Friday, October 24, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

Have you heard about We Need Diverse Books? It's a new non-profit venture dedicated to promoting diverse experiences in children’s literature. We think they're onto something—after all, half of U.S. school children are minorities, whether people of color, LGBT, and/or disabled. But most children's books feature a decidedly more homogeneous group of characters.

We Need Diverse Books has a fundraising campaign underway to support their programs, and Gemma, Susan, Brooks, and I have all donated some time to support it. If you donate to the WNDB campaign, you could get yourself a critique of your query and the first ten pages of your manuscript—and help change the face of children's literature at the same time. Sounds like a good deal to me. Go check it out.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Likes and Dislikes... a Note on Rejection and What to Do Next, from Susan

Like every agent, I pass on more projects than I request.  Often, I receive a kind reply, asking if I can take a minute to explain why I’m passing, or to give some advice about what would improve the project.  I wish I could reply to each of these requests, but in lieu of that, here are some of the reasons I pass, and some suggestions about what to do next.

The first reason for a pass is that the project just isn’t right for me.  I think it’s fair to say that most everyone involved in books and publishing got here because they love reading.  From the time I was six years old, curling up with a new book was a favorite pastime, and that’s never changed.  When I consider queries, I bring that life of reading with me -- I’m looking at your material through the lens of all the books I’ve read and loved, as well as those I’ve read and not loved.  My own likes and dislikes inform my response, of course, and so a pass doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea isn’t a good one, or that it’s not written well.  It simply means that my particular heart doesn’t beat faster when I read it, but someone else’s may!

So, when you get a pass, remind yourself that any one agent is just that: one agent.  One person.  Dust off the slightly bruised ego (it happens to all of us, agents get rejections too!), and go on to the next.

Another reason I often pass has to do with the marketplace.  For instance, right now it’s a challenge to sell YA science fiction, as many editors have acquired quite a bit of that, and have enough for now.  I can enjoy your writing, but if it’s in a genre that’s challenging to sell, I may have to pass.  But more often than a certain genre that’s currently oversold, I see projects that don’t fit into their category in some way – a picture book text that’s over 1000 words, while most texts these days are 500 words or less, or a novel that’s YA in subject matter, but MG in tone.

The best way to make sure that your book is aligned to the market is to read, read, read.  Read as widely as you can in the category you’re writing (i.e. picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, etc) – set yourself a goal of forty books in six months, more if you’re working on picture books, and don’t stop there.  It’s only in reading a quantity of books that you will start to appreciate what makes a MG voice, as opposed to YA; how picture books texts can be so minimal, and get across character so fully; how detailed non-fiction texts tend to be, etc. 

The one thing you don’t want to do, as you read, is to try to determine what the next trend will be.  Trends are often short-lived, and therefore frustrating to chase.  Write your book – the book that only you can write.  Reading will give you the tools to do that, or as Stephen King says, “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

Sometimes I pass because I feel that the writing isn’t strong enough.  I’m looking for writing that totally captures me; that feels so true that it makes me laugh and cry.  That’s not easy to do, and ultimately, I know of only one way to get your writing to this level: practice.  You must keep writing, in spite of the passes, and keep growing your craft.  But how do you know that you are doing that?  Agents and editors aren’t able to give in-depth feedback for projects they haven’t taken on, so how do you know you’re on the right track?  You need to find your writing colleagues!  Joining a writing group can be invaluable, and going to a writers’ conference is a great way to find other writers you are simpatico with, not to mention another source for feedback in and of itself (via one-on-one or pitch sessions etc).  Writing can be a lonely experience, reach out to your fellow writers to find support as well as the feedback that will help you take your writing to the next level.

So, in short, here’s what to do if you get a pass:

  1. Remember that agents have their own likes and dislikes, just like anyone else
  2. Create a writing group
  3. Attend conferences
  4. Read, read, read!
  5. And most of all, KEEP WRITING!

 Any more questions?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll reply.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Deal Announcement: Subsidiary Rights Sales

Congratulations to the following TBA clients on their subsidiary rights sales!

Hebrew rights to Lori Nelson Spielman's SWEET FORGIVENESS were sold to Miskal in Israel, where her first book, THE LIFE LIST, was a #1 bestseller.

Czech rights to Francesca Zappia's MADE YOU UP were sold to Euromedia.

