December 11, 2009

Bonus Post: What I'm Looking For

Here’s something I’ve been sorely neglecting—I’ve had plenty of people email me asking, and Robert’s even asked me, and I’ve just never had the time. But since I’m sitting on a bus right now, looking out the beautiful New York skyline, I figure now is a really great time. Plus, I have great coffee, and that makes me feel happy.

It’s a What I’m Looking For Post! (Tada!)—the YA edition

I’m sure it’s hard to know what kind of things will strike my interest since you don’t know me. And I certainly can’t give you a good picture of who I am with a few blog posts, or a Twitter account, or even a phone conversation or meeting. One of the reasons I’ve been avoiding this is because my likes are so diverse. I can tell you that I’m interested in people I can relate to on some level, but that really isn’t telling you anything. I love clever writers who can make me laugh with their wit but I also love really emotional descriptions. I love hearing about places I’ve never been and things I’ve never done but also different takes on people just like me…ugh, maybe I’ll just start with what I DON’T like.

I DON’T like people writing for a trend. Please don’t query me with: here is the newest vampire/werewolf/orphan who just realized they have powers super-mega-seller! I’m sorry if you’ve been really interested in the paranormal your whole life and this novel has been bursting out of you for years and the trend just hit at the wrong time, but as soon as the market gets flooded with these things, they stop becoming special and unique. And what I love more than anything is the truly unique. Hint Hint: If you write me a query and tell me how your story is unique, it might help your cause.

The best queries have me at the moment they tell me what’s different about their story than everyone else’s in the world. Even if I think the story sounds okay, I have to ask the querier, “so what? Aren’t there 1001 books like this already out there?” So tell me where the twist is—I love me them twists. What’s different about your character, about your plot? I’m also a huge literature dork, so if you reference Dante’s Inferno or Shakespeare I’ll probably melt into a little puddle. But I can’t promise you’ll get an offer.

I also DON'T like religious books. Excuse my 80's lingo, but it's a little too heavy for me. If the Devil is going down to Georgia and looking for a soul to steal in your novel, however, I may find this intriguing. Just no preaching.

What I would love to find: something timeless. Good books are nice, but great books are around forever and enjoyed over and over. Those are the ones I buy instead of going to the library to borrow. I would love to represent something that I could see my children enjoying as much as I do.

An example of a YA that has touched my heart—Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (if you haven’t read it, go read it right now before I ruin it for you). The reasons I love it are many-fold and all things that I would love to see again.
First: A classic story re-worked with the author’s own twists that make it extremely personal—whoever heard of Cinderella under a curse? I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize it was Cinderella until the very end (be nice, I was 10).

Second: A journey. Yes, all stories have a journey, and no, I don’t mean a (necessarily) physical one. I want to see someone who is different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning. And don’t tell me—show me.

Third: A voice. If you don’t have this, then you don’t have a story. I want to close my eyes and hear the character reading their book aloud to me. It’s all about the little choices. This goes hand in hand with character development—you should know everything there is to know about this person, like they’re your alternate personality, and then their voice will just flow.

Fourth: Love. Face it, your YA has to have some sort of romance, even if it’s on the back burner. Sure, it can be a little steamy, but it should have a buildup, and actually give me butterflies. Don’t rush through the good stuff! I want to fall for Prince Charming, too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking a little love story is enough—there had better be some meat to it.

Fifth: Make your characters round. I love characters that love something, even if it’s not something I normally care about. But the important thing is that they make me love it with them. That they convey their passion for it. Plenty of authors can write this character well. But too many forget that the character has to be a full person, not just a caricature of one. No person is defined by one activity or relationship or event. What else is there about them that makes them who they are? I may not be a hockey star but I can relate to the goalie’s need to support his teammates—I was in the marching band, you know. And I may think that Mathletes is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but if you tell me the girl is there because it’s the only place that’s all boys who don’t judge her for her body, I’ll get that. This is where you’ll find the voice and, for me at least, this is what I’m looking at—who are your characters and what do they have to say? Because interesting people will get into interesting situations—they just can’t help themselves.

When I’m reading, there also has to be some drive, what I call “the urge” to get to the end, the race to the last page because you HAVE to know what happens. So send me something with a storyline that keeps moving, please!

Subject matter? I’ll leave it up to you, you’re the writer! Surprise me!


  1. I have to agree with the above comment. Definetely a huge thank you for this post.

  2. Thanks for the insight Rayna! I love that you go into detail about what you want instead of just making a short list of your interests.

  3. Thanks so much. I'm currently querying for a cozy, but I also write YA (literary journeys with distinct voices, amazing characters and a little love). Good luck. Can't wait to see how your publishing journey unfolds.

  4. I'm glad it was helpful! & Thanks for the encouragement, Steph!

  5. (The "I'm glad it was helpful" part was @ everyone.)

  6. Love the insights on your blog! Makes me want to be an agent, too!

  7. Rayna, found you from Gatekeeper's blog. You rock for listing this in such detail. And I'm excited for you! Hope your journey into publishing is long and prosperous!

  8. Ummm, Enchanted Ella definitely changed my life :) Love your blog, Rayna!