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MsJudy

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I think that it is more that the number of YA submissions we get is approximately 9 kajillion times larger than the number of MG submissions, and most people who ARE writing for MG are either writing fantasy along the lines of LIGHTNING THIEF, or are writing glorified chapter books like CLEMENTINE.

There is nothing wrong with either of those things, but... a good old-fashioned "true MG" - like THE PENDERWICKS, for example, or Pat Murphy's book THE WILD GIRLS, or any book by Hilary McKay - or an insanely smart and different MG like MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY -- well, both of those are very hard to come by.

Of course there are SOME. But I think everyone would like to see MORE.

(Also, real mysteries - not fantasy/mysteries.)

Very interesting. This is not the first time I've heard "too many fantasy submissions!" And yet.... That's about all my sons read! Paolini, Riordan, John Flanagan, Funke, Suzanne Collins.... If I buy it for them, they will read some contemporary fiction--Sachar, Spinelli, Andrew Clements--but the ones they ask for are almost always fantasy. And the same is true for all their friends.

So it makes me wonder. Is the real problem not that too many people are submitting fantasy, but that too many people are writing derivative fantasy that just isn't fresh and creative enough? Or they devote so much energy to the world they've created that they forget to learn how to tell a good story?

Second question--what about books like Mary Amato's THE WORD EATER? It has a completely realistic setting that never strays into a single portal. There is only one magical element in it. How does one describe a similar book? I'm concerned that if I query my current WIP as "fantasy" it creates the expectation that I've built a separate world. Magical realism implies events that seem magical to the reader but perfectly normal to the characters. Urban fantasy implies a level of edginess and grit that seems out of place for middle grades. "Slightly fantastical?" Now that just sounds pompous.
 

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Very interesting. This is not the first time I've heard "too many fantasy submissions!" And yet.... That's about all my sons read! Paolini, Riordan, John Flanagan, Funke, Suzanne Collins.... If I buy it for them, they will read some contemporary fiction--Sachar, Spinelli, Andrew Clements--but the ones they ask for are almost always fantasy. And the same is true for all their friends.

So it makes me wonder. Is the real problem not that too many people are submitting fantasy, but that too many people are writing derivative fantasy that just isn't fresh and creative enough? Or they devote so much energy to the world they've created that they forget to learn how to tell a good story?

Well, you'll note that I never said there was too many fantasy submissions. I was answering a question about why editors are clamoring for contemporary middle grade (which many, many editors say), and I said there is not enough of that. In fact, I said YA overshadows MG submissions by a significant margin, fantasy and non-fantasy - I am not suggesting there is too much YA. Just that there is not enough MG.

But sure, there are those suckiness-problems (derivitive, not fresh, not creative, not a good story) in both the fantasy world and the non-fantasy, and that is what makes up the vast majority of slush-pile. And plenty of published books as well.

Second question--what about books like Mary Amato's THE WORD EATER? It has a completely realistic setting that never strays into a single portal. There is only one magical element in it. How does one describe a similar book? I'm concerned that if I query my current WIP as "fantasy" it creates the expectation that I've built a separate world. Magical realism implies events that seem magical to the reader but perfectly normal to the characters. Urban fantasy implies a level of edginess and grit that seems out of place for middle grades. "Slightly fantastical?" Now that just sounds pompous.

Lots of MGs have just one or two weird magical elements in an otherwise straightforward world (a 75-foot chicken menacing the streets of Hoboken, a curse that gives the main character bad luck and sends him to a detention camp where the action begins, a plastic Indian toy that comes to life). In the case of Word Eater, though I haven't read it, based on the description I read I'd call it a Middle Grade novel, perhaps a "zany" or "magical" or even "zany and magical" one.
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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I was just wondering, what's your stance on vampires? I know you represent children's books, but do you think that if you did YA books, you would like vampires?
If you were reading a query and saw the word 'vampire', would you immediately decide against it? Or would you try and determine whether the story would stand out in a sea of Twilight-wannabes? D'you think you might ever see the presence of vampires in a book as a good thing?

