Your Manuscript is Ready. Are you?

Author Jill Alexander and her agent Michael Bourret spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA conference about what happens in the time between selling your first book and getting it published.

Why We Created this Breakout Session:

  • For Alexander the transition between un-published and published felt like it happened in a whirlwind and overnight. So she wanted to create this session to let everyone know what the process is like and things to be prepared for.
  • The transition is a quick one.
  • Agents often forget all the steps that authors are unfamiliar with when they are publishing their first book. Bourret’s hope is that this session will help you to navigate the choppy waters ahead!

BEFORE -Things to do before you get published:

  • Develop a Web Presence:

o   Develop a web presence in some way. Create an online hub. This should be one central place where people can find you.

o   You want to update your online hub with new content on a regular basis so that you can begin to build an audience.

o   Think about your web presence as a way for people to contact you! A place for fan mail, or librarians to say hello, etc. Some people use Facebook, but Alexander doesn’t accept minors to be her friend on Facebook.

o   Forward thinking – you won’t have much time later! Think about it now.

o   Secure a domain name and get a blog. You don’t need a fake book cover or anything, just be yourself.

  • Create your Office Hours:

o   How many hours will you spend social networking? (Twiter, email, blog, etc.?)

o   Create a calendar system for school visits.

o   Think about writing not as a hobby but as a business.

The Real Work Starts After You’ve Sold Your Book:

  • We are not talking about writing here, we are talking about the media. You will have to talk to them! You will have to get used to having an audience.
  • Think about how you will talk about your book. What was your inspiration? Have pre-packaged answers to those questions ready (or some idea) so you don’t look like a bumbling fool. Practice your responses.
  • Alexander has a post on her website of common questions she was asked when she got published. Take a look at these and practice what you would say!  Questions are here: http://jillalex.livejournal.com/16841.html

The Funny Things You Never Think About…

  • It turns out there is another author out there named Jill Alexander. Only she is an erotic writer! That can be a problem when your young adult audience starts looking you up on the internet! Alexander decided to use the S. of her middle name to differentiate herself from the other Alexander. Her agent helped her through this issue.

Revision, Revision, Revision… 

  • Revision is a long process. There are a lot of little steps along the way.
  • Revision begins with a larger letter discussing the major story issues. This is the time you SHOULD address these issues. I can be hard to change major things later on. Editors hate hearing “Is it too late to change…” The earlier in the process you deal with these things the better.
  • Later you will get a long letter with lots and lots of notes on each line (copy edits). It can be intimidating.
  • Review your copy editing symbols so you won’t feel so confused when that draft comes along.
  • Expect to read your book another 8 to 12 times!
  • You will be addressing different things each time you get your manuscript back.
  • Learn to distance yourself from the manuscript and be willing to read your manuscript differently.

Renaming Your Book:

  • It is pretty common that the name of your book will change. This can be for a lot of reasons. For Alexander the word Christmas in her book title caused it to need to change so it wasn’t thought of as a seasonal book.
  • Have a list of other possible titles ready! Try to think up 5 to 10 titles.

What’s and ARC?

  • An ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy. These are copies of your book that are sent to librarians, reviewers, etc.
  • ARC’s are great for your first signing opportunities. You can raffle these off to your blogging community for example.
  • And ARC is a precious commodity.
  • You get 5 to 10 copies of your ARC’s. They are expensive to make so make sure you think clearly about who will get them.  They should be for people who will write about your book and will help sell your book. Be prepared to be told by your publisher that the supplies are limited. Ask who they have sent ARC’s to so that you don’t double up.
  • When ARC’s come out is when the “What’s Next” question starts to come up.

The Book Launch is More of a Wrap Up Party:

  • Once your book comes out a lot of the work will already be done. It’s the end result.
  • Pub dates – this day will only be super exciting for you the author. It doesn’t mean much for everyone else. That can be emotionally taxing. Don’t try to build it up too much for yourself.
  • Bourret tries to be mindful of publication date and calls his clients on that day.

