Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting T.S. Ferguson when he was an editor at Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press. I’ve been following his career and his humorous tweets ever since and was happy to learn that he has moved on to another phase of his career. He is now an agent at Azantian Literary Agency. Today, I’m very pleased to introduce T.S. to our Mixed-Up Files readers.
Dorian: Hi, T.S., thanks for joining us today! Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the field of children’s book publishing and the different positions you’ve held?
T.S.: Certainly! I didn’t pursue a career in publishing intending to work in children’s books but it happened naturally based on my interests. I had continued to read and love middle grade and young adult fiction into adulthood and I’d even written a Master’s thesis on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (my all-time favorite book). I was working in the adult Marketing department for Hachette Book Group (then called Time Warner Book Group) when an Editorial Assistant position opened up with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. After initially interviewing with editor Alvina Ling, I walked away knowing this was the job and the career path for me. Luckily they hired me.
I started out assisting a Senior Editor, who worked on such books as Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of This Book is Secret. I learned a lot in that position and acquired my first book, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, about a year in.
Unfortunately, I was laid off in 2009, around the time when many publishers were doing so en masse, and I temped and freelanced for two years and refused to give up on my dream career. I was finally hired as an Associate Editor at Harlequin Teen (now called Inkyard Press), which was only two years old at the time, where I was able to take a lot of what I’d learned at LBYR and help the Editorial Director grow the imprint from the ground up. I was there for about seven years and was able to work on some amazing bestsellers and award-winners by Robin Talley, Adi Alsaid, Eva Darrows, Saundra Mitchell, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood (among many others–I wish I could name them all!), and build the very queer list of my heart, before ultimately being forced to leave during a restructuring. My second layoff!
I was lucky to get hired at JIMMY Patterson right away and was excited to return to Hachette, where I’d started my career. There I acquired authors and their books for the James Patterson Presents line, as well as working with Jim himself on several of his bestselling series. After two years there, I fell victim to my third layoff (am I cursed?!) when the Presents line ended and the titles were moved over to my old home, LBYR.
It’s always heartbreaking to leave authors and their books behind, and it’s no secret that publishers are slow to promote and don’t pay high enough salaries for the amount of work that’s expected to be done, so after three layoffs and fifteen years as an editor, I decided it was time to try a new path, but one that allows me to continue working with authors and their wonderful books.
Dorian: What aspect of agenting are you looking forward to the most?
T.S.: There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen when a publisher is deciding whether to make an offer on a book. And it can be really frustrating when you don’t get to work with an author you love and believe in because someone else doesn’t see what you see. I’m really excited that, as an agent, I’ll be able to choose who to work with and can focus on advocating for what’s best for them and their careers.
Dorian: What are some middle-grade books you enjoyed working on in your career?
T.S.: One of the first authors I worked with as an assistant was Suzanne Selfors, on her debut novel, To Catch a Mermaid, and I’ve been so happy to see her success over the years. I also have fond memories of working on Pseudonymous Bosch’s Secret series, and while I didn’t work on it, I’m proud to have been an early reader and supporter of Grace Lin’s Newbery Honor winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.
Dorian: What children’s book influenced you the most when you were a child?
T.S.: As I mentioned above, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is my all-time favorite book and it was the book I basically learned to read on. My dad started reading it to me because I loved the movie and by the time we were finished, I was reading it to him. But I also think my darker, edgier side blossomed after reading Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, another all-time favorite.
Dorian: What children’s book do you wish had been available to you as a child?
T.S.: I don’t know that there’s one specific book I wish had been available to me, but I think the wealth of queer books that have started being published since I started my publishing career is amazing. When I was struggling with my sexuality as a teenager, all I had to look to was Ellen DeGeneres, who had just come out and whose career suffered because of it. I wish I’d had the wealth of queer experiences at my bookworm fingertips to show me that how I was feeling was normal and OK, and that I wasn’t alone.
Dorian: What TV shows and movies have gotten you through the pandemic?
T.S.: Oh gosh! I could go on for days about TV shows I love. There were multiple viewings of Schitt’s Creek in 2020. I’ve also fallen in love with Hilda, the animated show based on Luke Pearson’s graphic novels and was really excited to be able to binge-watch Girlfriends and Half & Half, two of my favorite sitcoms from the early 2000s. The entire MCU canon, including the Disney+ TV shows have been great (WandaVision!!!) and I don’t think a day goes by where a clip or an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race isn’t watched.
Also, just a quick R.I.P. to Teenage Bounty Hunter, which was fantastic (like Buffy without the supernatural angle) and prematurely cancelled by Netflix after only two months.
Dorian: I know our readers who are also writers will want to know this: What type of books are you looking for in your new position?
T.S.: I’m interested in seeing books of almost all genres across middle-grade and YA. I love hooky, high-concept plots and unique and engaging written voices. I also particularly love edgy and dark, as I mentioned above (thank you Clive Barker) and would love to find more teen horror (I never got over how much I loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series as a teenager). I also love epistolary stories (when they’re done right) like Daisy Jones & the Six and The Color Purple, and I would love to see more underrepresented voices, not just BIPOC and queer authors (but yes, those too, very much!) but also stories about and from authors who are: disabled, fat, poor, non-American, etc. or any combination of the above.
Dorian: If you could wish for the most perfect story to drop into your email box today, what would it be like?
T.S.: This is a tough question, because my tastes are so eclectic and I love to mix it up, but…it would probably be beautifully lyrically written (in the vein of Laini Taylor) or voice-y as hell (a la Hillary Monahan). It would have the page-turning quality of a Percy Jackson novel and a plot concept that instantly grabs you (two of my JIMMY acquisitions, Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews and Burn It All Down by Nicolas DiDomizio, are great examples of that). And if it’s queer as hell and/or features some sort of under-represented voice, even better!
Dorian: Can you tell us about a special interest, hobby, or obsession that you have that isn’t mentioned in your bio.
T.S.: I love and miss karaoke! That’s probably my most exciting special interest. I have a regular crew that would try to meet once a month, and we’ve been doing digital karaoke since we all started quarantining. But I can’t wait for the day when we’re able to meet up in person and sing duets again!
Also, see above, re: my ridiculous television addiction. Between books and TV, I’m obsessed with shoving stories into my brain.
Getting in Touch
Dorian: How can readers follow you on social media, and how can writers query you?
T.S.: I keep most of my social media pretty locked down and private, but readers can always find me on Twitter at @TeeEss, where I’m often posting ridiculous things that make me (and no one else) laugh. And they can query me at https://querymanager.com/query/TSFerguson.
Dorian: Thanks so much for being with us and best of luck in your new position!