I do represent YA books, they are part of "children's" (which is shorthand for "Books for Children and Young Adults", I just don't feel like typing all that all the time!). In fact, I mostly represent YA books.

I have nothing particularly for or against vampires. Because the market is very saturated with Twilight and its knockoffs, the book would have to be spectacular, like, knock-your-sox-off AMAZING, and in some way significantly differentiated from those other books, for me to think it would have a good chance of selling.
 

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YA or MG?

Well, you'll note that I never said there was too many fantasy submissions. I was answering a question about why editors are clamoring for contemporary middle grade (which many, many editors say), and I said there is not enough of that. In fact, I said YA overshadows MG submissions by a significant margin, fantasy and non-fantasy - I am not suggesting there is too much YA. Just that there is not enough MG.

But sure, there are those suckiness-problems (derivitive, not fresh, not creative, not a good story) in both the fantasy world and the non-fantasy, and that is what makes up the vast majority of slush-pile. And plenty of published books as well.

I hope I am not violating protocol by jumping in line twice, but your response to this poster has me looking at my story from a different angle. I think it would be about three miles south of 'flakey' for me to jump from YA to MG simply because there's more demand and less supply in that genre, but I'm wondering now if I don't have my story in the wrong category to begin with. It has a lot of elements that work well in either genre, but perhaps one or two that would work better with MG.

My two main characters are eleven and nine years old. There are no coming-of-age sub-themes. There is no violence. There are many moments of discovery and self-discovery. Words which may be beyond some readers' level are introduced and explained in fun ways and through creative, humorous dialogue--just a very few, but it's a conscious effort. There are a few dark aspects but they are not what I would call morbidly so, and I think they work in either genre. There's a lot of humor in the story that just may not dazzle the older kids--cutesy and light.

My thinking at this point is that my story could be nudged in either direction with just a few small changes. One thing that may be a snag: as a story that is adventure from page one nearly through the ending, there are a few moments of peril. Is this too intense for MG?

This story is my first attempt at anything of this length--a novel. I've only written shorts before this. Forgive me if I appear stupid, but in your opinion/experience, how much peril will an MG story tolerate?


Lots of MGs have just one or two weird magical elements in an otherwise straightforward world .

This is another concern of mine. My story begins in a 'straightforward world" and then transitions to a fantasy setting in chapter 3. I surpassed "one or two weird magical elements" by the end of chapter 4. There is no wand-waving magic in my story--no witches, warlocks, or sorcerers--but there are a lot of fantasy characters and creatures throughout. Does your statement above suggest a trend with most MG stories currently being submitted/published, or is it a hard, fast rule? Is it a breach of etiquette to have far more than one or two such elements in an MG? Yes, I see the word "lots" up there--it's not an absolute but is it an expectation? Something I dare not stray from as a newbie?
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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My two main characters are eleven and nine years old. There are no coming-of-age sub-themes. There is no violence. There are many moments of discovery and self-discovery. Words which may be beyond some readers' level are introduced and explained in fun ways and through creative, humorous dialogue--just a very few, but it's a conscious effort. There are a few dark aspects but they are not what I would call morbidly so, and I think they work in either genre. There's a lot of humor in the story that just may not dazzle the older kids--cutesy and light.

Sounds like a MG to me. In fact, based on what you describe here, I don't see how you could possibly think otherwise.

There are a few moments of peril... how much peril will an MG story tolerate?

IMO, fantasy-type violence is OK, like in an action movie. Swords & sorcerors, pirates, villains, killer robots, ninjas, are all OK. Realistic violence -- school shootings and the like -- not OK. Additionally, anything realistic and perilous that might compel a child reader to copycat is probably not going to work.

Does your statement above suggest a trend with most MG stories currently being submitted/published, or is it a hard, fast rule? Is it a breach of etiquette to have far more than one or two such elements in an MG? Yes, I see the word "lots" up there--it's not an absolute but is it an expectation? Something I dare not stray from as a newbie?

