Pub Rants

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

Tagged young adult

Big Reveals Shouldn’t Happen In A Conversation

STATUS: Gosh, it was too gorgeous outside to work. What the heck. It’s January. I need it to snow so I don’t want to skip work!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? RIGHT DOWN THE LINE Gerry Rafferty

One of the problems of having blogged for so long, since 2006 if you can believe it, is that I often feel like I’m repeating myself. When I mentioned this to an agent friend of mine who also blogs, she said that I simply can’t worry about it.

I think she’s right. So I’ve probably blogged on this topic before but what the heck, it’s worth saying again.

A novel’s plot should not be a series of conversations where characters move from one place to another and all they do is have chats with other characters.

(Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE might be the one exception. But even at closer look, you can see that Rice didn’t fall into that trap. Even though that novel is basically one long conversation, the vampire narrates scenes as if they were actually happening so there is sense of immediacy, action, and event plotting to carry the novel.)

We see this a ton in fantasy manuscripts but hey, it’s not limited to that genre. Recently, I’ve seen this structure in a lot of young adult samples we’ve been reading.

By the way, established writers can fall into this trap–usually when they are on deadline and simply trying to get the story on the page.

Take a moment to evaluate your own novel. How many times do you have characters sitting down and having a conversation? If it’s a lot, you might want to start rethinking your “plot”!


Disturbing YA Cover Trend?

STATUS: I am well and I’m very apologetic for not being able to blog regularly this fall. I have a feeling I’ll know what my New Year’s Resolution will be….

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WHEN YOU’VE GOT TROUBLE by Liz Longley

As a sophomore in college back in 1987, I’ll never forget the impact of seeing STILL KILLING US SOFTLY: ADVERTISING’S IMAGE OF WOMEN, a documentary by Jean Kilbourne.

I remember sitting there in my seat, stunned, mouth open, as Kilbourne analyzed example after example of ads that demeaned, sexualized, or minimized women by images used in advertising. She also pointed out the level of violence often depicted towards women in every day kinds of ads for fashion, perfume, food, you name it. Until that moment (despite thinking I had adequate critical analysis skills), I had never connected the dots. And after, I never saw an advertisement, a movie, or the world for that matter, in quite the same way.

And folks, this isn’t limited to the 80s (as evident by Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 which released in 2010). Today, models on Glamour and Vogue can easily have an inch or two airbrushed off their thighs so what everyday women are seeing in the cover picture is a level of body perfection that is literally not achievable naturally.

So last week when I was reading a blog article on YA cover trends by Rachel Stark on Trac Changes, it’s no wonder I had a moment of deja vu. She explores the obsession with elegance and death in young adult covers. She posits that the popularity of such covers might reflect teenage girls’ morbidity and that the images on the covers she spotlights, to paraphrase, present the idea that it is beautiful, dramatic and poetic to be dead. And the fact that these covers are popular with teen girls is a product of what she dubs “internalized misogyny.”

This is definitely an article worth reading and discussing.

And I’m rather happy to report that NLA does not have any young adult titles with dead girls on the covers. A small triumph I’m sure…

Now we do have covers with girls looking pensive and beautiful, girls kissing a boy or holding hands with a boy, and a girl dancing in fire (to name a few). But they are all happily alive.


An Observation On Character Development

STATUS: It’s such a gorgeous day in Denver. I’m ready to pop out early and take Chutney for a long walk.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

This weekend I did my first SCBWI conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I just had a blast.

As I’ve done in the past, I did my 2-pages or First pages workshop where writers submit their opening pages, it gets read aloud, and I say yay or nay–would I have read on and why.

This time, I had something happen that has never happened before. My reader chose the first three at random and read them aloud. I would have read on for all three.

That’s rare. I’ve given this workshop a dozen or so times and I’ve usually found only one submission that I would have read further on. 99.9% of what we see isn’t quite ready for an agent to review. By the way, this is not to stay it will never be ready. Just that it wasn’t quite there in this incarnation.

Trust me, I don’t want to stomp on writers’ dreams!

For this workshop, I noticed a couple of beginning writer mistakes that I haven’t really talked about yet so I thought I would tackle some.

Beginning Writer Mistake: Opening scenes that make it clear that the writer has not thought through the character’s backstory and history before writing the scene.

What do I mean by this? I can tell from reading the scene that the writer is simply trying to create an exciting opening and if the writer had stopped to think about it, there is no way the characters would react as written if the characters had a clear history with either the other character in the scene or to the event.

For example, a Grandma loves to drive fast, in direct opposition to most people’s perception of how a grandmother would drive. So the writer wants to show this quirky trait and thus writes an opening scene from the grandchild’s perspective who is reacting wildly to the grandmother’s driving.

However, if the character is often driven by her grandmother, she’d be used to her Nana’s rather erratic speed demon driving habit. So given that history, she wouldn’t react dramatically to it; it would be normal.

