Guest Post: Author Deborah Lytton & Agent Stacey Glick on Middle Grade Series Proposals

By Deborah Lytton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Thanks to Gayleen and Cyn for having us on Cynsations. It’s always such a pleasure to be here!

Today, I have asked my agent and friend, Stacey Glick to join me to discuss the Middle Grade series proposal.

Stacey is Vice President at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary Management and has been my agent for over 12 years. Stacey and I share a background as child actors, although we never worked together as kids because she was on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast. 
Hi Stacey, thanks for chatting with me today.

Stacey: So happy to be here! I’m thrilled to talk about Debby, one of my favorite people, and her books!

Deborah: Thanks, Stacey. You’re one of my favorite people, too. Before we discuss books though, we have to talk about being child actors. (I’m including our acting headshots here. I really love my 80’s red vest and tie!)

How do you think your acting background helped you become a literary agent?

Deborah’s acting headshot

Stacey: I think my ability to network and schmooze with almost anyone stems from my experiences as a child actor.

That skill has served me very well in my almost 20 years as a book agent!


Deborah: That’s so true! Speaking about books, it’s so exciting to see the first book in the Ruby Starr (Sourcebooks, 2017) series released.

Creating the series proposal was such a collaborative process between us and the proposal was an effective selling tool for the manuscript.

Why do you think it helps so much?

Stacey: I think when you are talking about a series with a protagonist who has a big personality, like Ruby or Junie B. Jones (by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, Random House), it’s important to map out not only the plots for the proposed books in the series, but also the characters and the arcs they will follow throughout the series.

Deborah: The first step was to come up with an idea for a book that could extend into multiple stand-alone books.

My other published books have been stand-alone titles, and I have also written some manuscripts for trilogies, but a series is really different from a trilogy where you leave certain storylines unfinished to extend the threads through the second and third books. With a series, each book stands alone and is connected through the character and the setting.

What do you think the important differences are?

Stacey: I think it’s just what you said. A series like Ruby Starr is really about a group of characters working through a very different story and set of circumstances in each book. A duology or trilogy is really one story that continues over the course of two or three books.

Stacey’s acting headshot

Deborah: Once I had the idea for the series, I wrote the complete manuscript for Book 1.

Then after you read it, you suggested writing a proposal as well. I remember it was really helpful when you sent me an outline for the proposal because it gave me an idea of what I needed to include.

There was a short synopsis of the series, a character list, a list of multiple other stories, and then a section about me.

If we were pitching the series again, would you add anything to the proposal?

Stacey: No, I think the proposal we put together was really perfect to show the scope of the series and your ability to write it. All of the components put together made for a very strong sales pitch for the series.

Deborah: You told me that I could be creative within the format and change things around if I wanted to convey the personality of my series but still create something that editors would be able to read easily.

The most flexible section was the information about the book. I used some of the wording from the manuscript and then shared my vision for the market age range for the book. I also added a section about similar books.

Why do editors and agents like to hear comparisons in order to consider a book?

Stacey: It’s so important for agents and editors to get a sense of how you see your work in the marketplace. You need to highlight books that will appeal to the same audience as your book. This will help you and your agent and publishing partner work together to effectively market and promote the books to the right audience.

Deborah: We spent a lot of time working on the books to follow the first so that the theme of the series was really consistent and the whole package focused.

What is your tip for writers who are working on a proposal without an agent to guide them?

Stacey: Do your research and find resources online. There are a lot of sample proposals available and, if you follow the guidelines you suggested above for a series proposal, including the manuscript for Book 1, it should be more than enough for agents to be able to consider the work.

Deborah: Stacey, thanks so much for chatting with me today!

Stacey: I loved it too. And hope you all have a chance to read the Ruby Star series. She’s adorable and so much fun!

Cynsations Notes


Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Peppered with references to her favorite books, Ruby’s fresh, humorous, first-person, present-tense account of her fifth-grade traumas, her real and imaginary friendships, and her supportive family rings true…amusing saga of primary-school friendships with a clever pro-reading subtext.”

