Sunday, May 31, 2015

TBA Monthly Wishlist - May 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!

Molly Ker Hawn: I want sophisticated, beautifully-written YA contemporary novels that explore complex relationships.

Louise Fury: I would love to read a YA version of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

Susan Hawk: I’m hungry for YA stories about surviving some kind of massive natural disaster: man-made, environmental or planetary.  Needs to have a very strong concept and excellent characters -- tell me what happens after our world is devastated.

Jenny Bent: A funny, quirky, literary family novel (for adults) like THE FAMILY FANG or WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES or THE VACATIONERS.

Heather Flaherty: YA contemporary, high-stakes romance.

Victoria Lowes: A lyrical historical fiction set in early 20th century NYC.  

Beth Phelan: I’d love to see YA family stories dealing with first-generation siblings, the conflicts with their parents, and issues balancing home life with their social one. Looking for emotionally resonant, but funny and heartfelt.

Gemma Cooper: I'm closing to queries as of 1st June 2015. Please query me when I reopen in August 2015.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview with S&S Senior Editor, Kristin Ostby

We’re so happy to have a guest on the blog today, Kristin Ostby.  Kristin is a Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and we adore her taste – especially since she’s publishing three Bent Agency titles (see below for more info on that)!  But more than that, Kristin is a real pro – and for this month’s focus on revision, we knew we couldn’t do better than to chat with her about how she got her start in Editorial, her own history as a reader, and her approach to working with writers on revising:

This question is a three-parter on your book history: Was there one book that started it all for you—inspired a love of reading in you? 

I don’t know that I could pinpoint just one. The first book I read on my own was Green Eggs and Ham—but I might have just had it memorized. I also recall repeat bedtime readings of Corduroy, Make Way for Ducklings, The Snowy Day, and The Story About Ping

Is there a book that changed your life? 

I cite this book so often, but Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech shattered me when I read it as a kid. I think it was the first book I read where the ending pulled the rug right out from under me. You laughed the whole way through, until suddenly, you were in tears. I am always searching for middle-grade like this book.  

Is there a book that you turn to again and again? 

With some exceptions, I am not a big re-reader. There are always too many books I haven’t read!

Did you always know that you wanted to be a children’s book editor? Can you tell us how your career evolved?

I did not always know I wanted to be a children’s book editor. At a certain point—probably high school—I knew I wanted to work with words. I figured that meant I’d be a journalist of some kind—in college, I wrote for the school newspaper, interned at a fashion magazine and a TV news station. But, thanks to a suggestion from a friend who knew how much I loved kids’ books, it finally occurred to me that a job as a kids’ book editor could be perfect for me. I received a summer internship at a major house, and it all fell into place from there.

What are the parts of your job that you least expected? 

I was surprised by how little manuscript editing gets done during the work day, and in turn, how little time there is for free-reading at home. Because editors wear so many hats, we spend our days fielding various requests from Sales, liaising with Marketing and Publicity about plans for upcoming books, preparing to take projects to acquisitions, making and negotiating offers, presenting our books at meetings, connecting with Design about covers and interiors, or reviewing passes of various stages of books. It means editing time and reviewing submissions mostly happens on nights and weekends.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor? 

For me, that means being available, responsive, supportive, and encouraging with my authors, as well as providing feedback that helps them develop their best work. It also means I’m a big advocate for their books in-house.

Editors have the great skill to read something that they can see needs work, while seeing what the manuscript can become. How do you do this—how do you intuit the story lying inside what’s on the page?

I’m drawn to voice and character first. If I connect with those two things, but the story isn’t quite there yet, I can usually see the potential. While the process of intuiting the best way to shape a story varies by book, it often comes down to looking at the overall story arc and trying to figure out ideas for how to build it to an exciting climax and a satisfying conclusion, with lots of tension and character development along the way. Hopefully either the author can get on board with your ideas, or they help to spur other ideas that might help to achieve a similar goal.

This month on the blog we’re focusing on revision.  What advice do you have for writers on this part of creating a book? 

Try your hardest to be flexible and open to the feedback you’ve received. This is not easy, but it’s crucial to being effective at revising. Even if you don’t exactly connect with a particular piece of feedback, it most likely signals a larger issue in your story that needs to be resolved. I’ve found there’s usually a way for an author to stay true to their story and to find a solution to the problem at hand, so long as they’re open to ideas.

Would you tell us about some of your favorite upcoming titles?

I’ll take this chance to brag about my Bent Agency titles! Next spring, I’m looking forward to the release of Poison Is Not Polite: A Wells and Wong Mystery by Robin Stevens, the follow-up to Murder Is Bad Manners, which published in April. Poison Is Not Polite is a fantastic middle-grade murder-mystery set at a 1930s English manor, when someone gets poisoned at tea. It’s spectacular. I am also working on two books for next summer from TBA, including Edward Gets Messy by Rita Meade, illustrated by Olga Stern. It’s about a very neat little pig who is afraid to get dirty, and it’s crazy-cute. And, last but not least, The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere is a middle-grade mystery-comedy about a girl who is frustrated she didn’t inherited the family business (a.k.a., the mafia) when her grandfather passed away, and along the way she discovers what it really means to be “bad.” (The Bent Agency rocks!)