Do you see what I mean? The writer should approach the scene with the above assumption. Now the writer can still have this opening erratic driving scene but the grandchild character’s reaction would be written differently with this history in mind.

And if it’s the first time the grandmother has ever driven that character, then that would need to be made clear and then the character could react dramatically. The scene would then work.

But I often see slush pile submissions where it’s clear to me that the writer hasn’t quite gotten knowledgeable about his or her characters before jumping in to writing scenes about them.

Just another writing tip to keep in mind!


What’s Hot Down Under

STATUS: I was very glad to hear that New York City didn’t get as hard from Irene as anticipated but my contacts on Long Island are still without power. Eep.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

As I’m based in the U.S., it’s easy to get tunnel vision on what is hot because obviously I’m mostly focused on this territory. Now granted we sell a lot of projects abroad and some of our authors are wildly popular in places like Japan more so than in the US so I’m certainly aware of territorial differences but I still find it fascinating all the same.

So when I was in Australia, I had a chance to visit with a couple of editors. One publishing division was housed in a charming old Victorian-style mansion and others had sleek modern offices. I rather liked both settings.

Some things I learned took me by surprise. For example, in talking with ANZ children editors, they are still having a wonderful market for picture books. I don’t rep this genre (so please don’t send me queries for it) but I’ve heard any number of editors and agent friends who handle picture books in the US bemoan the state of trying to break out a new author in this arena. The climate is tough here but Down Under, they are still seeing really great success–even for new authors. This could partly be because the Indie bookseller market holds a significant sales percentage still in that country.

Two chain sellers–Borders and Angus & Roberson–had closed doors and editors were greatly concerned. With it went 20% of their sales market. In consequence, print runs were down by several 1000 depending on the author.

I was also surprised to see Costco in Melbourne and Sydney. I didn’t realize that company was there. (I also saw a few Targets). Interestingly enough though, neither venue sells books in Australia yet. I mentioned that it tended to be a strong sales venue in the US so I will be watching to see where that goes, if anywhere, there.

In ANZ, for young adult, dystopian has not taken off in a big way yet. HUNGER GAMES is certainly popular and they’ve had nice success with some other dystopian titles but no big break out. Well, let’s hope Marie Lu’s LEGEND will help jumpstart that trend. I’d appreciate it.

In a similar vein, paranormal romantic YA is equally hot there as it is in US (no surprise). What has gotten harder is literary YA–and that use to be a good market for them.

For middle grade, the ANZ publishers bemoaned the dearth of MG boy adventure stories (that sounds familiar!) and Wimpy Kid blew it out there. No surprise really. That’s a series that feels really universal.

In the adult realm, they publish a lot of Australian authors (as they should) and they always do it in trade paperback. There are very few hardcovers published there. They still love beautifully written stories so US imports like a recent debut THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is having nice traction.

Another interesting tidbit is that an adult title called THE SLAP did mildly in the US but really broke out Down Under (and it was from an Aussie author so maybe no surprise) but it did well in Europe too.

Editors like what they call “watercooler” books. Fiction that tackles issues that readers can dig in and talk about around the proverbial watercooler.

That’s a wrap. By the way, this blog entry is not meant to be the end-all be-all of the ANZ literature market. It’s just smattering of random bits of info but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.


The NYT Children’s Series List

STATUS: I’m back from vacationing Down Under! And it’s official. Australia has the cutest animals on the planet. There is just nothing to compare to the Koala, Wombat, tiny Blue Penguin, and the Wallaby. Squee. I couldn’t contain myself there was so much cuteness.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Adele

While down under, I met with quite a few Australian Editors so I have some interesting notes to pass along to my readers. I promise I’ll do that tomorrow.

Today, I just have to take a moment to say CONGRATULATIONS Simone Elkeles for hitting the NYT Children’s Series List this week (#8).

I couldn’t post the news last Thursday (Wednesday in USA) because I had literally just come off the The Great Barrier Reef where I had been snorkeling. A text message was waiting for me and alas, no internet connection.

Hitting this series list is tough to do–especially when you only have 3 books that have to compete with total sales from series with more than 4 or 5 books in them.

So take a moment to revel in it Simone!

Simone also hit the USA Today bsl coming it at number 77. Since that’s ALL books in all any format, that’s huge too.

All for a series that editors told me wasn’t “big enough” while on submission because it was a contemporary YA with no paranormal elements. I don’t know about you guys, but feeling big enough to me. *Grin*


Only Once In An Agent’s Lifetime?

STATUS: Even though I look absolutely ridiculous doing a happy dance, I’m doing it anyway! White woman overbite. Here I come.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE LOAD OUT by Jackson Browne

This is just getting impossible. If I keep hitting crazy milestones, what will I have to look forward to? Last year, I had 3 authors on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

Then it happened twice in one year. Fabulous. Where to go next?

How about 4 authors on the NYT list at the same time? And 3 of them on the top 150 USA Today Bestseller list at the same time as well.

