2017 Best Middle Grade Novels

When you think the world is falling apart and you just can’t take it anymore, I suggest a visit to your local bookstore or library. Browse the middle grade shelves. Pick up almost anything. What will you find?

Gold, pure gold.

Middle grade authors produce some of the best and bravest writing I’ve seen, no matter target audience or genre. Novels range from fantasy to contemporary to historical to completely silly and fun. (I have been known to shout “Funny or die!’ on occasion) These books embrace tough subject matter, not shying away from the difficulties of growing up in a complicated world. I appreciate, too, how girl characters are being elevated to positions of leadership and authority. It’s so important for girls to see themselves on the pages.

I say it all the time: what we read matters.

(Want a chance to win one of these titles? See details at the end.)




The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla (HarperCollins)

Authors talk a lot about ‘voice’ and how important it is to get it right. It’s hard to describe what exactly ‘voice’ is but when you encounter it, you know – you can feel it all the way down to your toes. You are with the character in his or her head, seeing the world through his or her eyes.The Someday Birds is a perfect example. Charlie struggles to fit in and understand the world around him and just when he thinks he’s got it nailed down, well, everything changes. I felt his pain and confusion and admired his passion. If this character suddenly walked into my living room, I would not be at all surprised. He is that real.

Read an interview with the author here.



The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Silvensky (HarperCollins) 

Holy cow, I loved this book!  Science, adventure, friendships, outer space, robots, bad guys. The stakes are high in this page turner and it will have you on the edge of your seat. Set in a future post war Earth, Miranda Regent is picked as one of six kids training to go to Mars. But things go immediately sideways and Miranda may be the only one who can herself, her family, her friends and, indeed, the world. Plus, this book has the best epilogue ever.




The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser (HMH Books for Young Readers)

I loved this big, warm story about siblings trying to save their sprawling home, a New York City brownstone about to be rented out from under them. It’s an important lesson for kids that they are not powerless and their actions can have an impact. The neighborhood setting brings home the notion that children can experience an expansive world without leaving their city block. I read it in one sitting and look forward to the sequel, due next year.

Read an interview with the author here.

New York Times Book Review here.



Click’d, by Tamara Ireland Stone (Disney-Hyperion)

Best selling author Stone delivers a fun read with tech savvy Allie Navarro at its heart. Allie develops an app at code camp that helps kids make friends and it’s a hit. It might even be enough for her to beat arch enemy Nathan at an upcoming coding competition. But a glitch might bring down more than her game. Allie has to work fast to save her friendships and her chance at winning the competition. Along the way, she learns valuable lessons about what matters most. This story has all the elements of middle grade – friends, family, school – but bundled with the idea that girls can code as well as anyone. And I hope they do.



Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roske (Charlesbridge)

Author Melissa Roske expertly captures the feelings of a middle school girl who finds herself dealing with how messy life can be. Navigating divorce and her mother’s worsening OCD plus a best friend who’s changing before her eyes. Kat’s bravery in dealing with the chaos broke my heart a little bit – kids being strong in the face of adversity gets me every time. But the message that we should never have to face problems on our own and that help is there no matter what is an important one that Roske brings home beautifully.

Read an interview with the author here.




A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang & Katie Bartkowski (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

The premise of this book is completely delightful: A thirteen-year-old chef has a lot to prove as she tries to run a five-star restaurant, repay a greedy loan shark, and outsmart the Elven mafia in this entertaining novel that combines all the best ingredients—fantasy, humor, adventure, action, cute boys, and a feisty heroine. And the authors (who are sisters – cool, right??) deliver. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid and stayed up, hiding under my blankets with a flashlight, to finish. Good fun.

Read an interview with the authors here.




Ahimsa, by Supriya Kelkar (Tu Books)

As Ahmisa opens, it’s 1942 and Ghandi has asked families to give one member to the Indian freedom movement. In the case of Anjali, it’s her mother who steps up. As Anjali’s life changes, she’s forced to confront a new reality brought on my her mother’s commitment to the cause. I love stories where a girl is pushed out of her comfort zone and becomes a better, stronger version of herself. Anjali’s path is thrilling to follow and especially timely in today’s world.

Read an interview with the author here.




The Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren (Bloomsbury)

In order to rescue her sister from a maximum security prison, Valor needs to first be thrown in jail and then figure a way to bust out. The audacity of her plan tells us a lot about her character. She’s bold and daring and will stop at nothing to save her sister. I was taken from the start by Lauren’s intricate world building and edge of my seat pacing. There’s also a visual quality to her writing that had this tale unspooling like a movie in my head.

Read an interview with the author here.



Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, by Gareth Wronski (Aladdin/ Simon & Schuster)

This novel has a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sensibility that I found irresistible. After a case of mistaken identity, Holly finds herself in outer space contending with bounty hunters, giant worms, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, and a robot who is learning how to lie. Things are complicated….and funny…but author Wronski never loses sight of Holly’s humanity and the struggles that abound in middle school.

Read an interview with the author here.



