Guest Blog by Intern Jenny: Trends and More

February 25th, 2010 • Kate

glossylipsSince Kate and I began working together last spring, she has generously included me in the query process by allowing me to help her go through the queries she receives. After reading hundreds, even thousands, of them I find it fascinating how many trends surface and how they seem to happen in waves.

In the last few months I’ve noticed an influx of books about mermaids, pirates, and especially guardians. There have been guardian angels, otherworldly creatures, animals, and even normal people. The word guardian shows up in a surprising number of titles. There are also an awful lot of characters with dead or missing parents, and I mean a whole lot. I would go so far as to say that 80% or more of the YA queries I read begin with dead parents. As you might imagine, many of these orphaned characters discover that they have a guardian of some sort. This isn’t necessarily something new; it’s just interesting how prevalent it continues to be.

Another shockingly high number that might be of interest, is the amount of stories that begin with a prologue, a character waking up from a dream, or both. Kate has mentioned on several occasions that this gets really old, really fast and I agree. We see this so much that it becomes difficult to get past. Even if the rest of the story is phenomenal, the redundancy of it puts a damper on the whole thing.

Two little details that have stood out to me lately are the popularity of the name Emma and the description of overly glossed lips. The latter sounds strange, I know, but I’ve seen it so many times recently that (obviously) it really stuck in my memory.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m curious to hear what redundancies you have found while reading, or even writing, recently. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come up with a truly unique idea, let alone doing it while avoiding common pitfalls. How do you brilliant writers do it? I must know.

Intern Jenny is an invaluable help around here. She tweets at @internjenny1, and loves your books as much as I do.

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21 Responses to “Guest Blog by Intern Jenny: Trends and More”

  1. Caitie F Says:

    I am interning at an agency right now and have noticed some of these trends too. I have also seen several queries that sound like Dan Brown for YA…and they all sound the same.

    We are still getting WAY too many vampire books, and none of them are very good.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I LOVE this post! I'm always curious to know what other queries are shuffling through the agent mail box. How can I make my stand out? Well. I won't be mentioning any glossy-lipped guardian mermaids…

    I overuse words a lot. And themes, I think. My novel is a WIP and I feel like my first draft will always be ripe with cliches. I just HAVE to get them out of my system and then fix them during revisions. Cliches get embedded in the brain, and I've got to just let them ride out and smash them into pieces later. =)

  3. Emma Says:

    Unfortunately, I DO have three characters who have either missing/dead parents or are orphans. I think it makes my story better but we'll see after I done the first draft.

    Pirates, eh? Overtly glossed lips is an interesting trait. Is it used for annoying or alluring characters most often?

    It seems like being original is a rarity in the business.

  4. Chantal Kirkland Says:

    It's funny, in my crit group, I hear a lot of YA stuff read (and I write YA) and I hardly hear any that start with dead parents, ghosts or awkward guardian angels. My crit group really should be sending you guys more stuff just to break-up your day. LOL!

  5. Stephanie Perkins Says:

    This was so interesting, Jenny! Thanks!

    Guardian. Overly glossed lips. Ha!! Please let us know when you come across the guardian that HAS overly glossed lips!

  6. Stephanie Says:

    I'm with you on the cliche's, Lisa. You just have to get them out of your system! Revisions are possible, but shutting your brain off isn't–not until they're out there.

    This was interesting to read, because my main character has both, a human "guardian," and a deceased parent. The loss of said person plays a huge part in her character. It's nice to know what is overly-used these days, but I think I'll keep mine the way it is. She wouldn't be HER without that tragedy. And she wouldn't have her guardian without it either.

    Case in point, my story wouldn't exist.

  7. MaryBeth Says:

    Thanks for sharing all this info!

    Pirates could be interesting. I haven't read much with them in it yet…I do admit my own WIP has missing parents..but the MC has 4 brothers who act like parents! Heh.

    As far as trends in what I'm reading, my favorite, if you can call it a trend, is that very few are single book stories. Many have sequels or companion novels (sometimes more than one!) and I love that! That's not to say the originals can't stand alone, but I love that I get to continue to read about the great characters.

    Another thing I see a lot of is the MC and their eventual love interest are always thrown together in some school setting: in a class, for a project, etc. I don't mind it, but I do see it a lot.