I think you are thinking waaay too hard about this. I was telling him that it is OK to mix fantastic and realistic elements. In my opinion it is. Some may disagree with me, but some of my favorite books are a mix of fantastic and realistic. It works when it works, and there are plenty of examples of it working in MG. When done badly, it is like an awful trainwreck. I haven't read your book, so I can't tell you on which side of the divide you fall! But write the book you want to write, make it great, and figure out this other stuff afterwards.
 

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Andrea Brown Agency specifics

Hi Jennifer,

It's nice to meet you and I appreciate you taking the time to answer questions.

My questions are more specific to your agency then writing in general.

I queried an agent around 3 weeks ago on two picture book manuscripts. It was exclusive and I stated so in the email. However, I've just finished another early middle-grade MS and was wondering if I need to wait to hear from her on the other query before submitting the new one? If I do wait and it ends up being a rejection should I assume the new manuscript should not be submitted with your agency (once rejected always rejected)? Also, if you do suggest I submit it to her now, should I mention the other MS? I'm not sure if that would sound pushy since it's only been 3 weeks and your website advises writers of a 4-8 week response time.

On a side note, is 3 weeks on a picture book an indication of no interest since the full MS is in the email? (I believe your website also says they don't get back to everyone that they have no interest, so I'm not sure if I'm waiting on the new MS for no reason or if it really does take the full 4-8 weeks regardless of the MS)

Many, many thanks to you in advance. I appreciate your time and have the utmost respect for your agency. I apologize for so many questions and I'm sure its obvious that I'm new to this. Hopefully my questions aren't absurd. :)

Regards,
Jenn
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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I queried an agent around 3 weeks ago on two picture book manuscripts. It was exclusive and I stated so in the email. However, I've just finished another early middle-grade MS and was wondering if I need to wait to hear from her on the other query before submitting the new one?

We don't expect manuscripts to be submitted to us exclusively unless we've specifically requested that of you. I think it is polite to do one query at a time -- myself, I get confused when I have lots of different projects from one person to look at. Personally, I would wait.

If I do wait and it ends up being a rejection should I assume the new manuscript should not be submitted with your agency (once rejected always rejected)?

You can consider a rejection from one agent as a rejection from all, on that manuscript. So if she rejects your picture books, you can either query her again with the MG, or you can pick a different agent to query on the MG.

On a side note, is 3 weeks on a picture book an indication of no interest since the full MS is in the email? (I believe your website also says they don't get back to everyone that they have no interest, so I'm not sure if I'm waiting on the new MS for no reason or if it really does take the full 4-8 weeks regardless of the MS)

It makes no difference if it is PB, MG, YA, NF or whatever. We look at things in the order we get them, we take the amount of time we take, and you should follow the submission guidelines and give it the amount of time we ask for.

Also, just so you know, the agency (like most of the publishing world) is closed for the holidays. :)
 

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We don't expect manuscripts to be submitted to us exclusively unless we've specifically requested that of you. I think it is polite to do one query at a time -- myself, I get confused when I have lots of different projects from one person to look at. Personally, I would wait.



You can consider a rejection from one agent as a rejection from all, on that manuscript. So if she rejects your picture books, you can either query her again with the MG, or you can pick a different agent to query on the MG.



It makes no difference if it is PB, MG, YA, NF or whatever. We look at things in the order we get them, we take the amount of time we take, and you should follow the submission guidelines and give it the amount of time we ask for.

Also, just so you know, the agency (like most of the publishing world) is closed for the holidays. :)

Thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate it. I've had a few people tell me that usually the agent asks for the piece to be exclusive (not the other way around). I thought I had read somewhere that your agency prefers exclusives or maybe that is just a general preference of all agents.

I honestly didn't think twice about closure for the holidays until I read it on another agency and thought - duh!

At least knowing they read them in order makes me feel there is still an opportunity. Gives me another couple weeks of daydreaming! ;)

Thanks again!
 

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Me again....

First, thanks for the earlier response. I just finished THE PENDERWICKS and found it very delightful--not only the book, but also the fact that it was published recently. It's so Little Women in its sweetness; I'm glad it's still possible to bring out a book that is that innocent, that not everything has to be edgy and cool.

