Pub Rants

Tagged middle grade

Wrong Question/Right Question

STATUS: I’m digging into a contract so now you will know what I’ll be doing for the next 2 hours….

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MORE THAN WORDS by Extreme

When I was at RWA, I did a workshop with my client Ally Carter. We were the only workshop at that conference that addressed anything in the Children’s realm. Let me tell you, the session was packed (to my surprise).

Anyway, the point of our workshop was this: people who want to write young adult always ask the wrong questions and we want to point that out and explain what the right question should be.

The best part of the workshop was the PowerPoint slides. We’d put up the wrong question on screen and you could feel the in-drawn breath of the entire audience. They had been thinking exactly that wrong question!

So sure enough, Sara got an email today from an aspiring writer asking one of those exact wrong questions. The person asked what is the right word count/length for his/her middle grade or young adult novel.

Gong. Wrong question.

The right question is this: how important is pacing in my middle grade or young adult novel?

See, it’s not about word count (look at the latter Harry Potter and Twilight books for goodness sake). Those books got some meat on them there bones—and it’s not just because they were hugely successful so therefore the author could use whatever length she wanted. It’s about pacing the novel so well, readers don’t mind length.

This September, I’ve got my first middle grade novel publishing. Helen Stringer’s SPELLBINDER is a whopping 372 pages long. And folks, this isn’t in larger print. It’s a long middle grade novel. But the trick is that it can’t feel like it when reading. The pacing has to be absolutely perfect. If it is, readers and editors will not quibble about the length.
So don’t ask me how many words or pages your project needs to be because I can’t tell you. If you are on the low side (like under 50,000 words for YA or under 40,000 words for MG), you might not have developed your story enough. However, I don’t know that for sure until I read it. Maybe you have written the perfect 30,000 word MG novel. I have no idea.

But what I can reinforce is this: asking about word count or page length is definitely the wrong question.

More Than Words (Acoustic) – Extreme

Wrong Question/Right Question

STATUS: I’m digging into a contract so now you will know what I’ll be doing for the next 2 hours….

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MORE THAN WORDS by Extreme

When I was at RWA, I did a workshop with my client Ally Carter. We were the only workshop at that conference that addressed anything in the Children’s realm. Let me tell you, the session was packed (to my surprise).

Anyway, the point of our workshop was this: people who want to write young adult always ask the wrong questions and we want to point that out and explain what the right question should be.

The best part of the workshop was the PowerPoint slides. We’d put up the wrong question on screen and you could feel the in-drawn breath of the entire audience. They had been thinking exactly that wrong question!

So sure enough, Sara got an email today from an aspiring writer asking one of those exact wrong questions. The person asked what is the right word count/length for his/her middle grade or young adult novel.

Gong. Wrong question.

The right question is this: how important is pacing in my middle grade or young adult novel?

See, it’s not about word count (look at the latter Harry Potter and Twilight books for goodness sake). Those books got some meat on them there bones—and it’s not just because they were hugely successful so therefore the author could use whatever length she wanted. It’s about pacing the novel so well, readers don’t mind length.

This September, I’ve got my first middle grade novel publishing. Helen Stringer’s SPELLBINDER is a whopping 372 pages long. And folks, this isn’t in larger print. It’s a long middle grade novel. But the trick is that it can’t feel like it when reading. The pacing has to be absolutely perfect. If it is, readers and editors will not quibble about the length.
So don’t ask me how many words or pages your project needs to be because I can’t tell you. If you are on the low side (like under 50,000 words for YA or under 40,000 words for MG), you might not have developed your story enough. However, I don’t know that for sure until I read it. Maybe you have written the perfect 30,000 word MG novel. I have no idea.

But what I can reinforce is this: asking about word count or page length is definitely the wrong question.

What Editors Bought or Wanted To Buy Recently

STATUS: I think I’ve officially beaten the “What Editors Want” horse to death now!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU AND ME AND THE BOTTLE MAKES THREE by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been asking editors what they have bought lately or what they had been the underbidder for in an auction. Here’s what a couple of editors had to say.

These folks were from a variety of houses such as HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, Random house, Macmillan group etc.

