2019: A Decade in Agenting

This little blog has slowly become a place where, once a year, I offer query stats. I didn’t know that 2018 would be my last year of A Year in Queries. And I really didn’t know at the time that 2019 would be my last full year of being a literary agent after nearly a decade.

It’s still slightly surreal to say out loud, but it’s true. My big 2019 news is that I have left Bradford Literary and my career as a literary agent. Starting in 2020, I’ll be offering freelance editorial services with my new venture, Next Chapter Editorial. I’m also going to continue teaching writing workshops, and focus on my own writing again (!). There will be more details – and an actual website – for my editorial services soon. Stay tuned!

If you came here for query stats or a hope that this post would be my announcement that I’m opening back up to queries, I’m sorry. You can cross me off your lists, but I hope you add a different Bradford Literary agent in my place! The support I’ve received from my BLA colleagues has been overwhelming, and I feel so lucky to have worked with these amazing women.

I’m not going to get too into my feelings about not being an agent anymore because I truly wouldn’t even know where to start. This was a decision that was both painfully obvious and managed to take me by surprise.

We read articles about burn-out and the importance of self-care all the time. They make us feel “seen” right before we keep scrolling to the next thing. The part of work/life balance that gets talked about less is what happens after you find it. When the anxiety and stress of trying to achieve that balance is no longer the thing occupying 90% your brain.

For me, not being totally consumed by work allowed me to view it as a job again, and not experience it the way I had been: as my identity. ::cue “Going Through the Motions” from Buffy::

Here’s what I know about me – I’m a good editor. I genuinely love teaching, advising, and problem-solving. These are the parts of being an agent where I’m confident and happy, but they are only a fraction of what makes a good agent.

Here’s what else I know – I might be a good writer. I don’t know this for sure yet, but I know I used to be pretty OK, so I’m looking forward to finding out if I still am in 2020.

Thinking like an agent isn’t going to be something I easily turn off and I hope I never do. I’m looking forward to taking it with me to my next adventure, and using that perspective and experience to help writers in new ways.

More from me soon, either here or Twitter or elsewhere (but let’s be real… probably Twitter). Thanks, everyone, for an amazing, bittersweet, and inspiring year. And if any of you need to bring this advice into 2020 with you, remember:

2018: A Year in Queries

Two things I really wanted to be true in 2018 are what I had hoped for at the end of 2017 – to blog more and to not let the bastards get me down. And, well, I think I let them get me. I remain optimistic for 2019, but I’m going in cautiously and knowing how to use my time better, even if it means saying no more (something I forgot how to do in 2018).

I’m ending 2018 the way I like ending every year (well, at least since 2011) – letting writers take a peak behind the query curtain. My “Year in Queries” posts are always met with dread and fascination, but my hope is always to de-mystify the process while offering encouragement. So, let’s get to it!

As always, my annual reminder:

  • I read and respond to every query I receive *except* these:
    • Pre-queries (emails writers sent to ask if they can query).
    • Not addressed to me. (This includes “Dear Sir/Madam” as well as addressed to completely different agents.)
    • Sent as an attachment.
    • Mass queries.
    • Non-Queries. Sometimes I get emails about published books (small press & self-pub) and I don’t know if it’s a query or a press release. Specify why you want an agent if your book is already published. Nine times out of ten, you probably need a publicist, not an agent, with these “queries.”

In those 5 categories, I received 364 queries.

This year I decided to take a brief query break in August. While closed, I received 80 queries (which were deleted unread).

Finally, in addition to those 444 queries that did not follow the rules, I received 174 queries in genres/markets I do not represent. I still answer these, so they’re included in the total stats. I’m also not the *most* strict about these (sub-genres are tricky, after all). For “do not rep” I only use what I specifically list as “no” in my bio. These include:

  • Nonfiction (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • Screenplays

OK – now for the fun stuff! Let’s talk about the thousands (yes, thousands) of you who followed the rules and queried me with awesome manuscripts in genres I absolutely represent!

Keep in mind, this post refers to queries only – aka, “the slush pile,” aka, “unsolicited submissions.” This does *not* include queries I received as referrals, requests from conferences or online contests, or previous R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit).

January: Total: 824; Requests: 6

*This figure is almost double of what I received in January 2017. I ended up receiving significantly more queries in February and March than last year too. I’m not sure why, but whoa did this set the tone for my shiny new, and longer, response time in 2018! Thank you for your patience, writers!

