Beth Phelan

YA sci-fi/fantasy

In Revision

Scientist by day, writer of queer, not-very-sciencey YA by night. The product of a weird liberal arts school. Ravenclaw. Ben Wyatt is my Patronus. Tweet with me @mara_fitzgerald.

Whatever writing-related nonsense you’re going through in the pre-agent phase, I have also been through it. Whether you need concrete advice or stories to make you feel better about yourself, I have it. I spent three years on the querying roller coaster, with two separate manuscripts, so I am intimately familiar with the feel of shouting into the void, then standing there waiting for five months until finally the void just comes back with a quiet “nah. form rejection.” I am a veteran of several contests: Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, and Pitch Wars (as an alternate), and have also Twitter pitched with the best of them. But I’ve also been deep into the depths of slushpile querying and have plenty of tips for navigating its murky waters (I was a slushpile success!).

I signed with my fantabulous agent in April 2015, so I also have about a year and a half of experience being agented and all that entails. I CAN TELL YOU WHAT IT IS LIKE ON THE OTHER SIDE. (Preview: you grow magic fingers that are incapable of typing a single bad sentence and you never doubt your abilities again. It’s totally true. Ask anyone.) I had a stint as an editorial intern that gave me a real understanding of the importance of those first fifty pages. I have years of experience as a CP and beta reader and most of them are agented and/or book deal’d now. So let’s do this thing.

  • Speculative fiction for the YA set.
  • I am a big fantasy fan, so contemporary fantasy, secondary world fantasy, high fantasy, historical fantasy—it is all good by me.
  • Science fiction: Earth-bound or set in space, but I am especially a fan of space opera and/or a more “fantasy in space” approach.
  • Most important to me is something that feels both immersive and fresh. Most things have been “done before,” superficially. As a reader, the way I get sucked in is by a world that goes DEEP. I prioritize rich characters and a really well thought-out world over any specific type of story/tropes. I want something that is so specific it could have only been written by you. And it can be weird! In fact, that is a plus.

What you can expect from me:
-Broad/developmental edit suggestions for the whole manuscript, with a focus on big picture elements like pacing, character arcs, emotions, worldbuilding, etc.
-Many passes over the query and synopsis
-A particular focus on the first ten pages and the first 50 pages to make sure they really have a hook
-Homework?? (but like, the fun kind. about the writing craft and all that jazz)
-Fangirling over your stuff
-Fast response times. I’ll make myself available (email, Twitter DMs, Skype??) so you can work efficiently.

I’m interested in helping you write the kind of MS that sucks people in and FORCES THEM TO LOVE YOU. The kind of revisions that interest me usually involve playing up your juiciest elements and the parts you are most excited about it, and making sure readers get excited about them too. The publishing biz is important, but I’m really focused on constantly striving to improve craft. The manuscript itself is the most vital thing, and it’s also really really vital that you enjoy working on it and are excited about it. Check out my #chillwritingtips on Twitter for a preview of my extremely chill pep talks. In the immortal words of Leslie Knope, “I AM SUPER CHILL ALL OF THE TIME.”

Somebody who is excited about writing. Somebody who feels like they might need an extra “push” to get their manuscript ready for querying. Somebody who is independent and self-motivated, because you’ll be making your own schedule and timeline. Somebody who is not afraid of revisions and thinking big (okay, we are all a little afraid…but somebody who is willing to swallow that fear!).

If you can comp your MS to any of the following there is a high chance I would love to see it:

-The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer)
-The Girl at Midnight (Melissa Grey)
-The Reader (Traci Chee)
-Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)
-Starflight (Melissa Landers)
-Across the Universe (Beth Revis)
-Passenger (Alexandra Bracken)
-The Young Elites (Marie Lu)
-Snow Like Ashes (Sara Raasch)
-Otherbound (Corinne Duyvis)
-The Crown’s Game (Evelyn Skye)
-The Abyss Surrounds Us (Emily Skrutskie)

I would also have no complaints about an MS with aged-up vibes of some of my favorite MGs, such as Roald Dahl, Cornelia Funke, Lemony Snicket, Gail Carson Levine, or Philip Pullman.

Also, I love TV and movies for children, because life is short. If your MS has YA vibes of Pixar, Disney, ATLA/Korra…that is a STRONG YES.


  • My Number One Trope that I am always a sucker for…the ragtag bunch of misfits and/or the found family. I know everyone wants “the YA Firefly” BUT I WANT IT THE MOST.
  • Inclusive, diverse, intersectional worlds that reflect real life (particularly if written by writers from underrepresented backgrounds).
  • Queer kids. *bangs on table* Q U E E R K I D S
  • Unlikeable and/or intense female characters. Angelica Schuyler as a YA heroine. But I also love Eliza. So that too.
  • Whimsy and/or an old-school fantasy feeling.
  • Well-developed secondary characters, especially girls.
  • An exploration of platonic relationships in addition to romantic ones: friends, siblings, cousins, frenemies, etc. Teenagers have all kinds of complicated and intense relationships.
  • A creative magic system. I think this is one of the hardest parts of writing fantasy and I’d love to see a fresh approach (maybe in what the powers are, how the powers are used, or a society constructed a completely different way because of their magic. after all, “”it’s just like our world, but everyone can turn rocks to gold”” would not be like our world at all)
  • Most importantly, something you had fun writing.