For better or worse, it’s happening, that sinking dread in the pit of your stomach that comes from waiting for your first book release. What happens if it tanks? Will you get another contract? Will anyone read your stuff again even if you do?
Waiting for the release of HATE LIST, T.S. Ferguson, at the time an editor for Little, Brown and Company, was assuring the author that he believed in her and her book. Privately, he was nursing his own deep fears of what would happen next.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the author or the editor. The dreaded fear of failure is real to both. The first publication of an acquisition sends a strong signal to the industry what to expect from this editor. Does this editor have an eye for what sells? For what gets good reviews? In essence, does this editor suck?
T.S. didn’t need to worry. His first book, HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown (agented by Cori Deyoe of 3 Doors Literary), earned the kind of glowing reviews that you’d think only happen in dreams. But it wasn’t just critics who loved the book. Audiences still praise the power of this book.
Go to Barnes & Noble, you’ll likely see the book (as I did) featured on displays. This book has staying power.
Beyond making a strong acquisition, T.S. brought his keen editorial insight forward to help Jennifer make the book a powerful and moving story. Readers were fascinated by the more human side of Nick, the story’s villain who brought a gun to school, but without T.S., that insight might never have made it to the page. In the author’s own words:
“This is where I have to give my editor (T.S. Ferguson) props, because in re-writes, he forced me to show why Valerie would be so in love with this guy. So the scenes where you see the soft side of Nick… the lovable side… those were brought in during the re-writes. Turns out, T.S. was so right about this. My favorite scene in the whole book is a scene that didn’t even exist in the initial version of HATE LIST, but I love that scene for what it does to bring Nick to life for the reader and to keep Valerie from just being an idiot who fell in love with a bad guy and then was surprised that he turned out to be bad.” - Jennifer Brown, author of HATE LIST
Now if you think the fear of publishing a dud goes away with a successful first book, think again. The fear is back twice as strong, because if your next book isn’t ALSO a success, everyone will say you’re a one-hit wonder. You got lucky once, but now? WE SEE.
His next acquisition was a tour de force, I AM J by Cris Beam (agented by Amy Williams of McCormick & Williams). Like his first acquisition, this one also generated starred reviews and critical acclaim, and now this new book went one better and won the esteemed award of AMAZON BEST BOOK OF THE MONTH.
Ready for his next big opportunity, T.S. transitioned to freelance editing. He dug deep and realized that if he wanted to be more aware and more active making changes in the industry, he needed to foster a deeper connection with what his peers wanted to read and his colleagues wanted to publish.
He devoured LGBTQ books, both fiction and nonfiction.
“I’m a big advocate for all the letters in the GLBT rainbow, and I really appreciate it when everyone is represented.” - T.S. Ferguson
And with the flexibility offered by freelancing, he also took on positions reviewing for Lambda Literary and editing with eBook Quality Assurance, all while searching for the right opportunity for him in children’s publishing.
Carried by the strength of HATE LIST, I AM J, and his growing reputation as an editor, T.S. Ferguson moved from Little, Brown to what would be his 7-year home at Harlequin Teen, later rebranded as Inkyard Press.
T.S.’s first acquisition at Harlequin Teen showed that while everyone can get lucky once, and a few get lucky twice, only editors with a honed editorial eye get lucky three times in a row. LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley was a NYT Best Seller and an almost instant critical darling.
The book earned acclaim from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, VOYA, NPR, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Just look at these quotes.
Some say your mirror is the company you keep, and what stands out in T.S.’s record here is not just the strength of his acquisitions, but the quality of the relationships he developed throughout publishing.
LIES WE TELL OURSELVES marked his first acquisition negotiated with the legendary agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who would soon prove to be a valuable professional connection for T.S. to acquire bold new stories.
Two of his next acquisitions were RED DIRT by Anna Jarzab and DAUGHTERS UNTO DEVILS by Amy Lukavic, negotiated by near-universally beloved agent Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary.
