Just back from ALA Midwinter in Dallas, Texas. Wow, what an experience. My first time at ALA ever and my first time as an agent.
There are a few things that must be reported (just in case you didn’t know).
1. Teen readers have strong opinions about the books we hand them to read. Either they like the character or they don’t OR they doubt that the character would do that or that the event would actually happen to the character. What does this tell me as an agent? It’s all about character. A character’s emotional development arc is how they respond to the plot. I came away with a greater respect for character and renewed inspiration to making characters that jump off the page (for books I agent and edit and also write).
2. There are tons of options out there. Books, books, books. As far as the eye could see. So many options, so little time. The book you are writing had better stand out (see #1 for how to do that) and I don’t mean it can’t be a similar premise to something that has already been done, I’m saying that your character should react to those events differently and so differently that I (and editors and readers) won’t immediately put it back down and say “I’ve already seen this before.” (I am guilty of this myself, so it’s easy to do, but there is hope for all of us. If we have a book that seems too familiar, the challenge is “how do I make this seem brand new?”)
3. Editors are hungry for good stories. Often the sentiment expressed by all of us in the industry is that we are buried in manuscripts and we are. WE ARE. But we are willing to be buried because we want to find that story that stops time, that moves us, that speaks to us, that makes us feel something we’ve never felt before (see #1 and #2). So, go write! Don’t be discouraged if the story you wrote was rejected, don’t walk away if an editor says no or an agent turns you down. Try again. Go again. If you are meant to write, please write.
That’s how you get to ALA as an author, I think. Work hard. Have fun. No drama. (But lotsa drama on the page, please!)