  8. Jodi Meadows Says:

    The guardians have been around for years now, near as I can figure. I noticed them when I first started reading slush, and they kept on a-coming, no matter how many times I begged people to stop writing about guardians or using that as their titles. I'm not even reading slush anymore and it still makes me twitch when I see the word! 😉

  9. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Eeekkk! I do have a Guardian in my book and totally killed the MC's parents. yikes.

    But I am working on a YA book that rebels- both parents are alive and happy. They provide a good stable family life for the MC.

    Off to rethink the whole Guardian thing. sigh.

  10. Karen Collum Says:

    Oh no! I don't have a guardian in sight, and both parents are alive and kicking, but my MCs name is EMMA!!!!! Guess I'll be hunting for a new name – I hate following the crowd 😛

  11. Krista V. (the forme Says:

    Funny about that whole guardian thing – I've noticed the same trend over at Absolute Write, in which every other signature line includes a WIP with "Guardian" in the title…

  12. Diana Says:

    What does that say about us writers that we just can't be bothered to have a MC with two parents. Maybe we all want less parental involvement! Smiles.

    Thanks for guest blogging and as usual, love all the insights into the secret world of lit. agents.

  13. Rachel M Says:

    In addition to missing/dead/absent parents, I find quite a few YA protagonists are only children. Doesn't anyone have siblings anymore?

  14. Suzanne Casamento Says:

    This is so interesting! I've never considered a "guardian" concept. Totally new to me. Does that mean I'm out of it? ; )

    You rock Jenny!

  15. Kimber An Says:

    As a blogging book reviewer, sometimes I swear there must be a Young Adult Heroine Cloning Facility somewhere and I really wish someone would bomb it! {As soon as they're done, I'd like them to bomb the Romance Genre Hero Cloning Facility too.) It seems there are only two YA Heroines, the Bella Clone and the Smart Cynical Chick. They just change clothes and swap dead parents from book to book. Robin Wasserman did a great twist on the Smart Cynical Chick though. She had her consciousness downloaded into an android body! And suddenly there was nothing stereoptypical about her at all. Awesome read. That was SKINNED.

  16. J. M. Richards Says:

    Ah, yes, I find things like this interesting.

    I do have a character who is missing her parents…and I had noticed this as a trend long ago. I think it's common for a lot of reasons, including convenience. But I also think it's metaphorical, and I like it. Quite a few great literary characters were orphaned, so it's not an especially new trend. (That's not to say that you can't have an interesting character with a normal family.)

    I think it's a similar thing as the trend to have kids on the brink of adulthood, suddenly discovering they have some unique gift. (That's also a metaphor for adolescence and discovering one's self.)

    Metaphors like these can easily become cliche, but I think there's also an opportunity to create something good and even unique out of those forms.

  17. Emma Says:

    I'd have to say that the whole vampirism thing is totally overkill. There are all these authors out there struggling to achieve what Stephenie Meyer has achieved, and I believe her success is caused only by how attractive Edward is drawn out to be. I also think that the whole 'popular clique' thing is and all those books about people trying to fit in with the popular crowd after living in the 'depths of nerdiness' all their lives. Personally, I think nerds are awesome. And also more book should be about nerds actually liking who they are instead of trying for the whole book to change it. It gives a negative stereotype about who nerds really are. Some of us enjoy it.

  18. Christina Says:

    This is so interesting! Keep us updated on more things that pop out at you. I love reading YA but even books that are published, you can find overly done topics. And I totally agree with Kimber An with the Smart Cynical Chick! Give us some new character types.

  19. “Guardian” Top Concept in Current Submissions | Time Guardian Blog - Official blog site of the Time Guardian Saga Says:

    […] Seems there’s nothing really new under the sun, my series title included. Here’s an excerpt from this article from Intern Jenny at the KT Literary Agency: […]

  20. Jenny Says:

    I absolutely think that all of the things I mentioned can be used to enhance a story, and there are tons of examples where they do. I think the trick is being able to slip them into a query without making them read like cliches. If the overall concept is unique, stands out and is well-written then I'm all for glossy-lipped guardians with missing parents:) Thank you all so much for your great comments!

  21. Warren Says:

    As the author of an unpublished work about a pirate, this is interesting stuff.

    About orphaned heroes: This is a story element that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology (usually, when the hero's father was secretly a god such as Zeus) and has been continuously used since then. Harry Potter was an orphan, as was Luke Skywalker. It's not new.