Category Archives: YA

Some Things I’m Looking for:

While developing my list, I keep having these desires for books I’m not seeing. Although my interests aren’t limited to this list, I wanted to give a few examples of the things I’d like to see:

  • YA/MG where the character is growing up in a foreign country, whether he or she just moved or lived there all his or her life. I’m particular interested in settings where the character lives in a rural village or town. I’d love to know how difficult it is to milk cows or use an outhouse every day of your life while simultaneously trying to understand the ins and outs of a new country.
  • YA/MG fantasy with human characters set in rich worlds not anything like Earth. I’m very fascinated when an author can create an understandable world with its own physical rules and composition. Think Dune and some of the worlds described in His Dark Materials. I grew up reading these books and would love to see more of them on my bookshelf!
  • Mystery novels with atypical detectives. I want characters that by all means should not be a detective, but against all odds they’re actually really great at the job. When I was younger, I loved The Cat Who… series. I thought it was hilarious that the cats did all the work. Whether it’s adult, YA, or MG, I’m all in.
  • Women’s fiction where the conflict lies outside of marriage or kids. I’d love the family unit to be the crutch the wife/mother relies on. Perhaps this is because I’m newly married and want to believe in all the good of it!

If you have a book like any of the above, please query me. You’ll have my full attention.

7

Getting It Right

Publishers are crying out for diversity in children’s books, and that’s a good thing. (It would be an even better thing if diversity were more widely represented among the rosters of acquiring editors at these publishers, though things are improving incrementally in that area.)

Writers of YA and Middle-Grade books are becoming more and more aware of the importance of diversity, and are not only including more ethnically diverse characters in their books; they are also centering books on them as leading characters. But context counts here. Lately I’ve been seeing submissions from writers who seem to assign various ethnicities arbitrarily, as if they feel they are expected to fulfill certain quotas. This paint-by-the-numbers approach to diversity can look clumsy and obvious.

To accurately reflect our contemporary Melting Pot, characters have to come alive and breathe believability. What is their social fabric like in their homes and communities? What kinds of foods do they enjoy? What are their tastes when it comes to games, toys, music? And, most important, how do they speak? What are their vocal rhythms, their slang, their verbal shorthand? If they happen to be immigrants, does their speech reveal an accent, or a struggle with the notoriously difficult English language?

Dialogue is crucial; it’s one of a writer’s tools for revealing character. And if characters reflecting multiple diversities all come out sounding alike—or, worse, sounding like bland, white-bread characters from an old TV show—credibility goes out the window. And boredom comes in.

If you read or write YA or Middle Grade, I’d love to know your thoughts on what books do a good job of representing diverse characters—and for that matter, what books might have come up short in that regard. In the Age of Trump, it’s a great time for writers to be promoting diversity in their books—but it’s not something that’s easy for all writers to pull off.

6

First Post!!

Hello DGLM blog readers!! I’m so excited to be the new financials and sub rights assistant here at DGLM, and I look forward to lending my voice to discussions about books, reading, and writing! Because this is my very first post, I thought I would share a little more about myself and tell you all about how I got to be here at DGLM–the road to the industry, you could say.

All of us have that one book that hooked us and refused to let us go. For some of us, it happened early (for a good friend of mine it was Junie B. Jones when she was 8), others find their book much later in life. It doesn’t really matter when, but that one book makes you who you are today. Mine came to me when I was thirteen and was just about to leave the heartache that was middle school. My father had just passed away that previous summer, and I was trying to make sense out of nothing.

In the middle of May, my 8th grade reading teacher assigned the last book of the year: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Instead of shoving the book into my backpack, like I had done all the others, I stared at the cover with surprising interest. The faces of four young boys stared back at me, and each one of them looked so lost- very much like how I felt. I decided to start reading it on the bus ride home, and before I knew it, it was bedtime and I had read past the assigned homework page.

By the end of the week I was finished.