February: Total: 635; Requests: 6

March: Total: 476; Requests: 2

April: Total: 419; Requests: 2

May: Total: 397; Requests: 6

June: Total: 282; Requests: 2

July: Total: 322; Requests: 1

August: CLOSED (deleted 80 queries)

September: Total: 476; Requests: 6

October: Total: 337; Requests: 3

November: Total: 319; Requests: 4

December: Total: 224; Requests: 6


Total Queries in 2018: 4,791

Total Requests from Queries: 44

Total R&Rs Requested in 2018: 16

Most Requested Genres: 

  • Horror (Adult, YA, & MG). My taste in horror is on the literary, character-driven side, meaning more atmospheric/creepy than high-octane slashers (though I’d be open to those too). I love a good haunted house, forbidden parts of town, unique mythologies/local legends that turn out to be true, and an ensemble cast!
  • Contemporary/Realistic (Adult & YA). More often than not, I requested stories that focused on women and girls finding their voice/purpose in a bad situation. While I wasn’t exclusive to female characters, I should also mention that of these requests, these characters were not always white or straight (and usually neither). I hope to find even more intersectionality in my 2019 queries.

What I Wish I Saw More: 

  • Upper MG (think ages 11-13) in all genres. Like with my Adult & YA taste, I lean toward character-driven stories, but I need a page-turning plot no matter what.
  • Humor! Especially in YA, but I want humor EVERYWHERE. Even if you’re writing the most depressing grimdark dystopian nightmare imaginable, surely one of your characters will crack a joke to relieve tension, right? Don’t forget that characters are people. People are funny. People try to be funny. People find absurdity in unexpected places. Put that on the page.
  • More rom-coms like Set It Up and Crazy Rich Asians. (YA or Adult.) I don’t do capital-r Romance, so if your book gets too hot & heavy, you should probably query my fearless leader & Romance expert, Laura Bradford instead. But I still love a good Austen-esque enemies to lovers relationship with complex protagonists who are intellectual equals and have goals outside of the romance itself. Massive bonus points for diverse casts and/or LGBTQ protagonists.

Total New Clients Signed in 2018: 4 – Sierra Godfrey (WF); Sarah Janian (MG sci-fi); Rimma Ojougboh (YA literary); Natalya Lobanova (Adult/Illustrated)


Now, let’s put those stats into perspective!

In 2018 (minus December), I received 4,791 queries. But keep in mind, of those queries, 618 of them did not follow the rules. A more realistic figure of how many queries I received is, therefore, 4,173.

It cannot be overstated how grateful I am to the 4,000+ of you (!) who put in the time, effort, and professionalism necessary to query. It’s often impossible to personally respond to each query (hence, form rejections), let alone take on more than a few new clients per year. But you are seen and appreciated.

It also can’t be overstated that agents want you to succeed! Rejections aren’t personal. You’ve probably seen this often enough in form rejections, and maybe it sounds trite at this point, but another agent really will have a different perspective on your query. What’s true for me might not be true for someone else, and the workload I can or can’t handle in a given month might be just what another agent has been hoping to add to their own list. Don’t give up, no matter what our stats tell you.


And with that… Goodbye, 2018! Here’s to what’s next.


2017: A Year in Queries

I think I speak for a lot of people – or at least for everyone I’ve spoken to this year – when I say that 2017 was not a great year for productivity. My one and only blog post in 2017 was a bit of a bummer, and while I liked it and may write more like it in 2018, I want to focus on moving on, blogging more often, and not letting the bastards get me down.

My second blog post of 2017 is also my final one of the year. It’s the one writers always look forward to and dread simultaneously, My Year in Queries! Long-time readers of Glass Cases know the gist by now, but as a reminder:

  • I read and respond to every query I receive with these exceptions:
    • Pre-queries, aka emails writers send to ask if they can query. The answer is always YES if the agent is open to queries, and if they aren’t they’ll say so on their website.
    • Not addressed to me.
    • Sent as an attachment.
    • Mass queries, whether I’m BCC’d or one of many who are CC’d.
    • Non-Query. I don’t recommend querying a book you already published (that means self-pub too). It’s unlikely an agent will be able to re-sell those for you (please refer here and here for more info). But, sometimes I get queries for published books and I legitimately don’t know if it’s a query or a press release. Those are the ones I ignore.