You’ll notice the reference to well known projects. Editors use it too. It’s a quick way of summing up a project for someone who hasn’t read it. And I know a lot of my blog readers will say that editors don’t want to buy anything new or original (and that’s certainly true in some respects) but all I’m trying to point out here is how important and effective a tool it can be to know where your book fits in the market.

On the Adult Side
1. A memoir the editor described as 3 Cups of Tea meets Into Thin Air
2. A collection of essays about motherhood
3. A Friday Night Knitting Club type book for the women’s fiction market
4. A thriller with a dark and damaged heroine
5. A thriller with a nasty vampire FBI agent as hero (and this was not to an SF&F house)
6. Women’s fiction about a group of women attending a cooking school
7. Historical novel set in Russia and featuring a Ballerina
8. A literary novel that is atmospheric and interior
9. A literary satire on a main character who becomes a famous novelist
10. A crime caper that’s sharp and funny
11. A commercial novel about the retelling of Dracula from Mina Harker’s POV
12 A commercial novel by a Nigerian author where the main character who has many wives and many children but when his newest wife can’t get pregnant, it calls into question his whole family life.
13. A women’s fic novel where the main protagonist doesn’t realize she is in a coma and reexamines her life.

On The Children’s Side
1. A story with the Fae but from the boy’s POV
2. a middle grade novel set in Afghanistan and San Francisco—kind of like Kite Runner for kids—serious themes but without the adult content
3. A YA done in free verse where the narrator has to save her older sister
4. A YA horror novel
5. An alternate history/steampunk type YA set in London after WWII
6. a YA where a college drop-out crosses a necromancer.
7. A literary YA with a Southern setting from an adult author who is lauded for her literary adult fiction.
8. A telling of the Anastasia story but with a contemporary spin
9. A historical YA with a supernatural twist
10. A biography of Charles Darwin told via letters Charles wrote to his love Emma

[And I forgot to mention this when I originally posted but if you want the real skinny on what editors are buying, sign up for the Deal Lunch daily email via Publishers Lunch. Deals included usually have a short description of the novel sold as well as who sold the project and who bought the project. In three months, you’ll have a good idea on what is selling.]

What They Don’t Want

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.

What UK Children’s Editors Want

STATUS: Spent the day being a lovely tourist instead of working. And sorry for the tiny covers of yesterday. My computer or Blogger was not cooperating and despite efforts, I couldn’t get the pics to upload bigger and I didn’t have time to fiddle.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ACCIDENTALLY IN LOVE by Counting Crows

To kick off the blog entry, here is a lovely shot of Blenheim Palace from the gardens.


Alas, Colin Firth did not emerge dripping wet from any neighboring lakes or ponds—much to Sarah Rees Brennan and my great disappointment.

Now that I’m back at the flat, I’m flipping through my little notebook of scribbled writings. From what I can decipher (as my handwriting is not always the best), here are some things UK children’s editors are looking for. In no particular order and a nice sum up of what several editors spotlighted:

–More boy adventure books (although one publisher specifically said their list is full in this arena so not as high on their list)
–YA historical
–would love a prize-winning new teen voice along the lines of HOW I LIVE NOW
–Funny with beautiful writing (so a blend of literary with a really fun story line)
–a modern Anne of Green Gables
–middle grade fantasy that is a girl-driven narrative
–humorous girl stuff that is more than just boys and relationships but is warm, and character driven. Not necessarily issue driven
–high concept middle grade with a really original voice so it can stand out.
–anything that can crossover solidly to the adult market (ie. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF A DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME)
–fantasy
–a contemporary author with a literary, classic voice. (hum.. that seems to tie in with the modern Anne of Green Gables example above)

Different houses did have different feelings on the market. One house thought that Meg Cabot and her popularity was in the past and another thought she was still burning strong.

I got a sense that all the editors would be open to anything romantic. No surprise there.

And even though I know my blog readers love my lists, it basically comes down to this. Editors want an original story well told.

In that sense, the US and the UK are the same.

Bologna By Day & Night

STATUS: Heavens it was a crazy day!

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

And I haven’t got the energy for a proper entry. Sorry. But hey, PW’s Craig Virden is blogging Bologna By Day & Night. And for those of you living under a rock, we are talking about the annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair—THE rights fair for anything in the children’s realm.