It got me thinking.... I moonlight working with at-risk 3rd through 6th graders. There's such a gap between the books their teachers make them read--WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, ELIJAH OF BUXTON--and the books they choose to read--GOOSEBUMPS, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. I know with adult books, there's that distinction between "literary" and "mass market," and that literary carries the prestige but mass market gets all the money. (Well, the lion's share, anyway.)

Does the same hold true for children's books? Do agents and editors talk in terms of literary quality vs. mass appeal? Or does the fact that grown-ups do so much of the book-buying even things out and give a quiet book a better chance of succeeding?

Thanks again,
Judy
 

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Jennifer,

Thanks for being here and doing this. I just joined and am enjoying this cool world here, where I can ask my beginner questions without looking (too much) like a moron.

I have finished my first children's novel (under 23,000 words), which is in the same vein as the Ramona Quimby or Anastasia books. I do plan on creating a series with my character, which should follow her through elementary and beyond. I have based the main character physically from my oldest child, and some of her antics from children in my life or my own childhood memories. My current line of work is as a Realtor, and my published articles have to do with real estate, not children per se, and are in small local magazines where I have paid to advertise and write.

What is your professional opinion on including my real estate articles as part of my personal info on the query? And on including a blurb about my character being partially based on my oldest child? Leave it out or go ahead?

Since this isn't a picture book, do I need to limit my query submissions solely to those who have handled similar books or go for all who represent children's books in all forms?

Thanks, Peej
 

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Jennifer,

My name is Adam P. Rothstein. I am a debut author trying to figure out how this crazy publishing world works.

I have very eclectic taste when it comes to what I read, and my writing reflects that. Therefore, I have written in a number of different genres, as well as different mediums (i.e. poetry, screenplays, novels, short stories, etc.)

My question is this-

Should I talk about all of the different kinds of things I like to write in my query letter to agents, or should I just focus on one project? I've stated in a number or queries that my main focus right now is my novel, but I feel like I just sound as if I'm a little too all over the place. What do you think?

Happy Holidays!

-adam
 

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Do agents and editors talk in terms of literary quality vs. mass appeal? Or does the fact that grown-ups do so much of the book-buying even things out and give a quiet book a better chance of succeeding?

Of course they do. That is why some books sell for a million dollars and some books sell for five thousand. That is why some books have full page ads in the New York Times, and some books have a sixteeth of a page in the publisher's catalogue. That is why so very, very often, you've never heard of the book that wins the Newbery award until the award is announced.

That isn't to say that there is no room at the table for highly literary children's books. Of course there is. There are certain books that scream "award winner! librarian fave!" and those will get published - after all, librarians and schools do buy a lot of books. (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy; Kira-Kira)

There are other books that scream "glitter cover! kids fave!" and those will also get published. (Rainbow Magic, Captain Underpants)

Parents, meanwhile, usually want something that looks substantial and smart and nice, something that reminds them of what a Good Children's Book Ought To Be.

The sweet spot is right where those categories meet -- things that are good enough to win awards, fun enough for kids not to hate them, AND charming enough for parents to want to buy loads of copies. Examples include the Penderwicks, Mysterious Benedict Society, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, and Tale of Desperaux.
 

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What is your professional opinion on including my real estate articles as part of my personal info on the query? And on including a blurb about my character being partially based on my oldest child? Leave it out or go ahead?

Since this isn't a picture book, do I need to limit my query submissions solely to those who have handled similar books or go for all who represent children's books in all forms?

Congrats on finishing your book. I would leave the real-estate articles out of the personal info, as it has no bearing at all on writing for children. I would not put anything about the character being based on your own kid, as it detracts from whatever this story might be -- this is the sort of info you can give in a witty and warm interview after the book is published and you are famous.

You should be looking for agents who rep chapter books and/or middle grade. Good luck! :)
 

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Thanks!

That's what I figured, but it's nice to have my beliefs confirmed by a professional...thanks!

One more quick question-

What is the age group classified as young adults? Because I'm not quite sure which group my novel caters to. I think it would be a range of about 13-30.

Happy Holidays!

-adam
 

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past present?

