Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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Kirby

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Thank you, Ms. Laughran for answering questions. Mine is on word count. MS Word 2007 says that my YA manuscript is 79,000 words. On another writers forum, a contributing editor says to NOT use MS Word to count words. He said to use Courier New 12 pt font with one-inch margins. Once you have a page count take that number and multiply it by 250. If that's the case, my 394-page manuscript is actually 98,500 words. What word count do you recommend to use?
 

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Question about your Bio

Dear Ms. Laughran:

On the agency website it says that you like magical-realism and reality-based fantasy. I was wondering if the children's book I've written would fall under one of these categories. In my story Samantha, a clumsy witch, finds out about a plot that could possibly destroy her school and the world. Samantha and her best friend set out to solve the mystery. Along the way, they battle creatures such as assassin vines, dragons, giants, elves, and a sphinx. I was wondering if this story would be considered magical-realism or fantasy? I thought I would ask before I sent a query to you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for our questions.
 
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livingthedream

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Dear Ms. Laughran:

I am so sorry about that! I did read the wrong bio. Thank you for being so nice about the misunderstanding.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Thank you, Ms. Laughran for answering questions. Mine is on word count. MS Word 2007 says that my YA manuscript is 79,000 words. On another writers forum, a contributing editor says to NOT use MS Word to count words. He said to use Courier New 12 pt font with one-inch margins. Once you have a page count take that number and multiply it by 250. If that's the case, my 394-page manuscript is actually 98,500 words. What word count do you recommend to use?


I might be off-base, but I think the MS Word number is fine. I have always used that when sending things to editors, and nobody has ever called me out on it. I mean, it is a computer, that is the exact number of words, right? Whereas the 250 per page way is an approximation, and is the way word count was calculated when people wrote on typewriters.

That said, I would much rather authors stop thinking so hard about the number of words they have, and concentrate instead on the quality of the words they have.
 

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What kind of advice can you give someone (i.e. me) who's going to be pitching a publisher in person in a couple weeks? As in, if I only had 5 minutes to sell my story, what should I focus on?

Hey Adam. I would just be personable and engaging. If it is one-on-one, make this an opportunity to chat with an editor as a person, find out what they like and what they want, not just "pitch" to them. If it is one of those awful things where you have to get up in a group of people and "pitch", well, keep it short and sweet. If I were doing it (with random occupations, etc, plugged in)

* I would introduce myself BRIEFLY: "Hi there, I'm Adam Somebody, I'm an author of books for children and young adults, as well as a 7th-grade teacher and director of a children's theatre in Scottsdale."

* What the story is: "I've written a Holiday children's adventure about an elf called the Sock King who steals Christmas stockings. Two children and their cat go on a mission to stop the dreaded Sock King and save Christmas for everyone. "

* Comprables: "SOCK KING AND THE KIDS WHO RESCUED X-MAS" has the sweet weirdness of Suess's GRINCH mixed with a healthy dose of subversive wit a la Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" (I'd leave out LABYRINTH, because it might just make people start thinking about David Bowie's crotch)

* Audience: "This picture book will appeal to children aged 4-7" (never say "everyone!")

* Anything special we need to know: "Though this is a holiday story, I've also completed further funny adventures of Sock King that will have year-round appeal, such as SOCK KING AND THE DRYER-SHEET MYSTERY and SOCK KING AND THE CASE OF THE EXTRA-STINKY LOCKER. I'd be pleased to show you any of these manuscripts if you are interested."
 

Kirby

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I might be off-base, but I think the MS Word number is fine. I have always used that when sending things to editors, and nobody has ever called me out on it. I mean, it is a computer, that is the exact number of words, right? Whereas the 250 per page way is an approximation, and is the way word count was calculated when people wrote on typewriters.

That said, I would much rather authors stop thinking so hard about the number of words they have, and concentrate instead on the quality of the words they have.

Thank you, Ms. Laughran. Actually, I wasn't thinking so hard about it. I had seen it brought up on another site and since I'm in the process of locating the elusive agent, I thought I should ask. Thank you for your help.
 

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Hello, Jennifer. Do you have strong feelings one way or the other about the use of a loose diary format for a YA novel? I'm working on a story about a pair of Army brats, a boy of 15 and his 12-year-old sister. At the outset the girl has vanished from her on-post school. The boy is the narrator and ultimately will solve the girl's disappearance. Only about half the chapters are written as dated journal entries in which the boy--on the advice of his high school guidance counselor--works through his feelings about the case, and also about his mother's death and his father's remarriage. But like the other chapters (which are all narrated in first person from the boy's POV), they contain plenty of dialogue and character interaction.
Can this semi-diary format be successful, or would I be better off simply using a straight first-person narrative? (Truth be told, I probably went with the diary device for the world's worst reason: I liked the sound of my working title, Diary of a Demonical Freak--"demonical freak" being an anagram for the boy's name, Frankie MacLeod.)
Thank you for any insights you can provide--and for being brave enough to start this thread!
 

Darzian

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Hi Jennifer!:welcome:

Thanks for being here! I'd just like a quick answer if you have the time.

When a publisher accepts a book you are representing (eg. YA approx 80K words), what would be the time interval from the day of acceptance by publisher and the day when the book appears on bookshelves?

Thanks so much!
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Can this semi-diary format be successful, or would I be better off simply using a straight first-person narrative?

People are always talking about how "the diary novel is dead!"

Diary novels get published every year.

