I’ve said it before, but I owe a lot to Sarah Goldberg. The same summer that she found the fabulously talented Mindee Arnett and Sara Polsky in my slush pile, she also found Makiia Lucier.
Now, historical YA is actually pretty tough. It’s tough to get the teenage sensibility just right while also staying true to the historical time period. As a result, I was wary of historical YA. I wasn’t opposed to it, but it wasn’t something I was looking for either. For me to take on a historical project it would have to be something with amazing characters and really great plot and outstanding writing.
Then I got this query and Sarah said to me, “How are you feeling about YA historical…?” I took a look and told her I was feeling good about this one.
Here’s the query:
Dear Ms. Townsend:
In the fall of 1918, Cleo Berry is completing her studies at St. Helen’s Hall, one of the oldest boarding schools in Portland, Oregon. When soldiers arrive at nearby Camp Lewis, they transport the Spanish Influenza, a mysterious strain of flu that strikes down young men and women with swift, shocking brutality.
Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. Cleo disobeys her headmistress’s quarantine order, choosing to wait out the epidemic, and her family’s impending return, in the relative safety of their empty home. But it isn’t long before the Red Cross launches a plea for volunteers. For deeply personal reasons, Cleo finds she cannot ignore the call for help.
Her duties are clear-to search the neighborhoods and report cases of influenza to the grand auditorium, which has been transformed into an emergency hospital. There Cleo meets Lieutenant Edmund Parrish, a medical student who bears the permanent scars of war. In the coming weeks, the death toll mounts, and reality sets in. There is little help forthcoming from an overworked medical staff and a strained ambulance service. If Cleo is to help save lives, she must find the courage to navigate alone in a city turned ominous with fear.
A BEAUTIFUL AND DEATH STRUCK YEAR is a young adult historical novel, complete at 56,000 words.
My articles have appeared in the Portland Oregonian, Bookmarks Magazine, and Library Journal. I have a BA in journalism from the University of Oregon and an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I studied literature for children. Additionally, I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
I have attached my complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.
Here’s what I loved about it:
First Spanish Influenza! I love that this is a time period I haven’t seen too many times before, but at the same time there’s a high stakes backdrop. (And can I say that when I read this for the first time, I was constantly freaking out when someone sneezed next to me on the subway.
I also was really struck by the writing and pacing in this query. Makiia introduces the stakes (the flu that kills!) and then she sets up Cleo’s personal experience with it in a way that gradually built the sense of urgency. I felt so grabbed by the “personal reasons” (why would she put herself in danger!?) and this Lieutenant with scars of war (I admit I sort of love a guy with emotion baggage—at least in books).
I read the manuscript and loved it. There were parts that made me weep and of course, Edmund is rather swoony, and Cleo…I just loved her.
I wasn’t the only one. I sold this to Harcourt Childrens. They dropped the “Beautiful” from the title and the book comes out in March, and it’s one of the ABA picks for New Voices. Here’s where you can add it to goodreads.
It was a little over a year ago that the super talented Natalie Lloyd first queried me. Now here’s what’s interesting. She knew one of my other super talented writers (the fabulous Sarah Wylie) who had referred her to me (and written me an email to tell me how much she loved Natalie and her novel).
But I read the query on a day when I had a lot of them and was cruising through and skipping ahead to the book description. So it actually wasn’t until I knew I needed to request this, that I went back and read the first paragraph and realized this was a book I’d already been warned was good.
Here’s the query:
Dear Ms. Townsend,
I adore your blog Confessions of a Wandering Heart. Your posts encourage me, challenge me, and frequently lead to impulse book purchases. (As an aside, I love that you kept the Reem Acra dress.) In researching your interests, I was excited to see that you are still acquiring middle-grade fiction. Your client, Sarah Wylie, suggested I query you with my manuscript, There’s Magic in Midnight Gulch.