Karma Khullar’s Mustache, by Kristi Wientge (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

I loved the adolescent angst in this one because if felt so familiar! Twelve and thirteen year old self doubt is unique and this book offers kids a chance to realize they are not alone dealing with all the weirdness. Karma’s body feels a little bit alien and her best friend seems ready to trade up to a newer shinier best friend. Add in her dad as the new stay at home parent, a mom at work all the time and Karma is just confused. And alone. In true Judy Blume fashion, Wientge captures Karma’s emotions with honesty and charm.



Free Books!

What’s better than free books? Nothing. Duh. Sign up for my occasional newsletter and be entered to win one of these titles!





FREE Skype visits to celebrate the cover release of Power Play!

For a limited time I’m offering FREE Skype visits to your school classroom or library to celebrate the awesome new cover for Mrs. Smith’s Spy School 2: Power Play!

Visits are 20-30 minutes of Q&A about the books, writing or whatever reading related topics your kids are interested in.

Email me for details at Beth@BethMcMullenBooks.com

Order Mrs. Smtih’s Spy School for Girls on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Preorder Power Play on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


Reese Witherspoon agrees with me…

Coming July 3, 2018!

(sing up for my monthly newsletter here)


I’m super excited about two things right now – first, I get to paint my daughter’s lovely perfect face with bloody wounds and scratches for her Halloween zombie costume. Okay, maybe that’s a lie but I am excited about the cover art for Power Play (Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls 2), the next installment of the trilogy!  It’s as good as the first and fits perfectly with the globe trotting elements of the story. Abby is all in trouble again – click here for details…

I want to thank everyone who bought the first book. It was such a thrill to hear from young readers (and their parents) about how they connected with Abby. If you liked the book (or your child did) please consider leaving a review on Amazon. It makes a difference! Here’s the link so you don’t have to waste time searching.



Now on to the important stuff. Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman? It’s a-Mazing. And Reese Witherspoon is turning it into a movie so I guess she agrees with me. It’s about a woman living a very small life, trying to contain the trauma of her childhood. As she begins to let people in, everything changes in ways that are heartbreaking and funny at the same time (tears, laughter, tears, laughter, tears AND laughter – I was a mess). Also, I accidentally took out the Large Print edition, which weighed forty pounds and gave me tendinitis in my wrist but you shouldn’t have the same problem. What is it they say – no pain, no gain? Probably they weren’t talking about reading.




Is the weather where you are finally turning? In my ‘hood, we get excited when it drops below ninety. People put on sweaters and down jackets. I used to make fun of these people, the east coast transplant that I am, but now….well, let’s just say I’ve lost my credibility. As soon as I can turn on the oven without cranking up the AC to compensate, I bake. And these cookies are to die for. Make them and eat them while you read Eleanor Oliphant! I’m jealous already.



Okay, one last thing before I go. Have you tried Lore yet? Did you know that the saying ‘saved by the bell’ originated in the 1800s when people were occasionally buried alive (by mistake) and a bell was built into coffins so the victim could alert the living that he or she was six feet under and getting a little uncomfortable? No, me neither! I’ve also learned about the origins for vampire stories, silver bullets and that rampant consumption created a lot of terrifying superstition among the unenlightened folks in the early days of our country. The podcast is also a creepy six episode Amazon Prime show. Do not watch before bedtime



The Cover Art is Here!

PowerPlay (Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls 2) has the best cover! What do you think? Keep reading if you want to know what sort of trouble Abby is up to this time….

Abby and the rest of her friends go international as they embark on their first “official” Center mission in this second book in the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

After discovering the truth about her spy school/boarding school—and her super-spy mom—Abby Hunter is ready for her next adventure, but what’s about to happen is something she never would have guessed…

Everyone at The Smith School is obsessed with Monster Mayhem, the latest reality video game craze. But when Drexel Caine, the mastermind behind the game is suddenly kidnapped, it becomes clear that the kidnappers are playing for more than just special badges.

After Drexel’s son—who is Abby’s friend, Toby—receives a cryptic message, Abby and her friends discover the kidnapping is part of a bigger scheme that could take down The Center for good.

With the help of Abby’s frenemy (and reluctant mentor), Veronica Brooks, the group tackles their first official Center Mission. They tangle with the world’s most notorious hacker, get in trouble for the possible theft of the Mona Lisa, and prepare for the ultimate showdown in London. But not before they have to contend with one more hurdle: the agonizing Smith School Spring Formal. Along the way, they discover they are much stronger as a team they can ever be alone.

And with a little luck, they might just save the world.

An interview with Supriya Kelkar, debut author of AHIMSA

As Ahmisa opens, it’s 1942 and Ghandi has asked families to give one member to the Indian freedom movement. In the case of Anjali, it’s her mother who steps up. As Anjali’s life changes, she’s forced to confront a new reality brought on my her mother’s commitment to the cause. I love stories where a girl is pushed out of her comfort zone and becomes a better, stronger version of herself. Anjali’s path is thrilling to follow and especially timely in today’s world. This title is a valuable addition to any home, school or public library. (And the cover is so gorgeous!)

