, with the exception of #10 :P).

    It’s a helpful list but don’t let it make you scrap your project–just realize you have to work hard to make your story stand out and make it where editors are racing to publish it!

  28. Anonymous said:

    “1. Thrillers where the conclusion is obvious.”

    Um, 90% of all thrillers have an obvious conclusion. By definition, in a series with a main hero, you kow the outcome: they win, bad guys lose.

    In fact, if a thriller ending ISN’T predictable, you’ve probably written something that won’t be commercially viable. Don’t color too far outside the lines, kids–it should be a slight twist on the tried and true if you want to sell.

  29. Anonymous said:

    You can’t tell me that the best selling thriller of all tilme, the Da Vinci Code, didn’t have a predictable ending?!

  30. Anonymous said:

    @ Anon 1:32

    I was thinking the exact same thing. Editors say they don’t want predictable thrillers but give them something like the DaVinci Code and they’ll eat it up.

    You know what I think? I think Editors don’t know what they want. In the end it’s our job to a good book with a great story and give it these editors.

  31. Anonymous said:

    Agree with the above anons.

    With thrillers, it’s much more about the journey than the destination.

  32. Anonymous said:

    Hippokrene, Anon 7:34 here.

    None of those authors you mentioned excite me at all. Some of them I’ve seen in the shops here, some I haven’t, and most of them I wouldn’t pick up even if they were. (Although I am looking forward to Joe Abercrombie coming out here, his stuff looks really interesting and the reviews are great.)

    Mostly, they don’t fit my definition of Epic fantasy – they fit my definition of adventure fantasy. When I think Epic, I’m looking for new concepts, new ideas, massive drama, exciting backdrop…

    (Another side note… I wouldn’t touch GRRM with a ten foot pole after all the bad press from his disgruntled fans.)

    …And just as a final thought – all the authors you mentioned are male. There are some great female writers out there you know. ; )

  33. Sherry Dale Rogers said:

    “Whew, I never thought I would make it to the end of all those comments.”

    Just wanted to say thanks for the post and Duh, I wouldnt read any stuff with a plot like that so why on earth would an agent accept.

  34. Anonymous said:

    Look, don’t read it if it’s no help to you. She’s generous enough to post on her blog what she heard. Most here appreciate getting this info. Anon 7:19, it’s a given that execution counts. It doesn’t even need to be said.

    Kristin, please continue sharing with us. We are adults and can process the information for ourselves.

  35. Anonymous said:

    I do think it is wise to keep in mind execution and subjectivity. So, thank you anon 7:19.

    The list thing is a bit irritating given the whole nature and non-predictability of this business.

    Someone better tell Claire Cook to stop writing books about women in their 40’s.

  36. ChristineTB said:

    So much for my epic love story in which an ordinary girl who finds our her parents are aliens from the sun falls in love with an ice cold boy from the midwest area of the moon who is remote, deadpan but dazzling.

    Sigh. Back to the drawing board. Geez – you agents are picky!

  37. Anonymous said:

    Hmm…it seems as though editors don’t really know what they want. But, they know what they like when they see it.
    Don’t stress over the list, forge ahead creatively, and then: revise, revise, revise and revise once more.
    Lists like this are a reference for the informed, not a tutorial for the uninformed. 🙂

  38. storylady said:

    Nice to know what pubs don’t want. It seems like it changes weekly. Nothing was mentioned about children’s books. Since I am working on one, I’d be curious to know what’s selling.
    Good article.