Category Archives: YA

4

A few thoughts about writing YA

I’ve been working with a lot of authors the last few years on the adult side who are looking to publish on the children’s side. I know I’m not the only one, as the market has surged and become a destination for talented writers whose books can often cross over to the adult market. The obvious early megahits on the YA side like Twilight and The Hunger Games have made room for more recent realistic teen novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder.

I thought it was worth sharing this advice column I found in Publisher’s Weekly from published author Seth Fishman. Now that I have a few young humans of my own, I love that he says: “You’re writing for young humans, people who are the most in need of answers, people who are the most curious.” And I like the way he positions his advice from a broad perspective. Rather than focusing on plot or characters, it’s about thinking and feeling and the emotion that is so critical for adults writing for teens to get right.

Take a look and see if you YA authors have anything else to add to his list. What do you do when you’re getting ready to channel your inner teen?

2

Stumbling into YA

When I first started agenting, I was unsure what kind of books I’d be working on. I assumed there would be lots of commercial fiction because I loved reading it. I figured I’d do some offbeat literary fiction because, well, same reason. I had no idea that I’d end up working on young adult fiction. That ended up being a (very, very, very) happy accident.

The only reason I got into YA was that my client Richelle Mead sent me a young adult manuscript that became Vampire Academy. I loved the novel, so I figured I should probably learn about the category in order to be able to work on it. That book ended up doing preeeeeeeeetty well. Needless to say, more YA followed, and I fell more and more in love with the category and signed on more and more authors in that realm.

Tumbling into teen fiction has so far been the happiest accident of my career. Well…my career itself is somewhat of a happy accident. I landed an internship that I thought would last a few months, and DGLM just never managed to shake me.

But the most surprising fact of finding myself representing YA books is that I never really read them as a teen. Sure, I really dug R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, but other than that, I didn’t read many children’s or teen books. Not because I was so sophisticated a reader that I barreled past them. I was actually just a bit of a late bloomer when it came to the love of reading.

I’m still trying to catch up on the classics. I grabbed The Giver a few months ago. I only recently read The Outsiders. I read my first Roald Dahl novel THIS YEAR (and you guys…he’s super amazing). I still need to get around to A Wrinkle In Time. And yet the more of these books I read, the more hooked I am on the category and the more thrilled I am to watch it expand and grow. It has been an unexpected ride, and a completely joyful one.

I will also add as a side note that I am not only looking for YA. I still adore commercial adult fiction, offbeat literary fiction, and I’d kill to find some amazing narrative nonfiction. The ONLY downside to my success with YA is that sometimes people forget I’m looking for other stuff too!

3

A book can change your life

The title of this post might be overly dramatic, but if you look hard enough you will find some pretty incredible stories about people whose lives were changed by books and reading.

One of those amazing stories comes from YA author Matt de la Peña, whose piece this week in NPR is well worth your time. He touches on so many moments in his own life that were altered by books, and then when he goes into talking about his dad and how his life was changed by reading, well, I was in tears by that point so that tells you what kind of piece this is. In simple prose, he taps into why words and books and reading matter, and how the power of the written word can literally change your life. And I believe almost always for the better.

A love of reading doesn’t have to start early, either. Matt’s life-changing moment came in his second year of college. And you know what else I love about this article? That teacher. That amazing teacher who saw something in this young man and knew he had potential and needed a nudge so she gave him a copy of The Color Purple and asked him to read it before he graduated and then come talk with her about it.

I’m sorry for the way things go for Joshua, a tough young kid profiled here with a secret writing habit, and I hope that de la Peña or someone else can help him find his way through his writing, and through books. When I read pieces like this, it’s so validating to think that the work that we are all doing can make a difference, and in some cases, all the difference.

Do you have any stories to share about how a book changed your life, or the life of someone you know? Please share. And pass this article on too. It’s a great read, and an inspiring one.

5

An author and editor chat

Like any relationship, the one between an author and his or her editor is nuanced and complex. We work in an industry that has a great deal of turnover on the editorial side and there are times when a multi-published author might have several editors within a house during their tenure. I actually have a client on my list that has done three books, and has had five editors!