The School Visit:

  • Have school presentation ideas in mind. Put your ideas up on your blog or website for schools to see. Have some of these ideas ready by the time your book comes out.
  • Schools will ask you to come visit for free. Tell them you have a set fee. “I would be happy to waive the fee.” This way you are giving them something.
  • Alexander used to teach high school, so doing a book visit at a school wasn’t very scary for her.
  • Set limits to the amount of students you will talk to. Never do an auditorium because it’s too big and the kids don’t care enough when they are in a large environment like that. Agree to go to 3 or 4 classrooms instead.

When the Book Comes Out:

  • “Free books are at the library.” Don’t give away your book. Have people buy them! Particularly your friends and family.
  • Your contracted books (that you get free from the publisher) don’t go to friends and family. They need to support you and buy your book!
  • Don’t give your contracted books away to anyone who doesn’t have some influence.
  • When you are post-publication you will have to spend time promoting, etc. This takes away from your writing. “My time is valuable,” is an important mantra. It shows that you need to be paid. Your time isn’t free.
  • Protect your creative think time. This is different than your writing time. Driving can be a great place to have think time. To help separate creative time from business time Alexander moves to different areas of her house. One area is for social networking (twitter, etc.) another area is for writing.

Remember Your Family Dynamic:

  • Remember that the world goes on for your family even after you are published. Life doesn’t change much for them. So be sure you still make your family an important part of your day/life.
  • Remember to keep a balance. There will be less home-drama if you do.

What Is Next? Writing Your Second Book:

  • Your next book is an important thing to talk about with your Agent. You want your career to be long so you want to have a good conversation about the best choices for you. Talk about this early with your agent and publisher. Never do things in the dark.
  • Alexander though a previous book that she had written would end up being her second book, but her agent thought it might be too dark for her audience and they went with another idea.
  • Michael Bourret likes to know everything and as soon as possible. He likes you to share what you are doing because it allows him to figure out the timing. This is important for you next book but also important for other things like promotion. If you set up an interview with a broadcast but do it before your book comes out then it can be wasted publicity. Timing is important.
  • You can bother your agent! Share! It’s their job to hear from you!

A Bit About Agent Michael Bourret:

  • He represents children’s ficton and adult fiction, but he doesn’t do adult genre fiction.
  • He does represent some children’s books but he isn’t dying to see more.
  • He advises everyone to find the editor and agent who lights up when they read your book.
  • “There aren’t good or bad agents, there are only good or bad matches.”
  • Bourret suggest you find an agent before you find an editor.
  • Bourret will Google an author if he finds their manuscript interesting. See what is out there on yourself!

Jill S. Alexander is an author and SCBWI success story. Her debut novel The Sweetheart of Prosper County was discovered through the national conference critique process and ha s received a starred review from School Library Journal as well as being awarded to the 2010 Texas Lonestar Reading List. Jill’s second novel Paradise and His Smokin’ Squeezebox is set for release in Spring 2011. Visit Jill at: www.jillsalexander.com.

Michael Bourret joined Dystel & Goodrich Literary Management as an intern while studying film and television production at New York University, and began at the agency full-time in 2000. After ten years as an agent in the New York office Michael now works in Los Angeles at the West Coast office of DGLM as Vice President. Michael’s authors include Sara Zarr, Lisa McMann, Bernadette Shustack, Anne Rockwell, and Heather Brewer.

Eight Myths About Literary Agents

Is it true that big agencies doesn’t care about small writers? Or that everything you read about an agent online is true? Writers House agent, Rebecca Sherman spoke at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day and debunked all the myths you may have heard. So here is what she had to say to set the record straight!

Myth #1: An Individual Author Gets Lost in a Big Agency

Not True! Even though an agency may be big, like Writers House, every agent has autonomy over his or her list. Therefore the choice to choose a client is entirely up to the agent. And even though agents have obligations to their agency – meetings, priorities, etc. agents do work independently as well to oversee their own clients. The reputation of both the agent and the company relies on how he/she represents a client so it is very important to cultivate each career individually.

