Publishers Don’t Want Good Books

This conversation has happened at every agency in the world (particularly in the kids and teen department).

Agent 1: I’ve got a new project.

Agent 2: Yeah? How is?

Agent 1: It’s good.

Agent 2: Good?

Agent 1: Yeah, good.

Agent 2: Oh…Damn.

Agent 1: Yeah.

Agent 2: *Sips martini* That’s too bad.

imgres.jpgAgents, editors, and maybe you, the author, know the curse of the “good” book. The book that’s perfectly fine, that works, that tells an interesting story, and that is, sad to say, darn near unsellable. The rejections often contain phrases like “didn’t fall in love,” or “just didn’t feel strongly enough,” leavened with genuine compliments about the writing or characterization. After years of learning the craft of story and voice, you’ve finally created a nearly flawless novelone you know is as good (heck, better!) than a lot of stuff on the shelf. And it just…doesn’t…sell.

What’s going on here? Are publishers just crass, cowardly, visionless hacks who take pleasure in crushing the dreams of talented writers, refusing to give even promising careers a chance to get started?

The answer, of course, is no. Nobody is more motivated (apart from the author) to see a book succeed with flying colors than publishers. Believe me when I say us soulless agents and our human counterparts- editors- are wishing and dreaming as hard as you for that Newbery Medal, the debut on the New York Times Best Sellers list, the book signing line that wraps around the block.

It pains me to say it- and it pains all of us in publishing, I promise you- but there typically just isn’t room for “good” books. Publishing is an increasingly competitive space. More and more people want to be published, and the standard for what constitutes a “success” gets higher every day. Publishers have limited space on their lists, and so each novel has to be more than good. It has to be something special.

Of course there are many kinds of special. Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s LibraryVictoria Aveyard’s Red Queen– four completely different novels, with pretty different audiences, and they all have something in common. These are novels that demand you sit up and take notice. They are more than just functioning stories. They refuse to be ignored.

images.jpgWhen I say publishers don’t want good books, I don’t mean they’re after bad ones either. Nobody is more passionate about compelling fiction than your friendly neighborhood editor, whether the novel in question is a beautiful, heart-breaking, cry-on-the-subway coming of age, or a heart-pounding, unforgettable, so-damn-sexy-you-need-a-time-out fantasy, romance, or action/adventure. Though you may have found writing on the shelf at Barnes & Noble that makes your skin crawl (in the bad way), fiction is a subjective business, and I guarantee that even if it isn’t your brand of beer, every novel published made someone, somewhere, feel something profound- whether it was excitement, intrigue, or love.

Awesome, thanks for that John. Of course I want to be better than good. I want to be special, too. So what do I do?

My advice to my clients, to all novelists (and to myself), is always the same: push yourself. Don’t settle for your first idea, or even your second. Don’t stick with a project simply because it’s written, when you know rewriting or moving on to the next thing will be even better. Can you tell a story? Great. Now ask yourself, why does my story need to be told? What about it is new, what about it pushes boundaries? What about it has, at least, the potential to change a person’s life?

Teens need you. Teens need writers. I know I did. Novels saved my life, and I am one of thousands in that club. So be fearless. When you tell someone what your story is about, what’s their reaction? You want “Wow,” you want, “Oh my goodness, really?” You even want, “You can’t write a book about that!”

We’re all striving to do something great, and most of us ultimately land somewhere between where we started and the stars. If you want to be a novelist, you have to want to be the best novelist, or you’ll never get off the ground. As maddening as it can be, I’m glad the publishing biz is so competitive. It pushes us to be more.

So get good, write a good novel, hone your craft until you are a master of structure.

Then start again.

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Booklist Review of THE DOLL’S EYE

Congrats to Marina Cohen on this awesome review of THE DOLL’S EYE:

Doll's Eye_CoverThe phrase “Be careful what you wish for” takes on ominous significance in this creepy story where wish fulfillment and perfection make for a menacing collaboration. Hadley Jackson, along with her mother, stepfather, and stepbrother, has moved from the city to an old country house that seems to keep losing occupants. Something maliciously magical is brewing, and it emanates from a dollhouse hidden in the attic. The story alternates between Hadley’s perspective and that of the first girl to live in the house, each of whom find that the wishes they make tend to come true—but not as intended. Hadley’s efforts to undo her calamitous wishes lead to an unexpected ending that will surprise readers with its bold, menacing conclusion. Doppelgänger dolls, flesh-eating flies, echoes between realities, and a glass eye contribute to the doomed, gothic undertones of Hadley’s story. As the pieces between past and present fall chillingly into place, they threaten to trap Hadley in a world of her own dreaming. Read this one with the lights on.

— Kara Dean

 

Pre-Order THE DOLL’S EYE on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and  Indiebound.

You can order Marina’s super spooky debut middle-grade, THE INN BETWEEN, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Check out Marina Cohen online and on twitter.

#MuslimShelfSpace, Most Anticipated, S.K. Ali Giveaway

2017 is going to be an amazing year for YA. I’m so excited to see S.K. Ali’s SAINTS AND MISFITS on EW’s list. And in such good company! Check out all those #ownvoices projects.

iovrkqlt_400x400SAINTS AND MISFITS follows 15-year-old Janna Yusuf, daughter of the only divorced mother at the mosque, as she examines her faith and relationships in the wake of an assault. It will also be Salaam Reads‘s first YA novel, which is pretty darn cool.

