Sunday, February 26, 2012

Excerpt from #MGlitchat Agent Night

My dears,
Life's a bit CRaZy! right now. . .

Art by Andy Cordan

So rather than a more a conventional post, here's a streamlined excerpt from Twitter's #MGlitchat Agent Night. Find the full Feb 9, 2012 transcript for MGlitchat's "Tips From the Pros" series here.

The following tweets I pulled from the original transcript. Take a gander, fellow writers!

Middle grade authors Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz) and Karennina Posa (@karenninaposa).
1. Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) is an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.
2. Joanna Volpe (@JoSVolpe) is an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary.
3. Tina Wexler (@Tina_Wexler) is an agent with ICM.


JoSVolpe: About "scarring" kids with reality. They can handle it better than you think. Better than most adults I know, actually :-) #mglitchat -9:04 PM Feb 9th, 2012 
iteraticat: I totally agree with @JoSVolpe - and I'd add, the best MG books are not "dumbed down" or "babyish". Don't dumb it down! #MGLitChat -9:06 PM Feb 9th, 2012
Tina_Wexler: Research, research, research. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Oh, and you know, write. #mglitchat -9:05 PM Feb 9th, 2012

Tina_Wexler: When searching for agents, PLEASE note when an interview was given; dated info can be as ineffective as doing no research. #mglitchat -9:08 PM Feb 9th, 2012

literaticat: Also, if you want to know about phenomenal voice & characterization, please read all Casson Family books by Hilary McKay.

JoSVolpe: RT @kellybarnhill: When we write MG, were not just writing for the kid, but for the adult that kid will be.
literaticat: Audience for MG may be 3rd-5th graders even tho characters may be 7th graders. So, I'd just be mindful of that.


Q: What are the smart, brave, genre-defining books out there that we should ALL BE READING? (@kellybarnhill)
A: literaticat: I think everyone should read WHEN YOU REACH ME if you haven't already. Go on. Now. I'll wait.
A: JoSVolpe: The Higher Power of Lucky, Coraline, & The View from Saturday are all genre-defining books in their own right imho
A: JoSVolpe: At least as far as recent titles. If we go back, Bridge to Terabithia (so painful!) or the first Alanna book. <3
A: JoSVolpe: I'm reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman right now and LOVING it

Q: Do "quiet" vampire-less, witchless books stand a chance in this commercially driven climate? (@MelissaRoske)
A: literaticat: I don't think "vampireless" and "witchless" = QUIET. The Penderwicks is not quiet. When You Reach Me isn't quiet.
A: JoSVolpe YES. Every editor I know that acquires MG is looking for well-written, meaningful stories.
A: literaticat YOU GUYS. Lots of questions about "is there a market for quiet middle grade." YES, IF IT IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN.

Q: A friend suggested I change my heroine from 13 to 10 because younger is selling. Are you seeing this trend also? (@Storiestobe)
A: JoSVolpe: I only suggest that an author change the age of the character if it better fits the tone and sensibility of the book.
A: JoSVolpe: UNLESS it's really a matter of hitting the genre, and a year would make a difference or something.

Q: When an agent says that your MS isn't strong enough for the markt - does that mean the premise, the writing or the plot? (@PippaBayliss)
A: JoSVolpe: It could mean any of those things--depends on the project.
A: literaticat: Couldn't possibly say without looking at the material. Could mean any of those things.
A: JoSVolpe: The "almost, but not quite" issue I say is usually that the concept is GREAT, but the voice is off

Q: Is MG affected by trends as much as YA seems to be? (@elissacruz)
A: literaticat: I don't think so.
A: JoSVolpe: I don't find that it does, actually. I think a lot of MG is pretty timeless.

Q: How edgy can you go and still qualify as MG? (@JoWhittemore)
A: literaticat: Depends - diff houses have different feelings about that - but, I'd say, er... no sex or major cursing for a start.
A: Tina_Wexler: I don't think in terms of content but in terms of how its handled, how its presented, if it fits with a mg voice.
A: JoSVolpe: Kids experience the real world just like we do-you can go as far as it takes to be real to the story and characters.
A: literaticat - yes, what @Tina_Wexler said!

Q: What is a good word count range for ages 10-14? (@Seagulley)
A: KateMessner: Here's @literaticat's recent (and great) post about word counts in kids' books: Tina_Wexler: I'm not the person to ask; the story will be as long or as short as it needs to be to be told and told well.

Q: Is tween still considered to be MG? Like a light romance for the middle school crowd? (@KarenB_Schwartz)
A: JoSVolpe: It actually depends on the publisher...sometimes the terms "tween" and "MG" are interchangeable. Not always tho.
A: Tina_Wexler: I want to like the term tween, but it always seems so...Limited Too to me.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think MG is only going to grow and grow.