In those 5 categories, I received 380 queries.

In 2017, I also closed to queries over the summer. It’s something I hardly ever do so I made sure to give writers a month’s notice on my agency website, Twitter, and Publisher’s Marketplace. I updated all bios to make sure it gave the dates I’d be closed to queries. While closed, I received 203 queries that were deleted unread.

Finally, in 2017, I received 291 queries in genres/markets I do not represent. I’m not very strict about this one. If something just wasn’t a preferred sub-genre or not usually my thing, I did not count it. For “does not represent,” I meant only the genres/markets specified on the agency website. For me that means:

  • Nonfiction of any kind (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • Screenplays

OK! Now let’s get to the 100% awesome, definitely-want-to-read-love-and-answer queries. (Note: Remember these are queries only – aka “the slush pile.” Requests from conferences, contests, referrals, or previous Revise & Resubmits were not counted.)

January: Total: 441; Requests: 1

February: Total: 407; Requests: 7

March: Total: 393; Requests: 5

April: Total: 336; Requests: 8

May: Total: 371; Requests: 7

June: Total: 327; Requests: 9

July & August: CLOSED (but received 203 anyway)

September: Total: 333; Requests: 10 (as of 9/15)

October: Total: 410; Requests: 5

November: Total: 426; Requests: 6

December: Total: 329; Requests: 4

Total Queries in 2017: 3,976

Total Requests from Queries: 62

Total R&Rs Requested in 2017: 16

*Last year someone asked me how many requests turn into Revise & Resubmits rather than flat-out rejections, so I did my best to keep track this year. Hoping to receive those revisions in 2018!*

Most Requested: Adult upmarket/literary focusing on female characters, complexities of relationships, and/or involving psychological suspense; YA contemporary from marginalized voices that aren’t issue books, but rather familiar stories with fresh perspectives; YA sci-fi with a fun ensemble cast and is not dystopian.

What I Wish I Saw More: Once again, literary/upper MG, preferably magical in some way but contemporary/realistic would be great too! Also, more YA horror, please.

Total New Clients Signed in 2017: 2 – Laura Pohl (YA sci-fi) and Alyson Greene (YA thriller).

*Note: Signing 2 or 3 new clients in a year isn’t that rare for me, but 2017 was a semi-intentional quiet year, so I’d love to see this number double or triple in 2018!


OK. So what does all of this mean? Well, it means I received more queries per month than in 2016, but since I closed in the middle of the year, I received fewer overall. It also means that of the 3,976 queries I received, 874 of them did not follow the rules, which makes the more realistic number of queries of I received in 2017 3,102.

If you’re one of those 3,102 queriers you should know how much agents appreciate writers like you! Even though we can’t take on everyone, and often can’t even take on a fraction of what we end up liking, we’re still grateful for a good query and a writer who does everything right. I hope you all end up finding agents, and if you’re among those I requested or asked for an R&R, I hope to hear from you again!

As always, remember that when agents open your query, we’re looking for reasons to request your manuscript. We don’t want to reject anything. We just have to sometimes. Rejections aren’t personal and they are very, very rarely because a book is “bad.” This is a business and our responses are business decisions. We’re still rooting for your successes even if they don’t end up being with us.

And with that… Goodbye forever, 2017! Bring on 2018.


On Feeling Helpless

In November, I wrote about why I might go quiet from time to time (here). For the most part, everything I said then is still true. I still feel lost sometimes, and I still don’t know what will happen next. I’ve read the history books and I know where this could end, but despite everything, I’m still an optimist.


When I signed in to write this, I was sort of stunned that my last post was my end-of-year query stats from December. I have been quieter lately, but I didn’t realize how much. I could have sworn I posted something in May or June. I’ve signed in to write drafts of new posts and then never finished. They’re still sitting there. They’re mostly about writing tips and publishing, of course, and someday I’ll post them when it feels like that’s what I should be writing about again.


Mostly I’ve been feeling helpless. In January and February, it felt like everyone I knew was taking a sabbatical to become full-time activists. We marched, we donated, we wrote letters, we called our representatives, we attended rallies, and then little by little we realized we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. We focused on work again and things started to feel normal. We’d still press pause and hold our breath during crucial votes in Congress, and we’d still donate and call our representatives, but we could work again. Uninterrupted. We could tweet about books and self-promote and make jokes again. And it felt nice. Like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all as long as we all stay engaged.