And now, the author answers our questions…

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I grew up surrounded by books thanks in part to a book-of-the-month club membership my aunt and uncle had given me for years. I also grew up watching lots of Hindi movies, and my father had written a couple Hindi movies as well. The combination of the exposure to books and Bollywood made me want to become a storyteller.

AHIMSA was inspired by the life of your great-grandmother. In the research phase, did you learn things about her that you didn’t know before?

I did! I actually didn’t know much about her at all except that she was a freedom fighter, had been imprisoned, and became a congresswoman after independence. It wasn’t until I read her biography, written by my great-grandfather, that I learned the details of her work. One thing that was really fascinating to me was after she was arrested for leading a protest, the government sent word to her husband that if she would just apologize, they would let her go. But she refused because she knew what she was doing was right and so she remained in jail until a pact Gandhi had made with the viceroy of India freed political prisoners who were not violent.

Even though AHIMSA takes place in 1942, the issues of social justice in the book feel incredibly timely. Did you have the current climate in mind as you wrote?

I actually wrote the first draft of the book back in 2003. It wasn’t until I was working on the edits in 2016 that it dawned on me how timely the novel was.

How did you settle on a middle grade novel as the best way to tell this story? Was it your first choice?

It took a few stages to get there. I first tried to write Ahimsa as a screenplay about my great-grandmother. I don’t think I even managed to write a word of it. I just couldn’t figure it out. I then decided to write it as a fictional script, and thought rather than the protagonist being the freedom fighter, it might be more interesting to see the story through the eyes of the daughter of a freedom fighter. When I got stuck on that script, I decided to give novel-writing a try and thus the first draft of the book was born.

Who are your favorite authors?

Growing up I was a huge Ann M. Martin fan. I also really loved re-reading books by James Stevenson, Nancy Carlson and Holly Keller.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Besides hanging out with my family and friends, I’d have to say binge watching TV shows. I just love immersing myself in a new world this way.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a few pictures books and middle grade novels.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

I have lots of information about the book at my website www.supriyakelkar.com and they can e-mail me at supriyakelkarbooks@gmail.com








Karina Yan Glaser, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. The Interview!

When I lived in New York, a million years ago, I used to take the train fairly regularly through Harlem,  the setting for The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. As the story unfolded I could see it happening. I could imagine the places. I wanted to crawl right inside and hang out with Vanderbeekers.  Not many books have me wishing for that. I’m feeling lucky I got to ask author Karina Yan Glaser a few questions. Have a look…

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember. I was the kid who brought books with her to recess and kept a book in my lap during dinner so I could sneak read while I ate. When my kids were born, I started a blog where I wrote hundreds of blog posts about being a new mom. I found out I loved telling stories, and when my second daughter started preschool I began writing The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street in a coffee shop.

What was the best part of writing The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street?

I loved revising and polishing, inserting wording or paragraphs that pulled me more and more into the story. For me, writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle. It doesn’t all come together at the first go; the full picture gradually reveals itself with time, patience, and diligence.

Your novel centers on a possible eviction from a beloved Harlem brownstone. Did you have a house in mind from your own past when you began writing or one in your current neighborhood?

The brownstone setting idea came from lots of walks around my current Harlem neighborhood. Thankfully I have a few friends who live in brownstones, so my familiarity with the buildings come from visiting and spending time in their brownstones. One day, if The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street sells a bajillion copies, I hope to move my family into a brownstone!

Both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus use the term ‘old fashioned’ (as in charming and lovely!) to describe this book. Did books you read as a child influence the tone of this work?

Definitely. I loved books like Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family­, Eleanor Estes’s The Moffats, and Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays. All of those stories were about big families, and All-of-a-Kind Family and The Saturdays were set in New York City. I’m honored that reviewers saw glimpses of that sensibility in The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street!

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?

Oh, I love everything about middle grade books. That eight-to-twelve age range was when I fell in love with reading, and I love the themes of growing up and discovery that comes during that age. The best thing about having kids who are currently seven and nine is that I can share my favorite middle grade books with them!

Who are your favorite authors?

So many! Katherine Paterson, Jason Reynolds, Ashley Bryan, Grace Lin, Linda Sue Park, Louise Erdrich, Jack Cheng, Gary Schmidt, Cynthia Voigt, Elizabeth Enright, Richard Peck, Janice Nimura, Holly M. McGhee, Jacqueline Woodson, Sydney Taylor, Joyce Sidman, Eleanor Estes, Laurie Halse Anderson, Melissa Sweet, Jacqueline Kelly, Kelly Barnhill, Ada Calhoun, Ruta Sepetys, Jeanne Birdsall… those are just some!

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Reading! Hiking! Eating chocolate!

What are you working on right now?

I am finishing up illustrations for the sequel to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. I’m also starting my third book.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

I’m reachable through most social media outlets and by email!

Website: www.karinaglaser.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karinaisreadingandwriting/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarinaYanGlaser

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarinaYanGlaser









Jake Burt, author of Greetings From Witness Protection. An interview!

