Erin Young @ Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret

Middle Grade Adventure

Simon & Schuster

Sean Easley started writing in third grade because he was looking for adventure. He’s worked with kids and teens for well over a decade, listening to their stories, and somehow ended up with a Masters degree in education along the way. Now he’s a full-time writer living with his wife and son in Texas, where he stubbornly refuses to wear cowboy boots.

While I’ve always written to get all my thoughts organized and to express my creativity, I didn’t begin writing in earnest until 2013. I wrote one novel, then trunked it before querying agents. I wrote another, and that one got a lot of agent interest, but never got me representation. I wrote yet another YA sci-fi, and that one got me into the 2015 Pitch Wars Contest. Still, it wasn’t quite what the agents were looking for (even though it got almost picked up multiple times), but a smaller press got excited and picked it up for publication. I published that book under a pen name. It was my next book that garnered a lot of attention. It was also where I discovered my love for middle grade, and realized that part of the reason my earlier books weren’t quite making it was because I was writing YA novels with a middle grade sensibility. That was also where I learned exactly where upper-MG books fit in the hierarchy, and what makes them different from both MG and YA. THE HOTEL BETWEEN netted me my agent, and was acquired by Krista Vitola at Simon & Schuster shortly thereafter. I’m now hard at work on the follow-up to that book, along with a new upper-middle grade property (as well as a rewrite of one of my previous books that should have been a middle grade in the first place).

I spent over a decade mentoring, teaching, and counseling students in various contexts, and my Masters degree is education-centered. I have mentored writers and been mentored by published writers in return. My writing process is heavily critique-oriented, and my editor at S&S is quite simply the best. Many of my critique partners have major deals with big traditional publishing houses. Also, on the query side, every query I’ve written has gotten a fantastic request rate.


I love people. I’ve always loved people, and helping others out with knowledge that they might not have access to, but I do. I’m a firm believer that the success of others is a huge boon to the community as a whole, and that since I’ve had so many people share their time with me for my benefit, I want to do the same.

Also, with upper-MG books seeing a strong period of growth, and having been through that “where does this fit and how do I make it work?” process, I want to help others find their place in the market there, too. Kids need books that meet them where they are, and whatever I can do to help someone else find those kids they’re writing to will be good for everyone.

Do I sound naive? I’m probably a little naive. I love seeing the potential in people, and in a manuscript, and doing what’s best for those around me. Even when what’s best is saying the hard thing they don’t want to hear (more on this later…).

My ideal candidate fits into the growing upper middle grade market.

If you’ve got a book that rides the line between MG/YA (or you’re not sure), feel free to submit to me. I love adventure stories, and kids overcoming incredible odds. High stakes, friendship, discovery. If you show me an experience full of wonder, and kids coming to understand how they fit into a world that’s so much bigger than they expected, we’ll be great friends.

But I’m a middle school boy at heart, so too much kissy-kissy makes me blech.

  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Adventure

It’s not selling well right now, but I adore portal fantasy stories. Anything that takes someone from our world and shoves them into somewhere new… yes, please. But I’m not a fan of romance-focused stories. I love a good romance within the stories, but when it’s the central plot I’ll bug out pretty quick (this is part of why I love MG stories. See below). One thing I do hate is building up the potential of a kid character and having the adults do all the heavy lifting at the climax. Don’t empower your protagonist and then have people who were already in control wrest that power back to make everything turn out all right.


  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Skype or phone call
  • Freestyle in chat

I love hashing things out, and establishing an ongoing relationship. Communication is key in this business, and I’m itching to start a back-and-forth with my new mentee where I can give them what they need. I didn’t mark “line edits,” not because I won’t give some, but because different writers are going to need different things. Getting into the weeds right off the bat may not be the right approach, so I won’t promise that. I’m not a line editor (though I will likely offer comments throughout), so I don’t want you thinking that what you’re getting from me is what a good line editor could do. I’m focused on your story and your characters, and making them the best they can be first before we even think about tweaking your prose (which, in some sections, you might end up tossing). Also, I’ll be here to answer your questions about the publishing process, and hopefully encourage you throughout your journey. What can I say; I’m a Hufflepuff.

Someone who’s willing to step back and look at what they’ve already done, and take an ax to big portions if necessary. Editors are looking for writers who are willing to rethink everything, so if you’re not that person, you may not be ready to move forward. And that’s okay, but I don’t want to waste your time. Publishing is hard, hard work, and an unwillingness to put in the hard work will stunt your potential growth.

Also, I’m looking for someone who’s got so many ideas they don’t know what to do with them, and so they’re channeling them into story however they can. Show me you see the wonder in the world, and that you’ll do anything to spread it. A good mentee is flexible, excited, and ready to persevere. It’s also so important that you be willing to hear the feedback, internalize, and work through figuring out why I think what I think so you can change the manuscript in your own way to make it do what you want it to while still addressing concerns.

And patience. A positive attitude and a willingness to bend can go super far in this business. It will make your editor enjoy working with you, make your agent excited to please you, and get other publishing professionals to listen to you.

I’m an absolute sucker for stories about kids who overcome some great challenge by learning something about themselves. Give me your Serafinas, your Unwanteds, your Story Thieves and your Blackthorn Keys and Real Boys and Fablehaven and Keepers of the Lost Cities. I haven’t read anything I’ve not liked by Kenneth Oppel or Neal Shusterman, either. And oh, don’t get me started on The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

I love anything that involves kids having secret knowledge, too. Something that takes our world and adds a layer that will allow readers to imagine that there’s more to this world than meets the eye. If you’re resisting the urge to compare your manuscript to Harry Potter or The Lightning Thief (though, honestly, who isn’t?), I’ll probably get excited about it. Latch onto my imagination, make me see the world in a new way, and we’ll do fine.

Give me peril. Put kids in danger, and equip them with what they need to overcome it.

I’m not the biggest fan of LOTR-style epic fantasy. Often, if there are multiple apostrophes in a name, it’s probably not for me (there are exceptions, though). Also, I’m not keen on heavy romance, which is part of why I’ve found such a love of MG (where there are often hints of romance, but the plot rarely hinges on it).

Don’t send me stories that take place in school, unless it’s a special place full of wonder. No romance-heavy stories, where romance is the core of the plot. If your protagonist is thinking about sex and kissing a lot, I’m probably not your guy. No high-fantasy with unpronounceable names, unless it has a twist that links it to our modern world.

In addition to the books I mentioned in the MSWL section above, I’m a TV and movie fiend. All of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies are incredible, as are Diana Wynne Jones’ books. I’ll watch anything Marvel puts out, Doctor Who takes me all the places I want to go, and Battlestar Galactica was too great for its own good. I also love Leigh Bardugo’s books, and mostly anything by Brandon Sanderson. I am also an unwavering Final Fantasy fanboy (my text tone is currently a chocobo “Wark!”), and have an unhealthy fondness for video game RPGs.

Confession: I liked the ending of Lost. Then again, I also understood it. If this is going to be a problem for you, you might have to submit to someone else. 😉