Just for fun:
What did you want to be when grown up? At different times I wanted to be a singer, an oceanographer, a cartoonist, or an astronaut.

If you could sign one song on American Idol what would it be? “Damn Cold Night” by Avril Lavigne. Sure, why not.

What are some of your favorite movies? Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Princess Bride, What About Bob?, Almost Famous, The Jerk

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Deal Announcement: Donna Hosie's THE DEVIL'S BANSHEE to Holiday House

Once upon a time, I read a manuscript called THE DEVIL'S INTERN. I loved it so much, I couldn't wait to tell everyone about it. This is why I wanted to work in publishing! I thought. This book reminded me so much of the books I read and OBSESSED over as a teen -- in the BEST possible way. Just look at these lovelies:

The brilliant author of this incredible book was Donna Hosie, and she agreed to let me be her agent. We were very happy to have found this book a home at Holiday House. In Fall 2014, the book was released.

THE DEVIL'S INTERN enjoyed some wonderful, and well deserved, success. After getting starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, it landed on some prestigious lists including Kirkus Reviews's Best Books for Teens and ALA YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. 

Once we caught our breath, we shifted focus to what was next. THE DEVIL'S DREAMCATCHER is the second book of this series, and we have only just recently seen the cover and celebrated Kirkus's review, which praises Donna for her "marvelous humor" and the book for "more splendidly hellish fun." 

That book will be released in Fall 2015. (By the way, isn't that a GORGEOUS cover?) We're excited to see how readers will respond to the book once it is released and hope that they will enjoy meeting some new characters. 

But while we wait for that to happen, we've been cooking up something else. Something that will certainly spook, definitely amuse, and probably tug the heartstrings of the loyal followers and members of Team DEVIL. I'm talking about book three, people! Take a look at THE DEVIL'S BANSHEE: 

Young Adult 
The third book following THE DEVIL'S INTERN, one of the ALA and Kirkus "Best Books," Donna Hosie's THE DEVIL'S BANSHEE, in which a long-dead Viking Prince must lead his friends through the circles of hell to save the girl he loves from a terrible fate while confronting the darkness this domain brings out in each other and themselves, to Kelly Loughman at Holiday House, by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency (NA).

Yup. Just announced today. In honor of this occasion, there might be a meat feast pizza for dinner tonight. Yay, #TeamDEVIL!

Please join me in congratulating Donna on Twitter and you can read her own blog here.

Martin Stewart on the editing process

A guest post from TBA client Martin Stewart.

Back to the Future was nearly called Spaceman from Pluto. Toy Story’s initial storyboards cast Sheriff Woody as a sarcastic bully who picked mercilessly on Buzz. In Melville’s first draft, the opening line of Moby Dick was ‘Call me Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock.’

Okay, the third one isn’t true, but the point stands―it always pays to edit thoroughly.

The first thing to say is that I love editing. Really love it. I love examining sentences like they’re troublesome pistons, tweaking and finessing their actions before laying them back, purring, into the novel’s engine. That part is bliss―far more luxuriant and pleasurable than the hard graft of hewing out words in the first place.

So I approach edits with something of a song in my heart, and I would suggest that this is the first thing needed to be successful in editing one’s own work―the moments when your readers raise issues with your novel should be looked on as gifts. Even input that might seem to be a commercialised threat to your immaculate vision must be embraced and delighted in―viewed as an artistic challenge rather than an affront. Rather than fear the changes, we must think: ‘this is going to make my novel better, how amazing and exciting!’

I have some experience of editing in my fledgling career as a writer. The first big one came when my agent, the Fabulous Molly Ker Hawn, suggested that a shadowy character in my MG novel wasn’t quite working―and should be either developed or cut. This was a big change either way, affecting much of the text. But rather than feel dispirited, I was thrilled, and went through some of the processes detailed below to make the changes and emerge with what we both agreed was a stronger novel.

If you’re serious about writing for publication rather than as a pastime, you must understand that you are producing a commodity for sale and its being judged in those terms can be clinical. Faced with this, you will almost certainly abandon or give up on several novels in your journey: and you will gain something from every project. My debut novel (Riverkeep, out spring 2016 from Penguin UK!) features two characters swiped from a half-complete draft of an earlier work, a monster from a short story that sat in a folder on my desktop and was never read by another human being and a structural device from a novel I wrote nearly a decade ago.

Accepting that a particular project hasn’t worked is not a defeat―it is an exercise in the development and refinement of your talent and voice in which you should delight. Each project you set aside takes you a step closer to the one that will work beautifully, and it will stand more strongly on the shoulders of those previous attempts. Think of the abandoned drafts as a Shed of Wonder, to which you can wander and tinker when in need of inspiration.