Myth #2: Everything You Read Online (and on Publisher’s Marketplace) is One Hundred Percent True.

Let’s clarify here. What you read on Publisher’s Marketplace – is - true. However, it may not be the whole picture. We often withhold information because it is  not the right time to make it public. For example we may not want to mention a new sale because a book won’t come out for two years, or we need to protect the material of our clients so it isn’t bumbling around out there in the internet. Don’t over analyze the info you read online, because you seldom have the whole picture.

Myth #3: Agents Will Sign an Author Based on a Book Proposal or Pitch.

You should always, always, always, finish your book before you query an agent! You want to also research an agent before submitting to make sure he/she is right for your work. However, you will never land an agent if you don’t stop researching and SUBMIT!

You can also read Rebecca Sherman’s Do’s and Don’t of Querying and agent here: Rebecca’s Do’s and Don’ts

Myth #4: If I Don’t Hear Back from an Agent Right Away it Means They Hate My Book.

I know that waiting is hard, but in this industry, patience is a virtue! Please don’t take it personally if you have to wait. Agents are busy people, they have more important things to do that just read through the slush (spread the word!). They need to work with their clients first!

A Client = Actual, where as,  A Query = A Hypothetical.

All material will be read and responded to (if you submit to me). I have three very capable assistants who do look through the work first. The Assistant Agent is your gate keeper, and it is their job to know my taste. I have a current list of 25 – 30 clients and they are my priority. I get thousands of submissions every year. And occasionally my work load will reflect if I am willing to take on a new client or not. We will get to you! Patience!

Myth #5: You Should Take the First Offer of Representation That You Get From an Agent

This relates to my previous comment about being patient. If you’ve submitted your work to multiple agents and you get an offer, please keep me abreast to this information. Email me and let me know that you have another offer. I would like a fair chance to review your work, and I will review it if you let me know there is interest elsewhere. Don’t make a decision about representation based on who reads your work first. Find the person who is right for you. Please contact me and let me know of the other offer and allow me a fair amount of time to review it. As an agent myself, I am very open to waiting for clients that I’ve offered representation to so that they can hear back from other agents. This is professional and important. Also, if you decide to accept representation from another agent please let me know that as well so I don’t waste my time on your submission.

Myth #6: Agents Just Want to Sell Your Book, they are Salesmen and Accountants.

Though selling your book is part of the job, it is not all that the job entails. I also want to help an author develop his/her craft. I am an editorial agent with nine years of experience. I am also my client’s advocate and I want to help them to see the big picture of their whole career. The key between the agent/writer relationship is synergy. I want to help the author strategize, and put the author into the spotlight. I also help clients to manage their schedules if they have multiple books and contracts with different publishers (particularly if they are an author/illustrator). I keep a very open relationship with my clients and make sure they are aware of the whole process, and I also want to be kept in the loop on how things are going between an author and editor. I like to see the new drafts and see how the project is developing.

Yes, it is also my job to sell books, but I am not an accountant. My job is to find the best deal for my client that reflects the worth of the book. It is my job to network, know the editors and what they want, understand the trends, the market, etc. Editors who know me trust my judgment. My reputation with them is important. My taste and how I help an author develop his/her project shows. Editors are excited when I contact them because they respect my opinion and I have the backing of a reputable company (writers house).

Myth #7: Now That You Have an Agent You Will Never Be Rejected Again!

Unfortunately this is not true. Having an agent opens doors you might not have had access to before. But it doesn’t mean that there wont be rejection. You still have to be patient and persist. I love your book. I won’t give up on it. No news does not mean you’ve been rejected. No news just means no news.

Myth #8: Agents Have No Life!

Agents are passionate about what they do, but yes, we are people too! We have lives outside of our work. Again, this is another reason to be patient. I personally also maintain two book clubs outside of my work. These clubs are often with other agents, editor, and librarians. One is a YA/MG book club and the other is an adult book club. I think it is important to read.

