Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Category: trends

12 Trends in the Query Inbox

In July, I attended the Colorado Writing Workshop. I knew I would be asked about what’s hot or trending. So Angie, Maria, and I put our heads together to create a handy list of what we’re seeing in the query inbox. Let me preface this though:

Writers, don’t read too much into this list.

If your current WIP fits into one of these trends, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It just means that you are not alone in playing with these concepts/tropes. It also means that it’s harder to stand out in the query slush pile. That’s just a fact. So you have to work at really spotlighting what makes your novel with these elements special and unique so as to entice the query reader to find out more. Why is this one worth reading over the ten other queries that might have come in the same day with a similar premise?

A tough question, I know! But one worth answering in your query, even if none of the below describes your WIP.

1. The main character is dead or can see dead people. We’re seeing this concept in submissions for both the adult and young adult markets.

2. The main character is trapped in a book, game, or virtual reality. We’re seeing this a lot in adult SF submissions and also some in the YA world.

3. The main character is being sent to live with a relative (aunt, uncle, grandparent), whether for the summer or on a more permanent basis. Lots and lots in middle grade, but also appearing in YA submissions.

4. WWII…still getting tons of queries for WWII stories. Almost all the submissions we’re seeing in this space are for the adult market. For the record, I love stories set in this time period. After all, E.R. Ramzipoor’s THE VENTRILOQUISTS releases in August. Still, it has to be a standout story.

5. Lots of queries for stories set in ancient Rome, or in secondary worlds based on the aesthetic of ancient Rome. Interestingly, we are seeing in both YA and adult market submissions that fit this bill.

6. Lots of villains who are thinly veiled portrayals of our current president. Feels like in every submission we are receiving…but this is cropping up most often in dystopian submissions.

7. Lots of queries featuring pirates. Aye, Mateys! Whether the pirates are fun and whimsical, serious and historical, or speculative (like air-ship pirates or space pirates), we’re seeing pirates galore in middle grade, YA, and adult fantasy.

8. Retellings seem to be slowing down compared to, say, a year ago. But we still see them on a regular basis. Fairy tales, folk tales, classic literature retellings—across all genres for adult and children’s.

9. Teens recruited, conscripted, or otherwise forced to train as assassins, soldiers, spies, etc. I think you guess for which market this is!

10. Teens who must compete in trials or games to save themselves or a loved one, to determine their place in society, or as a means of matchmaking. No extra comment needed here!

11. Main characters who are bullied or abused, or who are survivors of bullying or abuse, and there isn’t another story line to create depth/complexity or to truly drive the plot of the novel. We see most bullying in middle grade, though it shows up in YA submissions as well, while survivor narratives abound in women’s fiction.

12. Post-apocalyptic stories, many of which take place in the aftermath of a plague or virus, or some climate-related catastrophe. Seeing this in the adult and children’s market still.

Happy writing! If you are early into a WIP based on a trending concept, spend some time thinking about whether it’s worth continuing or whether you should tackle a different, more brilliant idea you’ve played with. You might decide it’s better to get cracking on that one instead.

Creative Commons Credit: Andy Wright


Query Tip: Avoid the Checkbox Grocery List In The Pitch

Note from Kristin: Jamie is one of NLA’s first reader on queries. He reads hundreds a week so this was worth sharing.

By Jamie Persichetti

As a gay man, it’s always weird to read in query letter book pitches that a story “features LGBTQ+ characters” or “has diversity” like they are bonus content on the special edition BluRay, specs on a laptop with extra RAM, or items to check off a culturally aware grocery list.

I mean, cool! Keep the queer coming. Books need them. But you sound a bit… odd… if you phrase it like they are features. Just say someone is trans, or that he has a boyfriend. Or (and I know this is a hard one) don’t mention it at all if it’s not actually important to the core of the book.

I get it. Don’t write diverse characters and you’re a bad person. Write diverse characters and you do it wrong. It’s a double standard that is suffocating publishing right now. This is just how I felt in the moment.


Why It’s Dangerous To Think That “Diverse Books” is the Latest Hot Trend

Just recently, PW published an article in which agents shared their thoughts on children’s books and YA trends. Although I’m quite tickled that so many agents are seeing lots of submissions featuring diverse characters, it’s dangerous to consider diversity the latest YA trend.

I’m sure I’m not the only agent who can say they’ve been repping diverse authors/books since day one. It certainly didn’t take a trend for me to sign those books and authors (for example, Kelly Parra’s awesome MTV Book Graffiti Girl in 2007, Kim Reid’s memoir No Place Safe in 2007, and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry in 2008). But I can say this: unequivocally, before #WeNeedDiverseBooks became a rallying cry in April 2014, selling in a diverse author/book was tons harder to do. I have my submission logs to prove it. It often took me about 12 to 16 months of grim determination to find a diverse book a home.

