Monday, August 3, 2015

Interview with TBA Agent, Beth Phelan

It's time for our monthly interview with a member of Team Bent! Up this month, the marvelous Beth Phelan...

How did you decide that you wanted to become an agent? 
I knew I wanted to work, in some way, bringing books to readers. Especially with YA lit. I originally started with an agency, as a foot in the door more than anything else, on my way to becoming an editor at a big house. But the more time I spent in agencies, the more I liked. When the time came to move on, I looked for positions at an agency. I figured out that it was where I really wanted to be.

What’s your favorite part of being an agent? 
The control. I can be a control freak and I’m really independent and self-motivated. I like to be in charge in a lot of ways. So the editor dream never would have panned out for me. I want to be able to take on the projects I love and decide to spend my time on stories and authors that I believe in. That freedom is really important to me because I love being the first on scene to really fall in love with a book and champion it to shelves.

What are you very hungry to find in your query pile? 
More of everything! I want literary YA and also big YA fantasy. I like things that are ambitious and maybe a little weird. Some kind of speculative contemporary would be great, and laugh-out-loud YA too. For adult, I’d love to add another adult thriller writer to my roster, as well as a writer of diverse contemporary romance.

Tell us about some of your projects – what’s going to hit bookstores shelves this fall or next year? 
I’m really excited to see Kathryn Ormsbee’s LUCKY FEW (Simon & Schuster Children’s) hit shelves in summer 2016. There’s homeschooling, fake near-death experiences, REAL near-death experiences… very black humor, very Harold & Maude. I love it. But this fall, I’m also really eager to see THE DEVIL’S DREAMCATCHER (Holiday House) make its way to readers who loved the first book, THE DEVIL’S INTERN by Donna Hosie, which—ahem—was a Kirkus Best Teen Book and also an ALA YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book.

Children's books are not easy to write, but they have that reputation. Why do you think people think of them as "easy," and what is it about them that actually makes them very difficult? 
I think people underestimate kids and teens. They understand, appreciate, and remember things as well as adults do, but I think people forget that or just think the bar is lower because they aren’t as “matured” or experienced. But what’s actually difficult about writing for them, I think, aside from there just being so much more competition these days, is that they are so well-informed and they are better, more engaged learners than adults. But it’s hard to capture that authentic teen voice and be able to speak and relate to a generation that’s really just a blip in your life. It’s one of the most important blips, but it happens so fast and is so big that it’s hard to catch.

If you could see any one genre of children's books gain exponentially in strength, what would it be? 
I’d really love to see alternate history really take off!

Do you recall the first book you read and loved? (Or perhaps a major favorite as a child). 
I think the first time I was truly OBSESSED with a book was when I started Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series in high school. I couldn't read them fast enough and I felt so completely swept away from my life and my world that for a while I could have been convinced that my world wasn't real and that Morgan and Hunter and Cal were the real ones!

The natural talent you would most like to have? 
Photographic memory. That’s the dream, isn’t it?

What is the worst job you’ve ever had? 
I spent one summer in my teen years working at a toy store in my hometown. It was a small local chain, located in this semi-deserted outlet mall and we never needed more than one person there at a time, as not many people came in. Most of my shift would be spent trying to make our limited supply of toys and games look like they actually filled up the shelves, or else “demonstrating” the toys on the sidewalk in front (I played with a lot of bubble guns). I would occasionally get to chase kids out of the store, but they always got away with fistfuls of Yu-Gi-Oh playing cards stuffed in their pants.

What did you want to be when you grow up? 
I always wanted to be a veterinarian, until I found out that they had to euthanize pets. Sad face.

Where would you go in a time machine? 
I wouldn’t. For all the time travel I represent, the idea freaks me out!

What are some of your favorite movies? 
Ahh, favorite movies. Well, I really loved The Fall. And I love the Mighty Ducks and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Also the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost trilogy. Love me some Simon Pegg!

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done? 
I might sound like a dork here but I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done – or at least the most scared I’ve ever been to do something that I did anyway – was agreeing to go to my first conference. I’m terrible in social situations and the idea of a conference with speed-dating pitch appointments and speaking on panels alongside well-seasoned agents had me freaked out. I also have a very real fear of public speaking. So agreeing to go wasn't easy and once I said yes, my stomach was in knots until it was over. I’ve been to many conferences since then, and it’s still a little scary every time, but definitely less so the more I do!

Pie or cake? 

Oh, cake, for sure. 

You can find more Beth here: Twitter, Tumblr, and what she's looking for.

Friday, July 31, 2015

TBA Monthly Wishlist -- July 2015

It's time again for the Monthly Wishlist!  Here's the ONE project that the TBA agents would love to see in their submission inbox. If you have something that fits with the below, please check out our submission guidelines and send it over. We can't wait to read!

Historical fiction set during a momentous time or centered around the secret love affair of a historical figure. – Louise Fury

High concept women’s fiction with lots of plot, emotion and heart, like THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman. – Jenny Bent

I love MG and YA books that have a story within a story -- be that a book, play or something else! Susan Hawk

I would love to work on a speculative novel or thriller with supernatural elements, either YA or adult. Think THE ROOK by Daniel O'Malley, THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman, or HALF-RESURRECTION BLUES by Daniel Jose Older. I want to believe in (and be terrified by) magic! Brooks Sherman

Big, gorgeous YA fantasy with Asian settings, characters, world. Beth Phelan

Animals and anthropomorphic characters—I love stories with either animals as the main character, or with a close bond with a child. Examples: CHARLOTTE’S WEB, A DOG CALLED HOMELESS, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Or what about historical fiction seen through the eyes of an animal—major events in history with a dog or cat or pig or...etc. narrator? Gemma Cooper

A domestic suspense novel with a really strong sense of place like MO Walsh's MY SUNSHINE AWAY Victoria Lowes

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Susan Hawk closing to queries, until September 22nd

I will be closed to queries from Wednesday, July 28th, through Monday, September 21st, which will give me time to get caught up.  On Sep 22nd, I’ll open to queries again.