I also pitch books to editors. I take this very seriously. (Rebecca shared a pitch letter that she wrote for the book Scones and Sensibility. The pitch letter was clever and creative and reflected the tone of the book, and Rebecca’s dedication to selling your book in a strong and confident way.)

A Little About Writers House and Rebecca Sherman:

  • Writers House is a full service agency which includes a four person foreign rights department, a contracts manager and associate, a three to four person accounting team, and 14 senior agents that cover various aspects of literature from children’s books to adult literature and non-fiction and memoir.
  • Rebecca began at Writers House as an assistant. She worked as an assistant for five years, and learned the business. She began to develop her own small list, and later became a senior agent.
  • Rebecca has been a senior agent for four years.
  • Rebecca’s client list includes: Grace Lin, Bryan Audrey Pickney, and Matt Phalin.

What Rebecca Sherman Likes and is Looking For:

  • Mostly author/illustrators, and less picture book authors.
  • For young adult and middle grade books she likes humor and books that will pull on the heart-strings.
  • She does represent picture book non-fiction.

If You’d Like to Submit to Rebecca Sherman You Should Send:

  • For Picture Book Author/Illustrators: If sending by snail mail include: One full-color picture book dummy image, the full sketched-out picture book dummy, and a typed copy of the manuscript. If sending material online, send the same information in the form of a link to dummy or website. Paste manuscript into text of email. No attachments!
  • For Picture Book Authors: Send a query letter and the manuscript.
  • For Novelists: Send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of your novel.
  • For Illustrators: Send a link to your website and a query letter.
  • Don’t pre-query!

And A Few Questions From the Audience:

What are you looking for in a synopsis?

The pitch and the synopsis are two different things. A pitch is meant to lure you in, but a synopsis needs to tell us what happens in the end. Your synopsis can be longer than a page, in my opinion. I only read a synopsis if I have reservations when I am reading the first few pages. I read it to see what the major plot points are that are coming.

How many writers actually earn a living in this business?

That’s a tricky question. I won’t go telling you to quit your day job. A lot my clients are hybrid authors – they do both picture books and middle grade books. This allows them to shine in multiple markets and sell more, particularly when they can get into the school markets. Young Adult books that is much harder to do. Most of my debut authors still have their nine to five jobs. In terms of advances, it’s hard to say. Novels don’t usually go for less that $10,000, but it has happened. A picture book can be around $15,000 and up for an advance. But you have to split that if you are not the author and the illustrator. And picture books in general can be wonky when we talk about prices. YA books can often take a higher advance.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Agent Day: Insight from Kevan Lyon

Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency was the second agent to speak at the SCBWI Agent Day in Newport Beach. As an agent who is not only represents young adult literature, she also reps adult lit as well and is always looking for young adult books that will breech both genres. The following is her take on the market, what she’s looking for, and insights into the agent/writer relationship.

A Bit about Kevan and Her Client List:

  • Kevan represents authors such as Louanne Johnston (Dangerous Minds, Muchacho), and Margaret Mallory ( Knight of Desire and Knight of Pleasure).
  • Kevan used to work in sales and has worked in a variety of areas including sales for Sam’s Club, Borders, and many other retailers.
  • Kevan has been a literary agent for seven years.
  • Kevan works from home.

What Kevan is Looking For:

  • Kevan only represents young adult novels and adult novels.
  • Young adult books with strong female characters.
  • She does represent middle grade novels, but usually these are books by clients who also write young adult or adult books.
  • Books that can make the jump and be both young adult and adult literature.
  • A great story! A fresh plot and a unique approach.
  • To be swept away and captivated by your submission!
  • I love historical books, I love history. But I have too much historical romance. I would love some historical young adult!
  • Paranormal or fantasy YA or Adult.