Dad Wisdom & Publishing

STATUS: I really need to tackle the emails piling up in my inbox.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WOODS by George Winston

When I was in high school, my dad told me two things. Finding that special someone is all about timing and HS boys are intimidated by bright women.

Funny enough, I thought that was a lot of hooey. Sheepish apology to my lovely dad because he pretty much was right. But as a teen, you pretty much assume that a parent couldn’t possibly be right.

Hindsight really is 20/20.

So what in the world does this have to do with publishing? Well, two things actually.

The first I’m actually a little hesitant to say but I’m inspired by a recent entry from Editorial Ass on a whole different topic but tangential in nature, so I think I’ll take a risk and put this comment out there as well.

From my personal experience (and I really can only speak from that perspective), I truly believe that for literary fiction, it’s much easier to sell boy writers than gals. I know. Who can possibly make such a general statement but I have to say that I’ve encountered several worthy manuscripts that I’m rather convinced that if the writer had been male, the novel would have sold.

Just empirical proof, of course; no scientific method employed.

And second, publishing is often about timing. For example, if you are currently a writer of young adult or middle grade fiction and you have a paranormal element (read: vampire, werewolf, witch or what have you), you might be stymied by the timing of putting said project on submission right now.

The market is crowded. Editors are weary in some respects. (Agents too!) Just last week I had an editor turn down even looking at a manuscript because she felt her list was too crowded with the supernatural.

That’s a sure sign that a trend is winding down. Now that doesn’t mean nothing in that realm will sell. It just means that any project that does will have to be X times better, X times more original, than similar projects sold 2 years ago.

The Accidental Children’s Agent

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.

Morning Breakfast With Hyperion

STATUS: Finishing a few things here at the office before I head over to the convention center for the start of the ALA Midwinter conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN by The Moody Blues

Was up and at ‘em early this morning for a breakfast with Stephanie Lurie Owens, who is the new Editorial Director over there at Disney-Hyperion. Brave woman had us meet at 7:30 a.m. It’s a rare editor who is a morning person I have to add. I don’t think I’ve ever had an editor breakfast before 9 a.m.—that is until this morning!

Oddly enough, we didn’t talk about books too much. Our main discussion was about digital formats and technology actually. I’m happy to say the Stephanie is pretty hip and on-top of what is currently unfolding in the tech world despite the fact that the company of Disney-Hyperion has been a little slow (in my mind) to embrace electronic books. Disney legal tends to slow things down, but it’s nice to know that the availability of the D-H titles in the ebook format is just around the corner. [So you Gallagher Girl and Percy Jackson fans shouldn’t have to wait too much longer.]

We also talked about the prevalence now of Sony eReaders for editors. Finally! Publishing houses got the memo that they could save hundreds of thousands in paper and printing cost by equipping their editors with this little gadget.

Praise the lord and pass the peanut butter! (Wait, maybe not the pb with all the recent salmonella scare).

But don’t worry, we also talked about what Hyperion might be looking for as of late.
She’d love to see, gasp, more middle grade series for girls. Hey, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that from an editor. A new MG Meg Cabot, she says, bring it on.

For Hyperion, they have such a strong MG list for boys (with Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl etc.), they really would like to take on something new in MG girl stuff and make it big. Having watched them build Ally Carter, I have to say they can do it well.

Have a great weekend!

In The Children’s Realm

STATUS: Computer stuff is ongoing and will spill into tomorrow. Oh Joy. (Love the new monitor though!)

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ON THE RADIO by Donna Summer

Because I promised to share my notes (and I only have about 10 minutes to blog), here is what I have scribbled down from the children’s editors I talked to. In no particular order:

–Looking for contemporary stories with a paranormal element. Contemporary main story with just a touch of paranormal.

–voice and character driven fiction (isn’t that what all editors want?)

–a family-oriented story with complicated relationship between main character and parents or main character and siblings etc.

–gritty fiction

–novels where the reader watches while the main female protagonist makes bad choices or learns to survive

–quirky funny, outcasts, dark but weirdly funny

–MG fantasy

–literary voices in YA or MG, well-crafted stories

–more Meg Cabot-type stuff

–hip or hot topics

–MG or YA with boy protagonists