When 12-year-old Felicity Pickle moves to Midnight Gulch, she’s certain this rainy mountain town will be as boring as every other city she’s kicked her sneakers through. But she’s wrong. Felicity soon discovers Midnight Gulch’s not-so-secret-secret: years ago, the people who lived in these hills had magic in their veins. They could churn memories into ice cream and trap shadows in books. They could sing up rainstorms and hide inside paintings. When Felicity hears the tale of The Brothers Threadbare, Midnight Gulch’s most notorious and most tragic family, she realizes this strange mountain magic might have everything to do with her own family’s misfortune.
With a little help from her new friends (including Jonah Pickett, an anonymous do-gooder who refers to himself as The Beedle), and a newfound confidence in her own peculiar ability, Felicity sets out to break a century-old curse, bring back the magic, and finally find a home for her wandering heart. There’s Magic in Midnight Gulch is complete at 55,000 words. I have also completed a middle-grade novel called Silverswift; about a grandmother, her granddaughter, a secret map and a feisty mermaid. Silverswift is complete at 50,000 words.
I have a degree in Journalism and currently work in non-fiction and freelance, writing mostly for a small (and incredible) readership of teen girls. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee and am the proud owner of a highly excitable dog, a breezy southern drawl, and a room full of well-loved books.
Per your specifications, I have included the first five pages of my novel within this email. I would love to send you the rest if you are interested. Regardless, thank you for taking the time to review my query.
All the Best,
Here’s what I love about it:
Um everything! No but really, if I had to go into specifics, the first one is that it’s easy to tell just from the query that Natalie possesses a talent for stringing words together to make sentences.
I know that write from the first line of the book description (When 12-year-old Felicity Pickle moves to Midnight Gulch, she’s certain this rainy mountain town will be as boring as every other city she’s kicked her sneakers through.) From that line I have such a clear image of Felicity. The choice to use “kicked her sneakers through” is such a powerful but also original image. And of course, it’s not the only great sentence in the query.
Another thing I really like about this query is the way that Natalie mentioned her other novel, Silverswift. It doesn’t feel like she’s pitching me two novels—instead it feels like she’s just letting me know that she’s got another book too. It’s just a title and one line about it, but it implies she’s serious about a career in writing, and of course, I like that.
I wasn’t the only one to love Natalie, this book (or this pitch—which I tweaked when writing my pitch letter). This novel sold at auction over the summer and even the editors who were delirious enough to pass raved about how fabulous it was.
Now the title has changed to A Snicker of Magic and it will be released from Scholastic 2/25/2014.
If you’re a new adult fan, you’re going to love this:
Author of the self-published bestselling Archers of Avalon trilogy, Chelsea Fine’s first new adult novel, BEST KIND OF BROKEN, featuring a college sophomore who takes a summer job working at Willow Inn for the free room and board, only to discover too late that her free room shares a hallway and a bathroom with the only guy she was hoping to avoid for the rest of her life to Megha Parekh at Forever Yours, in a significant deal, in a three book deal, at auction, by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media (NA).
It’s August, I’m back from vacation, and I think the end of 2013 is going to be even better than the beginning.
Many writers want to know what an agent is really thinking when they pass on a query, right? You want the truth…but can you handle it? Well next week I will respond to the queries I receive in complete honesty. I will either request your manuscript or I will pass and tell you exactly why.
So, if you want the truth, query me for the next week (so right now until 10 am EST on Friday 8/30). Read on for the rules.
- Queries must be submitted to Query(at)newleafliterary(dot)com.
- All queries entered must have this in the subject line: QUERY SUZIE - I can handle the truth
- If it does not have this in the subject line, it will be considered a regular query only.
- Queries must be in the body of the email. NO attachments!
- Queries should include the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript in the body of your email below your query.
- You will receive our usual auto-response. If you do not receive an auto-response, resend!
- One query per writer please. (Don’t think you can trick me with different email addresses either)
- Yes, if you’ve already been rejected by me (or someone else at New Leaf) you may resubmit your query. I will read (if submitted in the correct time frame) and let you know why it’s been rejected. Don’t say “You already rejected me…” Treat it like you’ve never queried her before.
- Your queries will NOT be posted on this or any other blog. I will reply to you via your e-mail, only.