Is there a preference for past or present tense in MG's? I found that present kind of comes out automatically when I write that age group but have read that it can be distracting for agents. Should we try to stick to past tense?

Also you may have addressed this (I'm still going thru the posts so if you did feel free to ignore this question) but is there a greater need for early middle grade or middle grade? I'm finding I'm in a position to revise my MG ms and not sure if I should go for either direction based on demand.

Thanks, thanks, thanks!

Oh and do you blog? I would love to subscribe if you have a public blogspot. (Like you have time for one more thing right?)
 

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Hello Jennifer

Hello Jennifer,

I apologize if someone has already asked you this question, but is it harder to get an agent to rep a PB than other types of children's books? I realize there are many agents out there that are very passionate about picture books. However, I have heard it is better for a writer to go directly to a publisher than to try and find an agent with their first PB.

Thanks a bunch :)
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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What is the age group classified as young adults? Because I'm not quite sure which group my novel caters to. I think it would be a range of about 13-30.

LOL. Well, realistically, that is the age range that is READING young adult books. But think "high school", 14+, as the goal. Yes some skew a bit younger and some a bit older - 14-16 is about right, IMO.

(There is a new trend of books being labeled "16+" -- that have much more graphic content -- but those are still not the norm)
 

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Is there a preference for past or present tense in MG's? I found that present kind of comes out automatically when I write that age group but have read that it can be distracting for agents. Should we try to stick to past tense?

I am sorry, I have truly never thought about this. I don't care what tense you write in as long as it is a natural fit for the story and the voice - I would only ever notice tense if it is awkwardly done.

Is there a greater need for early middle grade or middle grade?

Hmmm -- I personally am not seeing enough true MG. Lots of chapter books and early MG, not enough true MG. I don't know if that is just me, though.

Oh and do you blog? I would love to subscribe if you have a public blogspot.

I have had a livejournal forever. I really hardly ever have time to update it, and I tend to not friend people unless I know them personally, but it is Literaticat. Also, my YA book group has an LJ community: notyourmothers - at which I talk about, well, YA books and upcoming events.
 

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I apologize if someone has already asked you this question, but is it harder to get an agent to rep a PB than other types of children's books? I realize there are many agents out there that are very passionate about picture books. However, I have heard it is better for a writer to go directly to a publisher than to try and find an agent with their first PB.

Hi there. I think I answered this question on the second page, #28 or so. The short version is, you don't need an agent if you only write picture books (and you only intend to write picture books), because there are still publishers that take pb's over the transom. HOWEVER, if you have bigger goals and want to make a career of this, I would still advise an agent - you just may have to have more than one idea to show them.
 
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Hi Jennifer,

Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. I have learned much from your thoughtful and candid answers here. I have just begun looking for an agent, and your agency is at the top of my list. What a wonderful surprise to find you here!

My question: Do I simply look for an agent who handles MG, or do I need to find that needle in a haystack, an agent who handles Christian MG? My MG novel is an Advent and Christmas book and is, of course, Christian in content and outlook. Although classed as MG, the book is arranged so that it can be read chapter-by-chapter to younger children and is appropriate for them as well.

Thank you again for being here.
 

scope

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Jennifer,

If you have answered this question before, please excuse me -- I can't find it.

When do you think a published author should create a website and/or blog? I don't have either, but since my latest book will be out in about one year (I hope) I have decided to turn a new leaf and create same for exposure about six months before its release. I'll pitch the upcoming book and will also have several links, including "other works". Also, what about an unpublished authors with no book yet sold? How useful do you think a site an/or blog would be for them?

In the past I have written a fair amount of published nonfiction books for children and adults. With the exception of creating a site and/or a blog to announce the release of an upcoming book, my belief is that one is more likely to draw to their site if it is "theme" oriented, as opposed to general in nature (writer thoughts). What you think?
 

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Hi Jennifer,

Just curious, given with the voluminous, almost daily changes at publishing houses-editors, consolidations, liquidations, etc.- during the past several months, what method do you use to keep your records current? It seems like an overwhelming, time consuming task, although necessary.
 
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