By Dennis Abrams
With the exception of actually writing the book, the biggest challenge facing most first-time YA novelists is this: how do you get noticed and how do you get it read? The slush pile has largely gone the way of Maxwell Perkins and the three-martini lunch. Getting an agent to sell the work to a publisher is next to impossible unless you’ve already sold a work to a publisher. What’s an aspiring novelist to do?
Look to the land down under. Australia’s Hardie Grant Egmont recently launched The Ampersand Project — a worldwide search for fabulous manuscripts by unpublished YA writers. Marisa Pintado, the project’s commissioning editor said their goal was to “bring new voices to teen readers all over the world, and remind them that real-world can be just as thrilling and compelling as any fantastical adventure. We think that’s been forgotten to an extent in the paranormal boom over the last few years.”
In fact, it was that very boom in vampires and such that helped lead to Ampersand’s search. “We’d decided strategically to add more real-world fiction to our list, and then discovered that it was actually quite difficult to find. We’ve seen a flood of dystopian and paranormal romance pitches, not to mention combinations of the two (‘disnormals’ or ‘paratopias,’ as we call them), and very little else. There’s a very clear gap in the market for real-world fiction, and we thought, well, why not tell writers explicitly what we’re looking for.”
The guidelines are simple. The main requirement is that the writer should not have published a novel under their own name with a mainstream publisher, for any age group. The ability to write authentically from the perspective of a teenager is key, as well as an openness to collaboration and manuscript development. The editorial process is going to be rigorous, and writers need to understand going in that it will require a huge amount of work to take their first book into the marketplace.
But don’t think for a moment that the search is limited to only Australian writers. Pintado said, “We’re open to submissions from anywhere on the globe, so long as they’re written in English. The first editions will be published in Australia as part of the Ampersand Project, but we’re looking forward to international publishers coming on board in due course — either for the whole project, or for the books and authors that fit their particular lists…So long as a story beats with truth and inspires empathy in its readers, it could be set in international waters for all I care.”
Keep in mind, though, that the Ampersand Project is not a competition in the truest sense of the word — writers aren’t vying for just one spot on the top. Hardie Grant Egmont’s goal is to build a platform for talented writers; writers who aren’t afraid to take a chance on pushing the envelope. “We are asking for writers to pitch to the upper end of YA, so naturally characters might encounter sex, alcohol, drugs, violence and strong language,” said Pintado. “I think there’s plenty of scope in YA to do this with elegance and a sense of responsibility and without being condescending towards your readers…We are looking for truth in the manuscripts we receive, as well as an original exploration of teenage life.”
But what all comes down to is finding manuscripts that Marisa just can’t say ‘no’ to. “I’m hoping to find compelling and original voices, interesting conflicts, protagonists to fall in love with or at least root for. I want stories set in the real world that still manage to whisk you away with a flourish. A great writer should be able to make a visit to the wrong side of the tracks feel like a holiday.”
Aspiring authors can send the first five chapters of their book. along with a synopsis of their story, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is Monday, February 27th at 5 p.m. For more information, go to http://bit.ly/Ampers>.