After what happened in Charlottesville, the culmination of all the things we feared would happen after he got sworn in, I feel helpless again. I’m having earnest conversations with friends about how to stop white supremacists. I’m watching centrist and apolitical friends slowly fall for the “both sides are bad” rhetoric. I don’t know what to do.


Switching gears slightly.


Almost every writer I follow on Twitter has been tentatively peeking out to whisper “is it OK if I promote my book?” I’ve watched giveaways come and go, cover reveals get a few Likes, and thought to myself “man, I hope the intended audience sees that.”  I try to promote my own clients too, and feel that same level of guilt. Is it OK to be self-serving right now? Is it OK to enjoy something and want to share that joy? Is it OK to do these things in hopes of getting sales and pre-orders? Because that’s why we do them, right? This is our job. We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking pride in our work and expecting income from it.


So, I’m giving every writer permission to tweet, blog, instagram, etc. to promote your books. Post happy things. But stay engaged and learn to read the room. If every person in your feed is focused on something else, maybe schedule that self-promo tweet for a time people will see it.


As for me, and going back to my own helplessness, I’m trying to take my own advice. I recently tweeted that I get easily overwhelmed when I can’t fix everything (hey, anxiety, hey!), but eventually I remember I can do something and that’s OK too. So, what can I do? Focus on what I can control.


What I want to do: Remove all Confederate statues and replace them with memorials to victims and/or monuments to people of color who served this country.

What I can do: Represent marginalized writers and diverse stories. Their books can be those monuments. Normalize different races, religions, gender identities, & sexual orientations by giving white/straight/cis readers familiar stories with unfamiliar perspectives. Embolden marginalized readers by showing them their stories matter, and that they are more than their struggle.


I can’t fight individual sexists, but I can help combat the patriarchy to prevent future sexism. I can’t change the minds of every white supremacist, but I can challenge white supremacy and sacrifice my white privilege to do it.


Sometimes what I do is going to feel so small and pointless that I’ll feel helpless all over again. Maybe that will happen to you too. But I’m putting this in writing as a way to move on, and serve as a reminder to anyone reading that tiny things add up. It’s also OK to do your own thing. You’re not alone.


(sorry, couldn’t resist)

2016: A Year in Queries

Hi everyone!

I’m getting to this post a little later than I usually do, and part of that is because I am very behind on queries. It’s sort of easy to be all “ugh, 2016” about it, but that is kind of what happened. [Update 1/17: I am caught up on all 2016 queries and stats have been adjusted accordingly!]

The number of queries I get in a year vs. how many I request vs. how many authors I actually sign are always overwhelming to writers (so I’m told). Last year I decided to keep better track of what type of queries I receive so you can see what you’re really up against. Maybe it’ll be make you feel better; maybe it won’t. But, here’s one more layer to an agent’s inbox for you to consider:

In 2016, I received 756 queries in genres I do not represent. When I say “do not represent” I’m referring to the following categories only:

  • Nonfiction of any kind (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books for readers younger than 8
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • High/epic commercial fantasy
  • Screenplays

I wasn’t super strict about it, so I kept to what I’ve specifically listed online under “do not send.” Anything else, including sub-genres of fantasy or just “not my usual thing,” were still considered as regular queries and went toward the following tally. But, more on this later. For now, let’s get to the stats!

(As always, remember these are from unsolicited queries aka “the slush pile” – only. Requests from conferences, contests, referrals, or previous R&Rs were not counted.)

January: Total: 394; Requests: 9

February: Total: 403; Requests: 4

March: Total: 336; Requests: 4

April: Total: 324; Requests: 1 (Note: Most of the requests I made in April were from the DVpit Twitter contest and not from queries.)

May: Total: 340; Requests: 6

June: Total: 335; Requests: 6

July: Total: 484; Requests: 8

August: Total: 379; Requests: 2

September: Total: 300; Requests: 6

October: Total: 460; Requests: 7

November: Total: 307; Requests: 2

December: Total: 265; Requests: 5

Total Queries in 2016: 4,327

Total Requests from Queries: 60

Most Requested Genres: Adult upmarket/literary (usually tackling women’s issues in some way); YA contemporary (most often with a focus on marginalized voices and/or fun, high-concept character-driven stories); MG magical realism (the hardest genre to get right on multiple levels, but I’m a sucker for it).