Book 2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, is now available for pre-order and will be released May 1, 2018. Ruby and the other Unicorns are involved in a new adventure to save the school library.

Deborah Lytton is the author of Jane In Bloom (Dutton Children’s Books, 2009), which was selected for several state reading lists and chosen by Chicago Public Library as one of the Best of the Best Books of 2009. See Deborah’s Cynsations Interview About Jane in Bloom.

Her YA novel, Silence (Shadow Mountain) was a nominee for the Florida Teens Read Program. See Deborah on What’s True to You from Cynsations.

Deborah resides in Los Angeles, California with her two daughters and their Papillon, Faith. She is active in the writing and blogging community and is a member of SCBWI.

Stacey Glick joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 1999 after working in film and television development for five years.

Stacey grew up just outside of Manhattan and is a former child actress who appeared on television, in theater, and in feature films. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and four daughters (the youngest are identical twins), and enjoys cooking and baking, sipping wine and cocktails, taking pictures, shopping, theater, going to Mets games and eating chocolate, cheese and spicy tuna hand rolls (not necessarily in that order) when she can find the time.

She represents young adult, middle grade, nonfiction and picture books.

Summer Hiatus & Publishing Preview

Gayleen and Cynthia at the Austin SCBWI conference

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Cynsations is now officially on summer hiatus. We will return in the fall with more inspiration, insights and information on children’s-YA writing, illustration, literature and publishing.

In the meantime, keep up on all those topics with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Cynsational Queries

If you have an idea for a Cynsations post, please email Gayleen to discuss options: CynsationsIntern(at)gmail.com.

Guest posts are approximately 500 words of inspiration and information with real reader, writer, gatekeeper takeaway. Debut authors are eligible for the New Voices interview series, and established authors are welcome to suggest ideas for topic series or interviews about new releases and/or the craft of writing, the writing life, and/or publishing.

For your reading pleasure, we asked a few authors with books publishing this summer to tell us:

What makes your book a great summer read?

May

(Middle Grade novel)

K.A. HoltGnome-a-geddon, illustrated by Colin Jack (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, available now) makes a great summer read because it’s a crazy adventure that we all wish for during those lazy, hot days of the summer doldrums.

Buck and Lizzie get pulled into the world of their favorite books, and they have to figure out what to do when everything they think they know turns out to be just a little bit… off.

It’s a fast-paced fun read with an ending that you might not see coming.

(Middle Grade Novel)

Sheela Chari: If you love mysteries, Finding Mighty (Abrams, May 30, 2017) is a perfect way to spend a warm summer day.

In this middle grade novel, set north of New York City, follow twelve-year-olds Myla Rajan and Peter Wilson as they team up to find Peter’s missing brother, Randall. It turns out Randall is after something, too: a cache of missing diamonds that might clear the mystery behind his father’s death.

With graffiti clues, parkour moves, and a daring climb along one of NYC’s oldest bridges, this book has something for everyone. Using Myla’s lists, Peter’s secret black book, and Randall’s smarts, see if you can figure out where the missing diamonds are hidden before they do.

Join Sheela at the Hastings-On-Hudson Multicultural Book Fair June 15, and for her book signing from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. May 27 at Books of Wonder in New York City.

June

(Middle Grade Novel)

Leah HendersonOne Shadow On The Wall (Atheneum, June 6, 2017) takes place during the summer months in Senegal, West Africa. So it would be a wonderful way for young readers in the States to draw parallels between their summer experiences and that of my main character, Mor, who has to spend his summer choosing between what is right and what is easy to keep is family safe while honoring a promise he made to his father.

For me, great summer reads are books that I can spend lazy afternoons getting lost in while discovering new things. And I think, within the pages of this story, readers may find themselves strolling a dirt path in no time with the sun glimmering over their heads as salty air clings to their skin.

Those interested in a book that peeks into another culture, focuses on family, friendship, and self-reliance might find One Shadow on the Wall the right book to get lost in.

