Whenever you have a chance to hear an agent or publisher speak, grab it! There’s nothing like getting the insider’s view of what it takes to bring a book out in today’s market. That’s why my intrepid friend and fellow writer Nancy and I jumped at the chance to hear a savvy young agent from a leading agency in the YA market speak about what she looks for in submissions. After melting our way into Soho via the subway and fortifying ourselves at a cozy French bistro, we joined a lively group for some hands-on advice.
During her talk, Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Agency described the ingredients that she finds both appealing and essential for a stand-out work of fiction. While her comments targeted the YA market, they also provide helpful insights for fiction writers of all stripes. In a nutshell, she looks for great characters — and stories that dig deep and ask tough questions. Here are the three must-haves she needs to get her agenting juices flowing:
Character: You need a main character who’s engaging and real enough to create an instant bond with readers. Your main character should have a rich interior life, strong motivation to overcome obstacles encountered, and a goal worth fighting for. Good characters must battle both private conflicts and external forces.
Voice: You need a distinctive storytelling style that creates intimacy and immediacy. Your voice must be compelling and consistent – and powerful enough to push your plot forward with style.
Authority: This quality instills confidence in your readers: they feel you’re in total control and that they’re in the hands of a gifted storyteller. When you radiate authority on the page, “the writing fades away,” and the story takes over (see my post, “Masterful Hands”).
How do you get there from here? By reading and writing, reading and writing. As Kole put it encouragingly: “Every day you sit down and do your work, you get stronger.”