What I Wish I Saw More: Literary MG (magical or contemporary/realistic); YA or Adult Sci-fi (not space opera or post-apocalyptic); Adult upmarket (see above; I want even more!)

Total New Clients Signed in 2016: 3 – RaeChell Garrett (YA contemporary, query); Andrew Munz (YA western, conference and R&R); Katie Henry (YA contemporary, query)


I answer most of the queries I receive, including those 756 that were in genres I didn’t represent. What I delete without answering are the following, even though they end up in my final tally before I open them:

  • Pre-queries – 32
    • Remember the query itself is what asks an agent for representation. Asking if you can ask is redundant and considered spam.
  • Not addressed to me – 226
    • When I get another agent’s name, I assume you meant to query them instead (sorry!). When no name is written at all, I still answer, but it’s kind of a red flag. Your query is like a job application. Don’t “To Whom It May Concern” the very agent it concerns. Author/agent relationships are a partnership. If you expect an agent to work for you, you need to put in effort to work with them too.
  • Mass queries – 123
    • When I’m obviously BCC’d on an email or I can see other agents CC’d on your query, I don’t think you’re serious about working with me and I delete your query.
  • Book already published – 137
    • Some of these were books published with small presses, but the majority of these queries were for self-published books. I started typing all of the caveats about this, and was forming a whole other blog post, so I’ll just refer you here and here, for starters.

With all that in mind:

Total queries I didn’t even answer/answered begrudgingly: 518

Added to the 756 queries in genres I don’t rep: 1,274

Now, the more realistic number of queries I received and answered and considered in 2016: 3,053

I know this is still a large number, but I hope it keeps things in perspective! Some other things to keep in mind:

  • I ask for R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit) a lot. Meaning, I’m not signing folks at the fastest rate, but I am actively working with authors with the intention of representing them in the future. If they end up signing with someone else in the meantime, that’s on me. My hope is that 2016 R&Rs come back to me in 2017 and become new clients!
  • Agents can’t take on everything. Of those 3,053 queries that did everything right, I still had to be super selective. I can’t sign 3,000 new clients every year. Realistically, I can handle about 5-10 new clients per year on top of my current client list. This means I end up passing on very good projects all the time! I’ve seen them go on to sell  – and do well – and it’s always bittersweet, but that’s business.
  • Do not take rejections personally! It’s always a business decision based on our time and expertise and skill set. Very rarely, if ever, is it because your book is “bad.” Agents are rooting for you even if we’re not the ones to help you find success.


There it is! Another year in queries. If there are any stats I didn’t include that were query-related, and you want to see them included in 2017, please comment below!

Finally, because I can usually only send form rejections, let me just say here: THANK YOU! It would be kind of awkward if I added a “PS” to rejections just to say “but you did everything right, yay!!!” So, consider this my token of appreciation.

See you in 2017, friends!

Shark Infested Waters



How was your week?

I have nothing to add about the election that hasn’t already been said. I am still grieving Hillary’s loss and it’s clouding my ability to fully process his win, but I’m getting there.

The last time a president won by the skin of the electoral college, I was 16 years old. I was used to feeling helpless about the world around me. I was politically aware as a teenager and I tried to be politically active in my 20s. I marched in a few protests against the Iraq War, donated to causes I believed in, and was outspoken among friends and family. And maybe that is being politically active, but it’s the activism of a young white woman who would never be truly effected by any failed efforts.

To many, this isn’t the New World Order. It’s been reality for quite a while. This isn’t comforting, but it is sobering. To me, it’s Kafkaesque. It’s a world I knew existed, but refused to believe could gain power and become legitimized. I’m more connected to other perspectives and worldviews than I’ve been in the past. Social media is a large part of this, but it’s also my own maturity and ability to interpret what I couldn’t see before. And I still feel so naive. There is so much I still need to learn and understand. This blog post is not going to be the thing that does that. It’s my bare minimum of moving forward and becoming a member of society again. I have clients to represent and work to do, but first, a few things.