Yep! That’s the news that hit my inbox about an hour ago. And here they are.

At #19 on the Trade Paperback list and #146 on USA Today

At #9 on the Children’s list

At #11 on the Mass Market paperback list and #109 on USA Today

At #13 on the eBook listand #59 on USA Today

When I got into this biz, this wasn’t something I ever imagined so the reality is not quite real. Maybe it will sink in tomorrow…


The Cat Is Officially Out Of The Bag

Status: RWA. Day Final. Tomorrow I go home to Denver. Squee


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? JOHNNY B. GOODE by Chuck Berry


We’ve known for months but couldn’t say anything. I guess if Hollywood Reporter is going blast it out there (with nary a heads up I might add), I’m going to shine a spotlight on it.


Congrats Ally on having Drew Barrymore attached to direct HEIST SOCIETY and even more fabulous?


Having the sequel, UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, debut at #3 on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list this week!!!




Riding the Cultural Zeitgeist?

 

Status: I only own an umbrella for when I’m in New York. So ready for the perpetually sunny skies of Denver.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker

Even though we agents and editors have seen this phenomenon repeat itself for years, it still strangely takes us by surprise.

Sometimes a theme or a type of story will hit the cultural zeitgeist and suddenly we will see a slew of submissions that have very similar story ideas.

And I’m not talking about obvious trends. For example, in Young Adult, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that paranormal romance has been “hot” for a while (thank you Twilight). Then the Hunger Games took off and dystopia became the new trend. As titles released in that, the latest is now SF or speculative fiction.

These are popular trends.

This is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about storylines that suddenly start popping up that are potentially outside of these trends but for some reason, the stories all hit our submission inboxes around the same time.

For example, over the last 6 months, there have been a lot of queries and sample pages for fairy tale retellings (and this started happening before Little Red Riding Hood and Beastly hit the screen).

I was out to lunch with a children’s editor yesterday and for him, he had suddenly started seeing a ton of submissions that were what he called “man vs machine a la Terminator-style.”

The submissions came from different agents/agencies and yet all had very similar settings and main storylines. And this isn’t actually a rare occurrence. As an agent, I’ve seen this happen any number of times in my career.

So, there is something percolating in the cultural zeitgeist where any number of totally different authors who don’t know each other will have eerily similar story ideas for their novels.


Riding the Cultural Zeitgeist?

Status: I only own an umbrella for when I’m in New York. So ready for the perpetually sunny skies of Denver.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker


Even though we agents and editors have seen this phenomenon repeat itself for years, it still strangely takes us by surprise.


Sometimes a theme or a type of story will hit the cultural zeitgeist and suddenly we will see a slew of submissions that have very similar story ideas.


And I’m not talking about obvious trends. For example, in Young Adult, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that paranormal romance has been “hot” for a while (thank you Twilight). Then the Hunger Games took off and dystopia became the new trend. As titles released in that, the latest is now SF or speculative fiction.


These are popular trends.


This is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about storylines that suddenly start popping up that are potentially outside of these trends but for some reason, the stories all hit our submission inboxes around the same time.


For example, over the last 6 months, there have been a lot of queries and sample pages for fairy tale retellings (and this started happening before Little Red Riding Hood and Beastly hit the screen).

I was out to lunch with a children’s editor yesterday and for him, he had suddenly started seeing a ton of submissions that were what he called “man vs machine a la Terminator-style.”


The submissions came from different agents/agencies and yet all had very similar settings and main storylines. And this isn’t actually a rare occurrence. As an agent, I’ve seen this happen any number of times in my career.


So, there is something percolating in the cultural zeitgeist where any number of totally different authors who don’t know each other will have eerily similar story ideas for their novels.


The New Buzz Word: Speculative

Status: Dashing out to next meeting in 30 minutes and sheesh, it’s hotter than blazes in New York City today. I’m melting. It’s suppose to be a high of 99 tomorrow. I may stick an ice cube in my bra. That’s probably TMI.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M MELTING IN THE SUN by INXS (I couldn’t resist putting this title on!)


It’s official. I’ve had three meetings with three different editors at three different children’s publishing houses.


The new hot thing is “speculative” fiction.


I guess we don’t want to call it science fiction, futuristic, and definitely not dystopian. LOL.


Speculative is SF though.


For some editors, they don’t want a huge science focus or an emphasis on technology (as is a bit more traditional in adult SF). They want it based more concretely in an Earth or contemporary society anchor.


One editor actually said screw that. Bring on the next Ender’s Game (and I say Heck Yes to that! I totally want to see that book).


Editors also want:

Horror—not gore but scary as in I Know What You did Last Summer

Psych Thriller

Jodi Picoult with hot topic but for the teen set

Literary but with a hook


Editors are seeing a lot of mysteries with a romantic elements. So far, that doesn’t feel overly appealing to them. Of course it only takes one to break that mold and then every editor will want one.


We know how that goes.



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