Yesterday my 3rd period class experienced a Skype chat with literary agent, Victoria Marini of the Gelfman Schneider literary agency in New York City. Typically, we chat with YA authors in my classroom. However, this particular chat with an agent grew from unique circumstances.
Victoria went to our middle school and high school--I directed her in the middle school plays, and she volunteered all through high school as one of my student directors. After graduating, Torie and I lost touch as is the case with 99% of the students we teach.
We reconnected recently on Twitter.
I follow authors, literary agents, publishes on Twitter and saw a tweet by a "Victor Marini" directed to someone I followed. And that is how we reconnected and kicked around some ideas about her participating in a writing chat with my creative writing class.
Torie started with a few comments about writing for an audience. She made it clear that from her chair it is almost impossible to sell a book which does not have an intended audience. When you walk into a bookstore and see all of the shelves, ask yourself which bookshelf does my book belong on?
The differences in what you'd write for an adult audience or a YA audience are huge, she explained. One such difference (and which I would like to explore more with her and other authors) is in the phrase she used "immediacy of feelings."
Torie then went onto explain several common mistakes that authors make in a manuscript:
a. overexplaining, oversharing, overtelling
For instance, I could write "I tasted the blood in my mouth." Don't explain the implication! I know you tasted it in your mouth...where else would you?
b. talking down to readers--you have to trust your reader--don't be condescending
c. over symbolism
For instance, you try to lead the reader one way (with a red herring) and then surprise them with an overly-highlighted detail
She concluded her thoughts by offering that stories should be immersive--readers should be experiencing them and feeling (and are) involved.
Below are some highlights of the Q&A portion of the chat:
Q: Who is the youngest author you've seen published and what did they do that was so different?
A: Hanah Moskowitz had an agent by 16 or 17 and is about to publish her 3rd or 4th book by the age of 21. What sets her apart is that she has unique, original stuff--it is entire her own and not trendy.
Q: What makes an awesome villain?
A: Lots of things, but again that feeling of immersion--where every single word said by and about the villain matters--there is no excess...each action and word is justified.
Q: Could you tell us about the different ways an author might be rejected?
A: It is very common to be rejected for pacing and plotting--especially for a very slow pace. The three most important elements when agents look at authors are character, voice, and writing--if you have those three then there is a good chance someone will be able to work with you, but really sometimes an agent just doesn't connect with a character--it happens all the time--or maybe something you've written is too similar to something we already represent, and if we signed you then we'd be pitting two of our clients against each other.
Q: Have you seen any subjects or topics that are too conversial?
A: There are some tough sells out there such as Hush by Eishes Chayli, or Cut by Patricia McCormick, or Sold by Patricia McCormick. Yet, these books make it because the writing is so breathtaking that it is difficult for an agent, editor, or publisher to say "no."
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Getting Somewhere by Beth Neff which isn't released yet...the middle of January I think...but I highly highly recommend it. It is about four girls sent to a juvenile detention center.
Q: What are some common qualities in authors that you see published?
A: Good authors are receptive to editing and change. They are excellent readers. They are patient with themselves--they spend time ruminating and are never in a rush and understand that the process of writing can't be hurried, even when it gets to our level--they are just willing to be a part of a process that they understand may take a while. Finally, and this may just be a personal taste of mine, good writers write economically...there is little excess.
Torie also recommended the following blogs or sites for those interested in immersing themselves a little more into the community of YA writers:
Henriette Brown - artist