re: I Refuse to Believe Epistolary Novels are “Dead”

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve written a contemporary YA novel in epistolary format. All of the professional feedback I’ve received is positive (I even won an award for the 1st 15 pages). Most agents tell me the writing is excellent, BUT they are passing strictly due to the format. A favorite author told me that epistolary novels are dead. Dead? I don’t believe it. How do I find agents/editors who will consider an epistolary novel?

T. S.

Dear T.S.…

Interest in epistolary novels has waned in YA editorial circles, it’s true. But often a format or category isn’t so much “dead” as just in need of a fresh spin to jolt it out of the doldrums. If you’re committed to this format, you’d better be offering something eye-catching in your concept or plot because, as much as I hate to write this, “excellent writing” isn’t enough to break anyone into a stagnant niche. Look for agents who rep projects with your kind of concept, tone, and audience, then emphasize those in your query: “I’ve got this great novel about X”, not “I’ve got this great epistolary novel.” If it’s still a no-go, why not recast your great concept, cast, and plot as a traditional narrative? Loyalty should be to story over format.

Happy writing!
The Editor

9 Comments

  1. Oh, I’ve loved the epistolary novels I’ve read. It feels like I’m eavesdropping visually so I hope they aren’t completely dead. But truly, do kids write letters anymore? My 12-year-old daughter sends out notecards via regular post, but they are hardly full-length letters. I’m not sure how a contemporary novel could fit this format. Historical–yes.

  2. It’s hard enough to get published. Trying to publish something in a format that is out of favor is even harder. Then again, you have to write the book you want, believe in it and hope that maybe you will be the one to define what’s the next popular thing. What’s popular today, wasn’t necessarily a few years ago.

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