Speaking of which, you must check out S.K. Ali’s #MuslimShelfSpace hashtag and giveaway. Here’s how it works: tweet a pic of your #MuslimShelfSpace, tagging @sajidahwrites, for a chance to win a Muslim #ownvoices book! Folks have been tweeting their bookshelves full of #ownvoices books by Muslim authors all week, and it’s wonderful.

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You can follow Sajidah at @sajidahwrites, and check out Sajidah’s piece on her quest to find an agent.

Congrats to Chana Stiefel and the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

A huge congratulations to picture book author Chana Stiefel on her collaboration with the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. All royalties from Why Can’t Grandma Remember My Name will go to promote Alzheimer’s research and awareness. Way to go Chana and this awesome book for a great cause!

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Happy Pub Day to Susie Salom and KYLE FINDS HER WAY!

Happy Pub Day to Susie Salom and KYLE FINDS HER WAY! Must be fate that today is also #DayOfTheGirl. I read a sample of KYLE in an online pitch contest a few years back and immediately fell in love with Kyle’s odd-ball, open-hearted voice. I’m so excited y’all can read this now too!

kyle-finds-her-way-_coverOn the first day of sixth grade, Kyle Constantini lands in the principal’s office after standing up against (that is, punching) Ino Nevarez, who was teasing a deaf girl at school. Her punishment? Join the NAVS program, which teaches constructive problem-solving (that is, not punching).

Kyle loves NAVS, where her team competes in a challenge to navigate a maze. But her parents refuse to let her participate… so Kyle may just have to fudge the truth a bit to get around them. Then her best friend starts to crush on a cute new English boy, who seems to be interested in — Kyle? As the NAVS competition approaches, she has to trust her instincts, take some good advice, and figure out her way through the amazing maze of middle school.

Rich characters, a big heart, and a witty, warm voice make Kyle Finds Her Way a debut worth discovering.

What folks are saying:

[Kyle’s] conflicts with her friends and her parents are well-realized and believable, andher voice has a subtle edge of humor and self-deprecation that enlivens the presentation. Amusing, engaging, and honest, Kyle and her strugglesand successes will be familiar to many middle school girls.” – Kirkus

“In the samevein as R.J. Palacio’s breakout hit Wonder, this charming middle grade debut will strike a chord with readers who enjoy realistic fiction with depth.” – School Library Journal

Get KYLE FINDS HER WAY on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound, and check it out on Goodreads!

You can find Susie online at twitter.com/susie_salom and susiesalom.com.

Congrats to Don Zolidis on his debut deal!

From Publishers Weekly:

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Laura Schreiber at Disney-Hyperion has acquired playwright Don Zolidis‘s debut YA novel, The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig (A Love Story) , in a preempt. It’s a coming-of-age story set in 1994 Wisconsin, chronicling the on-again-off-again relationship of Amy and Craig, who come to understand each other better through multiple disastrous breakups. Publication date is projected for fall 2018; John M. Cusick of Folio Jr./Folio Literary Management brokered the six-figure, two-book deal for North American rights.

 

 

Not only is Don an incredible playwright (if you were a teen theater-geek in the past ten years, chances are you read one of his monologues), SEVEN TORMENTS is one of the straight up funniest things I’ve read in ages. Congrats Don!

Welcome New Client Virginia Boecker

VIrginia-Boecker-Headshot-1.jpgI’m so excited to announce that the brilliant and wonderful Virginia Boecker is joining the Folio Jr. family! I’ve been a rabid fan of her work for years now, starting with the smart, funny, and action-packed WITCH HUNTER and KING SLAYER (Little, Brown). I’m so excited to be working with Virginia, and I can’t wait to tell you all about her next project. Stay tuned— and welcome Virginia!

 

the-witchhunter-revised-2-198x300-1You can find Virginia online at http://www.virginiaboecker.com/, and twitter.com/virgboecker. Check out WITCH HUNTER and KING SLAYER on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.

Congrats to Chana Stiefel on her new picture book deal!

From Publishers Weekly:

chanastiefel_color_picKate O’Sullivan at HMH has bought world rights to Wakawakaloch, written by Chana Stiefel (l.) and illustrated by Mary Sullivan. No one can pronounce cave girl Wakawakaloch’s name (why can’t she have something easy to pronounce like her friends Oog and Boog?), in this story with a positive message about family and tradition. The projected pub date is spring 2019; John M. Cusick of Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management represented the author and Justin Rucker at Shannon Associates represented the illustrator.

Chana is the author of DADDY DEPOT (Feiwel & Friends), coming Father’s Day, 2017!

Congrats to Sharon Biggs Waller on her new deal!

Congratulations to Sharon Biggs Waller on her new deal with Simon & Schuster Teen! This is such an important book and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

From Publishers Weekly:

sharonbiggswaller_picChristian Trimmer at Simon & Schuster has bought world English rights to Girls on the Verge, a YA novel by Sharon Biggs Waller. When 17-year-old Camille discovers she can’t obtain an abortion anywhere near her small hometown, she sets off for a Planned Parenthood clinic in the next state. Accompanied by Annabelle, the one-time star of her high school who has wound up stocking shelves, Camille embarks on a road trip of self-discovery in this coming-of-age story pitched as Going Bovine meets Thelma and Louise. Publication is set for spring 2018; John M. Cusick of Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management brokered the deal.

You can order Sharon’s latest historical YA, THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID (Viking Children’s Books) on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or check it out on Goodreads.

You can also find Sharon at her website, on Facebook, and on twitter.