Things That Will Make Your Submission Stand Out:

  • Captivate me in the first ten pages!
  • Include action, drama, and emotion.
  • I want to feel the heat, the excitement, or the terror, with the character. Show!  Don’t tell.
  • I want to feel like I am in the character’s brain. I want to feel what they are experiencing with them.
  • I want to call you and interrupt you day because I need to have more pages to find out what will happen next!

What to Avoid with your Submission:

  • The book where I’ve turned sixteen and suddenly I’ve discovered I have powers that I didn’t know I had before. Oh, and look the hot guy at school suddenly notices me because he has these powers too and he’s the only one that understands me.
  • Barbie cheerleaders. In fact, remove the word Barbie from your vocabulary.
  • Dumb football players. Look through your manuscript for the clichés and take them out. Do something different and original! Follow a new instinct.
  • An overly complex “other” world. You may be trying too hard. Don’t make the world too weird. Make it just weird enough. If it’s too complex it can become too hard to follow, or hard for the audience to get involved. I want to feel like I am really there, and everything is really happening.
  • You need a happy ending for your young adult book (in her opinion). If you mention that you don’t have one then that is a red flag.
  • Do your homework on who the agents are that you are querying. Find an agent who will fit your needs.
  • Kevan represents mostly older YA and adult fiction so a character who is 12 or 13 is a red flag for her and could be a problem. On the other end, a 19 or 20 year old for a YA book is great in her opinion.

Queries and Response Time to Submissions:

  • I am behind on my queries! I have about two hundred in my que right now.
  • It will take seven weeks (or so) to respond to you. But be patient. I will respond!
  • If I’m interested I will ask for a partial request.
  • I often read queries at night, so you really need to WOW me because I’m usually tired.
  • I write pitch letters to editors (basically a letter very similar to a query). I spent a few days on this pitch letter. I show it to my friends, the author, etc. and get a lot of feedback on it before sending it out. You should do the same thing.
  • Read back cover copy or jacket flap copy to get a good idea of how to pitch your book.

The Crossover Between Young Adult and Adult Books:

  • Kevan really believes in a powerful young adult novel that will cross over and begin to speak to an adult audience as well. In fact, Kevan is really looking for that in her submissions – someone who can make that jump.
  • Editors are looking for books that can breach both audiences.
  • There is a gray area between YA and Adult Literature. For example her own daughter was obsessed with Jodi Poccult (an adult women’s fiction writer) as a teen.
  • If you are submitting to Kevan she is going to assume there is some sort of crossover potential in your book.

A Bit About the Agent/Client Relationship:

  • Working with a client is a highly collaborative process.
  • Kevan is very editorial, and really likes to give feedback on the work. She works very closely with the author to make sure the book is ready to go.
  • In addition to the book she will also work with the author to put together a pitch packet which will include a biography from the client.
  • She will then call and send a letter to potential editors for the project.
  • Kevan shares her editor submission list with her authors. Some agents don’t do this, but she does. She thinks it is important to know what kind of relationships the client may already have with an editor as well. She shares this list with the client on the honor system that the client will never contact the editor on his/her own.
  • She updates the author as to the passes or if someone wants to make an offer. She often doesn’t share the details of those who say “no” because it is often not productive in any way.
  • It only takes one editor to love it!
  • She contacts the author if they extend, and as they get closer and closer to closing a deal. She shares all deal numbers. It’s a very exciting process!
  • Selling your debut novel doesn’t change your life, like it used to. You shouldn’t quit your day job.
  • After you make a contract things slow down. It will take a year to  one and a half years to get a book on the shelf.

Other Notes of Mention:

  • An agent works off of commission. They will get 15% of everything the author makes. If an agent is charging you a fee, this is not good!
  • An experienced editor has lots of relationships already which can be an asset, however a new and hungry agent will work his/her butt off. So there are pros and cons to each.
  • E-Books and digital rights can be a deal breaker.
  • If you get an offer from another agent and you accept it, please send a courtesy message to the other agents that you have submitted to, so we don’t waste our time. If possible, try and let the other agents know you have an offer before accepting representation.

