What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
It’s always hard to predict trends, and once you do, there’s only a very brief window between when you’ve identified a trend and when it’s played out. That’s why I advise writers to avoid writing for trends. (That, and because a book written for a trend is usually less engaging than a book written because the author wanted to.) But for purely academic or fun purposes: speculative-fiction fatigue and the massive success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012) seem to be bolstering the popularity of realistic contemporary stories in middle-grade and young-adult, so look for those to get a lot of press in 2014!
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I participate in a Twitter event called #MSWL, short for “manuscript wish list,” which lets agents and editors post both general taste preferences and the weirdly specific things we don’t expect to ever get but still hold out hope for. I’ve described a lot of my dream projects there, and it’s a fun resource for writers to check out. But to name just a few: I’d love to see a maritime New England magical realism novel, a heroine with a distinctive voice in World War II–era England, a well-constructed and well-written adult fantasy, and a YA novel that captures that restless, hopeless yearning I felt at age 16. I also keep an eye out for stories, characters and writers that add to the diversity of the literary landscape.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I’d be happy to never again see a query that treats women as objects that surround the male main character—or just doesn’t think them worth including at all. But apart from that, I don’t like to say “never ever,” because it’s always possible something will blow me away! Vampires and dystopian novels are hard sells right now due to that spec-fic fatigue I mentioned above, but something as unusual as Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) can still stand out (especially if you’re Holly Black)—and if you wait long enough, everything comes back again.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I spend a lot of time in the children’s section, and I love how collaborative it is. Everyone who works in children’s books remembers how important their early reads were to them, so we’re all very enthusiastic about putting out great books for children. It’s less competitive and more optimistic than many other areas of the industry—though we all have our moments!
Anything else you’d like to add?
In general, don’t worry too much about what’s trendy or what agents and editors are looking for. Read current books so you know what’s out there and can see how your manuscript would fit into the market, but in the end, you need to write the story you need to write. That’s where we get all the stories worth reading.
Bridget Smith is an associate agent at Dunham Literary, Inc. in New York City. She represents middle-grade, YA, and adult novels, with special interest in fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction and women’s fiction. Her tastes run to literary and character-driven novels. Previously, she was an intern at Don Congdon Associates, worked at a secondhand book store in Connecticut, and evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com under Liz Gorinsky and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. She graduated from Brown University in 2010. While there, she studied anthropology and archaeology, worked as a radio DJ, fenced on the varsity team and helped design an experiment that she later performed in microgravity at NASA. Currently she reads, runs and watches more television than is probably good for her.