Your Heroine Doesn’t Have to “Kick Ass” to be Strong

Your Heroine doesnt have to kick assEveryone wants a strong heroine.

We love characters who can kick ass like Katniss, Tris, Karou, Celaena, and Eowyn.

But what is it exactly that makes a heroine “strong”?

Lately, I’m having a problem with what the definition of “strong” has become in YA. Everyone seems to want a heroine who can kick ass, wield a sword, shoot a gun (or bow), throw a punch, and barely flinch when she’s hit by a bullet. She has to be able to keep up with the boys, and usually is better than them at fighting and can kick their butts too.

But why are we limiting “strong” heroines to girls who are physically strong and can fight as well as the guys?

I think there’s a problem with this, because strength comes in many different forms. What if a heroine can’t drop kick a villain or wield a sword? Does that mean she isn’t strong? No way!!

What about Rosa Parks? Esther? Sacajawea? Helen Keller? Harriett Tubman? Queen Elizabeth I? Eleanor Roosevelt?

Heroines who can kick ass are awesome, but we need more diversity in what makes a girl strong. Not all female readers are the kung-fu type, and they want to see themselves in stories. They need heroines they can relate to, and who show them you can be strong in different ways.

I like how Ava Jae over at Writability puts it:

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here.

I have a problem with seeing female characters who are feminine portrayed as weak, fearful, or prissy. I’ve noticed a trend that if a character in a book loves dresses, fixing her hair, and wearing makeup, she’s probably not the heroine. The “girly girl” characters are usually antagonists or obnoxious secondary characters.

Why do we tend to view girls who enjoy being typical girls as somehow weaker? And why is it that when we want to make our heroine strong we give her traditionally masculine traits and have them kick-ass, bottle up their emotions, and hate dresses, makeup, etc.?

I would love to see some heroines who love being girls! Why can’t a heroine love a pretty dress and be strong?

As a writer, I struggle with creating female characters. Why? Because I worry if I make them too feminine readers will see them as weak and annoying. Which is ridiculous! Being feminine does not make a girl weak!

I like kick-ass heroines, but I also like writing characters who are more “traditional” girls but still strong. My heroine in my current novel is a mix between these two. She has been trained as a fighter, but she loves dresses and being a girl. There’s a part in the story where she has to cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy, and it kills her. She loves her hair, and she loves looking like a girl.

Does this make her weak? I don’t think so. But I’ve been struggling over her because I’m afraid other readers will think so.

Our perception of female strength needs to change. We need to stop labeling “feminine” traits as weak and “masculine” traits as strong and let our heroines be strong people no matter which traits they have.

We need all types of strong girls in YA. We need girls who can wield a sword like Katsa, and girls whose cleverness saves the day like Hermione Granger. How will you make your heroine strong?

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100 Agents to Submit Your YA Novel to Right Now!

100 agentsAre you looking for YA literary agents to submit your novel to? You’ve come to the right place!

I’ve rounded up a giant list of one hundred literary agents who are looking for the next great YA novel (which is going to be yours, right?).

The links will take you to the agent’s profile or submission guidelines so you can find out more. Some agents listed specific stories they were looking for so I included those here. If there’s nothing specific listed beside an agent assume they are open to all sub-genres (but of course always double-check and do your research as things may change).

And of course, before you submit your novel to any agent always edit it first! (Preferably multiple times. Until you want to cry. Or sleep for days.)

Giant List of YA Literary Agents

1. Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary

2. Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary–select YA

3. Eric Smith of P.S. Literary–seeking diverse YA, particularly Sci-Fi/Fantasy

4. Lydia Blyfield of Carol Mann Agency–seeking YA with strong hooks/modern themes. NO High Fantasy.

5. Pamela Harty of The Knight Agency

6. Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency

7. Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency–any, preference toward Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Romance

8. Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency

9. Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency

10. Luara Zats of Red Sofa Literary–particularly interested in retellings & contemporary. NO dystopia or paranormal/contemporary romance.

11. Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary

12. Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

13. Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

14. Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency–open to a wide range of genres, with particular interest in diversity, contemporary/realistic, magical realism, mystery, horror, and fantasy.

15. Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency

16. Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency–preference for contemporary settings, standout romance, strong friendships, & sibling relationships

17. Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency–any YA, but would love to see contemporary stories with Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements, retellings, and horror.

18. Louise Fury of The Bent Agency

19. Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency

20. Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency–open to mystery, fantasy, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre).

21. Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency–any, but favorite genres include historical fiction, suspense, mysteries, and romance

22. Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency

23. Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency–seeking “young adult fiction of all types except paranormal romance. I would especially love to get my hands on a creepy and/or funny contemporary young adult project. ”

24. Taylor Haggerty of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

25. Kirsten Carleton of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

26. Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

27. Scott Waxman of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

28. Reiko Davis of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency–“Actively looking for young adult and middle grade fiction—whether it be contemporary, historical, high fantasy, or simply a story with a timeless quality and vibrant characters.”

29. Miriam Altshuler of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency–“most interested in contemporary and historical YA… She loves dystopian worlds and great stories that have some fantasy to them…but that are not strictly in the fantasy genre.”

30. Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc.–“She is consistently ranked among the top three YA and MG agents in Publishers Marketplace.”

31. Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc.

32. Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–“particularly seeking contemporary, multicultural, sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal, alternate history, retellings.

33. Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–contemporary YA, NO fantasy

34. Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

35. Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–seeking contemporary, romance, and urban fantasy.

36. Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–particularly drawn to fantasy

37. Stacey Kendall Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

38. Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

39. Lauren Abramo of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

40. John Rudolph of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

41. Rachel Stout of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management–“Believable and thought-provoking YA as well as magical realism.”

42. Erin Young of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management–“Interested in all forms of young adult fiction, particularly fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism.”

43. Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Management

44. Katie Reed of Andrea Hurst & Associates–any, but particularly seeking contemporary, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, retellings.

45. Genevive Nine of Andrea Hurst & Associates–seeking sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, retellings (classics, fairy/folk tale, myth), contemporary.

46. Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary–“currently very keen to find a powerful big YA fantasy (in the vein of Kristin Cashore) and unique contemporary, realistic fiction; also loves historical, so long as it’s got strong appeal to contemporary teens. ”

47. John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary–“Particularly keen to see fast-paced/thrilling/heart-breaking stories, contemporary realism, historicals, speculative fiction, sci-fi and fresh fantasy.”

48. Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency–particularly seeking Victorian historical thrillers or mysteries.

49. Leon Husock of L. Perkins Agency

50. Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency

51. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency

52. Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency

53. Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency

54. Amy Boggs of Donald Maas Literary Agency–“All things fantasy and science fiction, especially high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk (and its variations), YA, MG, and alternate history.”

55. Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maas Literary Agency

56. Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberly Cameron and Associates

57. Pooja Menon of Kimberly Cameron and Associates–“looking for stories that deal with the prevalent issues that face teenagers today. She is also interested in fantasy, magical-realism, and historical fiction.”

58. Kathleen Ortiz of New Leaf Literary–“She would love to see a beautifully written YA set within other cultures and experiences.”

59. Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

60. Jess Regel of Foundry Literary + Media

61. Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

62. Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

63. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

64. Frank Weiman of Folio Literary Management–endearing characters, strong voice, no paranormal

65. Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management–seeking “Contemporary, voice-driven novels that approach the universal experience of being a teenager from a surprising or an unlikely perspective.” Also, thrillers and mystery.

66. Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management–“fiction set in another country…I’d also like to see: Contemporary YA that’s not afraid to explore complex social issues, historical fantasy…and good, old-fashioned YA romance.”

67. Melissa Sarver White of Folio Literary Management–“I’m attracted to realistic contemporary stories with a strong sense of voice…I’m also looking for YA mysteries, thrillers, horror, science fiction, urban fantasy, speculative, historical with a twist (alternate historical or historical with magical realism).”

68. Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary Agency–contemporary YA

69. Kim Lionetti of Bookends Literary Agency–any except sci-fi or fantasy

70. Beth Campbell of Bookends Literary Agency

71. Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency

72. Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management

73. Stephanie Rostan of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

74. Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

75. Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD

76. Jonathan Lyons of Curtis Brown LTD

77. Alice Tasman of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

78. Laura Biagi of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

79. Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency

80. Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency

81. Lauren E. MacLeod of The Strothman Agency

82. Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary

83. Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary Agency

84. Lisa Rodgers of JABerwocky Literary Agency

85. Joanna MacKenzie of Browne & Miller Literary Associates

86. Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates

87. Katie Kochman of Don Congdon Associates

88. Maura Kye-Casella of Don Congdon Associates

89. Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio

90. Sarah Heller of The Helen Heller Agency

91. Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman

92. Emily Forland of Brandt & Hochman

93. Emma Patterson of Brandt & Hochman

94. Faye Bender of Faye Bender Literary Agency

95. Jason Anthony of Lippincott Massie McQuiken Agency

96. Folade Bell of Serendipity Literary Agency

97. John Weber of Serendipity Literary Agency

98. Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary

99. Ted Malawar of Upstart Crow Literary

100. Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary

You’re welcome. 😉

Now what are you waiting for? Get to querying!

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We Need More Male Protagonists in YA

male YAWhen was the last time you read a YA book told from a male character’s POV? And I mean entirely from his POV, not switching between a female character’s?

Can you name one? How about five? Ten?

Of all the books on my shelf, the only YA books I have with a male lead is Harry Potter. That’s it. All of the others books from the 20+ series on my shelf are told from a female perspective, or a male shared with a female.

That’s a HUGE contrast!

So what gives? Am I just drawn to stories with female protagonists? Maybe. Or are we seriously lacking some gender diversity in YA?

Honestly, I’m thinking it’s the latter.

Browse the YA selection in your bookstore or on goodreads and you’ll quickly see what I mean. It’s overwhelming how many books are told from the female POV.

This raises the question: how come?

Well, here’s my theory: look at the authors. Notice anything? There are a LOT of women. Now think for a minute…how many male YA authors can you name? How many female? I think it’s safe to say the ladies out-number the fellas here.

So what does the author being male or female have to do with the lack of male protagonists in YA? Well, because we tend to write characters of our own gender (though this isn’t always the case; think Harry Potter, The Giver, The Fault in Our Stars).

It’s safer and more comfortable. I’ll admit 9/10 times when working on a story I will choose a female lead. So with women authors outnumbering the men in YA, it explains why we have so few books from the male POV.

So here are my questions:

#1: Do you think one of the reasons a lot of guys tend to read less than girls is because there are fewer male POV books for them to connect with?

#2: As a writer, do you tend to stick to writing your gender, and if so, why?

Readers need to see themselves in the stories they read and I think the guys need a lot more attention!

Agents and publishers have taken notice of this issue as well, and on their wish list are stories with strong male protagonists. We need stories with guys who are more than just the love interest!

So female writers–don’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new! It can be intimidating the first time you write from a guy’s POV, but just remember that they’re human too 😉

Ladies: what’s the most challenging part to you for writing from a guy’s POV? Fellas: what sort of stories would you like to see more of?

Like what you read? Know someone who might enjoy it? Please share it with other writers! Thank you for reading!

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Where is the Ethnic Diversity in YA?

YA diversityHas anyone else noticed the lack of diversity in YA?

Seriously. When was the last time you read a YA novel with an African American protagonist, or someone from a different country?

Why do so many YA novels seem to be set in the States and feature a white (usually female) main character?

Why aren’t we branching out as writers?

There’s so much material to draw from other countries and cultures, but we remain ingrained firmly in our comfort zone. Yes, writing a story about a character who is a different ethnicity than our own will require more work (read: research), and it’s a little more risky. But why not experiment? After all, isn’t that what artists do?

In our 21st century world that has become more closely connected with the advances in technology, you would think we’d be starting to see more diversity in YA literature. But this hasn’t been the case. And this is a problem, because teens need books with characters who are their ethnicity so they can make an emotional connection and see that there are heroes in stories who are just like them.

Looking on my shelf, the most diverse books I own are the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, which are set in futuristic New Beijing with a Chinese Cinderella, and Stolen by Patricia McCormick, which is about a trafficked Cambodian girl.