1) Hi. I’m Sarah. I’m an introvert with sporadic bouts of depression and anxiety. Everyone grieves differently, but people like me often need to grieve alone – and silently. You may notice that a lot of people you follow on Twitter or Facebook have announced they’re “taking a social media break.” I’m one of those people. I promise, it’s not to cut ourselves off from reality or ignore those effected most. The word “introvert” became kind of trendy in the last couple years, and I’ve even had people ask me if “it’s really true” that we need to “recharge.” Yes, it is. And that’s just after a night of socializing with friends. What I think is less understood is that introverts don’t only need to recharge after a night out. Coupled with depression and anxiety, my own mind is sometimes beyond the restorative power of taking a yoga class or having a glass of wine. Sometimes I need to cut myself off so that the noise in my head doesn’t multiply any more than it will on its own.

2) I am an optimist. My first instinct is to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they don’t deserve it and I end up disappointed. But, this is who I am and I like this part of my personality. Despite where we’re heading, I’m holding onto two things:

  • She won the popular vote. Even with low voter turnout, she won the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not sign up for his ideology. There is hope in this knowledge, and I am clinging to it.
  • The calls/texts I’ve received and made in the last week have reminded me of the good around me. Whether it’s in depth conversations about what happened, or just a random heart-emoji to say “I’m thinking about you,” I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have people in my life who are smart, engaged, and care.

3) Since I always try to relate my blog posts to writing and publishing… let me say this: Before Tuesday, my biggest mental occupation was that a few writers were disappointed in a comment I made about #ownvoices. (Remember when I said I have anxiety? Sometimes things like that keep me up at night too.) On Wednesday, I thought of how I had planned to elaborate after the election, but I became too numb to think. Then I thought, MY GOD WHAT DOES IT EVEN MATTER NOW ANYWAY!? But, it does matter. Maybe not on a grand scale, but here’s what #ownvoices means to me:

  • I made a comment that some Pitch Wars entries were using a loose definition of #ownvoices. This is because my own definition of #ownvoices has always been limited to societal marginalization. i.e. Other than stigmas and internal struggles, how does society treat you? Do you get paid less? Are you subject to discrimination in a way that puts your livelihood at stake? Are you more likely to be the target of violence?  In some of the Pitch Wars entries, it wasn’t always clear the main character was marginalized at all, even if the author pointed out how they, themselves, were. That’s because we live in a society where white is the default. Straight is the default. Able-bodied is the default. Status quo is the default. If a character isn’t that, but it’s not specified on the page, that default wins.
  • I’m usually vocal about wanting to see more #ownvoices queries in my inbox. My agent bio on the Bradford Lit website explicitly states I want to see books that challenge the status quo. I mean this now more than ever. The authors and projects on my list do this – sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in very subtle ways. I am proud of the list I have so far, and am SO ready to grow it from here. We can write and create and help sway the conversation through art. As small as I can feel, I do have a voice, and I’m in a position to raise other voices. Sometimes it might feel pointless, but I am going to take advantage of what I can.

4) I’ve dealt with feelings the same way since I was 14 years old – listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco. Whether it’s my crush not liking me back, my parents not understanding me, not knowing what I want to do with my life, or feeling like the world as I know it is about to become very, very scary – music and art and words have been there for me. I can’t offer any final words of inspiration because I truly don’t know what will happen. I still haven’t fully processed everything myself. But, I’ll leave you with Ani for now and hope we can continue this conversation another time when things look a little clearer.

I’ve had a lack of information
I’ve had a little revelation
I’m climbing up on the railing
Trying not to look down
I’m going to do my best swan dive
Into shark infested waters
I’m going to pull out my tampon
And start splashing around
‘Cause I don’t care if they eat me alive
I’ve got better things to do than survive

The Trope Police

Hello, friends! How’s the writing going?

Every so often on Twitter I offer some Query Trends, which are multiple instances of oddly specific things I see in my queries. Lately I’ve been thinking of trends on a larger scale. Not just genre trends, which come and go and come back again seemingly at random, but rather writing trends that I officially see as cliche.

So, what am I seeing that I’d love to see go away (or, at the very least, become severely lessened)?


Teenage girls who are super into photography.

Putting aside that the majority of “photography” is being done on iPhones with Snapchat and Instagram filters, let’s talk about this very impractical and expensive hobby that every teenage girl (and some boys!), regardless of background or economic status, seem to have. And not just a vague interest in photography – a full-on I will buy this sophisticated camera with various lenses and walk around with them all the time obsession. I see this in YA most often, but I also see it in Adult fiction with teen characters and, more recently, in the TV show Casual and the movie, Boyhood.