This applies equally to the process of killing your darlings in an edit.

Be honest and brave. Neil Gaiman said that when a reader identifies a problem they are almost always right, and when they suggest a solution they are almost always wrong. So listen to your readers and find your own answers. What needs work? Dialogue? Pace? Are you rushing to the best bits and need to let the reader breathe? I know I overuse words. I like ‘flesh’ because of its immediacy and intensity, which is great―but when it pops up on every page it rather loses its impact. I also overwrite in first drafts, but while I love some of the phrases and little pearls of detail in these chewy, looping paragraphs I know they are standing in the way of my story and the rhythm I need to bring the reader into my world. They have to go. And when they do my book will be better―a good 1000 words will be a great 850. Rejoice! Hazzah! Cut cut cut!

And every little gem that is bravely cut goes into the Shed of Wonder.

I have some processes for my edits.

Highlight (credit Sara Grant for this tip). I highlight the words I overuse, characters’ names, paragraphs I know don’t scan well when reading aloud, colour-coding for clarity. As well as making them easier to find (and impossible to ignore), it’s a quick way of scanning to see proximity and frequency and sits well alongside…

Playing the numbers game. Using the Find function on Word lets me check how many times certain words or punctuation marks appear (I’m a devotee of semi-colons; I must rein this in at all times). How many pages appear between characters’ appearances? Too many? Is the reader going to forget people or events as a result? Is one of your minor characters popping up too frequently and threatening to take over the story? Or are they not mentioned enough and fading into the background? I used this to edit Riverkeep so that a particular plot strand occurred more evenly, and I know that the gaps between its appearances are 20, 30, 40 and 30 pages―far more regular and reader-friendly than before.

Making tables to dissect challenges. This is a huge help to me. I am a disorganised person, but I find order in edits. When faced with the MG edit mentioned above, I pondered how to solve it by making a two-column table of all the character’s appearances and noting beside it some ideas that might work instead. By looking at it in isolation it was easy to see the changes’ shape throughout the novel’s arc and far more manageable than scrolling back and forth through the text, rereading in a panic. A solution was quickly found and implemented, and it turned out not to be such a big deal! I always make tables of all the points raised by my readers and detail the changes. It makes it easy to see how they’re going to interact and nullifies their sense of threat.

But the main thing is the mindset. The edit is where your novel goes from good to great―where you learn your own foibles and develop your skills. It is where serious writers are made, and great works born.

So thicken your skin, build your own Shed of Wonder and edit coldly in the pursuit of brilliance. And sing songs of joy as you go, for those hard, clinical editorial notes are truly the greatest of gifts.

Martin's debut novel, RIVERKEEP, will be published by Puffin in Spring 2016. Follow Martin on Twitter at @martinjstewart.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

From the archives: Beginnings, Endings, and the stuff in between - a post from Jenny

Continuing our posts on editing, an fantastic archived post from Jenny Bent:

Lately I've been reading some really otherwise great manuscripts that seem to share the same three problems.  Since I'm seeing these missteps so much, I'm figuring that maybe I should write about them in the hopes that my advice will apply to the books of some of the readers of this blog as well.  The good news is that these problems are all very fixable--so read on and see if you think your book might be suffering from these same three writerly mistakes.

1. You don't need the first 50 pages.   Let me clarify.  You needed to *write* the first 50 pages.   You needed them to understand your characters better by giving them a back story.   But now that the book is done, your characters are alive and interesting and informed by the knowledge that these pages gave you.   So while you needed to write these pages, the reader doesn't need to read them.   Trust your characters to reveal themselves in the rest of the book and cut out the back story that is now slowing your book down.  

2. Your characters need to *feel* more.   I think "show don't tell" has been drummed into our heads so long and so often that we forget that we do need to let the reader into our characters' heads.   While we don't want you to do a big info dump of character development and we do want your characters to reveal themselves through action, you still also need to tell us sometimes what they are thinking and feeling along with that.  Let's call your main character Bob.  If you put Bob in a crazy situation, remember to tell us what his reaction is to that situation--or poor Bob will feel flat and lifeless to the reader.

3.  Your ending is rushed.  Readers love a satisfying ending.   Think of all the times you raced through a book only to feel let down by the ending.  Try to go in the opposite direction with your book.   I find a lot of writers want to have ambiguity or loose ends in an ending and I think that often that's the wrong impulse.   The beauty of a book, as opposed to life, is that we can have an ending that ties things up, or at least ties a lot of things up.   An ending should also provide a thorough, complex explanation of any motivations or happenings that seemed mysterious throughout the book.   I'm noticing that many of the endings I am reading in unpubbed manuscripts these days would be improved by adding at least an entire chapter of material.  

Do you feel your manuscript might share some of these issues?  Let me know in the comments.   And happy revising!


Click here for the original post for further interesting discussions in the comments.