The Glut of Children’s and YA
I’ve mentioned in several places that I’m seeking to represent some YA and middle-grade fiction. But holy cow, I didn’t realize that would open the proverbial floodgates. My inbox is bursting at the seams with childrens and YA, especially fantasy.
I’m not seeking to represent children’s books, and I don’t intend to make YA the bulk of my business, so I’m going to be VERY selective in choosing this genre. In fact, I haven’t yet found a YA project that’s right for me. So if you’ve received a pass letter, please don’t despair. You’re not alone. Plus, there are a lot of agents out there who are excited about YA. If your book is good, you’ll find the right agent.
Now, of course I find myself ruminating on why so many people want to write for kids and teens. I’m not sure, but I have an idea. (Don’t hate me here.) I think it’s because there’s a perception that it’s easier to write for kids than for adults. Also, many people have kids and they’re familiar with all the books their kids read, and they enjoy making up stories for their kids, so it’s a natural progression to want to write books for kids and teens. The popularity of Harry Potter has, no doubt, had something to do with this also. In any case, I just want to dispel a couple of myths: 1) It’s not easier to write for kids than for adults; and 2) Writing books for kids is quite different from making up bedtime stories for them.
Andrea Brown, one of the most well-known agents for children’s books, says this:
Most new writers think it’s easy to write for children, but it’s not. You have to get in a beginning, middle and end, tell a great story, write well, not be condescending—all in a few pages. Also, the best children’s book writers are not people who have kids, but people who write from the child within themselves. Most new writers are writing material that would have sold for kids of the 80’s, but not for kids of the 21st century. The voice sounds dated or too adult. You have to write challenging material for the kids of the next century. They are smart and savvy. They won’t bother with books that don’t excite them. I hate to sound negative, but most people are wasting their time and postage trying to get [children’s books] published.
Probably 50% of the fantasy proposals I’ve received involve a group of children who travel through some kind of portal into some kind of magical land. I try to never say never, but I just want to let you know up front that I’m not inclined to represent a book with this premise. Not unless it’s extremely original and clever. There are simply too many books that begin this way.
I’ve mentioned this to a couple of authors who pitched me, and they argued with me, claiming their books really weren’t too similar to Narnia and other portal/magical land books. Well. What can I say? When your book features four children who escape through a special door into a magical forest where creatures talk to them… call me crazy but it just doesn’t seem all that original.
So. If you have YA or teen fiction, please be aware that there are far more people writing it than publishers buying it. The competition is tough and you’ve got to be original. Do your homework, don’t be derivative, and be prepared to persevere.
Oh yeah, and write a great book.