Middle Grade Weremonkeys & Embracing Scary


From time to time, clients have emailed me new ideas they are clearly nervous about, usually with a subject line something like “Here goes nothing” or “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” and then inside they give me a great windup of “So this is the weirdest idea ever, basically, but….”

Members of my client list, do not take it upon yourselves to prove this untrue, but—I LOVE THAT.

If you’re a bit scared of a book, I usually think it means you’re on the brink of something big. A breakthrough, the book you should’ve written two false starts ago, the story that is going to take off when it hits editors’ desks. The book that makes me go, “Oh, I guess I like horror/vampires/boy action-adventure/whatever I thought I didn’t, now.”

But in part, I think I’m so stoked to get “you might hate this” emails because like anyone else who is immersed in books for a living, I crave novelty. Jadedness can come up on you so easily. If anything, it’s harder for you if at first glance your book seems to be another been-there-done-that dystopovampilove story (or, if paranormal’s not your thing, book about the bullied girl, or the contemporary romance with a movie star hero in hiding, or the women’s fiction about a cheating husband and the wife moving on)–my natural inclination, in these hibernation-inducing days of winter, is to channel Bad Willow and go straight to “Bored now.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still have to be able to describe it, shelve it in a bookstore, tell an editor what to compare it to. But here is what 2011 is not about for me: Chasing trends. Trying to jump in on something while the market-check’s kiting, cashing in on as much as I can get before everyone wakes up to realize middle grade weremonkeys or whatever actually weren’t the wave of the future. Nuh-uh. I want something that will endure, a book we’ll be toasting to in three, five, fifteen years. And those are very rarely the books that seemed easy.

So dance with the scary idea. See where it takes you. Even if it isn’t the one that Does The Trick (whatever the trick is for you), I bet it’ll make you a more interesting writer. The same is true for me—I know I’ve got something good when I have to breathe deep and ask, “Am I agent enough for this book?” New challenges keep you fresh, and that’s good for us all.


25 Responses to “Middle Grade Weremonkeys & Embracing Scary”

  1. I’m scared each time I start writing. I’m scared that I’m not good enough. I wonder if that counts.

    Great post. Gives me hope.

  2. 2 MAX COOL

    Love this cuz it’s TRUE. I had this twisted idea to take something way too far, it spat out of my hands like that puke-hand-melt scene in The Fly, shot it to a Waxmanite, or Waxologist, whatever you guys are, couple months ago. Got picked up and am stoked to be working with such a forward-vaulting agency.

  3. I love an agent who is confident enough in her own tastes not to worry about what everyone else is or isn’t snapping up, who just reps the books she loves to read.

    Well said, Holly. Thanks for this.

  4. I find your agent’s philosophy so inspiring! I know it’s a big risk to take on new work. I suppose that’s why some agents feel a sense of security with following a certain trend while it lasts. But security doesn’t offer that nervous feeling with its hint of excitement! We never know where a path of daring will lead, but the journey is never boring. 🙂

  5. Love this post, but love you most of all for quoting Bad Willow 😀

  6. Beautiful, Holly! It’s EXACTLY what authors want (and need) to hear from their agents. Otherwise, we’re not growing our craft or career, and you’re not growing it, either, on our behalf.

    So put me down for one of them weremonkeys…

  7. Boy do I appreciate this post, Holly. My WIP scares me daily. And the Bad Willow quote? WIN!

  8. I love it! I literally JUST had an idea clobber me in the face–a crazy, terrifying, awesomely off-the-wall idea. I think I’ll go work on it, now. 🙂

  9. It should be FLYING Middle Grade Weremonkeys.

    Great post, Holly.

  10. Thank you for this great post! At school, my graduating lecture was about writing through the fear/using fear. It’s a great topic.

    And fun, too! I think you’ve created a new genre here: dystopovampilove story. I love the “i” in there…cute and unexpected. Also love: weremonkeys, anything Willow, and, especially, most of all: “dance with the scary idea.”

    Thank you!

  11. Great post… I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do next, and man, it ain’t normal, but I totally want to do it. This makes me think I should.

  12. Wonderful post. I feel like a lot of my ideas often fall under the “I’m not so sure about this…” category, but I’m glad that can actually be a GOOD thing. Here’s hoping 2011 is my year to get an agent with one of these!!


  13. 13 anna

    I said these words to a friend today, ” I have this idea and if I can pull it off it may be the best thing ever.” Terrifying. Thanks for the encouragement to see it through. Oh and Bad Willow? A+

  14. Wow, this is the most brilliant post I’ve read in awhile. It’s pure genious that you’re looking for something on the other side of usual.

  15. I’m late to this party, but this is a great post. My favorite blog entries, for example, end up being those that make me avert my eyes before nervously tapping the “publish” button…as if weremonkeys were going to pour out of the screen and bite me for my audacity.

    • 16 Tom Deutsch

      As someone who always wanted to write a unique novel and has toyed around with
      one for a while, I find your words encouraging. I have wondered if my novel would fit into what might be considered acceptable in today’s popular literature. I will just forge ahead.

  16. 17 Paul Aertker

    Thanks. Great post.

  17. How did I not see this post earlier? Oh, right. Because I was drafting the huge, scary idea I shared with you in my email of DOOM.

    And you’re right. Being scared that a book is too big for a writer is the best place to be. It pushes you to hone your craft, to dive deep, and to discover what you’re really capable of.

  18. Awesome post! Exactly what writers need to hear. I see so much about what’s not working, and what’s not trending, it’s so refreshing to hear from someone who has the confidence to go with her gut. That’s the person I want to work with…

    All books are scary. But diving into something you know is difficult to categorize is even scarier. But sometimes you just have to go where your imagination takes you.

  19. Maybe it’s their inner voice telling them their idea really does suck? It’s not mountain climbing, it’s sitting at a computer and pecking at plastic while listening to music. Scared?

  20. 21 veschwab

    I adore this post (and the Bad Willow reference). And so, so true.

    “If you’re a bit scared of a book, I usually think it means you’re on the brink of something big.” <– ❤


  21. The problem with today´s writer is focus. We are so accustomed to multitasking, that we can´t focus upon one project. Should we continue with the one brilliant novel in the works, or the four children´s books sure to change a child´s life between answering blog comments, laundry, helping three kids with homework in a foreign language, etc. In a day of so much to do and so little time, writers need a guidance counselor first, then an agent.


  22. I’m wondering, scared how. And as above comments; about the only fear I have is, if it sucks, too. Or maybe if I will find time to write, with the overload of chores or duties. no luxury for sitting around. WHen the time comes, pen hits the paper, where-ever I am.

    I just want to see if I’ve got this “fear” thing, understood.

    Great post. I have a lot to mull over.

  23. Well said. I love your confidence and the kind of inspiration you impart to writers. It is rare to find authors and agents you wants to take a risk even in the publishing industry but that what makes a more successful person. Middle grade weremonkeys? Nuh uh. love it.

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