Brazilian rights to Jessica Cluess' A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING (books one and two) were sold in a pre-empt to Galera.

Dutch rights to Lynsay Sands' TO MARRY A SCOTTISH LAIRD were sold to Audax.  Turkish rights to TO MARRY A SCOTTISH LAIRD and AN ENGLISH BRIDE IN SCOTLAND were sold to Grup Yayinclik.  

Brazilian rights to AG Howard's A MOTH IN THE MIRROR were sold to Novo Conceito.

Turkish rights to Victoria Van Tiem's LOVE LIKE THE MOVIES were sold to Parodi.

Audio rights to Simon Clark's EREN were sold to WF Howes.

Audio rights to AG Howard's ENSNARED were sold to Blackstone Audio.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Gemma's Updated Wish List

This month I have been having ALL the meetings — I’m over in NYC catching up with lots of my favourite editors and meeting some lovely new ones. I’ve been having a ball! 

This month was also my second anniversary of joining TBA, so I thought it was well worth updating my wish list with projects I’m looking for that also seem to be in line with what editors are on the hunt for. I represent everything from picture books to young adult, and would love to add more US authors to my stable. 

WARNING: this list may contain lots of old movie, TV and song references.

Across all ages

A period of history or setting that I know nothing about — for example, GOLDEN BOY, which is about the murder and hunting of Tanzania’s albinos. Horrifying, gripping and something I had never heard about until reading the book.

Diverse characters — I would love more diversity across my list, but particularly on the younger end – bilingual picture books, a diverse IVY AND BEAN. For MG and YA, I want something like the Estelle song “1980” —a fantastic voice and a story told with a strong sense of time and place.

Meta books — books that break the fourth wall, a book within a book, books with in-jokes, books that reference themselves. Ideally, something that doesn’t take itself too seriously — think the type of humour in Community.

Author/illustrators writing for any age will get my immediate attention.

I have a twin brother, and he is my favourite person in the world, so I’d love more books that explore sibling relationships and how these change over the years.


I like an outsider for YA, and would love a YA novel like the movie Pump Up The Volume – a character who is really shy but also has a hidden personality….maybe he’s a gamer or is involved in some other social group outside of school.

I often quote Heathers as one of my favourite movies, and this isn’t just because of my teenage crush on Christian Slater. I love that Heathers spotlights the complicated and often toxic friendships between teens. Think Mean Girls as well, so less about boys, more about friendship dynamics.

I love love! I never get tired of reading about characters falling in love. My favourite part is the flirting and the teasing and the almost-kisses. It’s hard to standout in this area, so ideally this project will have a unique way of telling the story. For example, my client Katy Cannon’s book LOVE, LIES AND LEMON PIES is framed around a different recipe in each chapter. Or perhaps it will have dual POVs. I adore the way Rainbow Rowell writes about love, so she is a good indicator of my taste in this area.

I am very fussy about high fantasy, but I do love the romance and glamour that come with these types of books, so if your fantasy is more focused on that, and not so much the world-building (which still needs to be strong) then I’m your person!

I want an X-Files Mulder and Scully relationship. Maybe in a mystery, or thriller. That ‘will they, won’t they, they probably shouldn’t but wouldn’t they be great together’ type thing.

Power in an interesting concept to me — be that in romantic relationships, family dynamics or in more sinister environments like cults. I would like something that explores the control that one person can have over someone else, and how they can influence their decisions.

I am always nostalgic for extreme weather —so I love summer books and books set on islands or by the sea. I also love wintry, snowy books, or books set at Christmas. So can someone please send me my DASH AND LILY’S BOOK OF DARES or my THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY!

Finally, ripped-from-the-headlines stories. A book I just love is PRETTY GIRL 13, so something in that vein—how does a character recover after a big traumatic event, or how do the survivors cope.


Adventures are big for me in MG, be they contemporary or fantasy. I’d love something Goonies-inspired or a coming-of-age adventure like Stand by Me, where characters set off on an adventure and come back irrevocably changed having learnt something important about themselves. I’d also love a survival book like INTO THAT FOREST.

I devour all the old murder/mystery shows and have a borderline obsession with Murder She Wrote. I would be over the moon if someone sent me a small-town cosy mystery series in this vein. 

Contemporary with a magical or paranormal or sci-fi twist — think WHEN YOU REACH ME or SAVVY. Something that blends the genres together but the book still feels contemporary. Also, a ghost story would be great.

