Mentor Charlene Thomas

www.charlenethomasbooks.com
@charlene_thomas

AGENT
Ann Rose, Prospect Literary Agency

WRITES
Contemporary YA

BOOKS
SETON GIRLS (2022) Dutton/PRH

BIO

I started writing when I was really little because I have a tendency to love telling stories just as much as (more than?) I love living them. I was sixteen when I wrote a manuscript that won the National Novel Silver Award from Scholastic Books (yay! maybe my stories are *decent*), and went on to minor in creative writing at North Carolina State University. I write books about the world we live in, inspired by my experiences (and yes, my friends – sorry friends) growing up in Montgomery County, MD. I believe a lot in people and what all of us are capable of, and maybe that’s why I love creating big characters who are steadfastly determined to change their own little parts of the world.

When I’m not writing, I’m a marketer – which means I can justify long Twitter-scrolling sessions as “research.” And I’m kind of obsessed with traveling. And funny people and food that tastes really, really good. Also Target and West Elm, for now – because I have a new house! And reality TV forever – because it’s amazing.

I also have my MBA from Emory University and a digital marketing certificate from Cornell. But none of these educational endeavors taught me how to effectively write a biography and so, for that reason, I’m gonna stop now 🙂

PUBLISHING BACKGROUND
I signed with my first agent when I was a freshman in college and was SO excited. But she, unfortunately, turned out to be a “schmagent” (rewriting complete parts of my story on my behalf, ghosting on submission, etc.), and I was really deflated and scared of this industry for a long time after that. But I knew how much I loved writing, and how sure I was that I wanted to debut one day – I just wanted to take the time to do it with the right agent and the right book. I didn’t query for a while after that (six or seven years), but wrote a book that I did query in ~2018 that had a very high request rate but ultimately didn’t get an agent offer. I shelved it and, in 2019, wrote what would become my debut.

I had a very targeted query strategy, which meant prioritizing a very specific shortlist of agents who I felt (based on what I googled) I could really trust. I queried Ann and she wrote me a very thoughtful email after reading my full. She loved the story and the characters but there were things she would want to change if she were to try and sell it, and she totally understood if I didn’t want to take on an R&R. But, if I was willing, she said she would love to talk to me about it.

Of course, I took the call, and we chatted for over an hour about all of our ideas. A week or so later, I emailed her the first 30k of a rewrite (I had been playing around with a bit of a rewrite before we had talked) and she requested another call. That was when she offered – on a book by a first time author that wasn’t even fully written yet! And it was exactly what I wanted – an agent who understood me, what I do, and what I’m capable of. So, I very happily accepted in July of 2020.

We went on sub in Jan of 2021 and I was on sub for about two months before I got my first editor call with a Big 5. Before then, we had gotten some R&R requests but we were still in our first round and weren’t confident any of those requests really reflected an understanding of what we believed the story was meant to be. So, we passed on them all.

The editor call turned into an offer a week later, which led to a two week deadline for the rest of the editors to get back to us. That’s when my current editor requested a call, too. He had so many amazing things to say about my book and such incredible vision for what we could do. So that was the offer I accepted and working with him has been absolutely incredible. There isn’t one bad thing I can say, and I feel so fortunate to have found a home with Dutton.

BUT it was definitely hard turning down another Big 5 and an editor who I believe would have been an amazing partner, too. So, I actually wrote her a thank you letter and Ann passed it along for me when she was giving our pass. And the editor wrote me back (through Ann) – expressing her support for me and my decision, which really meant a lot. (The overthinker in me was VERY convinced for a minute that I was gonna be blacklisted at a major publishing house forever lol.)

SO that’s how I got to where I am 🙂 hopefully with some learned experiences that can help someone else trying to find their way through this crazy publishing world.