- You must treat this as an actual query process, which means you need to have a complete manuscript. If I do request your manuscript, I don’t want to find out there isn’t one!
A few weeks ago, I asked twitter who had questions about New Adult and what they were. A number of people responded (and I’ll have answers to those questions soon), but there was one question that stood out above the rest. There were several variations in the way that question was asked, but the gist was this:
Will New Adult grow into different genres or is it strictly going to be contemporary romance?
I’ve thought a lot about this, and the different ways that I could attempt to answer it. The simple truth is that I don’t know. I believe that we’re at a pivotal moment within New Adult where we could go either way and which way it goes is going to depend on the market and sales and most importantly readers.
But let’s try to puzzle it out and predict the future anyway.
The definition of New Adult finally seems to be pretty consistent. Even Wikipedia seems to have a good description of the genre:
a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket…New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.
Right now, the genre as a whole has been gaining popularity at a pretty break neck speed. The books that appear to be most successful in terms of sales and most talked about as New Adult Books are contemporary romances. A lot of them began as self-published books and have been since bought by traditional houses. They’re selling extremely well as ebooks at sometimes a lower price point than the traditional $7.99.
From what I’ve seen, the audience is predominantly women, but that isn’t saying that much since about 80% of fiction readers are women. I would speculate that while New Adult books are about and for twentysomethings that similar to YA readership, a lot of the audience is probably people like me, who are no longer in their twenties but enjoy the nostalgia and angst of the time period (though are probably glad to have gotten past the angsty stage in their life).
If we’re going to take a page from the expansion of the YA genre several years ago, we’ll see that there are a number of genres or subgenres that readers will move between without too much hesitation. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and thriller can all be suited to the character development that we see defining New Adult.
Which of course begs the question of what’s already out there in the world of adult fiction that could be be enjoyed by fans of New Adult. A few titles that instantly come to my mind are:
No Peace for the Damned by Megan Powell: urban fantasy with a twenty-two year old descended from
a demon who leaves home for the first time…and then joins a group of humans who are trying to destroy her family.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey: the first novel in a very epic fantasy series that follows a young women who has been raised and trained to be what is essentially a high class prostitute as she gets swept up in politics, treason, and even revolution.
Waking the Witch and Spell Bound by Kelley Armstrong: these two titles are part of her Women of the Otherworld series and are narrated by Savannah, a character who first appeared as a child in the series, but is now officially an adult and trying to prove herself and balance her power as a witch.
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost: In the first book of the series, Cat is just a young college student who happens to also be hunting vampires and making the world a safe place.
Julianna Baggot’s series which begins with Pure is a dystopian published by Grand Central but it has young characters and “crossover appeal.”
(Clearly you can see my tastes often run to the paranormal/fantasy spectrum here…)
As New Adult continues to grow, we’re hearing more about New Adult novels that are branching out into new genres.
Recently, The Registry by Shannon Stoker was released. It’s a dystopian novel with an eighteen year old protagonist. It’s being published by William Morrow and being marketed as New Adult.
And then there have been deal announcements for established authors who have new books with traditional publishers.
Andrea Cremer, writing as A.D. Robertson has a new series coming out, starting with Captive. It takes place in the same world as her Nightshade books, but this is an adult novel (with erotic content). The main character is 25 and I’ve heard it could be described as New Adult.
Sarah J Maas has a new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is being marketed as New Adult fantasy: A retelling of ”Beauty and the Beast,” “Tam-Lin,” and ”East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” A Court of Thorns and Roses tells the story of a young woman growing into herself, learning to love, and understanding the true nature of sacrifice.
And just last week, Jaime McGuire’s new series, starting with Red Hill, was announced. It’s described as a love story set against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse.
So what does all of this mean for the future?
Well, to me it means that there’s a lot of possibility. I think we could see more new adult in the future—and more new adult spanning into different genres. However, it might be an uphill battle for a debut author writing a new adult fantasy or a new adult thriller or a new adult novel without a romance. At least until we see even more success outside of just contemporary romance.