Kevan Lyon is an agent at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. With over 20 years in the publishing business, including 5 years as a Literary Agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and 17+ years on the wholesale, retail and distribution side of the business, Kevan Lyon brings an informed and unique perspective to her work with clients. Kevan handles women’s fiction, with an emphasis on commercial women’s fiction, young adult fiction and all genres of romance. Her particular interest is historical fiction of all types. She looks for stories that draw the reader in and loves a sweeping, complex story with strong female characters. You can learn more about her and her tastes at: The Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Website


Agent Day: Insight from Agent Mary Kole

Andrea Brown agent, Mary Kole spoke at the SCBWI Agent Day this past Saturday in Newport Beach. She shared her genuine passion for children’s literature, what she’s specifically looking to find in her submission box, and her love for the iPad.

A Little About Mary Kole and the Andrea Brown Agency:

  • Andrea Brown has been in business for 28 years, and was the first agency to represent children’s books up through young adult literature.
  • Andrea Brown had nine agents who live in various areas from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and now they will be opening a New York branch headed up by none other than Mary Kole herself.
  • Mary is a writer and she just finished her MFA. She became an agent as a result of her interested in seeing “the other side” of children’s literature. She worked for both Chronicle Books, as well as Andrea Brown before discovering this was her passion and becoming an agent.
  • Mary is a new agent but she is HUNGRY and OBSESSED! She presently has a short list and is actively looking for new clients.
  • Mary represents picture books authors or author/illustrators, middle grade novelists, young adult novelists, and illustrators.

What Mary Really Likes and/or is Looking For in Submissions:

  • Dark and edgy illustration.
  • Stories that explore friendship, murder, and/or betrayal.
  • A well executed “issue” book like Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • A too close for comfort dystopian novel like Feed by M.T. Andersen.
  • A strong love triangle book or a sweet summer romance.
  • Creepy ghost stories that get under your skin, where the ghost follows you home long after you’ve put the book down.
  • Unusual paranormal. If you are writing about vampires, werewolves, etc. then your story needs to be new and exceptional.
  • Books that make her uncomfortable.
  • Books with darker, funnier, or sarcastic sensibilities.
  • Picture books that are quirky, funny, or sweet.

Mary Isn’t Into:

  • Anthropomorphic tales.
  • High fantasy or science fiction.
  • Greek and Egyptian mythology, which is overdone, but there are plenty of other mythologies to use. Do something new!
  • Mary does not represent early readers or chapter books.
  • But she will share your work with a colleague at Andrea Brown if the work seems better fit for another agent.

Why Mary Loves Picture Books and Kid Lit:

  • I  love this audience! I love how kids read! Adults only read when they are about to go to bed (basically to put themselves to sleep) or because they have to, or if it is an established habit. Not kids. Kids are voracious readers! Kids are social readers! Kids share books with their friends, because to them it is important to have similar imaginary landscapes as their friends. Kids devour series.
  • Kids who read, become life long readers!
  • Books for kids help them to become more confident, and as cheesy as this is going to sound, books for kids change their lives!

Mary Kole’s take on the Kidlit Market:

  • The children’s book market was started by the amazing Ursula Nordstrom who published and edited such iconic books as Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. She wanted to publish good books for bad children. At this time she felt that books tried to moralize too much and talk down to them. Nordstrom believed that kids have more insight than adults gave them credit for.
  • “The writer of good books about the real world has to dig deep and tell the truth.” – Ursula Nordstrom
  • During this recession the YA book market has gone up 30%, while the adult book market has declined. This says a lot about our readers, but it is also attributed to the school and library markets,  not to mention the popularization of books by Harry Potter and Twilight.
  • “If I can resist a book, I resist it.” – Ursula Nordstrom. Therefore, Mary Kole says – write something that’s irresistible!

