Saturday, February 28, 2015

TBA Monthly Wishlist - February 2015

Alongside new themes on the blog, we will be running some new monthly features. One of these will be a wishlist post from all TBA agents on the last day of the month for ONE project they would really like to see in their submission inbox. If you have something that fits with the below, please check out our submission guidelineson the website and send it over. We can't wait to read!

Beth Phelan: YA contemporary inspired by the Upright Citizens Brigade or set around an improv class/community/troupe that explores the intersection of comedy and depression/mental illness that so many people struggle with every day.

Jenny Bent: A twisty turny suspense novel (for adults) with a female protagonist like GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

Susan Hawk:  Voicey, literary YA that makes me think, and makes me cry, like SPECTACULAR NOW or GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE.

Victoria Lowes: A YA set in the contemporary middle-east. Maybe it’s a romance; perhaps there are some elements of magical realism, though that’s not necessary.

Molly Ker Hawn: Smart, literary MG or YA that plays with narrative structure in a clever, surprising way.

Brooks Sherman: I would love to see a zany, comedic, voice-driven middle-grade novel like THE TAPPER TWINS GO TO WAR (WITH EACH OTHER) or THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA.

Heather Flaherty:  I really want some well done YA time-travel right now.

Louise Fury: Women’s fiction featuring a mother/ adult daughter relationship.

Gemma Cooper: I would love an epic MG fantasy adventure. Something that feels cinematic, with excellent world building, a big cast of interesting characters and scope for a series.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Deal Announcement: Harriet Reuter Hapgood's stunning YA debut to Roaring Brook and Macmillan UK

As announced in the Bookseller and Publishers Weekly, I’m thrilled to confirm an exciting 2-book deal for Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s debut YA novel THE SQUARE ROOT OF SUMMER.
We’ve had a crazy few weeks with an 8-publisher UK auction, an heated auction in the US, a French pre-empt, and auctions in Spain, Italy and Brazil. THE SQUARE ROOT OF SUMMER has captivated everyone who has read it, especially me! It's a YA contemporary with a twist, in which seventeen-year-old physics prodigy Gottie Oppenheimer navigates a summer of grief, world-stopping kisses and rips in the space-time continuum, as she tries to reconcile her first heartbreak with her last. From the opening line, I was transported to summer and stayed glued to the book until it's end - I can’t wait for you all to read it and fall in love as well!

And a side note - between meetings with UK publishers during the auction process, Harriet and I stopped in the Foyles cafe for lunch. Harriet ordered a ginger beer and I had to take a photo: 

THE SQUARE ROOT OF SUMMER will be published in May 2016 by Roaring Brook/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group US and Macmillan Children’s UK.

Please go congratulate Harriet on twitter!


Thanks to everyone for applying to both the YA/MG intern and Generalist intern posting on January 26. We have filled these positions.

If you were not selected in this round, please feel welcome to apply again. These positions open up quite frequently. Watch this blog and Twitter for the next opportunity!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Be a Sponge: Advice from a Veteran Conference Planner

As a part of this month’s focus on conferences, we reached out to Kim Turrisi, the Director of Special Projects at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, as she’s been working alongside Lin Oliver, the SCBWI's Executive Director, for over 15 years, helping to plan and learning the ins and outs of two of the biggest conferences in children’s books (SCBWI’s Annual Summer and Winter Conferences).  Her advice works for any writer, regardless of audience.  See below for some wisdom about how to make the most of your conference experiences. 

You’re the Director of Special Projects at SCBWI.  Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be at SCBWI, and what you do there?
I started my career with Lin Oliver in film and television production focusing on family entertainment and, as you know, she is the Executive Director of SCBWI. Lin drew me into the SCBWI circle. At first, I only worked the National Conferences where I oversaw the one-on-one manuscript and portfolio consultations in Los Angeles and the writer roundtables in New York.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the organization and all it stands for before I asked for a more full time position.  Lin and I created a job which allowed me to, among other things, oversee many special projects such as our publications guide and as liaison with the publishing community along with Lin. The most rewarding and exciting part of my job is when one of our authors or illustrators is published as the result of a pairing I have done at the conference.