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says the biggest complaint kids will have with Greetings From Witness Protection is that it ends!  How amazing is that?  Sassy, snarky Nicki Demere—a 13-year-old foster kid with a big heart and the quick hands of a seasoned thief—is commissioned by the U.S. marshals to join a family in the Witness Protection Program that is hiding from one of the deadliest crime organizations in the country. As daughter Charlotte, she’ll help them fly under the radar in North Carolina. And it’s a wild ride as she navigates hitmen, cyberbullies, and the dreaded standardized testing. Author Jake Burt manages to be both poignant and funny in his middle grade debut and we’re lucky to have him here with us today to answer a few questions – welcome Jake!


Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I can trace my love of all of the above back to my dad reading The Hobbit to me when I was a kid. He did voices for each character, and I vividly recall being enthralled. Since, not a day has gone by where I’m not stunned by the power that a good story possesses. I use them in my classroom to teach, and nothing captivates my students more than when they sense a story coming on. I learn anecdotally, too, and I’m particularly susceptible to the emotional magic stories weave; I’m fairly addicted to that breathless, hollow-yet-full sensation one gets after reading a great story and realizing it’s come to an end. 

What was the best part of writing Greetings From Witness Protection?

Meeting Nicki. Yes, I storyboard and outline, but there’s this wonderful thing that happens once an author sits down to actually write. The character’s voice comes through, and quite often she’ll let you know that what you thought happened in your tale…well, that’s not quite how it happened. I realize that sounds quite meta (or, perhaps, delusional), but I find myself continually and joyously surprised by what reveals itself as I’m writing. In the case of Greetings, Nicki was a phenomenal character to interact with as she related her story to me, and I’m honored that she chose me to tell it. 

You strike a great balance between funny and serious. Is this something you thought

about in advance of writing the novel?

Not a ton; I think that if I sat down and said, “Okay, this needs to be 50% funny and 50% serious,” I’d stagnate myself attempting to achieve that balance. Real life is at times funny, at times serious, and at times both. As a result, I try to be real, and let the humor or drama evolve naturally from that. 

Nicki/Charlotte is sassy and snarky, just my favorite kind of character. Is she based on

people you know or did she just show up in your head?

I’m sure she’s an amalgam of quite a few things, but she largely just showed up in my head. One of my absolute favorite musicians, Tori Amos, has described her songwriting process as an opening of the mind, which then allows the songs to choose her as their conduit. Despite the mythological underpinnings of such a philosophy (she attributes the facilitation of that creative flow to the faeries), I find it really resonates with me, because I can’t think of a more apt way to describe it. Nicki popped into my mind, and she wouldn’t be quiet until I told her story for her. 

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre

appeals to you?

My answer here is the same as when someone asks me why I love teaching fifth grade: they’re old enough to get my sense of humor, but young enough to still believe in magic.

Who are your favorite authors?

Tolkien, Sir Thomas Malory, Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Dr. Seuss, Bob Salvatore, Cat Valente, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and about four hundred more.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Playing games. Sports, board games, video games, party games, camp games, you name it.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished the copyedits for my second novel (due out in October of 2018, also with Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan), and I’m getting ready to submit my third book…fingers crossed!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

I love to hear from my readers via my website: www.jburtbooks.com. There’s an easy form to fill out there that gets the message right to me. Of course, letters via regular mail are fun, too, and the address for those is also on the website.

Amanda Hosch, debut author of Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying

Is Mabel Opal Pear an amazing name or what?! See the answer to my third question below to find out how it came to pass. Amazon describes this book as ‘rife with quirky characters, zany twists, and an unflinching look at the difficulty of learning to trust.’ All of that and a mystery to unravel spells fun in my book!  Amanda Hosch’s debut middle grade novel is on shelves today so pick up a copy and see for yourself.


Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I grew up in a family of readers. My parents read to us and weekly trips to the library were part of growing up. Once I was old enough to walk there on my own, I went two or three times a week (I’m a fast reader). When my oldest daughter was a few months old, my father was able to recite “Goodnight Moon” from memory even though it had been several decades since he had read it.

What was the hardest part of writing Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying?

Of all the books I’ve written, MOPRS was the most joyful first draft experience. I think it’s because her voice was so strong. However, revising took patience.

Deciding on names in fiction writing is hard work and Mabel Opal Pear is an unusual one. How did you come up with it?

Before she even had a proper name, I knew her nickname was Moppet. I tried quite a few variations of names with the initials MOP before Mabel Opal Pear stuck. Moppet comes from the stories by Beatrix Potter. Moppet has her own book, The Story of Miss Moppet, and she also appears in The Tale of Tom Kitten. I loved the books as a child and my mother gave me a beautiful set when my first child was born. My mom may have also called me Moppet sometimes.

I’m a huge mystery/spy fan (obviously!). Do you read mystery and spy fiction for fun? Did you know you were going to write a spy book from the start?

Yes, me too! Yes (again!)! From the very beginning, I knew Mabel’s parents were spies and that she knew their secret. Once I rewrote the Moscow Rules from Mabel’s point of view, that was the book’s hook.

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?

