Skip to main content

Agent Jennifer Laughran Talks Juvenile Writing

This is a "Blast From the Past" post. To celebrate the GLA Blog's 2nd birthday, I am re-posting some of the best "older" content that writers likely missed. Since I hope to one day write juvenile fiction, I sat in on a session at the San Francisco WC where agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary and Wendy Lichtman, author of Secrets, Lies & Algebra, talked tips and advice on writing for teenagers and pre-teens.

Since I hope to one day write juvenile fiction, I sat in on a session at the San Francisco WC where agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary and Wendy Lichtman, author of Secrets, Lies & Algebra, talked tips and advice on writing for teenagers and pre-teens.

(Learn how to get your book for children published.)

Here are some great points they made:

  • Kids are very media savvy these days, of course, and that should be reflected in your story.
  • You can’t talk down to kids. Jennifer brought up Octavian Nothing, noting that she first believed the book was way too smart for kids. But the truth, she said, is that kids are actually smarter than we think, where as adults are the lazy ones. Kids feel an intense connection with books and will take the time to tackle a book. They consider a "smart book" to be a great challenge.
  • Wendy said she sat in on a high school class for three months to pick up kids' patterns of speech, lingo and cadence.
  • You will indeed come across morality vs. reality dilemmas. For example, if teenagers use the word “retard” constantly in a derogatory fashion, should you include it as such? Wendy refused. And yes, thirteen-year-olds do have sex in today’s world, but is that really proper to include in a middle grade work?
    Writing a novel for children? Literary agent
    Mary Kole, who runs the popular KidLit.com
    website, has a new guide out for writers of
    young adult and middle grade. Pick up a copy
    of Writing Irresistible Kidlit and get your
    children's book published.
  • Publishers are constantly trying to push the boundaries in terms of sex in these books.Anything is fair game, but a lot depends on how the crucial horrific moments are dealt with. For example, if a teenage girl narrator is telling of a scene where someone is murdered, she doesn’t have to provide the graphic details. It’s the difference between “He slit her throat and blood sprayed everywhere” and “Her body went limp and the carpet became red.”
  • If you want to go with heavy sexual stuff, that’s OK, but understand that the book is always facing gatekeepers (librarians, booksellers, agents, editors, teachers) who can opt not to carry a certain book because of what they deem inappropriate content.
  • Don’t start your book off with something terribly graphic and horrific. It may scare off booksellers. Wendy said that her book, at first, began with a suicide. She moved the suicide to chapter 2 so that those who picked up the book weren't immediately confronted with something so morose that didn't define the rest of the book. 
  • You can cross genres. In adult fiction, things are often pressured to be classified. "Is it a mystery? Is it women's fiction?" Juvenile fiction has less of that problem.
  • The joy of novels for kids is the incidental learning. Kids don’t want to be lectured. They want to learn while being entertained.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:


Love the Art. Work the Business. | Nikesha Elise Williams

Nikesha Elise Williams: On the Power of Self-Publishing

In this indie author profile, novelist Nikesha Elise Williams shares her path to self publishing and the creative marketing strategy that's led to her success.

Change of Plans

Change of Plans

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, there's been a sudden and unforeseen change of plans.

5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

Author Ashley M. Coleman gives you her top five tricks for writing about the music industry—even if you're not an industry expert.

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

From planning ahead to staying late, Alison Hill shares 10 tips for journalists while covering events as a freelancer.

From Script

Character Studies, Writing the Immigrant Experience, and Six Adaptation Steps Before You Adapt a Book (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, navigate different character study approaches in your writing, and tracking emotional journeys.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Author Lora Senf discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity.

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Critically acclaimed novelist Katrina Leno discusses the process of bringing her childhood memories to magical life in her new young adult novel, Sometime in Summer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A New Podcast Episode, "Your Story" Prompt, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our latest episode of "Writer's Digest Presents," the new "Your Story" prompt, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.