Genre & Demographics

I think it's safe to say at this point that my second novel failed to attract an agent. The majority of agents I queried have responded, and while some were surprisingly complimentary about the premise, etc., nobody really bit. It's been difficult for me to understand this novel's failure since I love it so much. I thought about the characters long after I finished it. Not to flatter myself, but it was like the first time I read Harry Potter. In both cases, the characters stuck with me. And they're still with me, but I'm trying to slowly push them aside because the reality that I won't be writing the rest of their story in sequels - at least not now - is painful.

One of my stranger guesses as to why Safira failed is that agents may be less receptive to new work in the summer. I had suspicions about this early on in querying because the agents who did get back to me took much longer than they took to respond to queries for my first novel. I queried Mina last December, and within two weeks I had most of my responses. This summer, agents often took longer than the response times they posted on their websites. I understand why they're taking longer - vacation, kids, etc. - but I wouldn't have believed they're actually less receptive to new work until Kristin Nelson discussed it on her blog. So I've added this to my growing list of personal query advice:

Query when it's cold.

Another reason I think my book may have been rejected is that it fails to conform to genre. I struggled a lot at first to determine whether Safira's story was an adult or young adult book. I went back and forth because my protagonist was 17/18 years old - right on the line - and while she did grow into her own identity in the novel (1 point for YA), the book was also adult in some ways:

  1. The story is told in 3rd person. I love the flexibility of 3rd person, but it's been out of fashion with the YA crowd for several years.
  2. Not only is it 3rd person, it's 3rd person limited, and I shift around a lot. At various points in the novel, my narrator is looking over the shoulders of my villain, my heroine, and at least two other characters. I love all that shifting because I like getting a complete picture of what's happening. However, I am an adult,  and I wonder if when I was a teenager, I would have struggled to identify with so many characters.
  3. My book is character driven, and according to Writing Great Books for Young Adults, which I recently checked out of the library, YA books are plot-driven. Of course, highly developed characters are desirable in YA as they are in adult fiction, but in YA, plot is the driving force, whereas character is often the driving force in adult books. In Safira's story, her development as a person drives the story forward more than the plot does, and I'm afraid a lot of teenagers would interpret the story as boring for that reason.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that now that I know more about YA and how to write it, I intend to do better next time. I've got a really great idea for my third book and I've already begun to draft early chapters. This book is going to take a lot of research, but it may just be the one that succeeds. For Safira, she's going on the shelf for now, but unlike Mina, she isn't staying there. I intend to revise that book, pushing it more toward the norm for YA, and maybe even query it again in a year or so.