I’ve been in search of more diverse books lately, but haven’t had a whole lot of success. The selection really is very slim. And even in books that are set in different countries, a lot of times the main character is still a white American male/female.

And I love a good fantasy novel as much as the next nerd, but do they ALL have to be set in worlds based off medieval England? Why not try creating a world based off the folklore and culture of a different country, like Japan, Russia, or India?

There are so many possibilities… Why aren’t we as writers expanding the genre and taking risks?

I would love to see more diversity in the YA market. I would love to read stories with main characters of different color and culture. But I think what holds writers back is that we are afraid to step into the unfamiliar. It’s hard work learning about another culture–and what if we can’t portray it accurately? That’s intimidating.

If you’re a white American it’s easy to write a story from the POV of a white American character, for the same reason it’s easy to write a story from a female POV if you’re female–it’s what you know. And isn’t that what they always tell you, to write what you know?

I say forget that! How are we ever supposed to grow as writers if we only ever write what we know?? I want to challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and open your options to writing more culturally diverse stories. Let yourself be curious, explore, and learn all you can.

What would the impact be if we started to fill the YA genre with more diverse stories? How many more teens could connect to our characters? How many would learn about another culture? Would we understand one another better?

Maybe. It would be a start.

If you’re interested in writing diverse stories, check out some of my Pinterest boards for inspiration from different cultures.

What ethnicities would you like to see represented in YA?

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8 Stories YA Agents and Publishers Want Right Now

8 StoriesNo clue what to write next? It might feel frustrating, but you’re actually in a great position. How so, you may ask?

Well, you have the opportunity to consider what agents and publishers want before you become attached to a new story idea. Think of it as fishing with bait as opposed to tossing out a net and hoping for the best.

Knowing what the people who are buying the stories want will definitely be to your advantage! Here are 8 stories you can use to hook an agent or publisher right now.

#1: Diverse Protagonists

There’s a huge need for diverse books, and publishers and agent are eager to get their hands on some. YA is flooded with way too many protagonists who are white American females–we need to see some representation of other cultures!

#2: Strong Male Protagonists

I honestly can’t even remember the last time I read a book with a male lead. I can’t even name five…the only ones I can think of off my head are Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

There’s no denying it–YA is inundated with female protagonists. This is probably because the majority of YA authors are women. It may be challenging to write from a male’s perspective, but this is definitely something publishers are looking for.

#3: Stand-alone Novels

Believe it or not, we writers don’t have to make every story a trilogy. Publishers are actually getting worn out on trilogies and are looking for stand-alones, especially dystopians. The thinking behind this is it’s less investment on the reader’s part and frees up more time for them to read other books rather than commit to a whole trilogy or series.

#4: Fairytale Retellings

Fairytale retellings are really popular right now, and not just in books. There’s the t.v. series Once Upon a Time, and Disney is taking advantage of the trend with it’s recent film remakes: Snow White and the Huntsman, Malificent, the upcoming Cinderella, and the recently announced Beauty and the Beast.

If you can come up with a fresh twist on a classic tale you will definitely catch an agent’s attention.

#5: Steampunk

There’s not a whole lot of steampunk in YA, and I think that’s part of the reason why agents are looking for it. They’re getting tired of all the paranormal and even (dare I say it) dystopian stuff. It’s time to explore new territory.

#6: New Adult

This is a newly emerging genre, featuring characters aged 18-25 either entering or already in college. There’s not much NA out there right now because it’s so new, so agents and publishers are eager to find some captivating stories in this fledgling genre.

#7: Crime and Con Artists

There seems to be a spark in interest relating to crime, spies, con artists, and heists. Think Heist Society or the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter.

#8: Historical Fiction

With the avalanche of fantasy and dystopians out there right now, there’s not a whole lot of historical fiction. It’s definitely something agents are looking for, however. Especially historical events that haven’t been done a lot or bring a fresh, interesting take.

But What If…

So, what if none of these ideas are what you want to write? Don’t stress. Always write what you are passionate about, no matter what the trends of the market are or what agents and publishers are looking for. You have to love what you write above all else. And someone’s gotta start the next trend, right? 😉

What kinds of books would you like to see on the market?

Like what you read? Know someone who might enjoy it? Please share it with other writers! Thank you for reading!