Realistic, domestic with some humour, perhaps set in a school and packed with voice. Think Ramona or a young Georgia Nicolson. Or a new spin on THE BABYSITTERS CLUB.

A new way of doing fiction for 8+ boys – what comes after WIMPY KID, TOM GATES, TIMMY FAILURE...? Maybe something involving video game culture.

For MG and Chapter Books: Animals and anthropomorphic characters  – I love stories with animals either as the main character, or animals with a close bond with a child. Examples: CHARLOTTE’S WEB, A DOG CALLED HOMELESS, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. For years I’ve also been asking for an updated version of HOMEWARD BOUND. 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?

Chapter books

I’m very selective about these, but I still want to add more funny (and diverse) chapter books to my list. Voice is so important in chapter books, and a good hook. I am a big fan of titles that explain exactly what the book is about, for example my clients Mo O’Hara’s MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH. I would love to have a girly chapter book – an IVY AND BEAN with a paranormal twist, perhaps, or animal-based. Or a hook that makes the series super-collectible. 

I love the humour of Phineas & Ferb, and older cartoons like Dangermouse and Ren & Stimpy. Plus I am devouring the MY LITTLE PONY graphic novels as the writing has such wit, and works on so many different levels. Chapter books that take on board all these would be great!

Early reader series

I am open to looking at early reader series – books from 2000-5000 words. These must have clear series potential and collectibility, plus they need to stand out from similar books in the market. These are hard to launch and hard to write, but when done well, they can really make an impression on kids moving from picture books to fiction. Books I love for this age are the CLAUDE series, LOTUS LANE and NOTEBOOK OF DOOM.

Picture Books

I recently fell in love with a fantastic new picture book called THIS BOOK ATE MY DOG and I would love something smart like this – making use of the page and breaking the fourth wall. I would also love a new spin on PRESS HERE.

I prefer short texts that don't take themselves too seriously, and high-concept ideas that can be sold on the title alone.

I would like some classic texts that could become gift books for the various holidays (Christmas, Valentines, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc.).

If you think you might have something that fits my wish list, or feel like I might be the agent for you, then please get in touch with your full picture book text or first 10 pages of your book pasted into an email with a query letter telling me more about the project. Send your submission to

Ultimately, I am always after a character with a unique way of looking at the world. I’m itching to sign some new projects, so I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Deal Announcement: Scarlett Cole's sexy debut to St. Martin's Press!

Today is a day of fantastic deal news!

Scarlett Cole is a truly exceptional debut. Her writing is super sexy, but also emotional, and her stories and characters have so much depth. I'm honored to be part of her career, and can't wait to see her rise to the top.

The first three books in Scarlett's Second Circle series will be published by St. Martin's Press. Please join me in congratulating her on Twitter here!

October 1, 2014
 Digital: Fiction: Women's/Romance Scarlett Cole's debut THE STRONGEST STEEL, the first in the Second Circle series, in which a woman with a knack for running away finds a Miami tattoo artist who agrees to ink over her horrific scars, but must take a stand when her attacker returns and threatens her new life -- and new love, to Elizabeth Poteet at St. Martin's, in a nice deal, in a three-book deal, by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency (World English).

Deal Announcement: M.J. Pullen's self-published bestsellers acquired by Macmillan!

I'm SO THRILLED to share this news with the TBA community!

M.J. Pullen is a very smart, very talented author of three contemporary romance novels. Unsurprisingly (because they're incredible), these novels caught the attention of Nicole Sohl at Macmillan, who not only saw their potential to reach an even broader market, but recognized their potential for film and TV.

So it is with tremendous excitement that we announce the book deal for THE MARRIAGE PACT, REGRETS ONLY and BAGGAGE CHECK, to be published by Thomas Dunne in association with Macmillan Entertainment. Bravo, and let's congratulate M.J. on Twitter here!

September 29, 2014 - THE MARRIAGE PACT, REGRETS ONLY and BAGGAGE CHECK by M.J. Pullen
Fiction: Women's/Romance
M.J. Pullen's self-published contemporary romance novels THE MARRIAGE PACT, REGRETS ONLY and BAGGAGE CHECK, about three school friends now in their 30s and reconciling conflicts in career, friendship and especially love, to Nicole Sohl at Thomas Dunne Books, in a nice deal, by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency(World English).