Q: Much MG/YA fiction seems to have a "snarky" comic voice. What good examples are there of other kinds of comic voices? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: JoSVolpe: Adam Gidwitz, Brian Selznick, Andrew Clements, Jeff Kinney, Grace Lin, Richard Peck - none of them really snark.
A: JoSVolpe: Neil Gaiman, Beth Wolitzer, Jonathan Stroud, Kate Messner...the list goes on of non-snark
A: literaticat: I actually have a harder time thinking of MG books that ARE snarky than ones that aren't. That is more YA, no? ... (Or maybe people have a different opinion about what "snarky" is than I do.)
A: JoSVolpe: I've seen snark in both boy and girl books, and I'm okay with it! It just has to feel natural, not put on.

Q: How strongly are trendy mss sought? Frankly, I'd rather read just a good old-fashioned story. (@AniProf )
A: JoSVolpe: I look for the writing, the voice and a good story. Trends come and go. Good stories...they last

Q: Series seem to be big in MG. Any tips on how to create a successful series? (@elissacruz)
A: JoSVolpe: To create a successful series, have a plan for the FULL series ahead of time

Q: But what IS that quality which makes a great #mg book GREAT? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: literaticat: It's all about that elusive MG voice, to me. Very hard to nail. People who do? @KateMessner @LaurelSnyder for ex
A: Tina_Wexler: Writers who remember being that age, not just writers who have kids that age.
A: JoSVolpe: For me, great MG voice is such a know-it-when-I-read-it thing. So much easier to give examples than define.

Q: If MG boy book fell in middle of woods but no pub there to hear it, does it make a sound? IE: Present boy book market? (@mswinchell)
A: literaticat: There are NINE HUNDRED BACTRILLION middle grade boy books. Honestly. Look at the NYT Bestseller list.
A: literaticat: Depends. How good is it?

Q: Is fantasy still the going trend in MG? Or is contemporary more popular? (@MelissaRoske)
A: JoSVolpe: Both fantasy and contemporary still sells in MG, I don't see one trend stronger than the other, personally.
A: JoSVolpe: There's definitely a market for MG scifi

Q: How about tips for a successful agent/author relationship? (@restlessbjas)
A: literaticat: Successful author/agent relationship is based (imo) on good communication, transparency, trust.
A: JoSVolpe: Tips for a successful agent-author relationship: be honest & open, read a lot, don't be afraid to talk something out or set aside.

Q: Question: If characters are mid teens in Historical Fiction, but not involved in hot romance, is that more MG than YA? Chains? (@PBWorkshop)
A: Tina_Wexler: If their outlook is teen and the voice is teen, it's YA. Sex, drugs and rock n' roll aren't what make a ms YA.
A: literaticat: Honestly I think a lot of Historical straddles MG/YA - where it lands has to do with tone.
A: literaticat: Anne of Green Gables = the original bad girl of tween lit. #drunk #disorderly #dyedhair #bigsleeves #gangster

Q: QUESTION: How's the market for quieter MG, like LOVE, AUBREY? (@stefwass)
A: Tina_Wexler: Oh, I loved that book. Cried on the subway.

Q: Is there a single element to a MS that will trump any and all shortcomings in your eyes?

Q: What is VOICE? (@_TimothyPower)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think this is when we all start crowing about VOICE
A: JoSVolpe: Voice is much more than vivid characterization--it's the essence of the entire narrative.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think of voice as the words you use and how you use them. As simple and as complicated as that.
A: JoSVolpe: I've been seeing MG voice that sounds like how adults WANT kids to sound, not how they really think, sound and feel
A: kingdomofpatria @JoSVolpe I think it's true: plot is primary, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, we are what we do, and voice comes out of that
A: Tina_Wexler @kingdomofpatria You're right. I should say it's the words your NARRATOR uses/doesn't use, the words that make up their heart

Q: Would you say that there is any room for boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in MG? Not saying sex and romance but "dating"? (@dsantat)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think so. That's when kids turn: your BFF who wasn't into boys is suddenly gah, and how obnoxious--until it hits you.
A: Tina_Wexler Also, they would have to have their parents drive them there (groan), but maybe there'd be some sweaty handholding.

Q: Querying?
A: JoSVolpe: In a query, I do NOT want to see someone just compare it to Harry Potter. If that's the only book they can think of, then chances are they don't really know the genre.
A: Tina_Wexler @JoSVolpe I want to bold and underline and CAPS your answer. NO HP COMPS!
A: JoSVolpe What I see lacking most in my MG submissions is the right voice. Lots of great ideas and even good writing, but the voice is off.

Q: Magic Realism in MG?
A: literaticat: I think @laurelsnyder's beautiful BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is an example of MG Magical Realism.

Q: On MG in the digital world?
A: JoSVolpe: This generation of kids is growing up with smart phones & tablets. I think they will definitely pick up on ereaders.
A: literaticat: I think lots and lots of kids do not have access to e-readers, and won't. P-books are affordable, they don't break...
A: literaticat: Sure, lots of kids will get e-readers. But access to paper books is still VITAL, or you are cutting poor kids out of the picture

That's all, y'all! Thanks for tuning in :) Remember to visit #MGlitchat's blog for news about upcoming chats.