What are some important things that writers can take away from a conference?
Meet as many SCBWI members as you can. There is an incredible community of children’s book writer’s and illustrators. Both regional and national conferences and other events are fantastic opportunities to connect. So many friendships and critique groups form as a result of our conferences.


Be open to revising your manuscript/portfolio and learning as much as you can about your craft.

Wait to query agents or editors right after the conference.  Sit with all the information from workshops and keynote speakers, process it, and make your manuscript even stronger BEFORE you query.  Don’t be in a rush.

What’s the best way for writers to plan for a conference?
Research the people teaching the break out sessions so you choose the best possible ones for yourself. 

If you are having a consultation, read the guidelines carefully and don’t wait until the last minute to submit.

For our LA and NYC conferences, if you have any questions about what might be suited for you, call our office and ask. We’re here to help.

What objective should authors keep in mind when attending a conference?
Be a sponge.  You are around creative people and have the opportunity to hear agents, editors and published authors impart their wisdom and experiences. Soak it in, take notes. 

What should writers NOT do at a conference?
Put an editor or agent on the spot by trying to slip them a manuscript.  While all of our faculty are open to queries after the conference, they can’t take a manuscript that isn’t solicited. It’s also not proper etiquette in the publishing world so you put yourself at a disadvantage opening with that.

Don’t pitch multiple ideas when given the opportunity to pitch an editor or agent during a session.  Focus on the one you are most passionate about.

Is there such a thing as conference burn-out?  When do know that it’s time to stay home (does that ever happen?)?
Well, I certainly haven’t noticed that. I think every writer and illustrator, published or unpublished, can always use inspiration and current information about the marketplace as it is ever changing.  As artists, I think you are always learning, evolving and improving your craft. Our conferences are designed to do just that.

You’ve seen some amazing writers speak at various conferences.  What advice sticks with you? – this could be for conferences specifically, for writing, or just for life.
Wow, there have been so many.  Here are a few that I have up in my office.

“My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell if you need help.” Judy Blume

“Just say yes!” Kwame Alexander

“Revise fearlessly again and again.” Kate Messner

“Love what you write. Write what you know. Write honestly because everything counts.”  Sara Shandler

You’re a writer too!  What can you tell us about projects you’re working on?
I’m fortunate to work for two writers in Lin and Steve Mooser who foster creative spirit. Our offices are filled with books and every wall is a different color.  It’s hard to be around that much creative energy and not want to dive in. I’ve been working on a young adult book for several years on weekends and nights like most other writers. I’m currently revising my revision. I keep notebook with ideas that I’ve kept for years.  What’s really great is that nearly everyone in our office writes or illustrates. In our spare time.

Kim Turrisi is the Director of Special Projects at The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a position she has held since 2002.  In addition to her work at SCBWI, she wrote Pretty Dirty Secrets, a web series for ABC Family’s hit show Pretty Little Liars. In 2011, she won a Daytime Emmy for a web series she wrote and executive produced.  She is obsessed with reading anything YA, college football and her dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @KimmyT22

Monday, February 23, 2015

The most important thing you've learned at a conference - TBA client post

This month is all about conferences on the blog, so we’ve asked some TBA clients a question:

“What is the most important thing you’ve learned at a conference?”

Lori Roy  Edgar-award winning author of BENT ROAD and the forthcoming LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS Twitter: @LORIROYauthor

Ten years ago, while taking part in a workshop at a writing conference, I learned one of the most important things I would learn as a writer. As often happens when writers are workshopping manuscripts, the conversation had become rather impassioned, although I, still new to the process, sat quietly and listened more than I talked. We had reached that portion of the class where the author of the work that had been workshopped was getting his chance to speak. He chose to use his opportunity to challenge the advice he had received and to defend, explain and justify his work. The class rallied around him and reassured him we had all attended the conference to receive similar advice and criticism, and he should appreciate and not resent it. The argument continued until another student, nearly as quiet thus far as I had been, spoke up. “We need to humble ourselves to the craft of writing,” he said.  

The gentleman’s comment ended that particular workshop. To say that we needed to humble ourselves to the craft was to say we needed to earn our confidence and resist our egos. We needed to learn the rules and guidelines of the craft, understand them, appreciate their importance and only then could we break them. We needed to respect all the work that had come before us, and in doing so, we would be able to respect the amount of time and commitment our writing would demand. 

I have recounted this story a number of times and the only thing missing is the name of the gentleman, who so perfectly said what needed to be said. His sentiment remains among my favorite lessons learned. Many times over the years I have rifled through my email in search of his name as I would very much like to credit him.  So far, no luck.  

Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts 
NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author of OUT OF LINE
Twitter: @DianeAlberts 

One of the most important things I’ve learned at conferences is that while it’s a whole lot of fun and games—the friends, the books, and the drinks—it’s so much more than that. Never forget that those conferences offer valuable opportunities. Editors, agents, readers, and fellow authors are all around you, so you don’t want to be that drunk girl puking in a potted plant in the lobby.
Have fun, but don’t forget to network smartly while you’re there. I’ve made a few book deals and plans happen at conferences…in the lobby, in the hotel coffee shop, and even at the blackjack table in Vegas at midnight. You never know what’s going to happen, so make sure to mingle, have fun, and be ready for anything! And if you see me at one, please come up to me and say hi!

M.J. Pullen
Twitter: @mjpullen

Before I viewed writing as a full-time career, I attended many professional conferences in other fields: psychology, counseling, marketing and fundraising. But never writing. For some reason it only seemed “legitimate” to attend a conference or pursue continuing education for a job I already had, rather than the passion I was slowly, quietly pursuing.

In April 2014, I was finally persuaded to attend The Atlanta Writer’s Conference, where I was fortunate to meet and pitch to Nicole Sohl, now my editor at Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press. Aside from that relationship and the contract offer that followed, the conference gave me an important reminder.

There is so much to know about writing that none of us can know it all. But any time I sit with other writers, whether in a workshop or across the lunch table, I learn a little more. That conference reminded me, not just how much I still have to learn about the craft (always) but how valuable my connections with other writers are. And, even though I had been writing professionally for a couple of years; investing in the conference marked a shift in the way I view my writing. No longer just a hobby or fantasy, that conference truly helped me view writing as a professional-level pursuit, worthy of serious attention. The shift was completely internal, but it’s made a difference in the way I approach my writing every day since.

Ruth Fitzgerald
Twitter: @writingruth

The most important thing I learned was at the SCBWI conference when Cathy Cassidy said she can't write if she plots first. If she has a plot it ruins it and she can't write the book. This made me feel much better as I write in the same way. I always felt a bit inadequate when I saw authors with post-it notes all over the wall and complex diagrams and pages of notes. The most I ever do it a bit of a spider chart or mind map and that's it. Then I just have to write and see where the characters take me. Every time I try to plot in advance I feel that there's a lack of spark about the writing. So what I actually learned was there's no 'right' way to write, you have to find out what works for you.

And some less serious, but fun responses to our question: 

[How about] that time I sat down next to Margaret Peterson Haddix on the bus to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, realized who she was halfway through the conversation, then started freaking out and embarrassingly fangirling because JUST ELLA was one of my favorite books as a kid.  I also stole another author's cheesecake at dinner and showed David Levithan that I could do a split, so it was a memorable event all around.

Kat Ellis 
Twitter: @el_kat

Even if you find yourself within poking distance of Neil Gaiman, DO NOT POKE NEIL GAIMAN.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thoughts on the SCBWI Winter Conference

I've finally thawed out from my trip to New York and I'm already wishing I were back, chiefly because the annual SCBWI Winter Conference was such a good time. I had the good fortune to speak on a panel with Rosemary Stimola and John Cusick, moderated by Wendy Loggia of Delacorte Press (who was so at ease in her role, I wished she could moderate all my conversations, including those with my family). I was also one of the roundtable leaders, spending the day with brave, committed writers who read the first 500 words of their projects to a table of their peers...and me.

To paraphrase E.B. White, "No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky." I was willing, and wow, was I lucky. I was floored by the quality of what I heard. These writers—from all over the U.S., attending the conference at their own expense—were serious about their craft. Many had worked with critique groups and even freelance editors, and it was clear to me that several of them were sharing work that had been through many drafts. 

The roundtables got me thinking about the need for every author to be willing to be vulnerable. It took real guts for those writers to share their work with a table full of strangers—not just confidence, but hope, and readiness to expose themselves to criticism. Being open to discussion about your work is virtually a requirement in publishing, particularly in children's publishing. Your agent and editor will have plenty of notes for you even if they fall in love with your manuscript the minute they start reading it. 

Facing the sheer number of people at the conference required some courage from the writers as well. I heard there were 1300 registered attendees (and none of them tried to pitch me in the ladies' room—amazing). I think everyone knows the odds of success in this industry are long, but the number of people milling around the lobby of the Grand Hyatt was visible proof. All of these writers knew that, and they showed up anyway. Every single person who attended the roundtables was willing to learn how the industry works and be open to honest feedback about their writing, and I think each of them was also willing to be lucky. 

Have you taken part in an intensive critique session at a conference like this? Did you find it useful? Nerve-wracking? Exhilarating? Which conferences would you recommend?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Major Three-Book Deal for Alwyn Hamilton

It's been a whirlwind few weeks as we've sold Alwyn Hamilton's magnificent debut, REBEL OF THE SANDS, in ten territories. A heated 8-publisher auction in the U.S., an equally dramatic 4-publisher auction in the U.K., pre-empts in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, and Israel, and just last week a deal in the Netherlands—I would say it's hard to believe, but being one of the lucky few who's read Alwyn's electrifying YA fantasy, I actually have no trouble at all believing that the international publishing world has fallen in love with it.

There are a few things about this book that made it strike such a nerve with publishers, I think. First, it's a sweeping, epic story, with plenty of action and political intrigue and romance and humor and tragedy. It's also got a deeply compelling main character, a strong, fearless, flawed young woman who finds her destiny in a cause so much bigger than just her own story. The setting is so rich and so detailed, familiar and foreign at the same time, and the cast is wondrously diverse—at a time when diversity in YA fiction is rightly a hot-button issue, the range of Alwyn's characters is truly refreshing. And, you know, it's just really, really good. It's the one of those books you don't ever want to stop reading, and I can't wait for readers to get their hands on it. 

REBEL OF THE SANDS will be published in the U.S. by Viking/Penguin and in the U.K. by Faber & Faber. Congratulate Alwyn on Twitter at @AlwynFJH...and start counting down to REBEL OF THE SANDS' launch in February 2016!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From conference to new client - an interview with Mo O'Hara and her agent Gemma Cooper

This month on the blog we are talking conferences – how to act, what to expect — and we’ll also be sharing some great stories about what our clients have learned at various conferences. To kick us off, I’ve interviewed my client Mo O’Hara about our first meeting. I hope this interview shows that by being relaxed and just enjoying talking to people, you can make great connections at conferences.

Mo and I first met in September 2011, about two weeks after I became an agent. Mo was a volunteer at the 2011 SCBWI British Isles conference and her official title was ‘speaker coordinator’.

M: The first three chapters of what became Zombie Goldfish, prompted by a SCBWI Slushpile Challenge prompt about Frankenstein, were written in May 2011 and I went away on the Scoobie (UK term for SCBWI’ers) retreat to try and finish it! It was nearly complete by the time I met you, but I knew it wasn’t ready to submit.

I thought, “I’m schmoozing and meeting people at the conference,” but with the idea of contacting people in February or March of the following year when the book was more polished. So I wasn’t sharking agents immediately, plus I was on duty. I was there to facilitate other people having a good time. I had booked these speakers and I didn’t want them to stand around looking bored!  I wanted to make sure they had full glasses of wine and that they were having a good time.

G: So, you were in charge of making people network?

M: Yep, I was scooping up people who looked like they were lost and putting them together with other people, and explaining they might know people in common and that sort of thing. And then we met at the bar...

G: Yes, talking about people who look like they are lost...! So my memory of our first meeting – it’s my first ever conference, I’d been an agent for about two weeks. I was being my usual self in my head — “I’m okay, I’m good at stuff like this, I’m fine” — but I remember walking in, and the party was much more glam than I thought it would be. I remember standing there being a little bit intimidated and you immediately walked up and said, “Hi I’m Mo,” and then, “Would you like a drink?” You might not remember those as your first words to me, but I do!

