Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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victoriastrauss

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Hi, all,

I'm thrilled to announce that agent Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency will be joining us with a regular "Ask the Agent" thread. This should be especially helpful for children's and YA writers, because that's Jenn's specialty. Please post any questions you have for her in this thread.

Jenn's bio is here. Her Publishers' Marketplace page is here. An informative interview with her is here.

Full info on the Andrea Brown Literary Agency can be found on its website.

Please join me in welcoming Jenn to Absolute Write!

- Victoria
 

Tom Johnson

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Hi Jennifer, and welcome to AW!
I'm currently working on a young adult sci-fi about three young girls, age 16, accidentally sent back through time from the 23rd century. However, my question concerns the class situation in the 23rd century. Basically, the structure consist of the upper and leadership class, and the lower and working class population. Race is not mentioned. The girls discuss the class situation in a couple paragrapgs in the story, is this considered acceptible in YA stories? My SF usually involves Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers stuff, not YA, so I don't want to make a mistake with my first one.

"The Weed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit!"
 

RLB

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Wow Jennifer, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I'm writing middle grade, so I'm sure I'll pop back in with some questions for you!
 

C.J. Rockwell

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Welcome to AW, Jennifer!:D

I had two things I need insight on.

1. Of all the important information you need to include in your query letter, one thing that has confused me is the section in which you write a short bio mentioning any important credentials about yourself,

I've heard various agents say "skip it if you've got nothing." to "include something about yourself."

Since I've got nothing in the way of publishing credits or degrees that pertain to what I'm writing, should I just skip it? Or if I should say something, what could I say?

2. I read in your bio on the agency website that you adore simplicity. Could you elaborate? It's something I'm still learning.

Thanks in Advance!

I had a couple more questions, but I need think about them some more.
 

Alexis

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Hi Jennifer,

Welcome! I'm about as new here as you are!

I was just in contact with a writer named Amy Laughlin. She said she has an agent at your agency, but I didn't get the name. What a pleasant surprise to see you here today after getting that e-mail yesterday! :)

Anyway, I have just finished a Young Adult adventure-fantasy and I have a couple questions. First of all, do you think that my 124,000 word count would be seen as a problem? I have two different characters on two separate adventures until the end, where their stories converge. The fact that there are two stories going on is why the count is high, not because I have been careless with my editing... Will agents feel too daunted by the word count to notice that I mention two separate journeys in my query?

Also, I have the drive and the talent to be a very successful author. I have confidence in my work and several unbiased individuals who have responded with equal passion and positivity about what I have created. I know that I must convey this to the agents I send my work to, and I believe that I have, but I struggle with choosing the strongest presentation of my work. Would either of these openings catch your attention in a query letter?:

"It is often said that books allow us to escape into other worlds. For Kain Woodworth, the escape is literal."

__

"There are places where magic runs deeper than witches and wizards. Places where the breadth of that magic is determined by the size of the imagination. Where books are dangerous, dragons benevolent, and the races of men are not categorized by colors, but by the very nature of their souls. The most ancient of such places is where Kain Woodworth was born. He just doesn’t know it yet."

Thank you in advance for the answers you are able to give me :)
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Basically, the structure consist of the upper and leadership class, and the lower and working class population. Race is not mentioned. The girls discuss the class situation in a couple paragrapgs in the story, is this considered acceptible in YA stories?

Perhaps I am not understanding your question correctly... but if the world you are setting your story in has class issues, and mentioning them is true to your characters and the rules of the world that you've created, then, of course, why not mention them? I can't speak to specifics of your story, obviously, but there is no reason not to mention class or race or anything else in a YA if it is something that your characters would think about.
 

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1. Of all the important information you need to include in your query letter, one thing that has confused me is the section in which you write a short bio mentioning any important credentials about yourself,

I've heard various agents say "skip it if you've got nothing." to "include something about yourself."


2. I read in your bio on the agency website that you adore simplicity. Could you elaborate? It's something I'm still learning.

1. Things to mention: Publishing Credits. Major awards. Graduate studies, esp MFA in Writing for Children. PLATFORM. (ie, You have a drive-time radio show with a daily audience of 40,000 fans. Or, You are the world's foremost expert on Gorilla Habitat and the Sierra Club has offered to buy 10,000 copies of this book as a promotion. Etc.)

If you don't have any of those, skip it. Seriously. That's fine. Putting in a bunch of fluff about how you self-publish a monthly newsletter with a circulation of 20, or you went to community college for two semesters to study dental hygiene, doesn't impress me, and in fact, does the opposite. It is much better to put nothing, than to put a bunch of filler. If you have nothing to say in that paragraph, "Thank you for your time" will do.