So when I saw this interview on Slate with author Sarah Dessen and her longtime editor Regina Hayes (eleven books and counting), I thought it was pretty cool and worth sharing. I like Hayes’s thought on her role in the editing process: “To provide a fresh eye on the overarching story and to ask a lot of questions.” Since writing is a solo sport, it can become challenging to keep perspective on your work, and having another reader can be a really important part of the process. It doesn’t have to be a professional editor, although certainly if there is that opportunity it can be advantageous, but any number of beta readers who are good at reading and responding with constructive criticism can be helpful.

I also appreciated Dessen’s simple but important advice about writing: “Cutting is easy. Stretching is really hard. And just a bit of backstory can change everything.” In particular I’m in agreement on the part about backstory. You never want to be stuck asking why a character is motivated to act a certain way because something from their past has been left out of the story.

I’ve had the same intern the last few summers, and learned early  on in our working together that although she’s young, she has a good critical eye for material. Finding someone whose taste you can trust is a priceless commodity, and a good productive author/editor relationship is one to cherish. We’d like to hear your own stories of working with an editor and what that experience was like for you. Please share!

What I’m looking for now

With this October marking my third anniversary here at DGLM, I’ve been in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking about how my client list has developed, how it’s changed over the years, and what kinds of projects I’d like to represent going forward. In that spirit, I took a gander at my old blogposts, and I realized it’s been almost two years since I published a wish list—yikes! I really didn’t mean to let it go that long, especially because last one I published drew plenty of interesting submissions, not to mention a few clients…

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m looking for now, by category:

PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATORS: Picture books have always had a special place in my heart. In fact, they’re one of the main reasons I stuck it out in children’s publishing for so long. And to my great joy, it seems like picture books are cycling back into favor–we’ve had a couple of major picture book deals here at DGLM recently. So if there are any author/illustrators out there with a fun, character-based story to tell, I’d LOVE to see your work!

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION: More than any other category, it seems like children’s book editors are hungry for middle-grade these days in any form—realistic, fantasy, sci-fi, boy- or girl-focused, you name it—and I couldn’t be happier. Ever since HARRY POTTER ended, I think publishers have been searching for the next classic, and with YA in flux (more on that below), the search has become a top priority. Personally, I’m most interested in realistic, contemporary MG a la WONDER. (Can’t argue with those numbers!) However, I’m more than happy to look at anything fantastic that fits the category, so if anyone’s got a great 8-12 character (or a great YA character that can be aged down), bring it on!

YOUNG ADULT FICTION: YA has been a puzzle for the last year or so. On the one hand, we’ve got John Green waving the banner of realistic, issue-driven YA; on the other, there’s DIVERGENT and now STEELHEART fanning the flames of sci-fi/dystopia/fantasy. My feeling is the fantasy side will keep lumbering on, but the bar for originality has never been set higher. So while I’m certainly open to fantasy/sci-fi, it really needs to be something special to have a chance. At the same time, contemporary YA seems to be in demand, though again, originality is the key. But on both sides, strong characterization trumps all–without that, we won’t get anywhere.

ADULT NARRATIVE NON-FICTION:   As I said last time: “If there’s an amazing book-length true story out there, I want to hear it. History, memoir, sports, music, immersion journalism, popular science, health, animals—whatever the subject, if you’ve got the credentials to write about it, send it my way.” To this list, I’ll add military history and politics, as well as a request—whatever the subject, try to make it as expansive as possible without losing the main narrative. A favorite rejection line from editors is that a subject is too narrow… so go wide!

ADULT MEN’S FICTION: When I first started at DGLM, I signed a number of adult fiction clients without much understanding of the categories or market, and after a number of misses, I decided to steer clear of adult fiction for a while. Three years on, I think I’ve got a better handle of how things work, plus our independent publishing program provides a viable alternative for projects that can’t find a traditional home. So, once again, I’m on the look-out for high-concept, character-driven narratives, be they thrillers, suspense, literary, commercial, horror, what have you—happy to take a look.

Thanks for giving this a read. Can’t wait to see what comes in!

