The mysteries of YA

Before I start my blog this week  I met Neil Gaiman! Turns out his children's books are published by Bloomsbury, and there he was at a meeting. The BBC Radio 4 production of Neverwhere started yesterday, and it's awesome. And it has Benedict Cumberbatch and Natalie Dormer in it. And Neil signed my copy of the book.

I will stop fangirling and move onto the blog now. Please welcome Kirsty Mclachlan, DGA's film, TV, YA and children's agent!

Q&A: Literary Agent – YA

Kirsty McLachlan is a literary agent at David Godwin Associates (DGA). Her list includes adult fiction and non-fiction writers and children and YA authors. Her children and YA authors include Alex Campbell, Clémentine Beauvais, Lucy Inglis, Julian Sedgwick, Marcus Sedgwick and Rhian Tracey.  Kirsty also represents film and TV rights for the DGA agency.

How did you become a literary agent? 

I’ve worked in agencies for over twenty years now. I began straight from university through an advert in the Bookseller for an assistant at the Abner Stein Agency. I worked there for 8 years and learnt a huge amount from Abner, before moving to DGA Ltd. to represent the film and TV rights for the agency, and to build my own list.

What makes a query jump out in a saturated market like YA?

For me it’s totally instinctive, there should be just something about the writing that ‘fizzes’. I’m not looking for a trend or a subject matter. I love being told stories, tell me a good story and I’ll sit up and listen. Titles are important – ensure your title really works, and then the pitch must be strong – but it’s the writing that counts. I know within a page or so if I’m going to love something.

What's the hottest trend in YA fiction right now? 

I ignore trends – if they are hot now and on the shelves, you’ve missed the boat. Be aware of the market but don’t try and copy it. In my submissions, I’m getting a lot of trilogies and series submitted still, fantasy novels, dystopian novels, dark fairy tales and books about angels.  Write the book you want to write.

How far is too far with darker themes and adult content?

Never include dark themes or adult stuff, if there is no purpose. There has to be a purpose and a point to your themes and more than that, you need to have something to say about it. That said, I really don’t have a problem with it if it is woven into your narrative brilliantly. YA books should always push boundaries but don’t use content simply to shock, say something with it.

Would you ever respond to a query with advice or a review? 

I tend to avoid giving an author a full review – it can be taken the wrong way over email and anyway, it’s only my opinion. But I do sometimes – if I think the writing is good but just not for me – suggest other agents they should approach.

Do you consider the author's age before you offer representation? 

No. I sold Jade Ngengi’s book to Chicken House last year and she was fifteen (sixteen now). It’s the writing that is important and that I feel I can work with the author.

Why do you think YA books have skyrocketed in sales over the past decade? Do you expect it to continue?

There was an obvious gap between children’s books and adult books which was filled by YA books. But I do think it links into social media and the ability of readers to ‘talk’ to each other – so word of mouth becomes viral. Booksellers have become much cannier at speaking direct to the reader and embracing social media. Of course, there is also the shift of adult readers buying YA books as well – and younger readers (10 plus) who are reading above their age group. I don’t think sales will continue in the same way but there is an established audience now, so this is still a fantastic age range to write for.

Are there ever times when it's okay to query an unfinished MS? 

Most agents would say finish your book first – and I tend to agree. There are many times when a book is finished and the author will go back and make quite major structural revisions. However, last week I made a two book deal for a YA writer I took on, on the basis of 40 pages. The publisher also made the offer before seeing the full manuscript. So it does happen.

Is word count, too high or too low, ever a deal breaker, even if the story and writing are both great?

My heart sinks if a book is too long but if the writing is good, I will always make exceptions. Similarly, for short novels – if the writing is powerful, sparse and written in the way that every word counts, I will make exceptions. Agents like authors, like to break rules, break moulds.

Thanks so much for Kirsty for taking the time to answer these in detail! I think that last piece of advice is crucial: agents love to break rules. Don't just go with the crowd and follow trends. Write something unique. Let me know if there's anyone else you'd like me to interview from the publishing industry, or if you have any requests for upcoming blog posts.


  1. Amazing post, samantha! Thnx for sharing it with us...
    Yes, I would want to see (read) an interview of j.k rowling taken by you..pretty amazing in itself..though if possible..

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! And haha, much as I'd love to meet JK, I don't think she has time to do an interview for my little blog.

  2. As usual a fantastic blog post. I can't wait until the book comes out!!

    I think it would be cool if you could interview an really show us what goes on in their heads etc.

    1. Thanks!

      Kirsty's been kind enough to swing me an interview with a YA editor, so that should be up within a few weeks. I'll ask my editor if she has time to do an interview, too.

    2. Do you have any specific questions for the YA editor? I'll be passing them on.

    3. Ya that would be great.

      Maybe something like:

      1. What are some changes that you make when editing the book?
      2. Does the author generally have much of a say when it comes to these edits?
      3. Who is the most famous client you've worked for?

      Can't wait to read the interview - and ultimately to read the book!

  3. Great interview :) Thanks very much for doing this, Sam!

    1. You're welcome! I just copied and pasted, Kirsty did all the work.

  4. I just wanted to ask a question..
    Should I mention my address and phone no. in the query letter(sending through email), irrespective of the fact that I live in another country?

    1. Yes, do include those. The agent might want to contact you via one of them.

  5. I have no words for how much I love this blog. Thank you so much for more lovely interviews and postings and thoughts. :) Will you keep going with it after 'The Bone Season' is published? Doubtless there'll be more claims on your time but I will hope so. :) x

    1. I'm so glad! You're very welcome. I will definitely keep going with it after publication, yes (although might be a post every two weeks, rather than every week). x

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog. You are going to have an extraordinarily large fan base soon and I will be one of them!


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