Thursday, June 28, 2012

Novels in Nowhere Land

There are times when I’ll find a manuscript that I truly love…but it seems to be in nowhere land genre-wise.

Some fancy new terms have been created for “upper teen” (New Adult) and “lower YA/upper MG” to classify books with more mature voices and atypically aged characters. But what about when the voice speaks to a younger MG audience, but the characters are…over 13 and going through over 13 experiences, or perhaps the characters start out at 12/13 and end up…16? These younger voices with older characters seem to be floating around in empty shelf space.

Usually I’ll let an author in this situation know my take: that I would LOVE to take on the project if they would be ok aging down the main characters. After all, if the voice speaks to a younger audience, the book really is best suited for that younger audience, and today’s MG is predominantly full of MG-aged characters.


Those are some of my FAVORITE novels, and it really pains me to have to tell an author to steer away from these shining examples of MG books with older characters. But at the end of the day…I’m an agent. And I will represent what I can sell…not necessarily just what I love.

I was so torn up about this lately that I went ahead and asked a few editor friends of mine for their take on this; I was really, really hoping they’d prove me wrong.

Here’s what they had to say:

Sara Sargent, Balzer & Bray
I don’t like to make a lot of rules when it comes to books, but if an author is authentically writing about a 15- or 16-year-old protagonist, I have to believe that protagonist would have concerns not appropriate for a middle-grade novel. I’m not talking about lewdness, but about emotional resonance. What resonates emotionally, psychologically, or socially when you are 12 or 13 is not what resonates when you are 15 or 16, and vice versa. 

Alyson Heller, Aladdin
Honestly, if the subject and voice were definitely MG, but the characters were 15-16, I would just have the author age them down to 11-12. I think there would be too much of a disconnect between voice/subject/situation if it all seemed young, but then had a 15-16 year old protagonist. I think with Ella Enchanted, it would probably just be considered “clean teen”, not necessarily MG.

Sarah Barley, Harper Collins
I would consider a middle grade novel where the voice/subject were clearly middle grade, but the characters were 15 or 16. Generally speaking, yes, it’s the rule that characters should be the same age as the readership, but as ELLA ENCHANTED and others show, there are ALWAYS exceptions to any rule!

Some very interesting things to consider here.

First, that today’s definition  of MG is not what it was when the classics above were written – which means, writing like those books…is writing in an outdated style, like writing a Victorian novel. You can write a Victorian novel, and it doesn’t mean it won’t be good…but will it resonate as widely as it would have in 1840?

Second, that though the style is outdated, there may still be a place for them – as “clean teen” – but again: is “clean teen” going to resonate the same way as it did ten years ago, when there are books like THE HUNGER GAMES and TWILIGHT to pick up?

I understand this is a frustrating situation for an author; after all, shouldn’t what people love be the same as what sells?!

Unfortunately, it isn’t. Readers aren’t the direct buyers for publishers – bookstores are. Strange to think of, but true: and bookstores won’t stock what they a) can’t classify and b) don’t think is hot (i.e.: what isn’t going to sell).

Maybe this is changing – with e-publishing and self-publishing, perhaps that gap between readers and publishers can be breached. I’m not unwilling to take a risk on a project; obviously, I’m willing to hope I’m wrong. But I am unwilling to give false hope. Representing a project I don’t believe will sell is completely unacceptable. If I have doubts, I can’t be the best champion.

So, while I would always say that if you believe in it, champion it - don’t fight an uphill battle and try to fit a round peg into a square hole. It is important to keep in mind today’s market and readership when considering your ultimate publication goals; writing without a market in mind can indeed cause a writer to end up…in nowhere land.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Unsolicited Revise & Resubmissions

Here’s my take on this: though it is tempting to take an agent (or editor’s) feedback on a pass and write back – great thoughts!! Soooo…if I just change x,y, & z will you take another look?!  My advice:


Why? Because really, if an agent (or editor) wants to see a manuscript again – he or she will leave that option open in the pass letter.

Personally, I’d also apply this advice to wanting to re-contact and re-submit a manuscript you sent months (or years) ago that you got tons of feedback on and ended up revising – unless you’ve basically re-written the novel. 

I have never signed a client from a revision I did not ask to see (meaning: requested R&R’s, or, “I see so much potential, this was SUCH a hard call for me, if you ever rework..” etc does not apply to this blog post). 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t say YES to taking a look at a revised manuscript I’ve passed on, because honestly, there is ALWAYS the chance someone will knock my socks off with a revision. 

The problem is…I find that it’s really hard to feel motivated to read a revised manuscript I didn’t ask to see. First impressions are hard to beat; I know what’s coming plot-wise the second time, too, so the element of mystery is completely gone – which means unless that hook really grabbed me in enough the first time for me to ASK to see it again…chances are, it’s just not for me.

Now, does that mean that you shouldn’t query an agent who has rejected you before with a NEW work? Hells to the NO! 

I LOVE getting submissions from authors I’ve rejected in the past, as odd as that may sound. I HAVE signed clients that way - and through requested R&R’s. 

Why? Because an author is only going to be better the more practice and time that passes; and if I saw something in the FIRST (or well, latest as the case may be) manuscript to catch my eye…there’s a very good chance there will be something even BETTER in the next manuscript. 

Of course, this begs the question: why SHOULD you even consider querying an agent who rejected you in the past…because when you sign up, you want to sign up everything?

Two reasons: 

1. That rejected manuscript…really may not have worked. Period. And it doesn’t mean you suck as a writer, or that that agent isn’t for you – it just…may not work. 

2. If the agent DID request a partial, and passed…that still means your ideas and initial writing caught his or her eye. The execution may have needed more work than he or she had time or vision for – but a more flawless manuscript may get you in the door…and open a window for thoughts on how to re-work and revise that older manuscript so it DOES work. 

Not that I suggest the latter; I am a BIG fan of moving on to better and brighter things. 

In sum: unless asked…move on. Revise the manuscript with feedback…and query a fresh agent with it. Or start a new project and knock your dream agent’s socks off!