What book(s) spoke to you most during your teen years? Do any of them continue to influence you now as an adult, or in your career as an editor?your teen years? Do any of them continue to influence you now as an adult, or in your career as an editor?
One of my favorite books as a teen was Paul Zindel's My Darling, My Hamburger. Something about the quiet, shy girl becoming friends with the exuberant, outgoing girl really spoke to me—a quiet, shy girl. I really related to Maggie and I fell in love with Liz. Even though the book was a bit old-fashioned when I was a kid (and is even more so now!) I found the characters and their situations and feelings so incredibly real. And so I think that's what I look for now as an editor—even if the situations the characters are in are sensational or un-relatable, if the feelings they are going through read as realistic to me, I know teens will find something to love in the book.
As an editor, I believe pretty much anything can be worked on except voice. Characters, plotting, motivation, those things are things I can usually "fix," so if I'm reading something and finding one of these elements problematic, I know I'll be able to work on it to make it better. But if the voice isn't there, that's when I often find myself passing.
Aah, the elusive "voice!" I know writers often find it frustrating when editors talk about voice, because it's a difficult thing to define, and if you asked ten editors, you'd probably get ten different answers. For me, it basically boils down to how you—or your character, essentially—describes their world. Maybe the best way I can explain it is with an example. Lisa Burstein, the author of one of my first books with Entangled, Pretty Amy, has one of my favorite voices in YA, and it's because I just love the way she (through her protagonist, Amy) describes the world. For example, the night of Amy's prom, she says:
I think, beyond having a great voice, a YA novel trying to stand out from the crowd needs to be high-concept. By this I mean it needs an essential, bare-bones hook, or elevator pitch, if you will. Can your story be summed up in one sentence? If so, is that sentence immediately intriguing and unique? If you think of some of the biggest books out right now, they're all very simple to define, and they draw you in. I always think about teens in today's culture—where they're constantly being bombarded with advertising, social media, etc. They have short attention spans, and usually small amounts of disposable wealth. If you want them to use that attention and allowance on your book, it's going to have to be something they absolutely can't pass up.
My list is generally pretty open—I'd say probably the only things I'm not looking for are genres I feel I'm already full up on at the moment, which is dystopian and, to some extent, contemporary. I'd love to find a fantastic paranormal series if it features an idea or creature we haven't seen in YA before, and I'd love to find something that successfully manages to "mash up" more than one genre. Though Entangled does focus on romance, on the YA list that focus is a bit more general. The book doesn't have to be "a romance," but it does need to include a romantic element somewhere in it.
Here are submission guidelines for the two lines I manage:
Thanks so much for being here, Stacy. This was great! We really appreciate you taking the time to share so much with us.