My teacher was very impressed, mostly because I had never shown any interest in reading before. She gave me another book of Hinton’s, That Was Then… This Is Now. I ate that up, too. She continued to give me Hinton’s books to read until the last day of school, when she gave me her copy of Tex to keep. That summer, I found myself wanting to imitate Hinton. I think I wrote about six short stories, none of them any good, but I’ve kept them all as a reminder of the moment I made sense out of nothing. I started going to the public library, and when high school came around, I sometimes skipped lunch to hang out at the school library to read and write.

I’m not sure what it was about The Outsiders that got me. Maybe it was the instant connection I had with Ponyboy, because he, too, had lost a parent (both actually). All I know for a fact is that there was a magical instant that day in May when I had unconsciously chosen my path; somewhere between “Paul Newman… and a ride home.”

So, what about you? What book made a serious reader out of you, and when did you find it?

 

 

Children’s Nonfiction

One of the more interesting and unexpected developments in the children’s book industry over the past year or two has been the rise of nonfiction. Publishers Weekly recently ran an article that surveys the landscape, and how publishers are having success with the kind of MG and YA nonfiction that, until recently, was thought to be going the way of the dodo. Who would have foreseen that in 2015, guidebooks for a video game would be bestsellers?

(Then again, if anyone can explain the appeal of Minecraft in the first place, please do!)

But while video game tie-ins are all well and good, obviously those are licensed products, and for the average children’s book writer, writing for a licensor is a hard gig to land. So how can writers take advantage of this NF “moment” and capitalize on the momentum?

Well, from my seat at the agent’s desk, books like BOMB and RAD AMERICAN WOMEN are the way to go–titles that can fit with Core Curriculum standards while having the kind of adult-market trade appeal that will catch parents’ eyes in the bookstore. Biographies are also attractive, particularly those of living figures (for instance, Hillary Clinton) recently deceased figures (Steve Jobs) or historical figures that are back in the zeitgeist (Alexander Hamilton). And if you’re a published adult writer whose book can be reworked for MG or YA, that’s a great way to further your reach, too.

I’ll also add that on the picture book end, nonfiction is in demand as well. Of course, the topics naturally skew younger than MG or YA–lots of animal stories and bios that can sidestep most controversy. Multicultural topics are also a plus at this level, as they can often be paired with the kind of highly imaginative artwork that editors love.

And here’s another plus on children’s NF–submission guidelines tend to be somewhat squishy. So while picture books submissions do require full text, often you can write longer than the 500-1,000 word limits that frustrate a lot of PB writers. And for MG and YA, my experience is that most editors will review a proposal in lieu of a full manuscript, and a fairly brief proposal at that.

So, for any children’s book writer who’s contemplating NF, this is the time to do it–and when you’ve got your MS or proposal together, send it to me!

1

Transfiguration

The Lambda Literary Awards were held the Monday after BEA, and, although the ceremony stretched over the course of nearly three hours, the feeling was festive. This year there was something new in the air.

For many years, LGBTQ literature has seemed the poor stepchild of the publishing industry. What had once been a boom back in the 80s and 90s had, by the new millennium, been relegated to a “niche” category that wasn’t showing profits.  LGBTQ individuals were, fortunately, becoming less marginalized, and many no longer felt the same drive to seek the solace of literature. Why did you need to pore through the Gay and Lesbian section at Barnes and Noble, or haunt A Different Light, when you could turn on a rerun of Will and Grace any night of the week?  The nation’s LGBTQ book shops shuttered one by one, and the major publishers became reluctant to acquire queer fiction.

But the sector that has always remained open to such books is just the one where it is most needed: YA and Middle Grade. Gay characters have been thriving in the pages of YA and Middle Grade novels—Seth Rudetsky’s upcoming The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek, Stephen Chbosky’s  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever are just a few of the books where sexual orientation is basically taken for granted–it is not even the major issue. Times have changed, very much for the better.

Now, transgender is a hot topic among young readers. Along with the growing acceptance of transgender people in society, we are seeing a rising tide of books about kids who are navigating their own gender issues. Alex Gino’s George, slated to be published in August by  Scholastic, was one of the most touted Middle Grade books at BEA. Memoirs like Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews are making an impact. And my colleague Jim McCarthy just closed a deal with HarperCollins for Rory Harrison’s Looking for Group, in which a transgender teen will figure prominently. These titles are just the tip of the iceberg.