2. I think it is funny that you've asked me to elaborate on simplicity. :)
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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First of all, do you think that my 124,000 word count would be seen as a problem? I have two different characters on two separate adventures until the end, where their stories converge. The fact that there are two stories going on is why the count is high, not because I have been careless with my editing... Will agents feel too daunted by the word count to notice that I mention two separate journeys in my query?

Also, I have the drive and the talent to be a very successful author... ... ... Would either of these openings catch your attention in a query letter?:
:)

Hi Alexis. I think it is great that you have such confidence in your work. You need that to be a success, for sure.

1) Sure, I know Amy. She's our SCBWI regional leader, and she is a delight.

2) IMO, 124,000 words is on the long side for a YA, even a YA fantasy. The thought of that (FOR ME) is beyond daunting. If I were you, I'd make it into two books and try shopping the first one. OR, I would edit mercilessly. OR, if you absolutely must keep every speck of this tome intact, I strongly suggest you NOT mention word count in your query letter. Here's the deal - when you mention a word count above, oh, 80k, it is this automatic red flag. I start doing math in my head. The math, combined with a sickening feeling about how I will lose a weekend cause of reading this thing, combine to blind me to the rest of your query letter.

Don't give me a reason to say no. If you don't mention it, I never think about math or feel sick. I am happy, and I start reading, and the book is superb, and I don't want to stop... and then I won't care how long it is. Get it?

3) I tend to skip over showy rhetorical flourishes in letters. What I want to know is, What is this book, and Why should I care.

But I guess, between the two of them, the first doesn't really mean anything, while the second gives me some concrete information. So, that one.
 
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mscelina

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Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for allowing us to aak you questions--I know it will be a greatly valued resource.

Nope, no questions. Just wanted to get a thank you in before the inundation gets in. Oh, and by the way--you are a braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave girl. ;) I'll just kick back and watch your post count rise.

:D
 

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Thanks, Jennifer,
That's basically what I needed to know. Never having written a YA novel before, I didn't know if everything should be all sweet and sugar coated, or if we could have social classes in the world we make up.

"The Weed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit!"
 

RLB

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Hey Jennifer!

I'm starting the process of querying an MG novel and had a few questions about this excerpt from your agency's website:

Please DO NOT query more than one agent at our agency. We will pass your work on if we feel it is better suited to another agent. Then, if an agent is interested in your work, she will contact you, and give you specific instructions about how to send your material. You are free to submit to other agencies at the same time, but it is a professional courtesy to let us know, up front, that yours is a multiple submission. We will contact you if we want to see additional material. Please enclose a contact phone number as well as your email address.

1) How often do agents in your agency forward queries to one another, and what would make one decide she isn't interested in seeing the manuscript but a coworker might be?

2) When it states it's a professional courtesy to inform the agent yours is a multiple submission, is it referring to the query stage, or further along when an agent might be reading a partial or full? If at the query stage, are you just looking for the line "I'm querying other agents"? I'd always assumed agents assumed writers were targeting more than one agent at once, but now I'm wondering if I should include this line in all my query letters.

3) Lastly, what is your agency's policy regarding exclusives? Is it something you request often, or no?
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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1) How often do agents in your agency forward queries to one another, and what would make one decide she isn't interested in seeing the manuscript but a coworker might be?

2) When it states it's a professional courtesy to inform the agent yours is a multiple submission, is it referring to the query stage, or further along when an agent might be reading a partial or full? If at the query stage, are you just looking for the line "I'm querying other agents"? I'd always assumed agents assumed writers were targeting more than one agent at once, but now I'm wondering if I should include this line in all my query letters.

3) Lastly, what is your agency's policy regarding exclusives? Is it something you request often, or no?

1) If I LIKE it, but it is just not "my thing" - but I think it will be more to another agent's taste, I'll pass it along. I can't give a number - sometimes a week will go by with only one or two mss making the rounds, sometimes there are many in a day. And I'm afraid I have no idea how many of those get picked up by the agent they are passed to.

2) A line at or towards the end of your query letter is fine. I do always assume that everyone queries several agents at once. I think that advice is a bit formal, and perhaps even old-fashioned. But hey, at least we are not using quill pens. Anymore.

3) I can only speak for myself, but I've never asked for an exclusive. I kinda think exclusives stink for authors. I can say that I am sure IF there was a reason to ask for exclusivity, none of us would expect it to be for long.
 
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ink wench

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Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for answering our questions.

