Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Look Back and Forward

As we come to the end of another year, it seems only natural to look both back and forward. 2010 has certainly been an interesting year in publishing. When publishers finally woke up to e-books, they did so in a big way. The variety of e-book readers has expanded. First there was Kindle, then Sony, now Nook, Kobo, iPads, and others galore. Even Google has launched its own cloud.

As the paradigm shifts, the tone of the conversation about these changes shifts as well. Whereas in past years these changes made some publishers, writers, agents, and readers portend doom and gloom, in 2010, these changes brought a renewed energy to these dynamic conversations. As publishers embrace e-books, so do readers, with sales of e-books beginning to exceed sales of print books in several important instances. For example, some statistics show that voracious readers, like those who love romance, are ones most likely to buy e-books. As agents and writers embrace new media and formats, there’s a renewed sense of collaboration in the partnership to find the best outlet for writers’ work. It’s all rather exciting to be here as the paradigm shifts.

What will 2011 have in store? Sadly our crystal ball needs polishing and our psychic abilities have taken their leave on this subject. But what we do know is that those of us who love books will continue to love them. We’ll read them, we’ll buy them, we’ll collect them. We’ll treasure them. Those who love storytelling will continue to spin their tales. They’ll push themselves to write better and better books that more imaginatively bring to life their stories for the rest of us to read. Competition does bring out the best.

Here at the agency we have a marvelous group of talented authors who write great books. For 2011 we renew our commitment to work hard on behalf of the authors we represent. We look forward to finding new authors who also have wonderful stories to tell. And as we enter the holidays, we urge everyone to take a moment to find a good book and enjoy.

Happy Holidays! Elaine & Naomi

Friday, December 10, 2010

Teenage Dream: Writing for Young Adults

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of partial manuscripts for young adult novels. In my opinion, YA is one of the hardest genres to write. There are so many subsets of YA—historical, fantasy, and everything in between. It can be difficult to address teenagers, yet I think YA novels are so important. Adolescence is a turbulent time, and having something or someone (a fictional character, perhaps?) to relate to can be very reassuring. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help make your YA novel stand out.

In my eyes, character development is especially important in YA novels. But how exactly does one write a realistic teen? Tap into your high school self. Remember what it was like to be your character’s age—trying to find yourself, create meaningful friendships, and navigate the world on your own. Write these issues into your novel. Including a character who struggles with similar issues helps your reader to feel connected to the story. When creating your characters, be sure to think about age, because just a few years make a huge difference in maturity level. A thirteen year old and a seventeen year old will face massively different problems and situations.

Finally, don’t feel like you need to keep everything squeaky clean. The situations should certainly be age appropriate, but that don’t be afraid to provoke and challenge your reader. Also, avoid throwing in references to teenage heartthrobs and pop culture phenoms just because you want to appeal to your audience. Instead of speculating about what teens like to read about, just go with what you know; your novel will feel more real.

I hope this helps!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And the Rest is History...

Historical fiction is a genre that has so much potential—you can take a true story and retell it differently, make up a story and frame it within a certain historical time period, or even change the facts of history to suit your narrative. There are so many possibilities, and yet many writers seem to get stuck in the “history” part and never quite make it over to the world of “fiction.” In other words, some of the manuscripts I read have me wondering if I’m reading an original work of fiction or a history book.

The main mistakes I see with this type of writing are stories with too many historical details inorganically inserted throughout the text, so concerned with sounding authentic that the overall tone is very distant and, frankly, rather boring to anyone who’s not a diehard history fan. My guess is that the problem stems from a desire for authenticity—which I get. When you’re writing about a family in 19th century America, it would probably be best to leave cell phones out of the discussion, and certain aspects of 19th century life would likely need to be explained to readers. However, sometimes authors get a bit carried away with the history and forget the story.

I sometimes read manuscripts of historical fiction that have passages similar to something like this: “Lady Anne took up her hat, which had been purchased from Madame Beauregard’s hat shop in town. This particular hat shop was famed for being the most fashionable hat shop in the whole country, and had been founded in 1858, introducing the French style to England. The first hat shops in England were actually founded many years prior to this, such as Henrietta’s Hat Shop, established in 1832.” (I’m completely making all of this up, but you get the point.) Does a history lesson on hat shops actually further the plot? No, and on top of that, it’s boring; it takes the reader out of the story if every time a character uses something period-appropriate, you take a moment to give a dry, awkward history of said object. Relevant things should be explained, but not at the expense of coherency—remember that you’re writing a story and not a collection of facts. Besides, even history textbooks have to be coherent—you can’t just leap from one fact to another like they do in those bing commercials. History can be a great tool for a writer, but it shouldn’t crowd out the story in a work of historical fiction.

Hope this helps!