The girl power litmus test

This is not a post about what does or doesn’t make a strong female character. This is not a post about what exactly “girl power” is, or if you can have it if you wear makeup/don’t wear makeup/like boys/don’t like boys, etc. This is only about my one highly personal test of whether or not I want to read a book with a female protagonist.

Even though I have a submissions wishlist, like all agents, I am happy to see anything that even remotely fits my submission guidelines. Within these guidelines, I have certain genre likes and dislikes, but I give just about everything that comes in the submission pile a read. Given that there’s only one of me and I read everything that comes in the pile, I’ve developed some quick and dirty rules for what I want to pursue further.

When reading a book with a female protagonist of any age, I want to have one of two reactions:

  1. I want to go to the mall with her!
  2. I want her on my side in a fight!

That’s it. We can debate all day about what it means for a female character to be strong and likeable, but I don’t really focus a lot on either of those two definitions. I just go with how the protagonist fits into one or more of my above categories. If she fits one definition, that’s great. If she fits two, even better. If she doesn’t fit either, the book is not for me.

Examples of female characters I want to go to the mall with, but don’t want on my side in a fight:

Examples of female characters I want on my side in a fight, but don’t want to go to the mall with:

Examples of characters I want on my side in a fight and then go to the mall with when the fight is over:


Submissions wishlist: Upmarket women’s fiction

Upmarket women’s fiction, to me, means books with female protagonists where the primary plot doesn’t focus on men, marriage, or babies. I am looking to acquire romance, but I don’t consider romance and women’s fiction to be the same thing. When I think about the kind of women’s fiction I like to read and want to represent, the best I can explain is that I want books about women, married or not, with children or not, who go through any number of life’s regular dramas. I want books told from women’s points of view that are about love, adventure, family, work, and personal goals. I want books that pass the Bechdel test, but I won’t automatically reject a book that doesn’t. At the end of the book, I want to see that the main character has achieved something that doesn’t involve acquiring a boyfriend, husband, or baby. If your book’s central plot revolves around a woman’s struggle with infertility, for example, I am probably not the right agent for you. Within this realm I especially love stories about sisters and changes within women’s friendships.

Books that fit the description of “upmarket women’s fiction” are usually standalones, though sequels are not unheard of. They’re a balance of literary and commercial and make for great book club selections. They’re often, but not always, set in the real world. They can incorporate elements of mystery, romance, history, pretty much any genre.

Some recent examples of upmarket women’s fiction include:

and some “classic” examples of upmarket women’s fiction include:

I’ve enjoyed these women’s fiction titles, some more upmarket than others:

With upmarket women’s fiction, as with all genres, I like distinctive voices, a clear vision of what’s at stake for the main character, commercial viability, and literary style.

Important information on What All Agents Want in a Great YA Novel

Not only is there still time to register for my Writers Digest workshop, What All Agents Want in a Great YA Novel, but as long as you register, you don’t need to attend in person.

So if you have to be somewhere else at 1PM Eastern on Thursday, June 13, or can’t spare the 90 minutes for the webinar but want the information and the 500-word critique, don’t worry. If you sign up for the workshop now, you’ll have access to the presentation (slides plus audio; not everything I say is going to appear on the slides) and the chance to get your work reviewed by me. Even if you sign up with the intention of attending live and it ends up that you can’t, don’t worry. I’m still happy to read your work and answer your questions.