Will transgender novels reach a tipping point, just as vampires did? Perhaps, but for now, they will help a lot of kids who are going to be very grateful. Adolescence is difficult enough to navigate on its own. It must be a lot tougher when you feel you’re stuck in the wrong body.

1

Connections

Last week, I got a submission over the transom for a YA novel. The query was well structured, a sample was attached, and while it wasn’t for me, I did appreciate that the author took the time to research and follow our submission guidelines. End of story, until a few days later I got another email from the same author—turns out her son was a very close friend of my sister from college, and could I help her out with suggestions for other agents who might want to take a look?

Well, of course I’d be happy to help—but why didn’t she make the connection in the first place? Yes, it was a couple of degrees of separation, but I think if she’d dug just a little bit deeper, she would have connected me to my sister, and then she could have included that connection in her original query. And with that, while I still wouldn’t have taken on her project, I might have written her a personal note when I responded, or offered some editorial advice, rather than sending my form rejection.

The point is, connections are a major part of the publishing game. It’s why I stress to authors at every conference I attend that if they’re going to submit to me, make sure they reference meeting me or hearing me talk at that conference. And thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., making those connections has never been easier.

If you really need further proof of the power of connections, go back and watch the MAD MEN finale again—or stop reading if you haven’t (SPOILER ALERT). For me, the most gratifying wrap-up by far was for Joan’s success in her new business—which is based, as they stress several times, on her Rolodex, i.e., her connections. Yes, it’s fictional and set 45 years ago, but the power of connection endure; after all, the job of a literary agent at root is to connect authors with publishers…

So while we always encourage authors to do their homework before submitting and check out the website, submission guidelines, etc., I’d urge you to go the extra mile and look for a more personal connection as well. Look around on-line, ask your friends and family if they know anyone in the publishing industry, check your college’s alumni listings—even the wedding listings in the Times can suggest a contact. Sure, at the end of the day it’s the work that matters, but that common link definitely helps get your foot in the door. And who knows where that connection might lead in the future?

4

No more “boy books”

When I first started agenting, I naturally put out a call for submissions. Through my bio and personal essay on this site, and through interviews and postings on other sites and in print, I told anyone who would listen that I was looking for “boy books,” or that I was known as a “boy book” kind of guy. At the time, it seemed to make sense based on much of what I’d edited at Penguin, and also as a way to differentiate myself from my colleagues here at DGLM. And it worked, in that I quickly built up a client list, most of whom were male and writing about male characters in their fiction.

However, over time, I started to chafe at my self-assigned “boy book” label. For one, I realized that while I might gravitate toward what’s considered “boy book” territory, especially in nonfiction, my personal reading is chock full of books that might be called “girl books”—most YA, for example, as well as some popular fiction and even nonfiction. (I loved WILD, after all.) Moreover, one of my proudest achievements as an editor was working on Padma Venkatraman’s CLIMBING THE STAIRS, which would certainly get labeled a “girl book”—in other words, I had a track record working on “girl books,” so why give that up as an agent? Plus, I discovered that I was limiting the kinds of submissions I was getting, quite severely at times, which is certainly problematic for my bottom line.

So, last year I revamped my bio and essay and took out the “boy book” designation. But while I had practical reasons for trying to shy away from the “boy book” label, I never really thought about it in political or moral terms. So it was pretty staggering to read this recent blog post by bestelling author Shannon Hale, and how “boy/girl” labeling has affected her school visits. On first glance, it seems ludicrous that school administers would only excuse girls from class to hear her talk, yet I can understand the thinking: “Well, her books feature girl protagonists, and we know boys won’t read those kind of books, so why should they skip class for a talk where we know they’ll be bored and won’t learn anything?”

Now, while I can understand the thinking, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Hale correctly points out that the expectation that boys won’t like books featuring girl characters is so deeply rooted in the educational system that for boys a book like THE HUNGER GAMES has to be qualified: “Even though it’s about a girl, I think you’ll like it.” And by denying the encouragement of boys to read girl characters, and the shaming of them when they do, Hale makes a valid argument that this leads to the rape culture that is far too prevalent, particularly at the college level these days.