M: Yeah, start as we mean to go on! (We are sitting with a glass of wine doing this interview)

G: Exactly. So then you walked me to the bar and got me a drink.

M: And then I remember introducing you to someone else.

G:  So you were trying to dump me?

M: You were an agent, you were here to meet writers! 

G: You were a writer! We did chat for a while in the end though, and we talked about a number of things... and then I finally asked, “What are you writing now?’

M: And I said, “Well it’s not really finished, but I’m writing a book about a Zombie Goldfish.”

G: You must remember my reaction? “SEND IT TO ME!!!”

M: Yes, because you had a goldfish! You told me about Brady and how he was named after a pub in NYC...

G: God, I must have been so boring.

M: No, I thought, ‘That’s weird that I’ve ended up talking to the person with a goldfish obsession.’

G: A week after the conference, you hadn’t got in touch.

M: Yes, I was in post-conference mode, and you emailed with the subject line...”Why isn’t there a fish swimming around in my inbox?” 

G: So, you sent me the first 50 pages a few days later and I gave you editorial feedback and said send the final ASAP.

M: I worked on them over Christmas.

G: And you sent the ms. in late January, and I read it that morning on the train on my tiny phone screen. Then I rang you, and said “It needs a bit of work, but I love it and I absolutely want to take you on.”

M: You were really cute because you said, and I remember exactly, “I laughed out loud on a commuter train, and everyone stared, so that gives me the right to sign you up.”

G: You were taking a risk on a new agent. Nobody else saw the book. Without the conference, you might never have queried me, so I’m so pleased I went.

M: Seriously, there is a lot to be said for the first introduction from your agent not being a random email but being standing there with a drink in your hand, knowing you can have a joke with this person, a laugh with them, really get them. You get that feeling of “I think I could work with that person.” An email exchange doesn’t tell you as much.

G: That’s the key thing: I was new. This book would have been a hot commodity if you’d waited and queried in the spring when it was ready.

M: But I connected with you. I knew I could stand there and have a laugh with you over a glass of wine and that’s really important! I didn’t want a stiff agent. And you immediately sent me feedback and I agreed with it. I understood what you intended, I got your vision of the book. And I agreed. You were honest. Coming from theatre, I don’t want a million and one smiley faces. Tell me if it’s bad. I can take it!

For people going to conferences — you will meet loads of people and other writers and that’s great. It’s a non-high pressure scenario. You can turn it into a high-pressure scenario, and you can work yourself up, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

G: If you are a volunteer it’s a lot easier, isn’t it, to have interactions?

M: It’s easier as you have that other hat on. But even if you don’t, you can go around with the thought “I’m here to enjoy the conference, and everyone is just another human being.” Take the pressure off yourself.

The next SCBWI British Isles conference is 21st and 22nd November 2015. More details for follow later in the year -

Mo O’Hara is the author of New York Times Bestselling MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH chapter book series, published by Macmillan Children’s in the U.K. and Feiwel & Friends in the U.S. The series has been translated into 7 languages so far. Mo's debut picture book, set in the Zombie Goldfish world, will publish in 2015, and a stand-alone picture book, MORE PEOPLE TO LOVE ME, will follow in 2016. As well as her stories for children, Mo has also written for radio and theatre and has performed her own comedy material in London and Edinburgh.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New to the Blog: Monthly Themes

You may have noticed that we’re updating things here at BENT ON BOOKS. New look, and new topics for discussion, coming your way! Beginning this month, we’re going to post on a theme or subject. For February, we’re tackling Conferences and how to get the most out of them. Look for posts from some of our clients with their good advice; an interview with Kim Turrisi, the Director of Special Projects at SCBWI; a fun conversation between Gemma Cooper and her client Mo O’Hara, who met at a conference; and more!

We’re cooking up some good ideas for future themes, but would love to hear from you – what would you like to discuss here on the blog?  What subjects do you want to know more about?  Leave a note in the comments section, and hopefully we can work it in.
Thanks and see you back here for more on Conferences!