EXPERIENCE
After my schmagent experience, I think I did a really good job of learning how to protect my mental health in this industry. Since then, I also started working in corporate America, got an MBA, and understand business a lot more than I did before. Publishing is a business. And I think accepting that can be really helpful in removing some of the personal anguish from the harder experiences. One of my main goals is to really help my future mentee maintain their personal worth and happiness through all of this – because I think that’s so important. I don’t want publishing to break anyone’s joy. And, also, having been through a schmagent, querying, a botched editor submission round and a successful one, and experiencing the editorial process firsthand with both my agent and my editor – I think I have a lot of experiences that could really help someone else (and their book) grow.

As an author, Upmarket is kind of my thing. I love YA that skirts the line between commercial and literary. That’s what I write and love to read. I like to call it “commercial plots with pretty words.” And, because that’s sort of where I live, rich characters and page-flipping dialogue are big for me. I’m good at it, and I can help you bring more of that out in your story. I also am very good at mercilessly chopping full paragraphs (or pages) if that’s what needs to be done. I’m all about tightening prose so your words are just so yummy and readable. Revision is good for us 🙂

Above and beyond anything else – I’m rooting for you, and your stories, and your dreams. I’m here for as long as you’ll have me. Whether it’s with your story, your peace of mind, or deciding what Uber Eats order you deserve after a hard day – I want to help. I’m so excited for you, and to get to know you 🙂

 

OVERVIEW
Maybe this is pathetically simplistic, but I’m here because I really just want to help another author. I want to be a friend, and a confidant, and a support system, and a cheerleader. I want to take what I’ve learned from my own publishing journey and help you and your story grow, however I best can. I think this industry could really benefit from authors helping each other, and paying it forward, and knowing there’s enough room for everybody. And I see this as an opportunity for me to do my part in creating a World of Publishing that’s a little more like that.

If you can describe your book as a John Green-ish voice with a Lauren Oliver-ish narrative and a social justice undertone with a diverse cast of characters…my entire soul would explode. (But there are also plenty of things that make my soul explode every day and they sound nothing like this so please don’t take this statement too literally!!)

MENTORING GENRES
Young Adult

  • Contemporary
  • Light Speculative

As much as I love reading all kinds of stuff, I’m sensitive to what my skills are and how I can actually help you. So, I’m gonna be best suited to support with YA contemporary and, as a Black woman, am always, always open to BIPOC creators as well as #ownvoices stories that range beyond the BIPOC umbrella. I do enjoy speculative but it’d need to stay pretty grounded for me to be most helpful – as in, very much in the modern day, real world, where the rules of physics still generally apply. (P.S., I was pitiful at physics so there’s def a chance you may be able to get a little more past me than what I realize ;))

 

I WILL PROVIDE:

  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call, Freestyle in chat
  • I’m open to communicating in plenty of ways – let me know some of what might work best for you!

WORKING STYLE
For better or worse, Edit Letters are common in this industry and I think it’s good for you to be familiar with them, so you will get one from me. In that letter, I’ll type up my general *feels* – what’s really working, what could maybe work harder, themes I’m picking up on, etc. It’s always good to make sure people are taking away from your story what you intend for them to, so my letter will basically be an x-ray of my brain/heart/emotions at the moment when I finish your story. I’ll also, of course, share my big ideas for how we can really push your story to the next level.

With that letter, I’ll deliver your Line Edited MS. This will be how I provide my stream of consciousness reactions as I’m reading (so yes, lots of “omg!!” and heart eye emojis). You’ll come across every moment I loved in your book, as well as any moments where I got a little confused, or had an idea, etc. I’ll also call out moments where I think your prose can be tighter, or where I think it’s really stunning.

If you wanna talk about any of my notes over the phone, I’m more than down! Just let me know. Or if you wanna DM about it, or email about it, also cool. However you work best is how we’ll work. Your success is my top priority.