A Breakdown of Age Ranges and What’s Selling in the Market:

Picture Books:

  • Age group: 3-5 or 5-7.
  • Picture Books are cyclical (the market is). In the 80’s picture books were big, then it declined, but it will be going back up soon.
  • Houses are acquiring fiction and non-fiction picture books, illustrator/author projects, and newer and edgier illustration.
  • Traditional verse is hard to sell.
  • Character driven books with snappy text is selling well.
  • Houses are looking for picture books with quick hooks, or possibly multiple hooks. Hooks could be anything from the re-telling of a common fairy tale, to the inclusion of a cookie recipe in the back of a book.

Middle Grade Novels:

  • Age group : 8-10, or 10-12, and sometimes as high as 14.
  • Fantasy and adventure rules in this age group!
  • Literary middle grade novels do exist, but these stories are usually more sweet and friendship based.
  • This is a great age group to write for because these character’s worlds are full of contrasts. They feel the pull between their family and their friends. They are beginning to find and explore their own individuality and identity, but they still have one foot still in the door at home. This is a wonderful frame of mind.
  • Mary likes characters in this age group who make tough – if not the wrong – choices and have to deal with the consequences.
  • This age group is not very edgy in its content (i.e. sex, drugs, and rock and roll).
  • If there is romance in middle grade novels it is very sweet.
  • Historical books are very popular in middle grade novels, but be sure that the setting is essential to the story.

Young Adult Novels:

  • Age group:12 and up, 14 and up, or 16 and up.
  • Anything goes in this age group – as far as content. Yup you can have your sex, drugs, and your rock and roll.
  • It is a myth that YA has edgy content. If you have a softer and sweeter young adult novel, that’s okay! There are houses that will publish both types of content. Just because “edgy” is in, doesn’t mean you have to write it. And don’t try to force edgy content!
  • Teens have a highly sensitive and honed BS barometer! They will call out a poser!
  • Paranormal and romance is presently huge in the YA age group. This is because young adults have a rich fantasy life. They like to read about things that they are not necessarily doing. They like to live through the experience of reading about huge epic romance. Often times teens feel like they have little control of their lives, like they’ve been put on a train and they can’t get off. So they like to read paranormal and romance as a way to escape. As a way to explore them selves and the darker parts of themselves.
  • Despite the paranormal craze, editors are clamoring for REAL LIFE! They want stories about our world.
  • YA has room for bigger conflicts that can end on a bittersweet note. Everything doesn’t have to tie up in the end of the book. Teens are aware that everything doesn’t always end well. They are aware that you must lose something in order to gain something.
  • A book that really affected Mary Kole is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and there is a section in that book where the main character described a moment where they felt infinite, there is a welling like you could explode. Mary thinks this really captures a key element of the teen experience. For teens everything is big. Teens have surreal experiences, and they come one after another after another – first kiss, first friend betrays you, etc. It is an incredible and electric time!

Mary Answered the Following Questions from the Audience:

What do you see as the difference between the school and popular markets?

Books in the institutional market must have hooks. They particularly like book that can have a great curriculum tie-in. Books that are non-fiction or have an educational bent to them work well in institutional markets. Niche books as well – this would be something like a book about the Australian Indigenous Population. Where vampires – for example have a much wider audience and would work for main stream.

If I’ve submitted something to the Andrea Brown Agency and I haven’t heard anything can I revise and re-submit or query another agent?

We do share work with other agents at Andrea Brown. So if I think a book has merit but isn’t right for me, I will share it with another agent. Therefore a “no” from one of us is a “no” from all of us. But I will let you know if I am sharing your work with another agent. In terms of revision, unless the book has gone through major changes and is pretty much unrecognizable as the previous work, then you can re-submit it, but otherwise don’t. Query us with something new.

Can you tell us a little bit about the early agent/writer relationship?

Absolutely! If I get a submission and I like it and think it is promising, but I don’t quite think it is ready, I may give the author general notes. This way they can revise and I can see how they apply the changes in his/her revision. This will tell me a lot about a writer. If I offer representation, then I become highly editorial with my client. I really like digging into the hamburger meat. We will work on the book for as many rounds as we need until the book is ready to go out.

