A novel approach to a novel. Also, response from Wendy Schmalz


BULLETIN: In case you missed Laura Salas’s question to agent Wendy Schmalz, here it is:

Thanks, Wendy, for your guest post. I wondered if you could share a few titles in both picture books and novels that you consider high quality and high concept. These could be either all by your clients if you want or none by your clients (so you don’t feel you have to choose favorites!). I have in mind what I think is high concept, but I might have it all wrong!

In picture books and especially in poetry, which I love, concept definitely seems to be the name of the game. Out of 50 mss, I’d guess that usually only 1 (or none) feels fresh to an agent/editor. So intimidating!

I sent Laura’s note to Wendy and here’s her response:

I just learned a few hours ago that one of my picture books is among Kirkus’s best books of 2009, so that would be a good place for me to start.

It’s called BILLY AND MILLY SHORT AND SILLY by Eve Feldman, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning. It’s a word play book and loads of fun.

I think Sandy Asher is a master at creating picture books. Her book TOO MANY FROGS illustrated by Keith Graves is on its way to becoming a classic. Their latest collaboration HERE COMES GOSLING is delightful.

As for novels, I think if you read some of the ones on the NY Times best seller list you’ll get a good idea of what publishers are looking for.

Everyone should read TWILIGHT so they can find out what all the hoopla is about. I don’t read much middle grade or YA fiction other than works by my authors, so the following suggestions are all by people I represent.

Amanda Marrone is a great example of a writer of popular paranormal teen novels. Her new book DEVOURED (Simon Pulse) is a present day Snow White story. Julie Anne Peters writes beautiful cutting edge novels dealing with gay and transgender issues. Her most recent book is RAGE: A LOVE STORY (Knopf). April Henry writes fast-paced thrillers. You might look at TORCHED (Putnam), as does Edgar-winner Robin MacCready (BURIED, Dutton).

For middle grade, Marlane Kennedy’s ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN (Greenwillow), Sue Stauffacher’s DONUTHEAD (Knopf), and Dean Pitchford’s CAPTAIN NOBODY
(Dutton) are all popular.

In general, publishers are looking for high concept, fast paced and original works. As I said above, reading what’s on the best seller list for YAs will give you a good overview. For middle grade novels, I suggest reading the most recent books cited by the ALA.

I hope this helps.



Many of you are probably familiar with Alexandria LaFaye’s work. Her ten novels include the acclaimed The Year of the Sawdust Man; Scott O’Dell Award winning Worth; and Dad, In Spirit.

An entertaining speaker and creative writing teacher, Alexandria is tackling the slowdown in the publishing industry head on. In her own words, “This has caught me in a bind with my book The Primed Mind. I’m going back to the subscription days and asking folks who are interested in purchasing the book to help me raise the funds to subsidize it’s publication. Once the goal is met, the book would come out in about a year.”


thought A’s approach was interesting and wanted to share it with you. For additional information about how to help or just to read more, here’s the site. http://www.kickstarter.com/e/N3rBZ/projects/1257577731/priming-the-primed-mind-0  


Pirates on Texas Bluebonnet list

rubbermanPOETRY TIP: If anyone is struggling with a way to start your “thanks” poem, go to the Teacher page on my website, scroll down to Teaching Tool for the month of August, and try the association technique described there.

I was delighted to learn that PIRATES has been named to the Texas Bluebonnet Master List for next school year. As I understand it, at least 10,000 Texas students will be reading titles from the list of 20 nominees and eventually vote for their favorite. I’m up against the likes of Gary Paulsen, Linda Sue Park, Kate Klise, and many other great writers, so I’m pleased to see my book of poetry listed among them.

For more information about the Bluebonnet awards, go to: http://www.txla.org/groups/tba/index.html .


Introducing Wendy Schmalz

rubbermanAs promised, today my guest is New York literary agent, Wendy Schmalz. I’ve worked with Wendy and know her as a professional
and as a friend. If you have questions or thoughts, that’s what the comment section below is for! Wendy opened her own agency in 2002. Before that she was a principal at Harold Ober Associates. She represents a small, eclectic group of writers.

Hi Wendy. Thank you for being my first guest. Welcome to the blog.

Hi, David, and thanks for inviting me. I hope your readers will find my remarks of interest.

I love books. I love everything about them – how they smell, how they feel, how they look on a shelf. I love the words. I’m infatuated with my Sony Reader. It smells like pleather, it’s stiff in my hands and it won’t stand on a shelf. But it’s got all the words.

I first got my Reader so I could download manuscripts and not have to schlep heavy paper manuscripts with me wherever I went. It wasn’t long before I was downloading published books. To my utter astonishment, it’s become my preferred way of reading. It’s more than just the portability. It’s my personal movable library.

For my entire career in publishing people have been predicting the death of books. First it was CD ROMS (Boy was everyone wrong about that one!). Now people predict ebooks as the beginning of the end. I think it’s the beginning of an expansion of reading, especially for older middle grade and YA novels. Kids prefer reading on screen. The more ebooks we offer them the more they’ll read. I also think it will result in more sales. I might lend friends a copy of a book, but I’m not going to lend my reader. They’ll have to get their own download.

What I am concerned about is the fate of literary fiction for children. While “quiet” books have been difficult to place for a while now, it’s been much, much harder during this recession. In the last several months, I’ve seen a spike in queries from authors who have had several books published (often to starred reviews and awards), but have been cut loose by their publishers because of mid-list sales. More often than not, I have to tell them that I can’t do anything to help them.

High concept is what sells. I by no means think that high concept equals dreck. Many, many commercial books are extremely well written. Publishing is a business and I’m part of that business. It’s how I make my living and I want my business to be prosperous. I do, though, think there’s a beauty in literary fiction that children are going to miss out on if the current trend doesn’t change.

As an agent, I look for books that are well written and that appeal to my personal taste. I’ve never been a fan of traditional fantasy or science fiction so I’m not a good judge of those genres. I focus on older middle grade and YA fiction. I’m not taking on any new picture book writers.

People often ask me if vampire books and urban fantasy are on their way out. Clones of TWILIGHT and other huge sellers are out, but an original take on vampires or urban fantasy or any other genre will always sell. Anyone can copy; a good writer finds a way to be innovative.

David, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit on your blog.

Wendy, many thanks for taking the time to share some of your views.


Wendy Schmalz: My first guest on Monday


I mentioned the other day that I plan to invite an occasional guest to appear on my blog. These brief articles (500 – 750 words or so) aren’t set up in a Q/A format. I’ll simply ask experts in various fields of interest to choose a subject and write about it. Our first guest is a New York agent, Wendy Schmalz. Wendy opened her own agency in 2002. Before that she was a principal at Harold Ober Associates. She represents a small, eclectic group of writers and I think you will find her opinions and advice most interesting. I’ve worked with Wendy on projects with Sandy Asher so I can tell you from personal experience that she is a good agent and a neat lady.

Read what Wendy has to say on Monday when I post her remarks.

On to other matters. One good teacher I know (Kim Jasper) suggests that my word for this month, thanks, is tougher to write about than our word last month (dirt). Another great teacher (Laynah Rogers) suggests a more emphatic word: gag.

So what do you think? Opinions please. We can stick with thanks and save gag for later or we can give our poets a choice between those two words for this month. I’m a little concerned that so far Steven Withrow is the only poet who has posted a poem. How is everybody else doing?

Let me know what you think.


More about Young Poets’ WORD OF THE MONTH Poems

Yesterday I invited teachers to learn how this blog is designed to encourage students to join the word of the month poetry challenge. Some asked about the permission form so Kathy Temean created a form and posted it where you can find it easily once you click on Young Poets’ Word of the Month Poems.

We both want to make sure you understand that there is no fee involved in completing the parental permission to allow students to participate in my poetry challenge. We’re asking you to e-mail the form to YAAGroup (Young Authors and Artists Group) because they have a structure to keep track of such matters and it saves me from getting bogged down in record keeping. For that I am grateful!

There is a fee only if a teacher or parent decides to purchase a membership for a child in the YAAGroup itself. That agreement is at the bottom of the same permission form but is a separate issue from the top part. The YAAGroup provides great opportunities to help students develop their writing potential, and I recommend it, but Kathy and I want to make sure that everyone understands that we are talking about two different things on the form.

If you have questions about any of this, contact Kathy about the YAAGroup and me about this blog or anything else.

Thanks! Now back to writing those “thanks” poems!