Guest Post: Literary Agent, Marietta Zacker

Industry Life

presented by

Joanna Volpe

So I’ve known Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt agency for a while now.  And not only is she smart, savvy and a great colleague–but she’s damn cool.  And I wanted to introduce her to all of you!  I hope you enjoy her brilliant post on how to define YA literature.  Marietta, take it away!

As publishing professionals, we are often asked to define different aspects of literature: voice, style, genre, you name it.  One that seems to have an obvious and easy definition is the term “Young Adult” (YA).  After all, in its purest form, YA is an age range.  However, defining it only by the age group for whom the work is intended is insufficient (and it is important to acknowledge that any given age range is also debatable).  One can also suggest that YA is defined by the age of the protagonists (almost always teenagers), or that these novels contain edgier themes, more complex structure and sophisticated language – all logical and valid, yet not enough.

For clarity and support, I tapped three experts in the field (disclaimer: all clients).  Thankfully, their thoughts echoed mine or I would have needed a new topic to write about PRONTO!  Janni Lee Simner (latest YA: FAERIE AFTER, Random House) mentioned that for her, writing YA is like “slipping back into the skin of someone who is 15 or 17 and looking out from within that.”  When it comes to voice, Kristin Rae (upcoming YA debut: IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN, Bloomsbury) relies on the “intensity of feelings, hopes and dreams.”  While for Nora Raleigh Baskin (upcoming YA: SUBWAY LOVE, Candlewick), it is the “immediacy of the teenage voice” that drives her stories and “it is exactly that voice that most firmly plants a book [as a YA].”

With that in mind (and recognizing that great literature sometimes defies all expectations and definitions and just IS), I will suggest a definition of Young Adult.  I believe that, at its core, a YA novel is the very personal journey of an observant teen (not always a teen, but typically) who discovers how to fit into the world (however small or large, fantastical or realistic) while keeping an eye on the future, shared in a voice that is both intense and immediate.

Of course, for some, definitions are too constricting and if that’s the case for you, Janni’s personal story might help you find your way.  When she was a teenager, she made a promise to herself that as she became an adult, she would never forget that everything she felt when she was younger was as real and important as whatever she would feel later on.  Writing YA novels is one way she has kept that promise.

As you write, I recommend that you find that journey, that intensity, that immediacy, that voice, then sit … and write.

I suspect we’ll all look forward to reading those stories!

Marietta 4-6-11 07 Lo Res Color

Marietta B. Zacker is a literary agent with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.  She represents authors, illustrators and author/illustrators, who create books for young adults to the youngest of readers (as well as those who are read to!).  She has been an agent since 2008, the year when she believes she found her way home.  The Agency’s website is:


15 Responses to Guest Post: Literary Agent, Marietta Zacker

  1. Carrie-Anne Jun 5 2013 at 11:28 am #

    As a historical writer who frequently writes about young people, I’ve been so confused about how to classify my books since the YA explosion. It can be hard to figure out if I should query or describe a book as YA if the young characters are having more mature, adult experiences and responsibilities that were normal and expected for teens 50+ years ago. The dearth of serious YA historical also gives me confusion, as does the general lack of Bildungsroman books showing all of a character’s adolescence, like going from 12 to 18 during World War II or the Civil War, not just 6 months or a year. I’m really hoping that the parameters of what constitutes YA can be redefined to accomodate books like mine as the category comes of age and becomes more established.

    • Marietta Zacker Jun 6 2013 at 10:55 am #

      Carrie-Anne ~ I think you are right, a historical element adds another layer to any story. In my opinion, some who do it masterfully in the YA space include Ruta Sepetys, Elizabeth Wein, Nick Lake, Laurie Halse Anderson, just to name a few. Also true that adding a larger age range for the protagonist makes it difficult as young adults prefer to read something with immediacy and something distinctly from their point of view, rather than an adult looking back. And yet, as I mentioned, great literature sometimes defies all expectations and definitions and just IS. Best of luck and thank you for your comment.

  2. Mona AlvaradoFrazier Jun 5 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    “… a YA novel is the very personal journey of an observant teen (not always a teen, but typically) who discovers how to fit into the world (however small or large, fantastical or realistic) while keeping an eye on the future, shared in a voice that is both intense and immediate.”

    Your post came along at just the right time (sending out queries). The YA definitions I previously read didn’t seem to fit my protagonist and her journey , (17 year old mother in prison), but your definition really helped me to see that is appropriately a YA novel. Thank you for an insightful post.

  3. Robin Hall Jun 5 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Great definition of what it means to be YA. The immediacy, the voice, slipping into the voice of a 15-17 year-old. I enjoyed your post.

  4. Kristin Rae Jun 6 2013 at 10:10 am #

    I love what Janni promised herself when she was younger. If only I could go back in time and be more observant to everything I was feeling!

  5. Alexa Y. Jun 6 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    What an intriguing post! I think the way that you chose to define young adult makes a lot of sense to me. It’s how I’ve always seen it in my head, but I’ve never been able to put it into words, so thank you!

  6. Theresa Milstein Aug 13 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    I agree with that definition. A teen is in a transition in life from child to adult–wanting freedom, but not quite ready to let go. It’s a special group to write for.

  7. alicia minor Nov 20 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    I’ve written a story intended for young adult and reading your post help. With regards to dialogue, body language and point of views, I picked up some from my 16 year old daughter and so that also help. Thanks for sharing.


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