Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Location, location, location

I'm writing a middle grade young adult novel. The setting is Australia and mentions suburbs familiar to many in Australia. I'm wondering if I should make it more generic so that larger markets might pick it up. Do you think that would be a good idea?

Before we get to that, I need to call you on 'middle grade young adult' - for the publishing industry (and for parents, teachers and librarians - just not, often, for kids), 'middle grade' is distinct from 'young adult', so before you do anything else you should work out which age group you're writing for.

Now, to your setting. You could make it more generic for that reason, but does that detract from the story itself? It's nice for stories to have settings, and they have to be set somewhere, so why not make it Australia? Of course, if what you really want is an overseas publisher more than an Australian publisher, you may wish to make it setting-neutral but, again, this shouldn't be to the detriment of the story.

Something that may influence your decision: children generally aren't as finicky about story settings as adults, which is why Australian children's authors tend to 'travel' more easily than authors for grown-ups. So your Australian story won't necessarily count against you if you're submitting in the US, for example. (It may in the UK, because they may be surprised to learn that your characters aren't convicts riding kangaroos instead of horses ... I'm joking! I'm joking!) And the Europeans certainly don't care that our stories are set here - in fact, it can be a plus.

Fundamentally, though, you should give the story what it wants and then work it out from there.

Well, if that isn't the $64 000 question ...

I have written my first YA novel and have tried to get it published. I have received quite a few rejection letters. I have also tried to get an agent, which I have read is much harder than getting a publisher. I thought I did the hard part writing the novel ... lol. My question is how do I know if my book is any good? I've read that the agents and publishers get such a volume of work sent to them that the slightest thing can make them not read it. I really enjoyed writing this story but I would like to know if it is worth pursuing other publishers or agents.

In short: you don't know. The reason for this is that everything to do with art - books, music, paintings, whatevs - is highly subjective. One woman's trash is another woman's treasure etc etc. 

Here's what I tell my clients when we're looking for a publisher: 'You only need one. It's nice if there's more than one, but you only need one.' Of course, the trick is finding that one publisher, or agent, who will love your work. And maybe, just maybe, this isn't the novel that's going to make that happen. Or maybe it is and you just need to keep looking.

You don't mention whether or not you are writing other things. If you're not, I advise that you do. You shouldn't pin your hopes on just the one manuscript - first, because that's a lot of pressure on one li'l manuscript, and second, because it's rarely the case that it's a novelist's first ever manuscript that gets published. For every published 'debut novel', that novelist has a few in a drawer somewhere. 

What you do mention is that you've worked out that the hard part is not just writing the novel, and that is correct, because it is not the novel's job to sit in the dark with no friends. Stories need an audience, and finding an audience is always the hardest of the parts. It takes patience and perseverance, guts and determination. This endeavour you've embarked on is not for the faint of heart. Your decision as to whether or not to continue depends strongly on how much you feel that your story should find that audience.