Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The one in which I pretend to be an agent

Tip of the Day: if sleep is important to you, then don’t start reading Sarah Dessen’s new Lock and Key novel anywhere near nighttime.

Okay, I know I talked about this teen writing contest I’m judging last week, but I’m not ready to stop discussing it yet. Probably because it took up most of my writing-related time this past week. And also because I think it’s fun to view this contest how agents would view a slush pile. Since I love to hear agent recaps of what’s in their slush pile, I thought all of you might enjoy a similar thing. And this might be even more helpful to you YA writers, because these are the stories that teens today have on their mind (and boy, might it surprise you, like it did me).

Number of stories with the following genres, themes, beginnings, and everything else I felt like noting—out of around 70 stories total:

  • Stories where someone dies, is found dead, or killed: 16
  • Someone attacked, “jumped,” beaten, or abused: 9
  • Involved thieves/stupid criminals: 2
  • Involved a criminal trial: 2
  • Centered on gangs: 2
  • Kidnapping took place: 1
  • Detective stories: 5
  • Centered around an illness: 3
  • Most of the story took place in a hospital: 5
  • War/military stories: 4
  • Vacation stories: 8
  • Sports the central topic: 6
  • Family “issue” stories or stories on divorce: 6
  • Stories all about job troubles or interviews: 6
  • All about relationships, dating, or crushes: 5
  • About moving or starting a new school: 3
  • Night-out or day-out recaps: 3
  • Story about supermodels: 2
  • About actors/actresses: 2
  • Story about literally nothing: 2
  • Centered on music: 1
  • Centered on a dog/pet: 2
  • Ghost stories/heaven stories: 3
  • Alien stories: 2
  • Story involving Candy People: 1
  • Fairy stories: 1
  • Storm stories: 1
  • Start with the weather info: 9
  • Start with a dream/waking up scene: 5
  • Start with weather than immediately switch to someone waking up (didn’t think that was possible, did ya?): 2
  • Referenced “this is my story” in the text: 4

Is anyone else surprise by how much death/illness/beating was going on? And the lack of fantasy stories? I was.

Also an interesting thing to note, an estimated 90% of the main characters in these stories were adults, not teens. So they were definitely thinking about things “older” then themselves, which doesn’t surprise me, but at the same time it kind of does.

Okay, now, I’ll go back to not being an agent anymore.

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent

P.S. A2A loyal reader and commenter, Jennifer Hubbard just announced her first book deal. We are always excited when another author moves up to another stage in her writing career, so congrats Jennifer! We won’t hold it against you that you don’t watch The Hills.


Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

First, Congratulations Jennifer!

Second, Thanks for this list, Em. It's really interesting to see the stats when you lay them all out there like that. Makes you wonder what a slush pile of say 200 mss looks like!

Yes, adolescence is a turbulent and depressing time, but why do all the teens I know seem to be having so much fun?


Kristina Springer said...

Congrats to Jennifer!!! :-)

And yeah-- totally surprised there wasn't fantasy. It seems like there is TONS of fantasy now!

And this was my favorite-- "Start with weather than immediately switch to someone waking up "

Emily Marshall said...

GG, it was so weird how they were all so depressing. I mean granted some of the deaths were in funny, detective stories, but it was still weird how death topped the list. I started to wonder if they had some school assignment on the issue or something and they used those as entries.

And I know, I didn't think it was possible Tina, but apparently two people made it happen :)

Holly said...

When I was in high school (oh my...ten years ago), we had a guest writer come in and critique two of our short stories. After we submitted the first batch of stories he told us that our second story could NOT be about death, because every single first story we submitted included a death. I guess teenagers are a morbid bunch. So, I'm surprised that you didn't find MORE death in those stories!

Kate Fall said...

Any drug overdoses? Those were my favorite books as a teen. Also ghosts, but preferably mean, homicidal ghosts.

It does make you wonder what books and stories they're getting assigned in English class. I wonder if there's a bias. "I love fantasy, but I'd better write literature like we get in class if I want to win."

Anonymous said...

No vampires? When I was in high school, my friends all wrote only vampire stories. I never got into vampires, but I did write a few death and ghost stories.

Ha, I love that two people managed to start out with weather and then switch to someone waking up!

Emily Marshall said...

Holly Nicole, that is too weird! It was a surprise to me. I never would have guessed teens have death on the brain.

Kate, amazingly non of the deaths were drug related, and I think only one story had drugs in it at all.

Shana, not a vampire in sight! And it made me giggle those two beginnings.

Emily Marshall said...

Oh and Kate, that's an interesting question about thinking that's what would get them to win. Amaziningly I think more were written more "commercially" then literary (if that makes sense--it's kind of hard to explain). I was alittle surprised.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

I can tell you why sophomore year is hell...Our reading list included:
Night by Elie Wiesel
Lord of the Flies
Animal Farm

Talk about dark and depressing!

Unknown said...

Some teens hate school, are bored, hang around texting instead of socializing, listen to sad music, and look inward instead of outward. No wonder life gets depressing.

Other teens are the complete opposite, serving others, forever inquisitive about life, and making mundane things fun. Bet they don't read death stories.

Emily Marshall said...

GG, good point about the book reading list. Ouch. Man, I do remember reading lots of depressing books in high school now that you mention it. Good thing I found the books I "really" like after that.

Anne, yep all teens are different, which is nice there's such a variety.