I've come to the conclusion that a fantasy novel I finished this year is probably more suitable for YA than adult. So now I'm left with a 16-year-old main character who has a relationship with a 26-year-old character. In her culture, no one would bat an eye, but I'm not sure it would fly in our's. In your opinion, could I get away with that, or would it help if I changed her age to 17 and his to 23 or so?
 

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Hi Jennifer,

Glad to see you here. I have a good writer friend who is a client of the Andrea Brown Agency, and have a lot of respect for your agency.

The question I have concerns a YA sub-genre. Is there a market for what someone called my novel as a milieu love story? I hesitate to call it a romance. Let me explain. My novel is a love story set during the Vietnam War era. The war plays a minor role, but does shape the lives of the characters, as does the time frame, being the mid-1960s.

Can such a setting (mid-1960s) sell? Is there a way I can tweak a query to interest an agent in such a novel?
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I've come to the conclusion that a fantasy novel I finished this year is probably more suitable for YA than adult. So now I'm left with a 16-year-old main character who has a relationship with a 26-year-old character. In her culture, no one would bat an eye, but I'm not sure it would fly in our's. In your opinion, could I get away with that, or would it help if I changed her age to 17 and his to 23 or so?


I am not sure that it really matters, if this is set in an other-worldly fantasy realm, plenty of fantasy books do have a 16-17 y.o. girl MC with an age-not-specified adult man. If he is a mentor, and they are just friends, with a frisson of romance and flirting, I wouldn't see a problem. But if they are meant to be equals and there is going to be sex, yeah, I can see that age difference being a turn-off to teen girls and alarming to their parents. Yes, 17 and 23 is less squicky. But why do you need to get specific with his age, anyway? How about 17 and 20-something?


I strongly suggest that you read the book GRACELING by Kristin Cashore (brand new from Harcourt). She has an older-teen girl protag and a 20-something male love interest, and it is HOT.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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The question I have concerns a YA sub-genre. Is there a market for what someone called my novel as a milieu love story? I hesitate to call it a romance. Let me explain. My novel is a love story set during the Vietnam War era. The war plays a minor role, but does shape the lives of the characters, as does the time frame, being the mid-1960s.

Can such a setting (mid-1960s) sell? Is there a way I can tweak a query to interest an agent in such a novel?

Historicals are a bit of a tough sell. Not IMPOSSIBLE by any means, but tough. Romance, however, is going gangbusters at the moment. It is hard to say having not read the book, but for goodness' sake don't call it a "milieu love story", half your audience will stare blankly at you.

I would probably keep it simple and say pretty much what you said: It is a YA love story set during the Vietnam War era.

Then make the novel superb!
 
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Thanks, Jennifer! The male's age become important at one point, but I might be able to work around it when I start editing. I will check your rec.
 

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Thanks for answering questions with such frankness. Your time and effort is greatly appreciated. Now if you represented thrillers.....

Richard
 

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Historicals are a bit of a tough sell. Not IMPOSSIBLE by any means, but tough. Romance, however, is going gangbusters at the moment. It is hard to say having not read the book, but for goodness' sake don't call it a "milieu love story", half your audience will stare blankly at you.

I would probably keep it simple and say pretty much what you said: It is a YA love story set during the Vietnam War era.

Then make the novel superb!
Thanks Jennifer. I appreciate your input. I wouldn't call it a romance either. I think there's a distinct difference between a romance novel and a love story.
 

sheadakota

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Hi Jennifer and thank you in advance for answering our questions.
I have a MC that is 14, but the story is told in first person from his adult self- Would this still be considered YA? A little violence (pg stuff) Mild swearing, no adult situations. I am not entirly sure how to query this book.

Thank you so much!
 

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I have a MC that is 14, but the story is told in first person from his adult self- Would this still be considered YA? A little violence (pg stuff) Mild swearing, no adult situations. I am not entirly sure how to query this book.

This would be an excellent time for me to remind everyone, for the record, that these are just my opinions. Your mileage may vary. And, since I haven't read any of your books, it is hard to speak to specifics.

Like, in a general way, I think that an adult narrator makes the book an adult book. There may be a few exceptions to this rule. Perhaps your book is one of those exceptions. But part of what makes YA, YA, is that it is very immediate. In other words, a 14 year old living right now, rather than a 40 year old looking back on his childhood with all the knowledge and hindsight that time has given him.

That is why a book like PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld is an adult book, though it is almost entirely set in a prep school and is about teenagers -- because it is really about an adult looking back on her teenhood, and the voice and understanding is very different than it would have been from the teen's direct POV.
 
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