Friday, September 17, 2010


Like Jane says in Mr and Mrs Smith, "Just a quickie." I posed my agent Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch with three questions about YA and her agent's view points, so, without further ado (or chatter, because damn it's early and I'm uncaffeinated at current moment...)

1. What are the trends you see in YA: coming into vogue, falling from favor?
It's exciting to see how sharp, witty and intelligent YA fiction has become. More and more books easily find a cross-over adult readership. Continuing trends remain the popularity of urban fantasy and paranormal, combinations of the supernatural and teen romance, with a rise in dystopian fantasy and very dark fantasy. Male readers are enjoying horror with a sharp humor to it. There's room for growth in new subgenres, like unusual settings and time periods, where editors are looking for a fresh approach. Angels, ghosts, and their various kith and kin are all still popular choices. You hear from editors that the fantasy shelves are crowded, but that hasn't stopped them from acquiring more. None of these recent trends have shown any real signs of dying off, more just being open to morphing in new directions and expanding.

High fantasy, though, has been a tough sell for a while. I'm still queried on it a great deal, but it's just not moving that well.

Thankfully, we're not seeing much of the snarky, city elite teen soap operas.

2. What do you look for in YA submissions to Talcott Notch?

I look for a book that has really memorable characters that feel real, fresh and three-dimensional. I don't want to see a character who is obviously based on another writer's character or is a generic persona (dumb jock, stuck-up cheerleader, geeky nerd, loser outcast). Everyone should have surprising layers and elements that break them out of being ordinary and expected. Even secondary characters can have a real presence and add to a book.

Surprise me with the plot, but don't have the twists be gratuitous or based on coincidence. Show real character change and growth through your story. A plot is more than a series of events.

I'm not afraid of complex, gritty, realistic stories that tackle real world problems, like eating disorders, sexual abuse, cutting, and encounters with the youth criminal justice system.

3. What keeps you reading a submission? What makes you stop, or throws you out of the story?

The voice has to be convincing and not feel forced. It's very obvious when an adult is attempting to sound like a teen by mimicking exaggerated teen speech patterns.

A brisk pace is important. If the book starts out by 'frontloading the backstory', that can be a major problem.

The story has to hook me right away. Why should I care about this character? Or why would I want to keep reading? A funny story about a charmingly insecure boy who goes along with a ridiculous rumor about himself to break out of his anonymity can be just as compelling as a scary, action-packed dark fantasy, so caring doesn't equate to worry, fear, or tension.

Skipping around from one point-of-view to another is one of my big pet peeves. Don't do it unless you need to, don't throw in the viewpoints of minor characters to make points you could make some other way, and don't do it in the course of a single scene.

Dramatic shifts in the voice will throw me off. If you're writing as a team, make sure the style is a single unified voice. If I can tell one person wrote one scene and someone else wrote another, that's a problem. If you find your style changing as you work through your book, whether because you're growing in the process of writing or you've been influenced by new experiences, go back when you're finished and prepare a new draft to smooth out the entire manuscript.

So, there you have it. Three questions about our YA market answered by my agent. Though these are Gina's viewpoints, I believe that most agents are looking for the same things: supernatural fiction is still the big thing, give agents unique plots, fully dimensional characters, a clean manuscript, and keep with keeping it simple--don't head hop within scenes, etc. Where some agents shy away from some of the darker issues, Gina welcomes them and has recently successfully placed a story about sexual abuse.

Gratuitous linkage:
Gina's website
Gina on Twitter


  1. Thanks for the mini interview. I'm adding Gina to my list since I'll be querying soon.

    I was critting a book recently in which there was a lot of head hopping. I had to stop reading it and ask the writer to deal with the issue. It was just too confusing.

  2. Great job, AE. And a grateful thank you to Gina.


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