IDEAL MENTEE
…would be a human 🙂 Sounds like a silly answer but I mean it deeply. I think publishing could use a massive injection of Humanity and that’s exactly what I hope my mentee will bring – their humanness. I want to know about your book but I would also love to know about you. We’re gonna work hard but we can also joke around. There are gonna be days when writing is the last thing you want to do on planet earth. That’s okay with me, and you can be honest about it!

I will likely have a lot of ideas for you to digest, and I would hope you are the type of person who is very open to the idea of a comprehensive edit of your work. That said, I also hope you are the type of person who doesn’t just blindly take every editorial idea! What I’ve learned through my own journey is someone else’s editorial ideas often lead me to the best ideas of my own. So, I’ll always do my best to make it really clear WHY I’m making the suggestions I’m making – so that you understand the creative problem I’m trying to solve – and then we can brainstorm ways of reaching that solution together. Editing is collaborative, and if you can bring your full self and brilliant mind to the table, I think we’re gonna do just fine 🙂

SEND ME:

  • Contemporary and contemporary with light speculative elements (but is still firmly rooted in the real world and today’s world)
  • Platonic love stories (friendship stories ARE love stories – I will die on this hill!!)
  • Badass girls being good to each other
  • Funny people
  • A story that happens in one day
  • Private schools, boarding schools, magnet schools…and their very imperfect yet weirdly desirable cultures
  • Books that make you think one thing is happening, but in the end you realize it was something totally different the whole time, and then if you reread the story the clues were there all along
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Twisty stuff
  • Dual POVs/dual storylines
  • Small towns with big secrets (I enjoy big towns with big secrets, too :))
  • Families hiding things (from the world or each other or both!)
  • Books with the kind of quotes that you want to put on your wall
  • Commercial high school topics and drama told with pretty words
  • Teens who talk like teens (I’m not afraid of four-letter words ;))
  • Stories that teach life lessons without you ever realizing you’re learning them
  • Football stories
  • Ultra-close, platonic boy-girl friendships that stay ultra-close and platonic
  • Girls who are smarter than everybody else – especially when they use their smarts in morally ambiguous ways
  • Black and brown kids as lead characters

DO NOT SEND ME:

  • Casts and worlds that lack diversity
  • “Clean” teen fiction…I believe that the real world and real teens are messy!
  • Dystopian/Armageddony stuff
  • Speculative with time travel elements…because, unfortunately, that’s part of my current WIP and would be a conflict of interests for me!

FAVES
As creators, I am a huge believer in consuming content. Yes, that means reading in your genre. BUT it also means watching TV and movies in your “genre.” And also not in your genre! And also not just for research! TV is fun 🙂

Below are some of my favorites that give you an idea of my general vibes as a consumer. I preface this with the fact that not all of this will be considered contemporary or YA or either, BUT if your story could be comp’d as a contemporary YA version of any of the below, there is definitely a chance I may be obsessed with it 🙂

YA Stuff I Love:
-Cruel Summer (Hulu series)
-Looking for Alaska (Hulu series/book)
-The A-List (Netflix series)
-The new Gossip Girl (HBO series)
-Booksmart (the movie)
-Let It Snow (the movie/book)
-Never Have I Ever (Netflix series)
-Stargirl (the book)
-White Smoke (the book)
-Before I Fall (the book)
-On My Block (the Netflix show)
-Blood and Water (the Netflix show)
-Easy A (the movie)
-Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (the book/movie)
-Euphoria (the HBO show)

Additional Stuff I Love:
-Musicals (especially Rent)
-Disney (especially everything)
-Real Housewives (and Bravo chaos in general)
-People cooking things or building a house
-Inception (the movie)
-All things Motown and my fierce loyalty to Stevie Wonder
-Tom Hanks
-Will Smith
-Boy bands
-90s R&B
-Mariah, Britney, Whitney, etc.
-Spice Girls
-Friday Night Lights (the TV show)
-Insecure (HBO show)
-Someone Great (Netflix movie)
-Remember the Titans (movie)
-Football
-Anything in the entire world that tastes delicious
-And laughing <3