Of course it just takes one “yes” to get a novel published. And it just takes one success to open more doors within the genre. I’m excited to see this happen.
So for everyone still building their summer reading lists, what are some great new adult novels outside of the contemporary romance genre that I’ve missed? Or what are some great novels that were published before the rise of New Adult that would fit the genre? I’d love to hear more recommendations!
This is the part of the story you might have already heard:
Cora Carmack queried me with Losing It. She had self published and was sky-rocketing through the ranks. Despite my skeptical position on New Adult as a genre, I loved her premise and smart query, so I requested the manuscript. She sent it immediately, and I sat at my desk and started to read. I signed her, we sold Losing It to HarperCollins and I announced to twitter that I had changed my mind about all things New Adult.
Here’s the rest of the story:
Cora Carmack made me laugh. When I opened Losing It at my desk, I read the first three chapters before leaving to go to a networking event. During those chapters I couldn’t help laugh out loud. In fact, I laughed so often and so loud at certain moments that two different people in the office asked me what I was reading.
That night at the event, I couldn’t stop thinking about Losing It. I couldn’t wait to get back to it so that I could finish reading. And I couldn’t stop talking about it. I brought up New Adult to everyone who would listen. Then I told them about this great self-published book I was reading. (At least two people told me they downloaded it that night.)
When I got home, I continued reading—I read until very late into the hours of the morning and sent Cora Carmack a gushing email about how much I loved it.
Here’s why I loved it:
It had all the things that I want in any manuscript: great characters, great writing, page-turning storytelling. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It made me laugh and swoon and cringe and even get a little teary eyed. The characters felt so real to me.
Even more than that, here’s why it changed my mind about New Adult:
Losing It made me feel like I was in my early twenties again. I didn’t have a hot British professor and my last year in college didn’t end up with happily ever after, but I did have some Bliss-worthy awkward moments. More than that, I knew how she felt while struggling to fit into the adult world. I’d been lost, frustrated, and insecure. Part of me wanted to be an adult and was ready and part of me wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do in order to feel like an adult.
That’s why I fell for New Adult and what I love about it: that these authors and their books have managed to capture all of those different and complex feelings in such a visceral way. And of course that they’ve thrown a good romance into the mix doesn’t hurt since I love all things romance.
Now, whether you’re addicted to New Adult or not sure what it’s all about, at New Leaf, we’ve put together an epic Addicted to New Adult Giveaway. Enter here:
So many of you may know this already, but for a long time, I was not sold on the idea of New Adult. In fact a number of times, I said it wasn’t a thing or that I didn’t believe in it.
I wasn’t sure what it meant or where I was sell it or where the books would go on a shelf in a store or how it differed from just regular adult books with twenty-something characters who would appeal to younger readers. It seemed amorphous and everyone seemed to have different viewpoints about what it was.
Some of that hasn’t changed.
I still don’t know where the books fit best on a shelf. (Most are being shelved in romance.) I still think New Adult can sometimes be described as adult books with crossover appeal and that there are some adult books out there that could have been called New Adult if the term was around when they’d been published. I’m still not sure if or how New Adult will break out into other genres besides contemporary romance.
But as I mentioned on twitter six months ago, when I read Losing It by Cora Carmack, I officially ate my words about New Adult not being a thing. I was wrong. It suddenly had become something I really (really) liked.
If you’re not sure what New Adult is, here’s a definition that I like. I’m also going to paraphrase Cora Carmack who said that if YA tells stories of teens becoming adults, then NA tells stories of characters who are now adults in the eyes of the world, but they’re looking around and asking themselves “now what?”
Because there’s a lot of great writers who are writing in this genre. I’ve been reading as many of them as I can in my spare time, and I’m really excited about the genre. In fact, I like New Adult so much that I’m pretty addicted to it. As a result, I want to talk about it more.
If you’re addicted to New Adult too, here’s how you can let everyone now.
Display this banner on your blog/website and join me June 24th-July 16th in discussions about New Adult.
Tomorrow I’ll be kicking off the discussion by telling the world how I fell for New Adult—and so will everyone else at New Leaf.