I’ll repeat how expensive of a hobby this is. It’s really expensive. These characters aren’t settling for point-and-shoot digital cameras. They have some serious equipment and in a lot of cases, these are characters specified as decidedly not rich. How are they paying for all of this?

Expenses aside, this hobby often feels forced. Has the “wannabe writer” cliche played out so photography was next “artsy” career path in line? It feels only mildly realistic and for as many teens legitimately interested in technique, I would guess that far more take selfies with friends at parties and call it a day.

We get it; your main character sees the world through a unique lens. But unless they’re Veronica Mars, and photography also comes in handy in their secret side job, consider that you’re possibly using a cliche for no real reason.


Powerful women as a technicality (or gimmick).

Regardless of what happens in November, I hope Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will help make a trope I hate finally go awayand that is the Female Character Falling Ass Backwards Into Power. My literal examples are all TV-related:

  • Veep, Male president resigns, female VP rises
  • Commander In Chief, Male president dies, female VP rises
  • Battlestar Gallactica, Everyone in the line of succession dies, female Sec. of Education becomes president (and is amazing, of course, but still)

Seriously, did no one think a woman could just, ya know, get elected? All by herself. Can’t we have even a fictional world where the people chose a woman voluntarily and not because a male option was dead? (But I digress…)

In not-so-literal examples, some trends I’ve noticed in submissions are:

  • Female athlete who learned everything from her dad, who may or may not be the coach of her team too.
  • Battle of the Sexes science fairs or class president elections.
  • Propelled into the plot because of a missing father.
  • Propelled into the plot because her father is the doctor/detective/scientist directly involved in the story.

In each of these stories, the girl is in the shadow of a more powerful man, and then – and only then – can she find her inner strength. It takes an “anything you can do, I can do better” approach to feminism that feels outdated.

I’d love to see a female athlete who trains with her Olympic medal winning mother. Or a lawyer (or future lawyer) who was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Where’s my teenage Leslie Knope? Where’s my Katniss as an adult? Give me someone who isn’t just propelled into the plot, but drives the plot.


The “wild” best friend.

If Writer-Sarah may admit something up front – I’ve totally written the wild best friend story. Most of us who grew up to become writers probably had the wild best friend. I actually love the wild best friend. From Rayanne Graff in My So-Called Life to Lila in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The complexities of friendship, in general, are always interesting to me. That said…

I’ve been noticing two different types, in published books and in even more manuscripts, usually dependent on gender:

  • Girls/Women: The friend who lives without fear of consequence. She says what she’s thinking, she flirts, she’s reckless, and she’s probably a little damaged. She pushes the main character to live life to the fullest and go beyond her comfort zone.
  • Boys/Men: The horndog. The slacker. He makes sexist comments, he gets high, he thinks the main character just needs to relax. He’s the id to the main character’s ego.

Both are cautionary tales. Both serve as windows and mirrors for the main character.

So if I love these types of stories so much, why am I sick of them?

Because they’re all starting to sound the same. In YA, it’s the best friend pulling the main character into a plot, teaching them things about life. In Adult, it’s the best friend who remains so in-name-only even though it’s obvious the main character outgrew them. They become a symbol for The Road Not Taken as opposed to being actual people.

Why else am I sick of these friends?

Because I am SO ready for the “wild best friend” to be our main character! They are clearly the more interesting friend. They deserve more than teaching the main character a valuable lesson, or making the main character feel better about their “boring” life. They deserve to have their own story told.


I’ve said before (here) that it’s OK if you’re not completely original. Premises are always going to sound similar; it’s how you interpret them and make them your own that counts. So, sure, a few tropes might slip in and no one will care if the rest of the book is amazing and unique. Cliches aren’t the worst thing in the world, but for a debut author they can be the difference between an offer and a rejection.


(OK, if the only thing holding me back in a manuscript is an overused character trope, I’ll probably opt for having a conversation with the author or asking for an R&R.)


Keep writing, friends! When your photography-loving main character goes to search for her missing photojournalist dad and takes her wild best friend with her, remember we’re still rooting for you! But maybe just tone it down a bit. 🙂