Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dialogue Tags--a post by Gemma

Continuing what’s turning out to be a mini-series of self-editing tips, I thought talking dialogue tags would be a good topic for today’s blog. Dialogue tags are tricky beasts, and in submissions and client manuscripts I find the same errors come up again and again. Can you spot these errors in the examples?

“I saw a shark!” the woman screamed.

“Don’t talk rubbish,” the Captain dismissed, “there are no sharks in these waters.”

“I did,” she insisted.

“I think I did also,” the young boy added.

“You’ve both gone sea-crazy,” the Captain snapped, looking over the bow of the old boat and into the water.

Like all my posts, I’m not going to claim these are beautifully written passages, but it should be obvious what the main problem is with them. The crazy dialogue tags! You trip over them, they are hard to read, and worst of all, they tell you how to read the dialogue, rather than the dialogue being strong enough to stand on its own. There is nothing wrong with “he said” – it’s a practically invisible phrase that readers scan over. English teachers all over the world can be blamed for teaching us not to use “said” and to use something more flowery. But we must stop! 

Of course, you can use other dialogue tags – asked, shouted, screamed, added – but in moderation. Too many and your reader will struggle to hear your dialogue as natural conversation.

Just as the Captain peered into the water, a great white shark jumped up, snapping his powerful jaws just inches from the old sea dog.

“Oh my God!” the Captain said loudly. 

“So there are no sharks, then?” the woman said sarcastically.

“Well, I—I’ve never seen. Just, wow!” the Captain said in a shocked tone, backing further away from the edge.

“Can we go back to shore now?” the boy asked hopefully.

As with the earlier example, these adverbs after the dialogue tags are telling the reader how to read the sentence. Again, dialogue should be strong enough to convey the tone without it being spelt out. It’s basically the ‘show not tell’ that we agents are always going on about!

The Captain grabbed his harpoon gun. “No way am I going back. I’m going to catch that bad boy,” he said, knowing that this catch could clear all the debts he had on the boat, which hadn’t exactly been paying for itself with undersubscribed tourist fishing trips.

“Oh, no! Please, sir, please can we go back,” sobbed the boy, who’d always been afraid of water after nearly drowning at his very first swimming lesson.

“Yes, please. I’ll pay you extra,” the terrified woman said, hoping that her bank account wasn’t overdrawn again after her gambling ex-husband got hold of her new bank card.

I’m sure it’s obvious, but this is very expositional. It’s telling the reader something about a character in a really awkward and unnatural way. This should be a high-tension scene, so would the woman really be thinking about her ex-husband?

“Pay me extra, eh?” The Captain stepped towards the woman, wondering if that was a better offer than risking his neck trying to catch a big shark. “Now that I might be interested in.”

“I can get some cash when we get ashore.” The woman fumbled with her wallet, seeing nothing but a one-dollar bill.

“Okay, then.” He put down the gun. “I suppose I’m too old to be hunting sharks.”

The boy jumped from his seat and hugged the old man. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Don’t fuss, now!” The Captain shrugged the boy off and turned the ship back to shore.

It’s fine to not use dialogue tags at all, and to show who is talking by interspersing the dialogue with beats or movement. But add too many beats and the dialogue doesn’t flow, leading to all the pace being sucked out of a dramatic scene (not that this is a very dramatic piece of writing, considering a shark just appeared!).

As with all ‘rules,’ these are just guidelines for polishing your work. If you know the rules, then you’ll know when it’s okay to break them. Maybe you want to use a beat, or perhaps giving a little bit of exposition is right for your plot at that stage of your story. Use in moderation and the reader will barely notice. What you don’t want to do is pull the reader out of the story,” said the slightly excitable literary agent who was wondering what editing tips she would blog about next time.  

For previous posts in this self-editing tips ‘series’ click here and here

Deal Announcement - Three Book Debut MG Murder/Mystery Series for Robin Stevens!

As announced in The Bookseller this morning, I thrilled to share the news of a three-book deal for Robin Stevens’ debut, MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE: A Wells and Wong Mystery! This is the book I wished for on my first TBA blog post and the book that I fell in love with on page one and then live tweeted. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are two of my all time favourite characters, and I just know you are all going to fall in love with them just as I did.

 International rights:
UK Children's 

Robin Stevens’ debut, MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE: A Wells and Wong Mystery, set in the 1930s and pitched as a middle-grade Agatha Christie featuring Hazel Wong and her best friend Daisy Wells, who find a body in their boarding school, to Natalie Doherty at Random House Children’s UK, in a three-book deal for publication March 2014, by Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency (UK and Comm).

I couldn’t be more pleased that this series found a home with Natalie at Random House Children’s UK. Excitement has meant they are publishing it in March 2014, and I can already give you a taster of what to expect... 

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

You totally want to read it, right? Well, it's not that long to wait and you can follow Robin's progress on her blog or wish her congratulations on twitter!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Deal Announcement: Subsidiary Rights Sales

Congratulations to the following Bent Agency clients on their subsidiary rights sales:

Jan Moran's PROMISE OF ROSES (St. Martins: 2014) has sold in Brazil to Novo Conceito and in Germany to Weltbild.

Anita Howard's SPLINTERED (Abrams: 2013) has a new deal in Israel with Korim.  The book has also sold in Germany, Turkey, Taiwan, Brazil and Spain.