Join Leah at her book launch and presentation at 6 p.m. June 6 at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond and a book signing, hosted by Politics & Prose, at 7:30 p.m. June 8 at the Takoma Park Library in Takoma Park, Maryland. Also, a book celebration and family craft event 11 a.m. on June 10 at Old Fox Books in Annapolis, Maryland.

(Young Adult Novel)

Kayla Olson: The Sandcastle Empire (Harper Teen, June 6, 2017) was inspired, in part, by my longing for a beach vacation.

The island setting sprung out of that—a desire to spend imaginary time in the sand, the sun, the waves—all of which call to mind the feeling of summer.

I’ve also heard from numerous people that it kept them up late into the night, so if you’re looking to get lost in a book while on summer vacation, this might be a good fit for you!

Join Kayla for her book signing at 5 p.m. June 10 at BookPeople in Austin.

(Young Adult Novel)

Bonnie Pipkin: What better way to cool down this summer than with a book that takes place in the dead of winter?

Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron, June 27, 2017) may not seem like an easy breezy summer beach read at first glance: seventeen-year-old, Genesis Johnson is abandoned at the Planned Parenthood in Manhattan by her boyfriend during the procedure to terminate her unwanted pregnancy.

But the book isn’t all heavy duty, grief reconciliation. It’s also romance, and re-discovering what makes you feel whole and complete and cared for. It’s about letting go of what weighs you down in order to find your place center stage. Those are themes for any season!

Join Bonnie at her book launch at 7 p.m. June 27 at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn.

July

(Picture Book)

Emma J. Virjan: Start your engines!

What your summer reading list needs is a pig in a wig, rushing to her a car, dashing into place, ready to start the cross-country race!

Pig zooms off and takes the lead! But oh, no! There’s a rumble, a pop, and a hiss, and Pig gets stuck in the mud.

Will she be able to get back on track and finish the race?

Whether you’re sunbathing on the beach or on your lawn chair in the back yard, What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom (HarperCollins, July 4, 2017), the fifth book in the Pig In A Wig series, will fill your summer days with catchy, rhythmic text, bold illustrations and tons of laughter.

See activity pages and book trailers for the series on Emma’s website.

(Young Adult Novel)

A Very Terrible Witchtown Summer Poem – Cory Putman Oakes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 18, 2017)

In the shade or in the sun,

Witches are always lots of fun!
At the beach or at the pool,
Witches are always totally cool!
Mystery, magic, spells galore,
Witchtown has them all—and more!
Moonstones, pizza, a poltergeist,
A lonely girl who can only plan heists.
Magical plants, a goth, a baker,
A really cute boy (but he might be a faker).
A mean girl, a murder, a troubling past,
Locusts, lessons, and spells to be cast.
A mother and daughter, always in strife
Trust me, you want this book in your life.
So sit yourself down and grab a brew,
The witches can’t wait to entertain you!

Cory has a summer solstice recipe for Lemony Herb Scones and will have a launch party for Witchtown at 3 p.m. on September 10 at BookPeople in Austin.

(Picture Book)

Jason Gallaher: Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, illustrated by Jess Pauwels (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, July 18, 2017)

Whobert puts a little mystery back into your summer! We all know that the sun will be shining, the temperatures will be rising, but what in the heck happened to Perry the Possum?

Whobert will make your summer one of sunshine and strengthening those sleuthing skills.

Join Jason at his book launches at 7 p.m. July 18 at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, and at 2 p.m. July 22 at BookPeople in Austin.

August

(Middle Grade Novel)

Deborah Lytton: Ruby Starr (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, Aug. 1, 2017) is the perfect summer read because:

  • It’s a book about books.  (If you love books as much as Ruby loves them, this is all you need to know.)
  • Summer is a time to set your imagination free, and Ruby’s imagination is so powerful that it sometimes takes her right into the pages of a story.
  • Ruby’s very best friends are characters from her favorite reads. With her honesty and humor, Ruby just might become one of your very best friends.
See reading guide on Deborah’s website. This is the first book in a series.

Signing set for noon on August 5 at Barnes & Noble, 160 S. Westlake Blvd. in Thousand Oaks, California.

(Picture Book)

Liz Garton Scanlon: Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter Books, Aug. 8, 2017).