While RED DIRT struggled to find a wider readership, those who give it a chance sing absolute praise for this book as a thrilling mystery, including New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Bracken, who called it “masterfully suspenseful” and “scorchingly romantic.”
Amy Lukavics, author of four YA horror novels including her debut, DAUGHTERS UNTO DEVILS, and 2018’s NIGHTINGALE, stands out not just for winning praise from critics but from other horror writers. Is there greater praise possible than the respect of your peers? One called the book “a mind-bending…haunting and powerful debut. Imagine Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.” (Cat Winters, Morris Award Finalist for IN THE SHADOW OF THE BLACKBIRDS). On the heels of that book’s acclaim, Lukavics’ third book, THE RAVENOUS, went on to be a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2018.
Soon, T.S. would return for more books with Robin Talley, the author who’d given him his first acquisition at Harlequin Teen. Not to be outdone by their first collaboration, Robin delivered WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, a book featuring trans and gender-fluid characters, and OUR OWN PRIVATE UNIVERSE, best described as “Judy Blume’s Forever for queer girls,” both of which earned rave reviews.
The repetition of success leaves no doubt of the quality of T.S.’s acquisitions. He understands what critics and readers want from stories that push the boundaries of diversity, proven by him consistently delivering LGBTQ bestselling books that earn rave reviews, awards, and enduring praise from old and new readers.
And still he continued to amaze readers and publishers with his most recent acquisitions for Inkyard Press (formerly Harlequin Teen).
First is the acclaimed LGBTQ historical fiction anthology ALL OUT: THE NO-LONG-SECRET STORIES OF QUEER TEENS THROUGHOUT THE AGES, edited by Saundra Mitchell. A contemporary sequel is scheduled to be published Spring 2020.
It’s only fitting that one of his final acquisitions was with Robin Talley again, this time for her new book PULP and a second title, currently being revised, which will be out in 2020. PULP released in late 2018 to insane praise from numerous journals, but it was the praise from Robin Talley for T.S. Ferguson that made my heart full, particularly knowing that, at least until another publisher snatches up T.S. as an editor, these two books were to be their last collaboration.
“Thank you to my editor extraordinaire T.S. Ferguson, who’s believed in my work from the beginning, and who always encourages me to push myself.” - Robin Talley
And then there’s the still-yet-to-be-released BELLY UP by Eva Darrows (Summer 2019), a humorous, non-judgmental Juno-esque teen pregnancy story that’s already earning rave reviews from critics and authors.
And did I mention BELLY UP has a Jewish ace character? We really can have it all.
And that’s not even touching on all the authors T.S. has worked with, which include Adi Alsaid (BRIEF CHRONICLE OF ANOTHER STUPID HEARTBREAK), Dana L. Davis (TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW), and Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe (the feminist witch anthology TOIL & TROUBLE).
It’s been a long and impressive journey for T.S. Ferguson, one in which he’s proven that his eye for acquisitions and his editorial instincts will deliver award-winning, critically-acclaimed books.
In some ways, he’s the David Mamet of the editing side of teen publishing. The books he presents go beyond any obvious dollar value by bringing prestige and legitimacy to the publishers who choose to take risks in support of diversity.
Due to reorganization at Inkyard, T.S. is currently searching for a new editing home. He’s been down before, but he keeps finding a way back. Like his first acquisition, HATE LIST, he has staying power and a determination to increase diversity across the publishing landscape.
Thinking on the what got him this far and will carry him into the next stage of his career, T.S. remarked:
“I would say the key to my success has been not giving up, trusting my taste and my instincts, a willingness to learn from those who came before me, and a desire to make sure everyone is represented and represented well. Books are my true calling and I’m so proud of the work that I’ve done and I hope I can get back to doing it very soon.”
Thanks for reading this special preview episode of Publishing Profiles. Each episode celebrates a different publishing professional that deserves recognition, while also offering an overview of their career for those interested in working with them.
NOTE: These are celebrations, not takedowns. Please do not ask for profiles on people that suck.