So—no more “boy books” for me. Or “girl books.” Instead, just great books, featuring interesting, original, engaging characters. Hopefully this post will supersede any “boy book” info linked to me in searches, and if it does, I’d love for writers to take a look at Hale’s post and reconsider how they might label their work. Obviously, the effort to get past boy/girl labels will involve heavy lifting on the part of educators, parents, and publishers, who are certainly culpable for perpetuating the gendered reading divide. But if authors can shift how they view their own work, that’s a major step toward helping the boy who was too embarrassed to hear Hale talk because he would have needed special permission to miss class.

2

Youth is wasted on the young. Or is it?

Every “semester” we have an office lunch for the purpose of getting to know our current batch of interns and to answer any questions they might have about the, undoubtedly, bizarre goings-on in publishing (and in our office).  Yesterday, over a Middle Eastern spread (the baba ganoush was delicious!) we asked everyone to tell us what they read for pleasure.  Overwhelmingly, the response was YA.  And, for some reason, that surprised me and even made me a little wistful for the days when youngsters couldn’t wait to get their grubby little hands on “adult” literature.

I still remember when, in seventh grade, a beat up copy of The Other Side of Midnight (which was already a decade old at the time, in case you were wondering about the timeline) was surreptitiously passed around at my school.  The book, of course, opened naturally to the “sexy” parts and we would have all been mortified if our parents had caught us reading it.  By the time I was a young adult, myself, my peeps and I were interested in SERIOUS fiction that dealt with IMPORTANT subjects, and if you wanted some sex and scandal, you turned to grown-up bestsellers like Marguerite Duras’ The Lover  or Josephine Hart’s Damage.  You know, stories about older people behaving badly….

The thing is that, traditionally,  YA was considered “aspirational”—kids younger than those depicted in the books were the primary market for it. Now, I know that YA literature has exploded as a genre and that, in many ways, it’s tackling tough subjects in ways  sometimes more inventive and provocative than we’ve seen in what is considered adult fiction.  That said, is it narcissism, solipsism or fear of growing up that accounts for young adults actually preferring YA books in general?  In recent years, with blockbusters like  the Harry Potter  and Twilight series playing havoc with readership demographics (as evidenced by 40-something moms reading YA and NA alongside their tweens and teenagers), it seems that the category now even appeals to its own namesakes.   Crazy, huh?

How do you account for this shift?  Are there broader cultural implications that I’m missing here or is this trend just a function of how sophisticated the category has become?

 

Girl power!

Having four daughters and working in book publishing presents both opportunities and challenges as far as finding appropriate books for the girls to read. They are all at different levels, and they all have different interests so it’s not as simple as passing on a sweater or pair of pants from one to the next. What I find happens is that if a kid isn’t interested in the book that’s up for discussion, it sits on a shelf or next to the bed or worse!

I recently came up on this really great website, amightygirl.com, that aims to empower girls by offering a range of resources that relate to books for girls. Its tagline is “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls”. It’s fun to play around and see what they’ve come up with, like a list of best female book characters, which includes the likes of Madeline, Hermione Granger, Nancy Drew and Ladybug Girl (impressive to find a way to fit all of those lovely girls into one sentence). I was also pleased to see a book listed on the same subject as an upcoming book on my own list about the inspiring Irena Sendler who saved 2,500 Jewish children in Poland during WWII, which means they must have great taste!

I wonder if any of you have thoughts on wonderful book ideas for girls? There was this book I read over and over as a kid that so resonated with me called Somebody Else’s Kids by Torey L. Hayden, a psychologist who writes nonfiction accounts of her work with children. It’s about four kids of varying ages with serious and very different issues and how their remarkable teacher goes to great lengths to help them. I suppose my love of narrative nonfiction started when I was young. I just ordered it for my oldest to read and look forward to finding many more books with strong, female protagonists that will empower my girls and help them reach their highest potential.