It’s a great summer read because it’s about an avid tree climber living life to the fullest!

Until she’s stuck inside with the flu and has to figure out how to love the trees from there….

(Picture Book)

Tracy Marchini: The chicken in Chicken Wants a Nap (Creative Editions, Aug, 15, 2017) just wants to sit in the warm grass for an afternoon snooze. And in the summer, that’s what I love to do too! There’s nothing quite like stretching out on a picnic blanket with a good book on a bright summer day.

Chicken is fun and funny, and Monique Felix’s pastel illustrations are warm and inviting. And fortunately for readers, they’re far less likely to be interrupted by cows and other barnyard animals than our poor Chicken!

Last – but not least – as a picture book, Chicken Wants a Nap is short enough that you won’t even have to reapply your sunscreen!

(Picture Book)

Don TateStrong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man On Earth (Charlesbridge, Aug. 22, 2017) is a fun story for everyone anytime of the year. It’s especially a great book for summer as kids head outside to run, jump, swim, and play.

Young Sandow loved to do all of these things, but most times, he was too sick and weak to play. Through exercise, he built himself up to become known as the “Strongest Man on Earth!” And he had the biceps and a six-pack to prove it.

Everyone will want to get into better physical shape and become “As Strong As Sandow.”

See Don‘s classroom discussion guide and more about Sandow – including historic photos available online.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Deborah Lytton on What’s True to You

By Deborah Lytton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My new contemporary YA, Silence (Shadow Mountain, 2015), is a story about a fifteen year old girl who has an accident that changes her life forever. The only person she can relate to is a boy who has his own tragic past. Out of tragedy comes true love.

I spent years writing Silence, and the experience taught me several important lessons about being an author. It took me draft after draft (and many working titles) to find a way to tell the story. I think my agent has lost count of the number of drafts of Silence she read. I even set the manuscript aside and wrote novels in between. But I kept coming back because the characters stayed with me.

The lesson I learned from this is to tell the story in my heart. So now if a manuscript of mine isn’t working, I try approaching it from another direction, turning it sideways or upside down, telling it in reverse order or through a secondary character’s point of view. But no matter what, I know the key is to trust my inner voice.

Silence is my second published book, but not my second novel. I wrote several novels before my first book was published and several novels before Silence was published.

When each one of those other novels didn’t sell, I was really discouraged. I think anyone who has ever gone through the submission and rejection process can relate.

But I learned to turn the sting of rejection into a spark of inspiration through perspective. In focusing on writing rather than selling a manuscript, I recaptured writing simply for the love of writing.

When I wrote my first published book Jane In Bloom, I didn’t know if anyone would publish a book about a forgotten sister, but I needed to tell her story.

With Silence, I once again found myself writing a book I wasn’t sure anyone would publish. But I wrote it anyway. That focus helped me lose myself in the story and simply write.

Finally, writing Silence taught me to stay true to myself.

I had a vision of what kind of story I wanted to tell—a romance with clean content so my own daughters could read it. The characters would attend church, and they would volunteer to help others in need.

I knew there was a chance no one would want to publish a young adult book like this. But I also knew that I needed to be authentic and true to my vision. So I wrote the book the way I needed to write it. I didn’t hold back details because I thought someone might not like them.

Instead, I poured my whole self into the book. And my story did find a home after all, with Shadow Mountain.

So whatever you want to write, make sure it stays true to you. Don’t worry about editors and reviewers. Don’t hold back from storylines or characters because they might cause your book to be passed on by editors or because the book might be controversial when it is published. Just write the best book you can write because only you can write it.

I know that book will find a home.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Stella is a vivacious teen with a deep yearning to become an accomplished Broadway musical star. Her dreams are shattered when a freak accident renders her deaf. 

Struggling mightily to communicate in a world of total silence, she meets Hayden who has such a pronounced stutter she can easily read his lips because he speaks so slowly. 

Communication leads to connection and an unexpected romance as they learn from each other and discover their own ways to overcome setbacks, find renewed purpose and recognize their true voice.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway