Friday, February 28, 2014

#MSWL Tips from Susan

Since Wednesday was a #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) day, and agents were tweeting what they’d love to find in their in-box, I thought I’d take a minute or two to write about how writers can use this information most effectively.

And, as a bonus, I rounded up the tweets from TBA Agents that day, so that you’ve got them all in one handy-dandy spot!  Thanks to Beth, my fellow TBA agent, for suggesting this idea. 

The first, most important thing to know about #MSWL tweets is that they’re not meant to exclude other book ideas and concepts.  The truth is, it’s fun (at least for me) to think about a very specific kind of book that I’d like to read.  And I do hope for kismet -- the book that fits my craving perfectly arrives that very day!  But I don’t think of this as sort of a fast food order, or any kind of order at all.  I want books that come from a writer’s heart first and foremost.  So, if you read over #MSWL posts and don’t see your book described – never fear!  Query anyway, because agents want to fall in love with excellent writing and story, more than they want any particular topic.

So what to do if you don’t see your book described exactly?  See if you can extrapolate an agent’s wishes more generally based on her #MSWL posts, and be sure to cross-reference that with the more general description of what she represents in her submission guidelines.  For instance, I asked for a book about Selkies.  No Selkie book up your sleeve?  Well, you might guess that I like fantasy, based on that post.  Check my sub guidelines to confirm – and yes, fantasy is included on my list.  Here's a link to more of what I'm looking for:

Don’t plan to write something for a #MSWL tweet.  By the time you’ve competed your manuscript, the agent is likely to have filled that niche, or to just be on to something else.

Make sure your manuscript is complete and polished before you send.  Don’t rush it because you’ve just seen the #MSWL tweet – think of all the other manuscripts that agents’ inboxes will be filling up with; make sure that your manuscript will really stand out.

You’ve surely read this elsewhere, but don’t pitch your book to an agent over twitter.  Go check her/his submission guidelines and query following their instructions.  In your cover letter, do mention that you’re querying as a result of seeing their #MSWL tweet.

And without further ado, here are the TBA tweets, by agent!  These are from the 26th, check our twitter feeds for more #MSWL.  And be sure to read our submission guidelines here: before sending your query.

More questions about how to use #MSWL tweets?  Feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll reply there.

Jenny Bent:
·         Stylish psychological crime/suspense with at least one female lead (not cozy mystery, thanks).
·         Definitely would love some YA horror.
·         Women's fiction or YA with a strong gothic feel.
·         Historical fiction based on a famous real life person.
·         Non-genre fiction with a paranormal, fantasy or otherworldly element to it, like DISCOVERY OF WITCHES or NIGHT CIRCUS or GHOST BRIDE.
·         In general, I love strong, feisty female characters with a purpose.
·         Also, classic YA fantasy with at least one female lead, like the upcoming LARK RISING by Sandra Waugh

Gemma Cooper:
·         Middle grade ghost story - super creepy and evocative. Scare me please!
·         Voice driven girly tween/11+ tackling domestic issues with humour.
·         Boy 10+ action, adventure, screenplay style storytelling, fast pace. Think Alex Rider.
·         Middle grade fantasy with incredible world building and a fresh concept - boy or girl protagonist.
·         Younger fiction for girls - featuring or starring animals.
·         Short quirky picture books that demand to be re-read. Not message driven, just full of fun and humour.
·         And finally, a YA romance - I want to fall in love.
·         If you have any if these, or something packed with voice, please send along.

Louise Fury:
·         I am really looking for YA horror with a literary feel. Creep me out. Make me think. Blow me away with your words.

Molly Ker Hawn:
·         Send me your smart, funny YA contemp romance, your clever literary MG, your upmarket YA horror.

Susan Hawk:
·         Really want a big, juicy fantasy for MG or YA, set in a world that feels totally new.
·         As a kid I loved JOHN BELLAIRS. Are you writing the next HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS? Send to me!
·         I’d also love a very atmospheric Selkie story (but not mermaid). Think FOLK KEEPER for YA.
·         My favorite MG makes me laugh out loud and shed a tear too.
·         Love to see a YA project with a voice as amazing and heartbreaking as SPECTACULAR NOW.
·         Am always looking for diversity, for any age group.

Beth Phelan:
·         High on my YA #MSWL is a modern witch story.
·         More ghosts other creepy things. Psychological stuff that messes with your head.
·         MC who finds out (s)he was kidnapped as a baby but had a normal happy life--until parents are arrested.
·         Just signed a GREAT adult suspense and would love more!
·         Cookbook projects! Especially fun and unexpected appliance-based ideas.
·         YA with a whole lot of heart.
·         In love with American Horror Story and want some more YA horror to feed my sick mind!
·         Would LOVE a YA UCB camp story with teenaged aspiring stand-ups. Like Wet Hot American Summer with a serious side
·         Storms! But not dystopian or apocalyptic, YA.
·         Some more YA Fantasy with brand new settings
·         Looking for well-written LGBT YA with a very distinct voice
·         Send me more multicultural projects with vivid settings.

Brooks Sherman
·         I would love to work on some alternate history projects -- MG, YA, or adult. A fantasy element (a la BARTIMAEUS) would be just dandy.
·         Still looking for a historical project set in or around the WWI era to sink my fangs into. Speculative elements encouraged!
·         On the YA side, I'd love to find some projects with realistic settings and a speculative twist. (See: NOGGIN; GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE)
·         On the MG side, I'm still looking for someone to send me this generation's THE WITCHES. Are you my Dahl?
·         Out of left field: I would like a book on the history of pepper--fic or nonfic.  (It would go nicely on the coffee table next to SALT.)
·         Last request: I am still looking for a story set in or around the Affair of the Poisons. History is awesome, people.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Deal Announcement: Three-book deal for Liora Blake!

I’m so pleased to announce a three-book deal with Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Star for Liora Blake. Her debut True North is the start of a contemporary romance series that will be released in 2015. Liora's prose is nothing short of lyrical and this romance is very, very sexy. I can't wait for you guys to read it!

Here’s the PM announcement:

Digital: Fiction: Women's/Romance
Liora Blake's TRUE NORTH, about a small-town Montana writer as she embarks on sexy relationship with a rock star and discovers he's more than his intimidating on-stage persona, though when a searing expose in a trashy magazine sends her running, it threatens their chances at forever, to Lauren McKenna at Pocket Star, in a nice deal, in a three-book deal, by Victoria Lowes at The Bent Agency.

Help me in congratulating Liora on her brand new twitter. She’s @liorablake. Also, check out her fantastic new website here.

An Insider's View of the Slush Pile

I asked one of my terrific interns to talk about what it's like reading manuscripts for me. I think her comments will be useful for anyone querying me, or indeed any of the TBA agents. 

Hello, everyone! I’m Molly Ker Hawn’s intern, or one of them, anyways. She’s asked me to drop by and talk a little bit about what I do as an intern, specifically about how my work with the agency has changed how I read and what I look for when I read submissions. The hope is 1) that you’ll find it interesting, and 2) that some of that knowledge will be useful to the aspiring authors among you. 
When Ms. Molly requests a full manuscript from her slush pile (the industry term for unsolicited queries), she then sends the manuscript and attached query to me or one of the other interns. It’s my job to read the manuscript and submit a reader report, which contains my thoughts on the plot, pacing, world-building, characters, style, and other pertinent details. To the best of my ability, I am supposed to pick out the trouble spots and weigh them against the relative merits of the manuscript. Then I suggest what I would do if I were Ms. Molly—pass completely, ask the writer to revise and resubmit, or snatch that puppy up before anyone else can. (And before you ask, yes, Ms. Molly reads them all herself as well. We just help her keep an eye on the peaks and valleys. 
In addition to interning with the Bent Agency, I am also a blogger. I can’t give identifying details, but my blog focuses primarily on young adult and middle grade literature, which makes me a perfect fit for Ms. Molly. Interning for the Bent Agency has definitely sharpened my ability to pluck at loose plot threads, nudge uninteresting characters, and blast away weak pacing. It has also intensified my joy when I do find that perfect story, both in the slush pile and in the review pile for my blog. I see how hard crafting a compelling and well-written story can be, and I genuinely want writers to succeed.
With that in mind, here are a few pitfalls I’d like to see you writers to be aware of before you start querying.
Write your passion. Paying attention to market trends can be helpful. Vampires and dystopian societies, for example, are hard sells right now. It would be very tempting to ditch your dystopian darling in favor for a, say, twisty sci-fi with parallel universes. But please, unless you can’t get that sci-fi out of your head, don’t do it. 
If you’re not into your own book, I can tell. Your plot will be paint-by-numbers, your characters stereotypical, and your twists formulaic. If you don’t care, I won’t care, and neither will Ms. Molly, any potential editor, or any potential reader. Write the stories that won’t leave you alone, that keep you up at night, that get your blood pumping. When you infuse that passion into your work, I can practically smell it coming off the screen.
Show, don’t tell. I know most of you have probably heard this so many times you feel like it’s tattooed on your forehead, but it’s important, especially in a market that heavily supports first-person narratives. Don’t tell me what characters are feeling; show me through their actions. Don’t have the narrator tell me “I saw; I heard; I felt.” Instead, skip the verbs and show me what they’re sensing. As a reader, I want to feel like I’m inhabiting the skin of the story. I want to be there in the nitty-gritty. The last thing I want as a reader is to feel disconnected and distant.
Make me care. In addition to the above two points, I need to care personally about the characters. This doesn’t necessarily mean your characters need to be likeable. Unlikeable characters can be fantastic if done correctly (Writing an unlikable protagonist requires understanding), but no matter what I must care about what happens to them. Give me their desires and fears, their needs and goals. If they don’t feel real, if I don’t care what happens to them, then your plot loses all tension. Give me a character I can care about, and I’ll follow you to the end.
Be internally consistent. This goes for characters, plot lines, and world-building. People by definition are contradictory, foolish beings, but their actions will always reflect their thoughts, motives, and desires, though those things may change from scene to scene. (But if they do change, clue your readers in, yes?) Plot lines and their accompanying twists can (and should) be exciting and fresh, but they must also make sense. World-building is fun, but it can’t be slapped together without thought of history and consequences. 
Bottom line? I want to be locked in on your story like a missile on its target. Give me reasons to invest and remove anything that could distract me from becoming infatuated with your plot, your characters, your world. As an intern and a reader, I want to find stories that make me squeal, blush, yell, and dance. Make me connect with your passion, your plot, and your characters, and I will champion your work to Ms. Molly and beyond.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Interview with Robin Stevens and Katy Cannon about their covers – a post by Gemma