 

0

It’s just 15 minutes

I’ve always been a big fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s books (cover image below for her upcoming new novel, which looks amazing).

I was speaking with my client Debby Lytton recently who was telling me about  a great post she wrote for her blog about the seven things she wish she’d known, and in it she links to Laurie’s 6th annual Write 15 Minutes A Day Challenge. Always up for a challenge and one that can help our blog readers, I wanted to share the details of this exercise (which is a few days in so get started asap!) and see how many of you can keep up with the challenge.

I know we’re all so busy but anyone can find 15 quiet minutes a day, right? I think the harder part is focusing and making it a truly productive 15 minutes. So, give it a try, give us some tips that worked for you, and see how long you can keep it up! Before too long, you’ll have an entire novel written, or at least a short story or article to pitch.

2

Cool publishing news

I’m always heartened to hear about books selling and new opportunities for authors. This week we’ve had a couple of stories in the news that speak to both of these things.

First, The Today Show, a longtime supporter of authors, announced a new book club this week that will be a wonderful way for new and old books to be exposed to a large audience. The first pick, Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, is written by a 21-year-old debut author! With the great press surrounding the new club, the book is sure to be a bestseller right out of the gate, a rare achievement in this market and especially remarkable for an author so young.

Then I saw this bittersweet piece about a successful word-of-mouth (the old-fashioned way) bestseller by another debut author which is being compared to last summer’s breakout hit Gone Girl. The Silent Wife has been climbing the lists since its release and unfortunately the author is no longer here to enjoy its success. She passed away from cancer in April, just weeks before the book’s release but the fact that a first novel by an unknown author can achieve this level of success is incredibly encouraging. And a piece of advice to you aspiring novelists – use “wife” in the title of your book because there have been a number of bestsellers recently that have done just that (The Paris Wife, The Time Traveler’s Wife and American Wife)!

I enjoy reading stories like this because it gives me renewed enthusiasm for the book business and the ways in which good books can be published well and find a large audience. If you have any positive publishing stories to share, please do. We’d love to hear them.

0

Series of friends

Though if I were to encounter them now, I would be annoyed and bored to tears, the reliability and formulaic construction of most of the book series’ I read growing up were some of the things that kept me coming back for more. There was comfort in the set-up, the fact that somewhere in the first couple chapters of a Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley or Nancy Drew book there was going to be a description of Claudia Kishi’s bedroom with candy hidden all over it, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s blue-green eyes and long blonde hair or Nancy Drew’s titian hair and blue Mustang convertible.

The characters were so set in their ways that you knew you could count on them. There was a certain style, demeanor and personality that you could immediately attribute to each one, and to an eleven-year-old girl, that really made each of them feel familiar and more like friends than products of a factory of ghostwriters pumping out a book a month (and believe you me, if there wasn’t a new one of each on the shelves each month there was a really disappointed little Rachel scrutinizing that shelf just one more time).

Not only are the descriptions repetitive for the sake of connecting the books together, they are detailed. There could be no mistaking the outfits or physical features of any of the main players, which, it turns out, I have more fun with now than I ever did then. When Buzzfeed posted this article today detailing some of the favorites of the YA series world (okay, plus Harriet the Spy) I couldn’t help but giggle at the lengthy, perfect descriptions. However excessive seeming, I’d like to think they were and still are necessary to evoke the same connection to the characters and tone of the series as a whole.

An older blog, What Claudia Wore is another gem, and I had to scramble to find it today to present it to you. Paragraph-long depictions of Claudia’s zaniest outfits are posted, and though I remember being envious of her “funky” and “cool” style, I’ll admit that it was Dawn who I always wanted to be the most. A blog for her outfits would be far less entertaining, alas, but does lead me to my final thought on the subject.

The uniformity in style and personality left no room for interpretation, which, I think, works really well in the books’ favors and why they became as popular as they did. The girl you pictured in your head was the exact same as the girl your friend pictured, too. It was always so easy then to definitively say which babysitter, which Wakefield twin you not only wanted to be, but were (especially important since there are few people more self-involved than teenage girls).

I always went with Dawn and Elizabeth, but that’s just me.