I love their ability to get totally immersed in a story.

Who are your favorite authors?

Partial list includes Rae Carson, Mindy McGinnis, and Madeleine L’Engle, but ask me on a different day and I’ll have another list.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?


What are you working on right now?

A historical YA set in 1880s New Orleans.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Email is great: amanda@amandahosch.com








Dusti Bowling, author of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, interview

I got to read an advanced copy of Dusti Bowling’s debut middle grade novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and immediately fell in love with Aven.  Born without arms, this is a girl who does not let anything get in the way of where she is going. What I appreciated was how Dusti made this disability a part of Aven but not her entirety. Much to be learned from that for everyone. And we have Dusti here to answer some questions, too. Lucky us!

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I’m not really sure where my love of reading comes from. No one else in my family is a reader or ever encouraged reading. I think I was just born like this. My love of writing definitely comes from my love of books.

What was the hardest part of writing Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus?

The hardest part was making sure I wrote Aven accurately—her feelings, her insecurities, her hardships. Because I have arms, this was definitely a challenge.

Your main character, Aven, was born without arms. Her new friend Connor also struggles with a disability. How did you ensure you got the details of their challenges as accurate as possible?

While writing my story, I found a woman online who makes informative videos about life without arms. I watched and studied all the videos, then when I was done writing my story, I reached out to her to see if she would read my story. She did read it and gave it a very enthusiastic stamp of approval. Her blurb is on the back of the book.

As for Connor and his Tourette Syndrome, my husband and two of my daughters have tic disorders. I relied heavily on their experiences as well as reading and watching as much as I could about Tourette’s.

Aven is just the kind of spunky and sassy that I love. Did you feel like you knew her immediately or did she take some time to come together on the page?

I got to know Aven for over a period of about a year before I ever put her down on paper. I knew from the day I started thinking about her she would be strong and determined, but I think she got spunkier and funnier over that year. By the time I started writing, I knew her extremely well and her personality never changed.

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?

I know I said I think I was born with a love of reading, but it was really middle grade books that pushed me over the edge starting around third grade. Middle grade stories got me through some of the hardest times in my life. I hope my books speak to kids like they spoke to me.

Who are your favorite authors?

Sherman Alexie, Stephen King, Lynn Austin, Katherine Applegate

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Spending time with my husband and three daughters.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on a Goonies-inspired adventure set in an extremely poor desert town about a group of kids who go into a mine on the eve of the most important race of the summer to find a piece of gold to buy back a dirt bike. The girl who owns the dirt bike is one of the best racers in town and traded it to a bully to stop him from hurting the main character in the story.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Readers can find me on Twitter at @Dusti_Bowling. They can also contact me through my website www.dustibowling.com



How I Got My Agent: ten authors share their stories

There are two questions authors get asked every time they speak in public:

1) Where do you get your ideas?

2) How did you get your agent?

My answer to the first one is easy – Target. I swear my best ideas occur right as I’m about to check out which means I get all dazed and glassy eyed and the poor cashier thinks hard about calling Security and having me escorted to my car.

But the second question is more complicated and it can be crazy making.

My answer, in a nutshell: my son went to preschool with a boy whose mother went to medical school with a woman who had a bestie from summer camp, who just happened to be a literary agent in New York. Lucky for me, Leigh Feldman (Leigh Feldman Literary) turned out to be brilliant, funny, lovely and just a little bit scary, all the things you want in an agent!

The point is, for most authors, the path to representative is anything but straightforward.

To illustrate, I asked some published/to be published Young Adult and Middle Grade authors to share their stories with us. There is so much to be learned here about not giving up and trusting your instincts. Aspiring authors, keep the faith! As you will see, there are many ways to get where you are going.


Lisa Rosinsky, Inevitable and Only, (Boyd Mills Press, October 10, 2017)

Twitter: @LisaRosinsky

I found my agent, Linda Epstein (Emerald City Literary Agency) through the Rutgers One-On-One Plus Conference, which takes place every October (see more about the application process here).

If you get in, you receive a one-on-one critique with an agent or editor at the conference–but the best part is the packet of contact information you get to take home with you, with email addresses and wish lists for every agent and editor who was there.

I went through and circled anyone’s name who looked like they might be interested in the book I was querying, then started down the list. A couple months later, Linda wrote back requesting the full manuscript; the very next morning, she emailed again to ask if we could schedule The Phone Call, offering me representation! And a year later, she sold my first novel, Inevitable and Only.


Melissa Roske, Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge)

Twitter: @MelissaRoske

I did a ton of research before I started querying. I knew I’d want an agent who specialized in children’s books, and who had a soft spot for contemporary MG. After 25 agents turned me down, one said yes after an R&R. We went out on submission, but the novel didn’t sell and my agent and I parted ways. Now I was agent-less. Instead of quitting, though—which I was seriously tempted to do—I took a long, hard look at the manuscript and completely reworked it. I revamped the plot, added new characters, and changed the title. I also hired an amazing freelance editor for a full-scale manuscript evaluation.

Then I started querying all over again. Luckily, I received requests for fulls right away, and I landed agent #2. Together, we revised the novel yet again (!!!) and found a happy home for it with editor Julie Bliven at Charlesbridge. I’ve since switched agents—I’m now repped by the lovely and talented Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency—but I will be forever grateful to my previous two agents who took a chance on me.


Kristen Gray, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

Twitter: @kristinlgray

I met my agent, Caryn Wiseman, at the Big Sur Writing Conference run by The Andrea Brown Literary Agency and the Henry Miller Library. It felt like a crash course in writing for children. It was intense, fun, and like no other conference I’d been to. Plus, I was lucky enough to be placed at Caryn’s round table. We shared our pages. She’d offer feedback. Then we could go to our cabins and revise before meeting again later on, or present something entirely new.

She had to wait on me roughly a year to finish writing Vilonia Beebe before we could go out with it, but the rest, as they say, is history. I highly encourage anyone considering this conference, to just go for it. I didn’t know a soul and was scared. But everyone was so welcoming. The critiques were fabulous. And the setting was spectacular. https://bigsurwriting.wordpress.com



McKelle George, Speak Easy Speak Love (HarperCollins, September 12, 2017)

Twitter: @McKelleGeorge

I sent the first batch of twenty or so queries out, got a few form rejections right off (beginning of August), then entered my manuscript in Brenda Drake’s PITCH MADNESS contest (end of August). I ended up with five bids, in addition to a handful of “ninja” agents who also wanted to see it. Then two agents I sent queries to asked for the full. Then #pitmad (beginning of September) happened and I got additional requests from that. I also, as a result of #pitmad, got an e-mail from an agent I’d already queried who saw my pitch on Twitter and was like, “Wait, didn’t I already ask for that?”

Suddenly, within what felt like a relatively short period of time, over a dozen agents were looking at my manuscript. One of the #pitmad agents responded in a few weeks, and I really liked her. I was hoping she’d write back and she did, asking for rewrites of the first chapter to see if I could take feedback and edit well. I severely over-wrote and slaughtered that rewritten first chapter; it was terrible. But the agent, bless her heart, still offered representation.

I was over the moon, but still knew the professional thing to do was let all other agents who had my manuscript know that I’d had an offer. About 2/3 of the agents very politely and warmly stepped aside, citing various reasons they weren’t personally as excited about it as they’d hoped to be. The last third asked for more time to finish. Of this third, most ultimately passed, giving me good feedback, but one had a full page of notes that ended with, “If any of this resonates with you, I’d be happy to talk, but do know that I would expect a lot of additional edits.”

I couldn’t quite tell if she was very interested or not, so I wrote back and said, “I agree this needs additional elbow grease. Um, would you want to represent the book?” That’s a paraphrase, of course. Actually when I look back on some of these e-mails to both agents, I cringe. I, at least, can tell that I was a screwed up ball of anxiety.

In short, second agent and I talked on the phone, lots of her edits did resonate, and I was left in an unanticipated situation of having several good options. I also knew my novel was going to drastically change. What if I signed with one agent, made the changes, and they hated the new draft?

If the cringe-y e-mails weren’t bad enough, it was nothing compared to the second phone call I had with the second agent, where, in retrospect, I think I was presenting ideas and subconsciously trying to wring a confession out of her to admit she would like the changes (before I’d even sent them) and be happy she signed with me and we’d ride off into the sunset. Which is crazy. And I remember getting to the end of the phone call, when she was maybe starting to see through the fog of my crazy, and she said something to the effect of: “You know, I get how important this is to new writers, but at the end of the day, you can say no to both of us. That’s not the end of the world. And if this book never finds an agent, then you’ll write a new book and try again with that one. The fate of your career doesn’t have to be decided in the space of this phone call.”

It was good advice in general, but really good advice for me personally. Plus, she’d sort of talked me off the crazy cliff, which I suspected might be a useful skill for a future agent of mine to have.

Thus . . . I said no to both, because clearly it was important for me to relax and rewrite this book on my own terms. So I rewrote my manuscript, incorporating the plethora of professional feedback I’d received. It was a massive undertaking, almost 80% new writing. During this time, funnily enough, two other agents I’d queried asked for the full ms, one who later declined and one who I later declined. Then I waited for the first two agents to read the rewrite and while I waited I cyber-stalked them. If they uttered a word on the world wide web, I probably read it. I’d also made sure to ask them questions about their clients, what they envisioned for the book, are they a member of AAR, etc., etc.

In the end, they both were still interested and, honestly, it just came down to what felt right in my gut, because they were both genuine, qualified, lovely people. I looked at it from a business angle as well as a personal angle and chose the second agent, the indomitable Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, who is pretty much fantastic. I love that she is an editorial agent and is never going to tell me, “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine,” when it could be better (I also like that she thinks I’m capable of making it better). I used to read the acknowledgments of books with authors describing their agents as ninja/sword-wielding/super people, and thinking, ‘They can’t all be like that.’ And maybe they’re not, but Katie is (after our first phone call I described her to my friend saying ‘she has a lioness quality’). She was also the agent who I sent a regular cold query to, but who e-mailed me back after seeing my pitch on #pitmad, so I never know to which venue I should attribute the contact.


Allison Gervais, In 27 Days (Blink/HarperCollins)

Twitter: @Ally_Gervais

So in 2011 I began posting my writing on the online platform Wattpad. It wasn’t until 2015 that I was contacted on Wattpad by my editor from Blink/HarperCollins, who was interested in my story In 27 Days. At the time I was totally new to the whole publishing process, but I absolutely wanted to pursue traditional publishing, so Jillian, my editor, got the ball rolling.

It took from August to December of 2015 for me to finally be made a publication deal, and I was given my official contract that following January. I still had relatively little idea of what was going on, but I knew I needed a literary agent. One of my professors from college even helped reach out to his contacts to get me a meeting with a new agent, but sadly it wasn’t a good fit. I was sending out queries like you wouldn’t believe. I was told that because I’d already been offered a contract I would automatically receive interest from agents, but that was so not the case.

It was in about February I was chatting with Christina June, author of IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, also published by Blink/HarperCollins, and I mentioned that I was having a difficult time finding an agent. She offered to have her own agent, with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, pass my manuscript around their office to see if anybody was looking to acquire new work. My manuscript was passed around to a few people before it landed on the desk of my now agent, Shannon Hassan.

Shannon contacted me the Monday after she’d been given the manuscript and said she’d read it in two days, that she loved it, and that she was interested in representing me. I was so unbelievably excited, and so happy it seemed like it would be a good fit, so a few days later I signed on with Shannon and Marsal Lyon!

A bit unorthodox that I had an agent hop in so late in the game I’ve been told, but she’s fantastic, and it’s been a great experience.


Jonathan Roth, Too Much Space! (Beep and Bob Book 1) (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, March 2018)

Twitter: @JRothwrites

One thing I’d like to emphasize about how I landed my (second and current) agent: a year or two before I signed with her, she requested the full manuscript of an earlier project, but ultimately rejected it.

Though some would take this as a sure sign that this relationship was not meant to be, I still kept her in the top section of my wish list when I was later submitting something else. And I’m so glad I did! As she shared at one point (I’m paraphrasing), she always likes when writers resubmit even after she’s turned them down, because it shows they are at least willing to work through the criticism and rejection that is such a big part of the writing life.

To sum up: lick your wounds, but don’t take them personally, and certainly don’t burn bridges.


Erin Beaty, The Traitor’s Kiss (Book One) (Imprint/Macmillan)

Twitter: @ErinBeatyWrites

I got my agent the old-fashioned way- through the slush pile. Of course, I started querying way too early. (Doesn’t everyone?) I wrote my first draft in about 6 weeks, and after sharing it with a few select friends and editing for about 3 months, I started reaching out to agents. My first queries were awful and rightly rejected. After some improvement there was a nibble or two. The best I got was an agent requesting the full manuscript, but she said it would probably be six months before she could even start reading. A small press showed interest, and I didn’t know at the time that searching for an agent at the same time as a small press was a faux pas. Oops.

In any case, after a few months of querying, I became self-aware enough to see my baby needed major work. I tore the book apart and sewed it back together, then sent it out to some fresh readers. Just as I was absorbing the final feedback, I got an email from that agent who wanted the full before. She wanted to know if I was still looking for representation, and if was, could I send the most recent version. Figuring she would reject what I had sent six months ago, I had nothing to lose by asking for a little more time to finish polishing, and she agreed.

Two weeks later I sent her the full manuscript and also started querying in full force again. I got a few full requests, and then a couple rejections on those, but I felt like I was on the right track. The first agent sent me a note saying she was going to start reading this week, and I would hear from her within a few days. (By the way, those updates were so kind to my fragile writer’s heart. We spend so much time in the dark, agonizing, only to find out the agent hasn’t even looked at the submission yet.)

To make a long story short- four days later I got an email saying I’d kept her up all night reading and she wanted to talk! Our conversation the next week went great, and she offered rep. After doing the whole “I’ve been offered rep, do you want a piece of this action?” circuit with the agents who still had the manuscript or the query, I circled back to agent #1, Valerie Noble.

What’s funny is I had seen on twitter that she-an agent who rep’d my genre-was closing to queries in about 24 hours, and I had thrown that query package together so last minute that I didn’t log it in my query/agent spreadsheet. When her full request came in, I had to go back and look her up! Thing was, if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have gotten in her reading queue and had a much-improved manuscript right when she was ready to read. It was like fate.

Valerie and I did some revisions and went on submission about four months later. I still remember the day she said it was time to go out to publishers and how panicky that made me. That was early November, though, and I figured the holidays meant I wouldn’t get a quick answer. I was in it for the long haul, but early in January I got an offer from a Big 5 publisher. A week later, I had another. It was surreal. Seven months later, I sold two (unwritten) sequels.

So while everything happened faster than average, overall, my journey was a pretty traditional one.


Patricia Bailey, The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan (Albert Whitman & Company)

Twitter: @patriciabtweets

My agent story is pretty much a SCBWI regional conference fairy tale – and a lesson in trusting your gut. I finished my novel in the spring of 2015. I wasn’t planning on attending the Oregon Conference that year. I’m way less awkward on paper than I am in person, so I figured I’d have better luck looking for an agent the old fashioned way than nervously pitching my story in a conference setting.

But one day I sat down at my desk and had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to sign up – and not just for the conference, but for a manuscript critique as well. So I followed my gut. I registered for the conference and an opening pages critique. I chose Kerry Sparks for the critique because she looked so friendly in her picture and I liked her bio. Two months later I sat down with her for our consult session – where we talked for a moment about how much she liked my pages and then visited for ten minutes about life and Oregon and the strangeness of growing up in small towns.

The next week I sent her my full manuscript. The following week she emailed that she loved it (and, best of all, that it made her cry). We talked on the phone later that day – and her insights about the story and how to make it better were just so spot on that I knew in my gut that she was agent for me. And that was that. I signed the contract in June. We did some revision work over the summer, and THE TRAGICALLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF KIT DONOVAN was on submission that September. By March we had a book deal.


Julie Shepard, Rosie Girl (Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

Twitter: @JulieShepardYA

I was climbing Haleakala in Maui, when a bunch of us got stuck in one of the narrow passageways and…just kidding. I wish this is how I got my agent – in some rare, exotic way that will make for a great icebreaker at stuffy dinner parties. That we bonded during a harrowing event, during which I sold her on an unread manuscript, and she signed me on the spot. Instead, I got my agent the old-fashioned way, by much less romantic means, far from any volcanoes on the pacific coast. I sent her a query letter, and an assistant replied on her behalf.

Now, that’s actually the best part of the story. The assistant. Because if writers (especially unpublished ones) are anything, we’re paranoid, filled with fear that our hard-earned work will be stolen from pages still soggy from blood, sweat, and tears. So the reply email was not from the agent, but from someone else whose name I didn’t recognize. I Googled her, hoping to find “I am the assistant to Literary Agent X” somewhere in a corner of the Internet. But no. All I found was tangential information: she was a writer, a reader, a blogger, someone like that. This was good. At least she was a legitimate part of the writing community. But without finding a direct link to the agent, I was still leery. I hesitated, waiting a little over an hour to respond (which is an hour longer than I would have normally waited to send back requested material to an agent). And honestly, I was nervous for days that I had just sent my entire manuscript – my baby! – to a complete stranger who was going to call my book her own and make a zillion dollars off it.

If Ilana Masad—assistant literary agent extraordinaire—is reading this, she’s laughing and calling me a dope. But back then, until I heard from her boss, Leigh Feldman, I was a wreck. Two weeks later, I did. The three of us had a conference call, during which I was offered representation. That was April 2015. As I write this, it’s May 2017. My debut young adult novel, Rosie Girl, comes out with Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers in July. This wouldn’t have been possible had I not trusted the validity of an assistant’s request and the power she had to push my manuscript through the gate. I’ve heard grumblings from some writers, claiming if they’re not contacted directly by the agent, their chances of ending up on the agent’s desk are slimmer. I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Literary assistants are the true gate keepers. If anything, hearing from the assistant increases your chances of winning over their boss who now has the endorsement of someone’s opinion they value.

So next time you get a request from an assistant, consider it a gift. I’m really glad I opened mine!


A.M.Rose, The Road to Eugenica (Entangled Teen, November 2017)

Twitter: @annmrose

Getting an agent is a wonderful way to get your novel into the hands of editors and publishing houses. But it isn’t the only way to reach the goal of publication.

Road to Eugenica was the 2016 NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book contest winner. While I was there at the conference, I met Jennifer Mishler from Entangled, and we really hit it off. She requested a full – along with a few agents. As soon as I got home I went back through my manuscript (because really, isn’t that what we all do) and took a week before sending it out. I didn’t want to seem too eager, and I wanted to make sure it was perfect. Or as close to perfect as possible.

About a month later I was contacted by Entangled saying they needed a little more time with my MS. I had no idea what this meant, but it was still exciting just to hear from them with something other than a pass.

It felt like forever later (but really it was about two weeks) Entangled came back and said they were interested in bringing Road to Eugenica to submissions and asked if I was still interested. Now this wasn’t a yes, but holy moly, it was farther than I’ve ever gotten. I of course said yes, and started freaking out. What was I going to do? I didn’t have an agent. This was potentially my first book deal.

I reached out to everyone who had my manuscript but in the end, I got a contract from Entangled without having signed with an agent. Right then I had two choices. 1) Freak out – sign the contract and call it a day. Or 2) get someone to help me understand what I was signing.

After careful research, I hired a literary attorney who walked me through the contract made sure I understood everything, and helped me negotiate the deal.

So I ended up signing on the dotted line for my first book deal without an agent.

Just like everything in life, there isn’t one way to do something, and the path to publication is a true testament of this. The destination is the same (getting our book babies into the world) but the road each of us take doesn’t have to be the same. So take a moment and enjoy the journey.