If you queried before this announcement was made (on 7/28 at 9:00 am EST), I will reply to your query in the next couple of weeks. 

If I requested your material, or if you were referred by a client or someone I know, please go ahead and send your query.

All other queries will receive an auto-reply, reminding you that I’m closed, and requesting that you re-query when I open again.

Many thanks all, I’m already excited to see what my query inbox brings this September!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Marketing & School Appearances: Interview with Catherine Balkin of Balkin Buddies

Today, we're continuing our focus on marketing and school appearances, in a conversation with Catherine Balkin, President of Balkin Buddies, a company that books authors into school and libraries for appearances, as well as provides other general information about publishing.  We're so glad to have Catherine with us today!

Catherine, you're the President of Balkin Buddies.  Can you tell us a bit about what you do, and how you came to create your company?
As you know, I worked at HarperCollins for 15 years. When I left, a lot of the authors I had worked with asked me to continue setting up school visits for them. Some librarian friends suggested I build an author appearance website (librarians always have the right answers!). After that, other authors and illustrators approached me to work with them as well, so now I work with quite a number of them in various capacities. I promote all those I work with via social media. I have a blog; I tumble on Tumblr, pin on Pinterest, tweet and listen in on various educational listservs to see if any schools are looking for author visits. I also promote the authors at library and educational conferences and occasionally give talks on the subject.

What impact can school appearances have on an author's career?  How are they different than bookstore appearances?
Once a school has had an author come to their school, the author’s books live on in their library for several years because the kids remember their presentations and continue to request their books. A good school also promotes the author visit in local newspapers so they get local attention in area libraries and bookstores. The more attention authors get, the better it is for their books. Authors also get paid an honorarium for school visits, which helps their budget and gives them writing time that they wouldn’t have if they had to have full time jobs. Several authors have also mentioned that school visits help them to stay in tune with their audience, too. They get story ideas from the kids they talk to. Bookstore appearances are different in that they don’t pay the authors an honorarium. Publishers pay the author’s expenses and arrange book tours at a number of bookstores. Also, in bookstores, authors may give readings but they never give full length presentations, as they do in schools.

How can a debut writer get started making school appearances?
I always recommend that a new writer start locally, contacting schools in their own town. I also suggest they create a flyer for their book and add information about their school presentation and honorarium, which should be on the low side. I know some new authors will do free school visits, but I wouldn’t suggest doing very many. In my experience, people think they get what they pay for and that if they’re not paying, they’re not getting anything. The only exception might be the school the author’s children are attending. Authors can also talk to bookstores, especially independents, and ask them to let schools know about their books and that they’re available for school visits. Bookstores might be willing to put out the author’s promotional flyers for people to take. Also, of course, they should have a website (see more about this below).

Does it make sense for writers to make school appearances before they have a book published?
No. Schools expect a professional writer, and if the writer doesn’t have a book out, they won’t be taken as seriously. If the author is expecting the book to be out shortly, I would still suggest not scheduling a visit until after the pub date. Authors usually autograph books during school visits. The schools order books from the publisher, the local bookstore or online, so the author should want to make sure the book is not only in the warehouse but has time to be distributed.

How important is a website for authors?  How can writers use their site to promote their school visits?
Most schools learn about children’s book authors and illustrators by searching the internet and finding out about their books. So a website is very important. Information they ought to include on their website is some biographical information; any and all books awards; a list of their books in print; links to places people can order books or learn more about them, such as Amazon or; descriptions of a couple of their school programs; an honorarium range (for example, $500 to $1,000 plus expenses depending on location, group size, etc.); and contact information. I’d also suggest they put their website address on their business cards and any promotional material they create.

I would also suggest authors and illustrators put information about themselves, their books their programs and their contact information on other sites as well, such as and

When does it make sense for writers to hire a booker, such as yourself? 
Authors should be somewhat established before they hire a booking agent. They don’t have to be famous, just know what they’re doing by then. Authors frequently expect booking agents to get a lot more author visits for them, but that’s not necessarily the case. Having a booking agent might get them a few more schools, but there’s usually a lot more to it than that. Just promoting authors and their books is a full time job but that’s only one aspect of a booking agent’s job. The booking agent often does most of the paperwork, such as writing the contract for the visit, sending invoices to the schools and filling out forms that the schools or school districts may require.  It’s also easier for a booking agent to negotiate the honorarium for the author. As mentioned previously, I recommend an honorarium range be added to the author’s website, but depending on what the school wants the author to do, I try to get the maximum of the range. If authors don’t like negotiating or are wary of charging the maximum, a booking agent is good to have, because most of us are far from reluctant to charging the most we can get.

What do you recommend that writers charge for their honorarium?
For a new writer, I’d say $300 to $600 plus expenses is a good range. As they and their books get better known, I’d recommend they raise it. If they win a major award – a Newbery Honor or Newbery Award, for example – they can start charging $2,000 plus expenses, maybe even more.

Any other advice on school appearances, or marketing, for writers?

I’d suggest new writers and even established writers looking to refresh their school visits go to conferences. They might start with their own state or regional reading or library conferences which can easily be found on the internet. Then be sure to bring lots of promotional flyers and business cards and engage the teachers and librarians you meet on the exhibit floor, in autographing lines, at meal functions or even in the coffee line. I’d suggest keeping it short, but don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, talk about your book for a couple of minutes, and give out your flyer. Conference goers don’t bite and love books. Take advantage of it.