6

Writing What You Know About YA

This past weekend, I attended the DFW Writers’ Conference in Texas. Extremely well organized with surprisingly tasty conference food, it made for a great atmosphere in which to hear pitches—lots and lots of pitches, most of them for YA. Perhaps best of all was keynoter Deborah Crombie, who did a great job of reminding the audience that “write what you know” is nonsense—as a native Texan, if she’d listened to that, she’d never have come up with Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid and hit the Times bestseller lists year after year.

Well, in a perverse way, Crombie’s speech hit home for me with a lot of the pitches I heard. SO many of them were fantasy of one sort or another—high fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, historical, mythic, you name it, I heard it at least twice. I guess you could say these writers were not writing what they knew, in that none of them had lived in outer space or fought with witches. But by following so many of the genre conventions and storylines that have dominated YA over the last five years, I’d venture that these writers actually are very much “writing what they know”, i.e., writing in the same book worlds they’ve lived in for so long now.

So, here’s the plea I’ve made before on this blog—how about some realistic YA fiction for a change? I’d suggest that realistic YA offers writers a way to avoid both sides of the “write what you know” trap. For one, realistic YA has been in such short supply lately that there aren’t a lot of people to slavishly imitate. And second, as adult writers, viewing the “real” world through teen eyes is a total act of not-knowing. I’d particularly make this plea to my new friends in Texas, which is such a fantastic setting for realistic YA—hey, all you need to do is look to S.E. Hinton’s nearby Oklahoma for proof!

1

“She seemed to realize that she’d lost her right to knock.”

Were you with us on Twitter this past Tuesday, when Jim and I chatted with a bunch of folks about the first half of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park?  As promised, we want to take the conversation to the blog as well, for those who couldn’t make it.  If you want to read it without the SPOILERS you might find below, why not give it a read in the next two weeks, then come back and check out part one’s conversation here, and join us on May 14th at 6 p.m. EST on Twitter (#EandPdglm)?

I’d say the subject that most dominated our discussion was the 1980s setting.  Jim and I both felt that though we love how it plays out in the book, it might have given us some pause as agents considering the book in the slush pile: as Jim asked, “Do kids care about the 80s?”  Fortunately, we had some researchers in the chat to uncover the answer for us.  Anecdotal evidence from Susanna Donato (@SusannaDonato) and DGLM client Brian Bliss (@brainbliss) suggests that teens didn’t mind the choice, might even have been intrigued by it, but would not have cared about the music referenced, which is the source of much of the bond between the two characters.  I was perplexed when Bryan reported that his teen creative writing students wouldn’t have bothered to look up the bands on Park’s mixtapes, until I realized that I didn’t bother to look up the comics that take up an equal amount of the narrative, if not more.  Of course, I’ve heard of them, but it doesn’t mean I fully understand the context.  In the end, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

After all, that moment where Park first realizes Eleanor is reading his comics along with him and stops to let her catch up has plenty of impact no matter what.  That was one of Kellie Lovegrove (@k_love671)’s favorite parts of the book.  Other favorite moments in the first half included: the very end of the first half, which made Susanna’s heart race.  She also loved when Park asked his grandmother for batteries for his birthday so he could give them to Eleanor.  Jim swooned over “You look like a protagonist…You look like a person who wins in the end.”  And for me, the line referenced in the title of this blog entry, which I loved so much I ran across the room to get a post-it to flag it.

So if you couldn’t make it, tell me, what was YOUR favorite part?  And what did you think of the time period?  Do you have the same sense of dread about whatever Richie reveal is coming our way in the second half?

On May 14th at 6 p.m. EST, Jim (@JimMcCarthy528) and I (@LaurenAbramo) will reconvene at #EandPdglm to talk with everyone about the rest of the book.  If you haven’t gotten started yet, please jump on in!  It’s a pretty quick, short, wonderful read.  (Though Jim and I were rooting for a contrarian to come along and mix it up—are you that person?  Come tell us why!)  I can’t wait to find out how the rest of the book will unravel.

And in case you want to catch up so you can join us next time, here’s a handy dandy widget with all the good stuff to come out of our chat under the #EandPdglm hashtag: