Wednesday, July 31, 2013

World Building (with Harry Potter Studio Tour Photos) -- a post by Gemma

So this blog post isn’t just an excuse to post pictures of my trip to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, I promise. But I will post some of them, because it is a blog about world-building, and the Harry Potter books are a excellent example of this. 

The Great Hall
Dumbledore's Office

When we talk about world-building, it can be tempting for authors who write contemporary stories to switch off, but world-building isn’t just for fantasy and sci-fi writers. If your book is set on the street you live on, or at your old school, you still need to build a world on the pages of your novel and show it to the reader. He doesn’t know your school or its layout! This means that you need to know everything about your world and what its rules are, even if some of these details don’t appear on the page. 

The trick with world-building is not to just give a laundry list of descriptions and overload the reader. I talked in an earlier post about ‘less is more’ – if you give the reader too much information in one scene, they’ll forget everything. Better to give them one key memorable description and then fill in little bits of information over time. 

Chamber of Secrets Door

Like all parts of writing a novel, as much as possible your world should be shown to the reader and not told. Describe how your character interacts with and fits into the world, rather than just being descriptive. Think of the world as a character itself and flesh it out like you would any other.

It might be a good idea to draw a map of your setting, so that you always know that if your character turns left out of English class, she will end up at French class next. Or that she has a shop on the corner of her street. If your book is set during school time, give your characters a timetable, so that when you have scenes happening after lunch on a Friday, you know what class they are in. 

J K Rowling had enough of a world built to cover seven very long novels – all with new places to visit and things to learn. She developed her world by adding all the fantastic details like the titles of spell books, the rules of Quidditch, and famous wizards of old on the chocolate frog trading cards. She created Diagon Alley and filled it with shops – even one selling magical sweets (which really do have vomit flavour in them).

Buy your books in Flourish and Blotts
Bertie's Every Flavour Beans (which made me sick)

So, some key advice on world-building:

  • Keep a notebook handy when writing so you can easily refer back to complicated bits in your world (timetables, characters’ ages, dates of birth, locations, maps, etc.)
  • Give your secondary characters a back story (again in a separate notebook). You never know when you’ll need these, and adding in details about someone’s past can really make a 2-D character become a fully fleshed-out 3-D character. Also, this is helpful if you are writing a series, as you may decide you love a secondary character and want to use him more later. Creating the world that your secondary characters live in will develop and inform the world your main character lives in.
  • Give description in small doses so as not to overwhelm your reader. Show key details which will be memorable.
  • If you plan your book as a series, don’t give away all the best bits in the first book! Hold some information back.
  • Think through how the rules of your world work. For example, if your world has no men in it, where do all the babies come from? It’s okay if this is the case, as long as you convincingly explain to the reader how the world works without men.
  • Be aware of the geography of your world. If your main character spends time in different locations, how is she getting between these settings and is she doing this in realistic time? If you have your character meeting someone at 4:00 p.m., can she get there after school? Does she walk? Take the bus? If she takes the bus, does she have money?

Tom Riddle's Grave
Drinking Butterbeer outside Privet Drive (very yummy)

World-building, if done well, means the reader can really see the steps your character takes and picture the setting in his mind. And you never know — if it’s done really well, you might one day see it on the big screen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Deal Announcement: U.S. deal for Kat Ellis's BLACKFIN SKY

I'm delighted to announce another deal for Kat Ellis's BLACKFIN SKY, this one with Running Press Kids in the U.S. Great book, great list, great news! Congratulate Kat on Twitter at @el_kat.

July 29, 2013
Young Adult 
Kat Ellis's BLACKFIN SKY, in which a teenager drowns off Blackfin Pier on her sixteenth birthday and is mourned by her whole town, only to reappear at school three months later as if nothing had happened, to Lisa Cheng at Running Press Kids, for publication in Fall 2014, by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency (World exc. UK/Commonwealth).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Further thoughts on rejection--a post by Jenny

I write a lot about rejection because I *think* a lot about rejection.   I'm on both the giving and receiving end of it almost every day, after all.   

On any given day, I receive about 20 to 50 queries.  I just checked and so far today I've received 18.   Most them will be rejected, not because they are necessarily "bad" or unworthy somehow, just because for whatever reason (and I've blogged about this before), they weren't right for my list.   I don't exactly know what my request percentages are, but I think I probably request more than many other agents, I think it's part of my optimistic nature to do so.   It's so hard to tell from a query and ten pages what the potential of a manuscript is and so I often ask to see books that I'm a bit on the fence about.   And I have definitely offered representation for titles that I have initially been unsure about.

But you guys know all about this, and if you are an aspiring writer reading this blog, you may have even been on the receiving end of a rejection from me or from one of the other agents here.

This is what I want you to know about this:  we don't like rejecting manuscripts!   Nothing makes me happier than requesting a manuscript, loving it, offering representation and then selling it.   It's not a happy process to turn people down all the time and I don't know a single agent who does like it.   And here's what I also want you to know about this: we understand rejection and we know how hard it is and how much it can hurt because we also get rejected ALL THE TIME.  

In the past few months, I have offered representation to two authors who I thought were absolutely terrific.   Both of them had multiple offers of representation and both of them went with other agents.   So not only I got rejected, but a bunch of other agents got rejected.   I'm sure it wasn't the first time for any of them and it won't be the last time for any of us.

So there's that kind of rejection.  Then, consider this:  I have never, not in 20 years, sold a book that didn't receive multiple rejections in addition to the offer or offers of publication that it received.   Even when I sell a book at auction, and there are multiple bidders, there are always also multiple passes.   Sometimes it takes two or three rounds of submissions to sell a book, in fact, and I can get up to 20 or 30 passes before I sell something.  So even the "success" stories are full of rejection. 

And here is what I have learned from all this rejection.  The very most successful authors and agents I know do not get fazed by rejection. Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it sucks.  But if you don't personalize it (it's your book that got rejected, not YOU, is one helpful way to look at it), and you keep up the good fight, every single day, and you just keep trying as hard as you can, you are going to succeed.  I truly believe that.  I have certainly been laid low by rejection.  It's battered at my confidence, I'm not going to lie.  But I have never, ever let it defeat me.  And I want all of you reading this to promise yourselves that you won't let it beat you either.  Believe in yourself even when it feels like no one else does.  I am rooting for you!


Monday, July 22, 2013

YA/MG internship opportunity -- closed to applications

What an amazing response to our call for YA/MG interns! We've been inundated with applications, and so we've closed the application period. Watch the blog, though, because these opportunities do come up a couple of times a year. Thank you all for your interest and enthusiasm -- we'll be combing through the applications this week and responding to all the applicants in due course.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Victoria's Query Wishlist

Hello all!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the amazing team here at the Bent Agency! I can’t wait to start reading your submissions. I thought it’d be helpful if I gave you all my query wishlist as a way to introduce myself. You can submit to me at

Please note that I am currently only representing titles intended for digital-first publishers.

- My two must-haves for this are: 1. A fresh contemporary voice 2. A swoon-worthy male protagonist.
- I’d love to see contemporary, historical, romantic suspense, time-travel, really any genre of romance with the exception of paranormals.

Historical Fiction…
- I love well-researched, female-driven historicals that simultaneously educate and fascinate me.
- For novels set in the US, I have a special soft spot for the turn-of-the-century novel as well as those set during WW2.
- I also love historicals set in China or Japan. Please refer to anything written by Lisa See.
- This may not yet be considered historical but I also love stories set in late 20th century Middle East. Some of my all time favorite books include Khaled Hossieni’s A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS and Rohinton Mistry’s A FINE BALANCE.
- I’d love a good historical thriller or mystery. If you have one of these, please send it my way.
-However, I don’t particularly like medieval or regency historicals.

 YA Fiction…
- Especially contemporary YA romance.
- I’d also like a historical YA, again, preferably with a female perspective set in any of the aforementioned time periods.
- I only want fantasy that’s particularly creepy.

 New Adult Fiction…
- The most important thing for me for NA is an authentic, relatable voice

I’m also looking for:
-       Thrillers
-       Mystery
-       Humor
-   Women’s Fiction

Things I’m not looking for include:
-       Science Fiction
-       Adult fantasy
-       Non-fiction works
-       Middle-grade or Picture books

I look forward to reading your queries!

Openings & First Lines (a post from Susan)

Like every agent, I’ve read lots and lots of openings; it’s after reading the first ten pages of a manuscript that I determine if I want to see more of the project.  There are certain qualities that I look for in the first lines of a book, and I wanted to share those here.

In general, I find the key to a great opening is giving just enough information to keep your reader interested, but to hold something back as well – it’s that combination of the strongly defined character, in combination with something curious or unknown, that keeps me reading. 

Establish a strong sense of the main character
In the opening, you don’t have space to share all the background on your main character, so don’t waste time on non-essential details.  Cut right to the chase: what’s at stake for your character?  What problem are they facing?  What do they want, but can’t have (at least right now)?

There should be nothing extraneous in the opening, and I often see too much explanation, scene setting, and description.  If parts of your opening don’t work directly to establish character, they may not be necessary.

Establish a good rhythm and build
Sometimes I read openings that feel choppy or confusing.  Often the writer is trying to get too much across -- is feeling pressure to capture attention, but isn’t remembering that less is more.  Try to establish an even layering of one action building to the next. 

Introduce something unexpected or puzzling
You want to make me sit up and take notice right away, and this is most easily done when you introduce a juxtaposition of two things not usually together, or something unexpected.  You don’t want to be confusing, of course, leave me curious and intrigued.

Open with action or conflict.
A caution on this point.  Too much action (and especially action at the expense of the character or world building) can feel relentless or dislocating, and ultimately uninteresting – the exact opposite of what that action is meant to do!  Action and conflict can be interior too. 

Short sentences
Often, strong openings use short sentences very effectively; they can help build curiosity and keep it simple.  This ultimately comes down to style, and you may not write this way, but if you’re struggling with your opening, see if using some shorter lines helps.

I’ll close with a few of my opening pet peeves: the alarm bell rings and a character gets out of bed, a discussion of the weather, or a detailed explanation of the character in the midst of a mundane process, like making breakfast.  Usually in these situations, the character is alone and thinking to themselves, and there’s a lack of tension.  While too much action is disorienting, introspection before we know the character and are invested in her isn’t compelling either.  It’s a balancing act!

Good luck with your openings, I look forward to seeing them in my query box!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

YA/MG internship opportunity

We're in need of another young adult/middlegrade fiction intern, so if you're a fan of authors such as...

Stephanie Perkins
Rebecca Stead
Patrick Ness
Gayle Forman
Jack Gantos
Rae Carson
Laura Jarrett
Philip Pullman
James Dawson
Maureen Johnson
Margo Lanagan

...and you're interested in learning more about how agents consider submissions, read on. You'd need to be an avid reader of books for young people and, ideally, familiar with both the classics and more recently-published novels.

Interested? Send an email to Tell us why you want the internship and something about yourself, or include a resume if you have one (but it's not necessary). Include two lists: the last ten books you read and your ten favorite YA/MG books of all time. 

We ask for a ten-hours-a-week commitment. If you've applied in the past, you're welcome to apply again.

We usually get a great many applicants and the application period will close fairly quickly; watch this space and Twitter (@mollykh) for details.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Deal Announcement: Kat Ellis's YA debut, BLACKFIN SKY

Terrific news from our London office: Kat Ellis's haunting, clever BLACKFIN SKY has sold to Firefly Press, an exciting new children's publisher based in Wales. (Fun fact: Kat herself is Welsh, proper Welsh -- she speaks the language and lives on the coast of North Wales.) I love this book; the characters crackle with life and the story is full of twists and turns, not to mention a spooky burned-out circus that reminds me of the late lamented Carniv├áleLlongyfarchiadau, Kat!

 International rights:
UK Children's 
Kat Ellis's debut BLACKFIN SKY, a young adult thriller in which Skylar Rousseau drowns off Blackfin Pier on her sixteenth birthday and is mourned by her whole town, only to reappear at school three months later as if nothing had happened, to Penny Thomas at Firefly Press, for publication on its launch list in May 2014, by Molly Ker Hawn at the Bent Agency (UK/Commonwealth).

Exciting, right? You can congratulate Kat on Twitter at @el_kat.

Deal Announcement: HIPPIE BOY: A Girl's Story by Ingrid Ricks

I'm delighted to announce that HIPPIE BOY: A Girl's Story by Ingrid Ricks has sold to executive editor Denise Silvestro at Berkley publishing.   HIPPIE BOY was originally independently published by Ingrid and recently hit the New York Times bestseller list.   I first read it about a year ago and devoured it in one sitting:  it's a wonderful, funny, and truly inspirational memoir in the vein of The Glass Castle.  

July 5, 2013
Ingrid Ricks's HIPPIE BOY, a self-published NYT bestseller; desperate to escape her oppressive Mormon home life, a teenage girl hits the road with her freewheeling dad, to Denise Silvestro at Berkley, at auction, for publication in Fall 2013, by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency (World English).

Ingrid's website can be found at and please join me in congratulating her on twitter at @ingridricks.