If you’re an author like me, you may have come across a little something known as a literary agent’s “wish list.” This list can be vague and entirely unhelpful to the aspiring client, spouting things like, “I want a book that keeps me up all night,” or the dreaded “It’s all about the voice.” Voice? Really? I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from agent or publisher as to what this amorphous Voice really is! Perhaps it’s in the eye of the reader, a “When you hear it, you’ll know it,” phenomena…
Other times, the agent is soooo specific, you don’t dare submit to her unless your novel ticks all the boxes she’s wishing for (ie. “I’m looking for a fresh perspective on a dystopian heroin with a reluctant romantic interest who represents a minority. Oh, and a really strong Voice.”) !!!
BAAAAH! I don’t mean to poke fun. Agents are wonderful people who do magical things, like make books get published. But…
I thought I would make up my own wish list with the things I look for in the perfect book. Hopefully it is neither too specific nor too vague. And I promise, “Voice” does not feature in this list!
1 A humble hero
I love a main character who would never expect himself or herself to be the main character… an unassuming hero who doesn’t look for spotlights, medals or accolades, but who simple gets swept up in adventures out of sincere care for others (& perhaps a bit of their own clumsiness as well). Winnie the Pooh, Frodo Baggins, the Pevensie children, Neville Longbottom are all examples… can you name others?
2 A deep friendship
This one follows from the last: a hero who doesn’t see himself or herself as such is going to need help and encouragement. In comes the opportunity for a strong friendship that grows deeper through shared adventures and challenges. I love chalk-&-cheese friendships too, where opposites attract and iron sharpens iron, like Anne Shirley & Diana Berry (feisty and demure), Frodo & Sam (adventurer & home body), Frog & Toad (extrovert & introvert).
A historical setting always catches my eye — particularly medieval to 18th century English history, but frankly, I’m not picky! I love the medieval abby setting in the Redwall Series, but also consider myself a true Jane Austenite, will shiver through a classic Gothic, Victorian mystery like Jane Eyre, and most recently have gobbled up books set during the Second World War (here’s my post about those). And who says it has to be actual history? I’ll take Fantasy history any day too (not that Middle Earth isn’t real…).
This is an essential, especially in books for children who almost always have a mature appreciation for silliness, subtle or slapstick. I personally prefer the subtler variety. But what I can’t stand is a book that takes itself too seriously, or tries to hard to be dark & edgy. Lighten up a little! Even a drama need some a twist of comedy if you want me to read it.
5 An Animal Companion
Take any story in the world, and it is made better with an animal friend. Just look at the Disney classics: Belle has Filipe, Arial has Flounder & Sebastian, Pocahontas has Niko, Rapunzel has Pascale, the list goes on. Most kids, like me, love animals, & giving the hero an animal companion gives him or her the chance to be himself, share his deepest thoughts and feelings. The bond and fidelity between hero & pet resonates with me & any other readers who have pets of their own. And often, it’s the animal who provides the comedic outlet (Toothless & Hiccup) or who proves to be the real hero (Hedwig taking a killing curse for Harry, or Griff bearing the glass feet curse for Moll in Shadow Keeper).
And there you have it! My top 5 ingredients. Add ’em all together, and out comes the perfect book! If only it were so easy…
If you were an agent, what would be on your “wish list”? Share in the comments below!