The industry certainly has been changing, and I am noticing, so is my taste. So with that, I am putting out an updated list of what I am looking for!
1. All books must have excellent commercial plus literary writing. What I mean by this is an utter command of the language that is accessible to most readers--not just the brainy kids. The concept must be fresh, organic, break-through. Just another one is not going to cut it. Yes, lots of copycat books make the hit list, but I am an agent, a talent scout. I am not looking to sell copycats. I am looking to discover the next big thing.
2. I want complexity of character, multi-level plot and theme, believability even in the fantastic, and pacing that blinds me to time and space.
3. I am a fan of the underdog, but the underdog doesn't always need to be the nerd, the foster kid, the kid from the broken home. It is irritating when the popular kids are bad and the outcasts are heros. I think most kids are average. Some are more popular than others but being popular often takes a lot of work and that work spurs a host of insecurity. Many kids define popular in different ways. Some cherish their inner and outer geek. I want "normal" teens in extraordinary circumstances (I leave the definition of normal to you:) ).
4. Regarding romance, I want authentic vulnerability and innocence as well as hot, steamy yearning, and in some cases, more than yearning. I want to love your characters so I understand why your characters love each other. I want to be so enmeshed with your character that when his/her heart breaks, so does mine. When your characters are kissing, or doing more than kissing, I want to feel that pull in my body too.
For some specifics....
5. Young Adult
a) Romance that is sweet, culminating in the first kiss. The concept has to be high concept---has to have something that if you described it to me in one sentence I would be aching to read it.
b) Romance that is on the edge of adult...and will cross over to adult readers. This is upper YA--protagonists that are 17+ but not yet in college. College settings do not work in the YA market. That is the realm of Adult and the semi-freshly termed New Adult.
c) Mystery-keep me guessing. I want pacing that does not let me put down the book until I know what happens. Throw in some romance or siblings or best friends or heck, a dog, so the stakes for your protagonist are higher.
d) Thrillers-keep me on the edge of my seat, flipping pages with my heart-pumping in fear for your characters. Throw in a freak'n hot romance. Toss with a zinging concept and multi-layered writing that makes me question, guess, read-on and on and on. That's what I'm talking about!
e)Epic Series or Trilogies--build me a big 'ol world that makes me want to live in it....I think I am over dystopia so not really looking for those worlds I would never want to live in. But in this paradise, hint at the hell. Then draw me in and make me roast along with your characters. Your setting is also a character here, your world building is essential. For me, this world should not be high fantasy as I am not a reader of high fantasy. This world could even be contemporary or urban fantasy. BUT, you are the world creator. Your vision of rural or city is what you make of it, not simply NYC or Podunck USA. You create the world that you need to give the reader the authenticity, the tension, the completeness of your story.
6. Middle Grade--either able to win awards or a high-concept commercial seller. I really don't have specifics for MG right now since it is more of an 'I know it when I read it' feel for me. Not helpful but after you finish revising ask yourself....is this book strong enough to win an award? And/or does it have the concept, the plotting, the characters to keep young readers up at night past their bedtimes?
7. Picture Books--so selective right now. I probably have all I need but heck, I say that and I signed a new pb writer yesterday so again....writing, concept, authenticity, characters. Humor is always a plus.
Thanks for reading and looking forward to reading YOUR work!
JILL CORCORAN is a children’s book agent with Herman Agency. Her current interests include: high concept Young Adult and Middle Grade Thrillers, Mystery, Romance, Romantic Comedies, and Adventure manuscripts.