New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands' IMMORTAL EVER AFTER (Avon: 2012) has sold in Germany to her long-time publisher LYX.  She is a regular on the Der Spiegel bestseller list there.

Lynsay Sands' brand new novel AN ENGLISH BRIDE IN SCOTLAND (Avon)  has sold in the Netherlands to Audax.

Deal announcement: LOVE LIKE THE MOVIES by Victoria Van Tiem

I am thrilled to announce the sale of Victoria Van Tiem's LOVE LIKE THE MOVIES to Abby Zidle at Pocket Star.  This is an adorable, charming book about a woman who is challenged to re-enact a list of great movie moments by her ex-boyfriend.   Will she end up in his arms again or will she marry the "safe" guy, the one her family loves?   Victoria is a real go-getter, an amazing writer with a really inspirational story that you can check out here.

Here's the deal announcement:

Fiction: Women's/Romance
Victoria Van Tiem's LOVE LIKE THE MOVIES, one list, ten movie moments, and a handful of Hollywood style shenanigans lead a woman to question everything...should she marry the man her family loves, or rewrite the script, learn to trust again, and reunite with the one who broke her heart?, to Abby Zidle at Pocket Star, for publication in Summer 2014, by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency (NA). Film: Brandy Rivers at Gersh

Please join me congratulating Victoria on twitter at @vtiem or "like" her on Facebook here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Deal Announcement - Four Book Deal for NYT Bestselling Author Lynsay Sands

I'm so thrilled to announce that the wonderful NYT bestselling Argeneau Vampire series by Lynsay Sands will continue at Avon/HarperCollins for four more books.   Once again, we made the deal with her talented and terrific long-time editor Erika Tsang.   If you haven't read these sexy, funny books, they are definitely worth checking out.

Here's the announcement:

June 17, 2013
Lynsay Sands' untitled next book in the NYT bestselling Argeneau Vampire series, to Erika Tsang at Avon, in a major deal, in a four book deal, by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency (World English).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Wuz Wrong--A Post on Not Getting Discouraged by Jenny

It’s been a while since I’ve written an inspirational blog post and I’m feeling like the timing is right.  Today I want to write about projects that I’ve passed on that have gone on to get book deals.   People, I am here to tell you that there have been MANY of these, and any other agent can tell you the same thing.    Often, when I pass on something, I feel pretty sure it will get a book deal, but I know I’m not the right person to get it there.  But sometimes I’m surprised to see something that I didn’t think had much potential get a book deal, or perform very well in the market.  Yes, you heard me correctly:  I WUZ WRONG.  It happens all the time.  Agents are fallible too. 

What is the moral of this?   It’s the fact that I, or any other agent passes on your project, is no reason to a. get discouraged or b. stop trying.  Now, if you get 30 agent passes or no requests at all to see your material, that means you should probably stop and assess your project, maybe get some more reads, and try to figure out what the problem is.    I’m not saying to completely discount the fact that you are getting rejected.   But I am saying that a pass doesn’t mean that your project isn’t worthy or doesn’t indeed have a good chance of getting published.   There are many other possible interpretations:

1.    It’s not the agent’s personal taste
2.    The agent doesn’t know the right editors to send it to
3.    The agent thinks it needs work but doesn’t really have a clear vision for how to fix it
4.    The agent is taking on very few new clients
5.    The agent is having a bad day or is in a bad mood

See what I mean?   So here comes the inspirational part:  KEEP TRYING.   Remember the different possible interpretations of rejection.  Don’t take it personally.   Absorb feedback, consider it, and revise if necessary, but don’t give up because I, or any other agent out there, didn’t immediately see the potential in your work. 

Have faith in yourself and the power of what you write.   I’m pulling for you!


P.S. One last thing.  It kind of bugs me when I hear writers say, "oh that agent rejected me," or "so-and-so agent rejected me three times."  Agents don't reject YOU, they reject your project.     I think it's an important distinction to make.   I know that for at least a few of my clients, I rejected previous novels they sent me once or even twice before signing them up when they approached me with a new book.   I never rejected them, I just rejected work they sent that maybe wasn't quite ready to be sent out in the world. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Deal Announcement - Four Book Young Fiction Series for Katy Cannon!

I am delighted to announce a four book deal for debut author Katy Cannon! Katy will be writing an adorable young fiction series called Pooch Palace which is packed with puppies, glitz and glamour - and a very special little dog called Lulu. My parents ran a boarding kennel and grooming parlour when I was a kid, so I love this series, although the main character Abi gets to do way more fun things than I ever did! Katy has a real talent writing for this age range, and I'm so pleased we get to go on this journey with the lovely folks at Stripes Publishing.

You can learn more about Katy (and follow her blog for lots of puppy pictures) at or say hi on twitter: @katyjocannon.

Congratulations Katy!

June 17, 2013

International rights:
UK Children's 

Katy Cannon's POOCH PALACE series, showcasing the adventures and misadventures of nine-year old Abi and her 'bouncy cloud on legs' Bichon Frise when they spend the summer at a luxury dog grooming parlor, dealing with film stars, celebrities and a lot of naughty pooches, to Ruth Bennett at Stripes, in a four-book deal, for publication in March 2014, by Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency.