If you’ve spent all of five seconds talking to YA writers on Twitter, you probably not only know Leigh Ann Kopans but are well aware of her new look (purple stripe in her hair, which looks fabulous), her awesome projects (including ONE, a sci-fi romance that’s currently on submission; SOLVING FOR EX, a contemporary YA retelling of Jane Austen’s MANSFIELD PARK; and CHROME, a sci-fi retelling of the biblical book of Exodus), and the fact that she makes incredible-looking challah every. Single. Week.
However, I thought she was still worth getting to know a little better, so I sat down with her (totally metaphorically) and asked her some hard-hitting questions.
Q: If you were an agent, what would be on your wish list?
A: Like, if I can pick anything I want? I really only ever want to read YA. Seriously, I have very little to no interest in adult fiction, or under-14-year-old fiction. Something about that 14-18 age range and the experiences those people have is so very interesting and exciting to me. I mean, come on – the DISCOVERY! The ANGST! The FALLING IN LOVE!
So, my wishlist would be Young Adult Fiction, any genre, really, with romantic elements. I want to see strong main characters – boys and girls – who are reasonably smart, self-assured, courageous, and unique, and who make real decisions.
No books that preach, please – if I’m 16 years old, I already know how I feel about sex, drugs, and drinking. If you try to tell me what I should think about them, however surreptitiously, I’ll tell you that it’s none of your business, thank you very much, and I’ll put your book down. Immediately.
I love books with a strong, inspirational theme. Beautiful writing is a must.
Q: What’s your favorite physical character flaw you’ve come across in a book or manuscript?
A: Mental illness. Does that count? I love it for two reasons; it’s interesting to see the world through the eyes of a person who doesn’t see it typically, and it reminds us that people with mental illness are still people. Usually awesome ones.
Q: Pick five characters from any of your manuscripts. Where’d their names come from?
A: Davis was the love interest MC from my first MS. I picked his last name because I had been obsessed with ALIAS and I thought boys who went by their last names were sexy. (VAUGHN. Mmm.)
Leni is a supporting character in my MS out on submission. She’s named after my grandmother Helen.
Brendan is the love interest MC in the MS I just finished drafting, which is a redux of Mansfield Park. He’s named that because it sounds like “Edmund,” the character he parallels in the original.
Orev is the love interest in my WiP, CHROME, which is a redux of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. He’s named that because it means “Raven” in Hebrew, and the character he parallels in the original has a name that means “bird.”
Merrin Grey and Elias VanDyne are the MCs in my MS on submission. Their first names are just names I liked, but they share last names with my two favorite superheroes.
Q: How do you write about a place you’ve never been?
A: Google maps. I LOVE to write about real places because Google maps makes it so that I can literally see the town. So, Superior and Nelson, Nebraska, where my MS on sub is set, are real places.
I also searched online for information about weather patterns, town population information, and stuff like that. And a writer friend of mine lives in Nebraska, and confirmed the particular beauty of its cornfields, which play a role in the MS.
Q: If you wrote one historical novel, in what time/place would you set it?
A: Oh gosh, that’s so tough. Any time I think of a historical, I just think of how DIRTY everything was. So I guess the answer would be any time, as long as the people are rich and can afford regular grooming and fresh food.
Q: If you could create one marketing product for ONE, the manuscript you currently have on submission, what would it be?
A: Personally, I’m getting a sweatshirt from Nelson High with “VanDyne” on the back, since Merrin wears her boyfriend’s sweatshirts pretty much all the time. But that would be super pricey. I don’t know. Something to do with learning to fly, but nothing cheesy…maybe your readers can help me?
Q: As a rather prolific beta/CP, what do you think is really important to look for? Do you have any particular critiquing strategies?
A: The most important thing is to understand what the person’s looking for in critique. Do they want line edits? Are they concerned about a particular plot point? But, beyond that, the most important things I usually find need attention are pacing and character. If there’s a point at which you feel disengaged with the story, that’s usually a pacing issue, in my experience. If you’re not feeling connected to a character, it’s usually an issue of inautheniticity, in my experience – you’re hearing the writer instead of the character.
Also, a lot of the time a writer is so close to the story that she’ll fail to explain things that are clear to her, but leave a reader guessing about something vital. So noting any question you have about anything anywhere is a good strategy. Don’t wait until you see it resolved, because you might forget you were ever frustrated or confused. You can always mark it as “not a problem” later on.
Q: How would you describe the differences between being in the query trenches and being on submission?
A: The submission trenches are just as bad as the query trenches, I think, but there’s a shift. The great thing about finding an agent is that you have definitely, definitely cleared the first hurdle on the track to publication. But it’s just the first hurdle. There are a ton more after that. The tough thing is that it feels that your chances of clearing them are even lower. Editors only take on a few new authors a year.
But having that agent-buffer between you and rejections is definitely priceless.
Q: You’re currently writing not one but two reduxes. What’s the best (published) redux you’ve read so far?
A: I can’t think of a written one. But the best movie reduxes ever are Clueless (redux of Austen’s EMMA) and Ten Things I Hate About You (redux of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW).
Q: You wrote a blog post this week that got quite a bit of positive attention from readers, writers, and agents, most notably superagent Jennifer Laughran, who linked to it on her blog. Have anything else you’d like to add about that?
A: Yes, I do.
I’m so, so glad that a post I wrote on how writing advice is not one-size-fits-all has been getting a bit more attention than my posts usually do, some of it from literary agents that lots of people follow.
Literary agents and editors are amazing, amazing people. They work tirelessly for their clients, and are some of the most passionate professionals on the planet. They have wonderful taste, help so many people, and bring sparkling literature to the fore.
BUT. Agents and editors are not the infallible, final-decision judges of writing quality. Which is why writing advice that ties a writer’s skill level or success in general to whether or not she’s attracted the attention of an agent or an editor are wrong. Yes. WRONG. Worse, they often make fellow writers feel bad about themselves.
So, I’m really glad that these agents themselves agree with me, and have been vocal about it. Because maybe now a few more people will read “advice” posts and be equipped to put them in context and hold their heads up just a little bit higher through this whole grueling process.
Thanks so much for interviewing me, Dahlia! I adore you, I’m so glad I met you, and I’m excited for your AMAZING manuscript to sell not too long from now (and, readers – you are too. Trust me. Mmmmm Liam.)
The vote of confidence is much appreciated by me Thanks so much for coming by, Leigh Ann! Readers, you may now discuss how awesome she is in the comments.