What publishing houses do you have a close relationship with?

Andrea Brown originally worked for Knopf, so we have a strong relationship there. However, if an agent is doing her job then she doesn’t have favorite houses. This is because an agent needs to know who wants what at different houses so they are serving the client in the best way possible. I do have relationships with houses, but it’s important to move past those first close relationships and find the perfect house for your book.

What advice do you have for an author who wants to work within multiple genres or age groups?

In children’s books authors are more apt to hop between genres. As long as you are aware of the voices and how they are different within different age groups, then it’s okay to write in multiple genres/age groups. An agent should want to be your career representative. I personally love to give career advice, and want to help shape my clients careers. When you approach an agent and you write in multiple age groups you should always query with the strongest material. You can mention in your query that you have other interests, but don’t unleash your entire creative resume. Pick the work that is the strongest, that you are the most passionate about, that is your favorite. Focus! Even if you are a picture book author, send only one story. I will ask to read more of your picture book manuscripts if I am interested.

How do you think the Kindle and e-readers have changed the marketplace?

This is a constantly changing landscape and an intricate discussion. The great thing about e-readers like the iPad is that you can add elements like sound, video, and pictures. Think about how that can effect your storytelling. But the big question right now is what “rights” is that. Digital rights will be a new thing to sell, and an important one.

Right now only three to five percent of teens get their book content digitally.  The market for e-books is really geared toward adults right now, particularly business adults who travel a lot. There isn’t a large teen market for e-readers yet, but it is on the up and up. In terms of overhead for producing content, as well as royalties – these are all a constant discussion that comes up and changes every day. The cost of producing books digitally is not just about saving money on paper and printing and binding. But we are working through it.

Have you ever had a client or submission where they were an author/illustrator and you liked the text more than the images, or vice versa? How did you deal with that?

Yes, this can be an issue. Usually in this type of situation the illustrations are stronger than the text. This is good for me, because my strength is in writing and I can help the author/illustrator to develop his/her writing abilities. Where visual storytelling and illustration is not my strong suit.

How much of my novel needs to be finished before I query you?

All of it! You must complete the whole novel before you send out a query. Sure the pitch and the premise could be amazing, but it is all about the execution! I need to be able to see the whole arc of the book, and how you deal with an entire novel structurally. Don’t submit until you have had others look at your work and give you feedback. This will make your project stronger, and it will become more attractive to me and other agents.

What are you looking for in the first ten pages of a submission?

The first ten pages wont show me the arc of the book, but it will show me the level of the writing and craft. I can identify where a writer is based on those ten pages. Also, beware of what I call “Conference Polish.” I see this a lot. Because you only submit the first ten to agents or at conferences like this one, writers spend a lot of time making those pages perfect. But once I get to page eleven…everything starts to fall apart. Make sure that the time and energy you put into those first ten pages, you put into the rest of your book!

What are young adult boys looking for in books? Do YA boy books sell?

You don’t see a lot of boys reading young adult books. Around middle school boys stop reading, or they jump from middle grade books to adult books. But if you are writing YA for boys stay away from romance and try horror, thrillers, or science fiction. It’s really hard to find YA books that hit a boy audience. Even if you look at author John Green, he has a huge female audience. Yes, his books have male protagonists, but they are often geeky and they are in love with a girl, and the girls want to be the girl that that boy is in love with.

If I am an author/illustrator what do I send you with my query?

You can copy and paste the manuscript into the body of the text, as well as a few pages of your book dummy. Or a link to your book dummy or website. I will then request the full dummy if I am interested.

Mary Kole is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You can learn more about her and her agency at: The Andrea Brown Website. Mary also keeps up an award-winning blog about children’s literature, writing, and publishing called: www.kidlit.com. Mary is also a big fan of the iPad, but you’ll have to ask her about that.