Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guest Post: Derek Taylor Kent and Scary School

Today Derek the Ghost is taking over Supernatural Snark (seems kind of fitting I think) to talk to us a little bit about the road to publication for his middle grade horror/comedy series. The first book is available now with the second book in the series, Scary School: Monsters on the March, releasing June 26th from HarperCollins. Take it away Derek!


My name is Derek Taylor Kent (AKA Derek the Ghost). I recently received a three-book deal for my YA horror-comedy series Scary School, which came out June 21, 2011 ( How this came to be is a bit of a horror-comedy itself.

March 1994. At the age of 15, I undertake writing an epic illustrated fantasy series. It’s an ill-conceived cross between Dr. Seuss and Lord of the Rings, but I spend six long years trying to get it published. Nothing ever comes of it.

April 2005. Painfully abandoning the illustrated book series and inspired by Harry Potter, I spend a year writing my first novel: Scary School, Book 1: My Homework Ate my Dog. After completing the first draft, I submit it to a few agents and publishers. All rejections.

Confused, I gave the manuscript to readers. I receive notes that suggest a heavy rewrite. Reluctantly, I spend months doing exhaustive rewrites, but I had to admit the book was greatly improved.

Early 2007. I feel the book is ready to submit once again. But I had a relentless day job and my spare time was filled with other projects. My Homework Ate My Dog goes on the backburner.

Another year passes.

July 2008. There’s a brief window of time off from my day job. I decide that it’s time to go full-out toward finding an agent or a publisher. If it doesn’t happen, it will probably be the end of my YA writing aspirations.

The task before me is daunting. I have the Guide to Literary Agents and the Children’s Marketplace books. It would take me a year to reach out to every agent and publisher, and I only have a window of a couple weeks. So, I hire an assistant. His job is to send out packages to every single YA lit agent in America. I spend my time focusing on online querying.

Responses start coming in. I’m getting bites. About one in every ten I sent out is asking to read my manuscript or sample chapters. Most are rejections, but if you have a 10% positive response rate to your query, you know that you probably have something good.

August 2008. Eric Myers from the Joe Spieler Agency requests sample chapters. A week later he requests the complete manuscript. On September 20, 2008, Eric Myers is my agent. He is very enthusiastic and has a great track record.

December 2008. Every publisher my agent has submitted to has passed.

The only glimmer of hope is from a junior editor at HarperCollins who says that she “really likes my writing and the humor of the book, but what I was expecting from a book called Scary School: My Homework Ate My Dog was not what I got. I was hoping for a light, funny book about a Scary School for a young audience.”

She was exactly right. My title was screaming: silly/funny book for 8-year-olds, but I had given her a darker Harry Potter fit for 12-year-olds.

The editor concluded with: “I do feel there is a market for a Scary School book series for a younger audience should he feel inclined to write it.”

There it was. A bite from a publisher. The only problem was my “bite” felt like an orca whale. I’d have to write a whole new book for her, and I’d have to write it fast so she didn’t forget about me or buy another book in the same genre.

I sequester myself and complete the first draft of a new book series, just called Scary School.

The first draft is done by January 2009. I send it to my agent. He’s a little shocked that it’s not a linear story like My Homework Ate my Dog, but we agree to send it to HarperCollins as is.

March 2009. The junior editor writes back: “This is exactly what I was hoping for. I love it! I think we really have something here!”

A few weeks later HarperCollins offers me a three-book deal for Scary School.

I dance around my apartment and weep with joy.

The advance is not enough to quit my day job, but it’s enough to create a website, hire a publicist, and print thousands of Scary School T-shirts.

As I write this, I am exactly one week away from the Scary School release date on June 21, 2011. I had to wait another two years before it was scheduled for release.

It was agony.

Over that time I have self-published what is now called Rudy and the Beast: My Homework Ate My Dog! There’s still an issue with the title, but I won’t surrender it. I also self-published an illustrated book called Simon and the Solar System.

This year, I finished a new YA novel called Principal Mikey about a kid who becomes principal of his school. I think it’s my most well-written novel and is absolutely hilarious.

No bites so far.

Thanks for stopping by Derek! More information on Derek and the Scary School series can be found here:




You think your school's scary?

Get a load of these teachers:

"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"


Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch


The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost

Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky.


  1. Wow, what a long process! I always had an idea of how difficult it was but could never imagine going through that myself. A huge congratulations to Derek for getting where he is after all those years! Awesome guest post. :)

  2. Oh my gosh, you're such a trooper, Derek! That seems like it would be a really tiring process and most people would've given up, but I can't even tell you how much respect for you I have since you persevered with it (because it is A LOT)! :) Congratulations for finally being able to get your book out there -- you definitely deserve it!

    Awesome guest post, Derek! This is now another reason why I love HarperCollins so much ;)

  3. This is awesome! I have a kiddo that I am getting into reading (kind of like a big sister) and I think this will be right up her alley. I will be looking for it when it releases!

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I'll have to check out this one for my nephew.

  5. That was a great post. Holy cow, I read so many of these posts about authors trying to get their stuff pubbed, sounds like you need perserverance and patience. I really like the title The Homework Ate My Dog. Thanks for sharing today Derek and Jenny.

  6. This shows what determination can get you----a publisher!!!! Congrats!!!

  7. Wow.

    As for the book, sounds so cute. I love the cover.

  8. Congrats to Derek for getting his book deal. I always hear what a long process publishing a book can be and the timeline really shows it.

  9. I'm actually reading "Scary School" right now and I think it's hilarious and adorable. :) You definitely have talent, Derek and I'm glad you persevered and didn't give up!

  10. Congrats :D That just proves it that if you really want something then you should never give up

  11. Congrats Derek! It is said that good things happen to those who wait - how wonderful for you!

  12. That's what I am learning right now. Writing is a lot of changes and editing. And congrats on sticking with it all the way through :)

  13. Now that is some pretty sweet agony! Glad you didn't give up. And seriously, how cool would it have been to have a teacher named Ms. Fang or Dr. Dragonbreath!! Ha! Love it.

  14. It's always funny that once it happens, people think you just woke up one day and got it published. They don't realize what goes into things like this. Great post and congraties on Scary School!

  15. I love the fact that you don't give up! Publishing is such a tough industry; I admire those that keep at it! I'm glad your hard work finally paid off. :)

  16. Well I'm glad you stuck with it! And still published your novel with the My Homework Ate My Dog Title. That one is catchy! I'll have to read this one, I still don't get if it's MG or YA, though.


  17. It really is amazing what authors have to go through to get published! Sounds like, though it was a long process, it was worth it in the end.

  18. Everytime I hear the horrors of what authors go to to get published it terrifies me. I don't have anything close to ready but one day when I do I don't know that I'll be brave enough to go through it.
    Congrats for it finally working out though!!!

  19. Hey everyone, thanks for the awesome comments. To clear it up, the Scary School series is MIDDLE GRADE for ages 7-12. MG used to be lumped in as a sub category of YA, but it definitely seems to be its own genre now. Thanks again! - Derek

  20. And by the way, Book 2 of Scary School - Monsters on the March - comes out June 26, 2012 in just a few months

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