In the last few weeks, two of my fantastic clients with May 2014 publication dates have posted their cover reveals -  Robin Stevens for the UK cover of MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE and Katy Cannon for LOVE, LIES AND LEMON PIES.

Robin and Katy’s publishing journeys have taken place at very much the same time and with milestones falling at similar times, as shown by this lovely photo of them sharing a congratulatory cake at my client retreat.

So I thought it would be fun to interview them both about their thoughts on the covers of their novels.

First up is Katy:

Did you have a cover in your mind after you'd finished the book? 

I really didn’t! I guess after all the baking and pie tasting, I assumed that maybe there’d be some tower of cake or something on the front. But beyond that, I was more than happy to leave it to the professionals! 

How did you feel seeing the first roughs pop into your inbox? 

I was so excited! And just a little bit nervous. It’s weird, seeing how someone else pictures your book. But I got incredibly lucky – the art department at Stripes got the book completely. 

Who did you share it with first? 

My husband, my daughter, my mum and dad and my brothers. Gemma actually got to see it before me as my email didn’t come through at first! 

What do you think of the final cover? 

I adore it. After the proof cover, they set up a special photo shoot to get the picture exactly right, and the details that got added in are just perfect – Lottie’s necklaces, the smudges of flour on the rolling pin, everything.

What was the process like? How much were you involved? 

For me, mostly sitting around and waiting to see what they came up with! I’m not a designer, and since I knew that everyone at Stripes had read the book, I trusted them to come up with the best cover. And they did! 

What's your favourite aspect of the cover? 

I love it all, especially the fonts they chose, but my absolute favourite part has to be my name on the rolling pin! 

What has been the response from friends and family? 

They all wish they could have a book cover so pretty. And one friend actually sent me a wooden rolling pin with my name on it this week, which was very exciting! It’s now sitting on my desk inspiring me to get on with writing the companion novel. 

Love, Lies and Lemon Pies will be published on 5th May 2014. You can find out more about Katy on her website and about her younger series, POOCH PARLOUR, which will be published in March 2014

And now to Robin:

NOTE: Robin's cover has changed from the original one posted. I asked her what she thought of the new cover: 

I'm really excited about the changes. The wonderful illustrations and gorgeous title font that I loved in the original are still there - the essence of the cover is absolutely the same - but now I feel like the tweaked design gives the details even more room to shine. The colour's great too - a really bright, lovely blue - and I think that it's going to look wonderful on shelves. I can't wait to see the finished book!

Original interview below:  

Did you have a cover in your mind after you'd finished the book? 

I did! I imagined what was basically a straight-up recreation of a 1930s school story cover. In retrospect, I’m very glad that this didn’t become reality, but at the time I had it in my head so firmly that I couldn’t imagine anything else. 

How did you feel seeing the first roughs pop into your inbox? 

Pure terror, in case I was going to hate it, and then a brain-bending moment as my inner image of my book’s face changed totally. Then I realised that it was so much better than what I’d been imagining, and I’ve been delighted ever since! 

What was the process like? How much were you involved? 

I was told who my cover artist was going to be, and then after her first roughs came in, I was asked to comment on any small alterations I’d like. Interestingly, there was an aspect of the cover that didn’t match what I’d described in the book – but it was the text that ended up being altered, because what Nina (the artist) had created looked so wonderful as it was!

What is your favourite aspect of the finished cover?  

I think it would have to be the way that the I in ‘Unladylike’ is actually a pen. It’s so smart and stylish, and it pleases the writing nerd in me.  

Who did you share it with first? 

My mother and my boyfriend. I sent them an email that just read ‘LOOK AT THIS!!!’ Then I jumped up and went running around the office, waving the print-out above my head in triumph. Since I work for a children’s publisher, I got a lot of interest! My colleagues immediately began talking about what finishes should be used on it, so I knew that they approved. 

What do you think of the final cover? What has been the response from friends and family? 

I unashamedly love it. It’s now the background of my phone and my laptop, and I flash it at everyone I meet like it’s a photo of my firstborn. Everyone else has been just as positive, which is wonderful. My favourite response so far is the friend who told me that it reminds her of ‘a fancy box of chocolates’. She’s absolutely right! It’s delicious. 

Murder Most Unladylike will be getting another cover reveal when the US cover is finalised, so stay tuned for that! 

Murder Most Unladylike will be published in the UK on 8th May 2014
It will be published in the US in Spring 2015 by Simon and Schuster. You can find out more about Robin on her website

Thanks Robin and Katy for sharing your cover experiences!