If diversity is now hot enough to make the selling-in part a lot of easier, trust me, I’m all for it. Yay! Finally! But I absolutely do not want diversity to be considered a trend in young-adult literature, and here is why: If something is a trend, then it can go out of fashion just as quickly as it came in. And quite frankly, that would be a travesty.

The blunt truth is that selling a diverse book is a perfectly normal thing to do in publishing. So my rallying cry? Agents, new and old, even when diverse books become harder to sell, as they inevitably will (in publishing, trends of every kind have always come and gone), keep on keeping on.

Diversity is not a trend. It’s simply here to stay. This is the new normal.

Photo Credit: Ahmed Alkaisi


Why I Can’t Tweet My Manuscript Wish List

If you’re a writer on Twitter, you probably know that #MSWL is a popular hashtag. It’s how lots of agents and editors broadcast their submission wish lists.

I love it! But I can say with complete certainty that I’ll never post a #MSWL list. Why? Simply because I honestly don’t know what I’m looking for until I start reading it.

Case in point: When I read Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY in manuscript form, never in a million years would I have posted to #MSWL that I was looking for a young-adult novel set in the American West, with two female protagonists—one Chinese, one African American—on the run and cross-dressing as boys to disguise themselves.

Yeah. I don’t think that would have come up.

But the minute I started reading, I knew I had to have that book. And thank goodness Putnam Children’s agreed with me.

So here’s the plain, honest truth: I have no idea what I’m looking for until the voice of a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go.

Just recently, I sold two science-fiction novels—DARE MIGHTY THINGS and THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. Both, oddly, feature a competition at the heart of the story.

Ha! If you’d asked me whether competition stories were on my wish list, I probably would have said no. Popularity of The Hunger Games and all.

But once Emmett got a hold of me in THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS, I was 100% in. And in DARE MIGHTY THINGS, once Cassie Dhatri convinced me that competing for the opportunity to be an astronaut was cooler than competing for a prince and a kingdom, my inner geek girl squealed with delight. I was in.

So keep that in mind when you ask an agent, “What are you looking for?” If they have a ready answer, take it with a grain of salt. Rarely do we find exactly what we are looking for.

As the Rolling Stones would say, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Photo Credit: Hey Paul Studios


New Adult – Perhaps the latest word for Chick Lit

Just recently I was doing an interview with a reporter from  Publishers Weekly and she asked if I found it surprising that the New Adult category had remained hot for so long. Here is my response: 
I don’t find it surprising at all actually. Publishing tends to run hot on trends. Sometimes to the point of saturation.
What indie self publishing authors are doing is writing and releasing a lot of content quickly. They see what works and what doesn’t and they shift course if something is not getting the desired reaction or when something is. They have that flexibility because it’s all digital.
Ten years ago, new adult was “hot” but we called it chick lit and it was less sexual relationship or romance focused. Then that became a dirty word and we had to call it contemporary romance or women’s fiction and age up the protagonists.
That left a hole in the market for a whole lot of readers who loved reading works in that genre but got tired of the same old Sex in the City type story lines.
New adult is the 20-something coming of age and the new novels hitting in this realm are emotionally intense (unlike their chick lit predecessors). Prolific indie authors figured it out pretty quickly that the audience was there and started writing for them. It hasn’t abated because the market is not yet saturated.
One thing about Jasinda Wilder is that she is creating her own niche within what people are calling New Adult. 50 Shades is a story of sexual discovery and awakening. What Jasinda is doing is more Nicholas Sparks. Her stories are about emotional healing and the relationship/romance is part of the healing process in a significant way. Now she is a little stunned at the velocity of the response/sales for Falling Into You.

When Trendy Trumps Publishing Sense

STATUS: Wearing Halloween tights! Of course I’m having a great day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SKYFALL by Adele

Don’t ask because I won’t reveal the title as this post is a true rant. *grin*

Last year I saw a YA manuscript on submission. The author had gotten an offer pretty quickly so I had to read right away. I read to the end (which is rare for me) and ultimately I decided to pass. The story had a lot of promise but for me, there was a bit of an ick factor and I thought it needed a ton of work. It also had a bit of a bizarre ending that I couldn’t fathom.  The title went on to sell for big money at auction.