Me, I like them the same as I like anything -- great when they are well done, lousy when they aren't. The one thing is, it is hard to "zoom out" when you have a diary novel. The whole thing is, by nature, "in the head" of the main character. So that main character had BETTER be totally compelling and interesting to hang out with!
 

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When a publisher accepts a book you are representing, what would be the time interval from the day of acceptance by publisher and the day when the book appears on bookshelves?

This month I've sold a book that will release in Fall '09, a book that will release in Summer 10, and a book that will release in Spring '11. Anywhere from one to three years, with one-and-a-half being average, though it could be pushed up dramatically if the book is timely (ie, if you wrote a tell-all book about Sarah Palin, it could probably be out in less than two weeks).

So, "it depends" is the answer. Depends on the publisher's schedule - they can only publish X number of books per season. They don't want to publish books during the same season that might compete with each other. Some books take longer to revise than others. Some books take longer to design than others. Etc, etc.
 

AdamH

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(I'd leave out LABYRINTH, because it might just make people start thinking about David Bowie's crotch)

First off, thanks for the info. It puts everything into perspective of what I need to say. And er...not to say...

Secondly....EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

:ROFL: (but mostly...ew!)
 

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Jennifer - at the risk of being accused of hogging the board, I did have another question I'd like to ask you.

I know picture books should usually be fun, but is there any market for therapeutic picture books? I have been considering submitting a story I wrote for my autistic son when his grandfather passed, to help him see that his feelings were valid and that he wasn't weird or bad for being so angry.

I just don't want to waste the time in pursuing it if there is no market. It will always be special for us, whether the world shares it or not.

Thanks for all your great responses here and throughout the boards. Really appreciate you for taking the time.
 

Madisonwrites

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Ms. Laughran,

I have a YA fantasy mss. that is app. 51K. Most of my research indicates that fantasy tends to have a longer word count than most genres. I know my story is just above short for a YA novel, but because it is fantasy, would you be turned off because of the shorter word count?

Thank you for your time!
 

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Jennifer~
I'm wondering about the marketability of adventure/mystery series books for MG readers similar to the Gordon Korman "Chasing the Falconers" or the Spy X series, if you're familiar with those books.
Thanks for taking so much time with AW! :Hail:
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I know picture books should usually be fun, but is there any market for therapeutic picture books?

A very very small, hard to break into market, usually put out by educational / institutional publishers, rather than regular trade publishers.

There are a few examples of absolutely superb "therapeutic" picture books - Molly Bang's WHEN SOPHIE GETS ANGRY...REALLY, REALLY ANGRY is an awesome book about anger management, and MICHAEL ROSEN'S SAD BOOK is potentially one of the most moving books about grief I've ever read. But for the most part, the books in this section of the bookstore are a bit on the schlocky side. And most are either work-for-hire, or small independent presses that you don't need an agent for.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I have a YA fantasy mss. that is app. 51K. Most of my research indicates that fantasy tends to have a longer word count than most genres. I know my story is just above short for a YA novel, but because it is fantasy, would you be turned off because of the shorter word count?


51k seems a touch on the short side for a typical YA fantasy.

Then again, personally, I really don't care about word count, I care that you take as many or as few words as it takes to tell the story properly.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I'm wondering about the marketability of adventure/mystery series books for MG readers similar to the Gordon Korman "Chasing the Falconers" or the Spy X series, if you're familiar with those books.

I am not familiar with those books in particular, but I think there is always a market for fun Alex-Rider-like, high-action thrillers for boys.
 

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Hello Jennifer,

First a big THANK YOU for taking the time to respond to all our questions. Huge commitment on your part, but much appreciated.

Your opinion please on the marketability of a middle grade novel - possible series - that takes three kids (two girls, one boy) on learning adventures. Taking a concept/subject they are learning in school and putting that right into the story with possibly a fantasy slant to make it interesting....like learning about the ocean by having an adventure there with the creatures of the sea as their teachers.

Thanks for your thoughts.
Rosa
 

C.bronco

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Hello Jennifer,
I'm so glad that you are sharing with us here! I noticed that you listed graphic novels on your Publisher's Marketplace page. What do prefer in a graphic novel query?

I plan to send a query, synopsis and the first ten illustrated pages. Am I on track?

Thank you!
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Your opinion please on the marketability of a middle grade novel - possible series - that takes three kids (two girls, one boy) on learning adventures. Taking a concept/subject they are learning in school and putting that right into the story with possibly a fantasy slant to make it interesting....like learning about the ocean by having an adventure there with the creatures of the sea as their teachers.

This doesn't sound like fodder for a MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL. More like a chapter book (a la "Andrew Lost" series, about kids that shrink and go on funny science adventures). But having not seen your book, I could be totally wrong.

In any case, I do suggest you look up other "learning adventure" books to see if you are treading old ground or not.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I'm so glad that you are sharing with us here! I noticed that you listed graphic novels on your Publisher's Marketplace page. What do prefer in a graphic novel query?

I plan to send a query, synopsis and the first ten illustrated pages. Am I on track?

You know what? Nobody has ever actually SENT me a graphic novel query. But that sounds about right.
 

scope

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Hi Jennifer,

Some who post here and on other sites ask "what's the most quality you--a writer--seeks in an agent." While I believe some qualities are more important than others, I don't think one single quality is an answer. I think it's probably about 10 or so qualities. I'm interested in your take on this, and ask if you would post the qualities you believe an agent (and agency) should displsy for a writer to seek out.

Thanks.
 
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