In my last blog post, I described how terrifying the cursor over a blank page is, and now I’m facing that same dilemma. That same dilemma even though I have so much to say about MWW and so much love in my heart for the entire conference (from the insightful panels to photo booth fun with the loves of my life, AKA my fellow agent assistants).
Where to start?
At the conference, I worked as the agent assistant for the incomparable Molly Jaffa, and let me just tell you all how much I admire her — I wish I could say I asked super insightful questions during downtime between her pitches, but I felt so tongue-tied (awkward and anxious person that I am) because she’s so good at what she does and that was simultaneously inspiring and intimidating.
Even though I didn’t ask as many questions as I so desperately wanted to but failed to think of, I learned so much just from sitting at her table, and here are just a few of these things that I learned both from Molly and the conference as a whole:
— Middle grade novels focus more on literal monsters, whereas YA tends to be more like “I am the monster because of my feelings” and about the emotional arc of the characters. Sitting in on pitches was so enlightening, especially as someone who’s always been on the verge of starting a YA novel, because everyone wants to write YA. It’s popular now, and that’s great, but don’t write it just because it sells. Middle grade is just as important and might actually be a better fit for the plot and characters you have.
— The majority of YA is in first person because YA is about immediacy, about as few differences as possible between the reader and the character. Don’t be afraid of third person YA, just know that this is why you see so much first person YA. (Also — maybe try your hand at second person in your writing as a disguised form of first person. I learned so much on this subject from Tom Williams‘ panel on second person POV; if you want my notes, I’m more than happy to give them to you!)
— If you weren’t already aware, I’m going to shout this from the rooftops — we need diverse representation in our literature. Molly is a huge proponent of this — one of the first things she said at the agent panel on the Friday I met her was a description of a book she’d signed about a girl who’s out as a lesbian but not out as a witch in Salem. How cool is that? And how important will that be for teenagers who haven’t come out of the closet? Be a proponent of diversity and equality in what you read, write, and share with the world. This is what Natalie C. Parker (whose books I can’t wait to start reading!) said was a reason she was so drawn to Molly as an agent above others, and it bears repeating.
— On that same note — sensitivity readers. Find them. If you’re going to write diversely, don’t do it because it’s a trend, because it’s not (at his buttonhole table, Jim McCarthy explained this is one of the things he’s tired of seeing in his inbox). Try to attain authenticity instead of appropriation.
— Literature, YA especially, works as windows and mirrors. Windows to see others, mirrors to see ourselves. I can’t tell you how much I’d loved hearing Molly ask a writer for a full manuscript about a girl with Down Syndrome, and I can’t tell you how difficult it was not to cry during Julie Murphy’s Keynote when she talked about seeing the movie Spy starring Melissa McCarthy. “Sometimes you don’t realize how hungry you are for your own reflection until you finally see it,” Julie said — and if you’re thinking that all I learned about was diversity at this conference, it wasn’t, but I think using this space to talk so much about diversity is crucial. I could talk about how much fun I had goofing around with the other agent assistants, because I had the best time in the world, but the pictures speak for that; to achieve diversity, we have to actively speak about it and champion it.
— On a final note — paper hats are great at putting people at ease, and Molly makes great ones.
Get your paper hats ready for next year, everyone — I’m sure it’s going to be equally (if not more) amazing, and I can’t wait to see familiar faces and new faces alike there!