I remember just being astonished. Such a quick sale meant that very little work had been done before submission. In my mind, editors were willing to pay big money for a concept. Well, that’s not the first time that has happened. And it’s definitely not going to be the last.

Maybe I just had sour grapes as I had passed. There’s probably some truth in that. From what I can tell though, the book was published in 2012 and it didn’t do as expected.

Just recently it happened again with another YA title I saw on submission and passed on because I honestly did not think it was young adult novel despite its trendy concept.

I’m so so ready for something new and for editors to get excited about something wildly different!


Got Epic Fantasy?

STATUS: I’m still buried under a ton of emails and whatnot as I try and catch up post BEA and New York. I have high hopes of resuming Fridays With Kristin next week!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DRIVE ALL NIGHT by Need To Breathe

Because every SF&F editor I talked to said they were open to seeing it. Which made me extra sad when I saw the six-figure deal on Publishers Lunch for an epic fantasy by an author we offered rep to.

Sigh. But can’t win them all.

Then on Monday I spotted the “major” deal for a YA fantasy I offered rep to as well. ARRRGGGHHHH!

Paper cut with lemon poured on it!

Hey, at least I know my gut instinct is still working.

But back to fantasy. If you are working on an urban fantasy, you might be out of luck. Every SF&F editor I chatted with while in New York was being inundated by urban fantasy submissions and with some rare exceptions, were not buying them.

In good news, SF&F editors were being leery about looking at science fiction stuff and now that is turning. They mentioned actively looking for it now and since I just put an SF on submission, I’m thrilled with the reception it’s getting. 


What Editors Have Bought Recently – Women’s Fic and Literary

STATUS: It’s BEA time! Oh crazy schedule

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

Obviously I’m not just talking to children’s editors while in New York. So here’s a little snippet of what editors have been buying in the adult realm:

1) Literary novels with some sort of magical element (i.e The Night Circus)
2) Multi-cultural literary novels by non-American writers
3) Voice-driven literary novels that shed light on the contemporary modern landscape for protagonists in their 20s or 30s.

In women’s fiction and romance
1) contemporary stories with small town settings
2) southern contemporary women’s fix
3) looking or romantic comedies in romance (haven’t heard that desire in a while!)

Off to the Javits Center!


What Editors Have Bought Recently – Young Adult and Middle Grade

STATUS: I have often said on this blog, Thank God It’s Friday. Today, I really really mean it. What a crazy week. But all good stuff.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW by Simply Red

So editors have been seeing a lot of crap but they’ve also been buying stuff. So instead of answering the question: What is an editor looking for? I thought I’d delve into what they’ve bought recently.

Here you go!

1) A young adult thriller
2) Gothic retelling of a classic–in this case, The Island of Dr. Moreau
3 young adult straight fantasy (as opposed to a bent one! *grin* In other words, a traditional not contemporary fantasy)
4) a time travel young adult novel
5) realistic contemporary young adult
6) animal character middle grade fantasy

Editors have not seen a lot in middle grade (it’s the hardest content to find) but what they have seen included science fiction for the younger reader and Aliens in space or similar that target boy readers.

I’m out. Literally. Like I’m now going to sleep….


Here’s A Genre I Didn’t Think Of!

STATUS: From the blog silence, you can imagine how hectic this trip as been. Meetings all day. Catching up on emails in the evening, and you have to fit a little bit of fun in there too!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CALL ME MAYBE by Carly Rae Jepsen

I’ve been in New York for the past 3 weeks doing meetings with a lot of different editors at all the different houses. I started off with the editors who acquire young adult and middle grade.

Of course I ask, “What have you been seeing lately?”

Imagine my surprise when no less than three editors (all from different houses) responded with, “crap.”

At first, I wasn’t quite certain how to reply. That wasn’t exactly the answer I was expecting! I opted for, “would you care to define ‘crap.’

And they did. They mentioned recently that they’ve seen a whole slew of submissions that weren’t really ready for an editor to see. By the way, these were submissions from agents.

I asked why they thought that was so. I got three main reasons:

1) They were seeing hot genre stuff, such as dystopian, that they felt like the agents were not vetting as thoroughly as they should.

In other words, in any hot genre, the market gets crowded yet those submitting hope that because the genre is hot, it will sell.

2) There were some agents submitting young adult projects that don’t traditionally rep it and to be blunt, it’s different than repping fiction in the adult realm.

3) A lot of submissions could have benefited from a solid edit and revision before submitting. In other words, they were not in strong shape even if the concept or idea was solid.

Some agents don’t edit before submitting. Some do.

So interesting. I’m definitely looking to avoid submitting crap.

*grin*

I think I can do that!


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