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10 Worn-out Cliches in YA

YA clichesCliches are everywhere, especially in YA fiction. Some things seem to catch on and repeat themselves over and over, despite readers rolling their eyes.

Not only do cliches bore readers, but even worse, they bore publishers. Which can spell disaster for your novel. So what’s a writer to do?

Learning what cliches are out there in YA and becoming aware of them will help you to avoid them in the future. It will also help you to get creative and find ways to break the cliches or turn them on their head.

Here’s 10 tried-and-true YA cliches to get you started.

#1: The Obscure Prologue

This seems to be a requirement for beginning any YA novel. Often a vision or dream. Basically tossed in to arouse interest with  a vague, cryptic scene or a punch of random action because what if the reader bails before the author gets to the good part?? Almost always unnecessary to the story.

#2: Love Triangles

These are a staple in YA. Why, I’m not sure since they seem to frustrate many readers to no end. Yet books with love triangles continue to do well, which is probably why we’re stuck with them.

(Side note: one reason readers tend to hate love triangles is because they are predictable–it’s obvious who the heroine favors. One love triangle book I have  enjoyed and thought was done well was the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. She made you love both male characters and it wasn’t obvious who the heroine would choose in the end.)

#3: Beauty Blind

No one likes a heroine who bemoans about how hideous and repulsive she is when she’s actually gorgeous. Despite her friends and family telling her she’s beautiful, she will insist she is ugly. That is, until the Love Interest comes along and she is shocked that he is attracted to her. Suddenly she realizes she is beautiful after all! *eye roll*

#4: Insta-Love

You know the drill. Girl sees boy. Boy sees girl. Their eyes meet. BAM. Instant, undying passion and devotion. They would die to be together! Even though they’ve only known each other for like 5 minutes. Or one song. (I’m looking at you, Marius & Cosette).

#5: Mr. Tall, Dark, and Perfect

Not only is the love interest super-model hot, but he’s also perfect. Because heaven forbid the heroine fall in love with a man with flaws! I’ll take a fixer-upper any day.

#6: The Brooding Bad Boy

Closely related to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, he is also super-model hot except he is tragically flawed. He has a dark, secretive past and is no good for the heroine. But she pines after him because she is inexplicably drawn to his irritable, brooding personality. The bad boy has the emotional range of a teaspoon and won’t let inferior emotions such as happiness dull his swagger.

#7: Royal Realization

Surprise! The hero/heroine was a prince/princess this whole time and didn’t even know it! This might have been a good plot twist if we hadn’t seen it coming from page 1…

#8: Undiscovered Powers

This has become a staple in YA fiction. The hero suddenly discovers powers he never knew he had, usually when he comes of age.

#9: The Problem with Parents

The death toll of parents in YA is staggering. If the heroine’s parents are lucky enough to be alive, they’re often negligent or clueless. Or, she is living with abusive step-parents, guardians, etc. Where are the normal, happy families in YA?

#10: The Trilogy

Is there some unwritten law that every YA novel must be a trilogy? They’re popping up everywhere these days, and it’s getting kind of tiring–not to mention time-consuming.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good trilogy, but the problem is too many trilogies tend to go downhill and should’ve stopped at the first book. Must we make *every* story into a trilogy?

BONUS: The Chosen One

Not to be outdone, the Chosen One is also a popular choice in YA. The hero or heroine is the *only one* in the entire universe who can defeat the villain and save their world. Usually they have been destined to do so because of a prophecy.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my hero save the day because he found the strength to do so on his own, not because of some mystical prophecy.

So does this mean you can never use any of the things on this list that have been deemed ‘cliche?’ I don’t believe so! It’s true that everything has been done so many times that everything more or less starts to feel somewhat cliche, and it’s hard to be original.

I think rules are meant to be broken. Knowing the cliches allows you to realize how they might work against you, but it also helps you to make wise, informed decisions about whether or not to use them. So whether you decide to use, avoid, break, or bend these cliches, I think it depends upon your creative intent and your story.

Which cliches get under your skin? Which ones have you used?

Like what you read? Know someone who might enjoy it? Please share it with other writers! Thank you for reading!

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