Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 1, 2021

Writing and Illustrating Fall Full Manuscript Virtual Writer’s Retreat

ANNOUNCING: Writing and Illustrating Full Manuscript Virtual Writers Retreat November 13th and 14th is now open!

Spots are limited. Please email: Kathy.temean (at) Put 2021 Fall Virtual Writer’s Retreat in Subject Box. Please include a little blurb about your manuscript – what you write and what you plan to submit – and I will get back to you. Please note: Everyone who attends receives two agent critiques: A full manuscript critique and a 25 page critique, plus a group first session with two agents and optional writer group.

Cost: $780

Also, writers can choose to be assigned to work with a critique group prior to submitting their manuscripts. Each writer will get an hour to discuss their manuscript with the other writers in your assigned group. I try to limit a group to four writers. There may be smaller groups. Can’t tell until people start signing up.

Novel Writers: One full, one hour manuscript novel critique up to 72,000 words – Plus, one 25 page – 30 minute critique with a second agent, first page session, plus optional critique group (must read the other writer’s manuscripts)

For PB Writers &/or Illustrators: One hour, four picture books critiques not over 25 pages total – Plus, one 30 minute picture book critique with a second agent – Also, an hour group critique session to discuss your manuscript with the other writers in your assigned group.

Critique Groups are forming now for any attendee who would like to work with a group before submitting to the two agents assigned from the below list. Please note no one is required to participate in a group, but not participating does not lower the cost of the retreat. See more details after the list of agents.


Jennie Dunham has been a New York literary agent for almost 30 years. In August 2000 she founded Dunham Literary, Inc.

She represents children’s book creators including picture book writers and illustrators, chapter books, middle grade, young adult. She also represents literary fiction and non-fiction for adult readers.

What She’s Looking For:
She likes character driven stories with a strong narrative, especially written by creators with a marginalized identity and featuring characters with the same marginalized identity.

In fiction she likes unusual characters who face challenges in unexpected ways in times and places that exacerbate the character’s situation.

In nonfiction she likes stories that illuminate a popular subject in a new way or that present an important but previously overlooked subject.

She’s look for literary books with a commercial hook. Humor is a plus, and the approach must be fresh and fun. She appreciates a good twist or two.

What She Isn’t Looking For:
Short stories and collections of short stories, novellas, Christian literature, erotica, poetry, romance, Western, cooking/food/wine, professional/reference, textbooks, original screenplays, and original stage plays.



Emily S. Keyes joined Fuse Literary in 2013. Previously she worked at the L. Perkins Agency as a contracts manager and associate agent. Before entering the world of agenting, she worked in the contracts department of Simon & Schuster, Inc where she handled copyright, reversion of rights and assisted with author contracts. In 2008, she graduated from New York University’s Center for Publishing. She uses her knowledge of contracts, copyright and the publishing business to benefit her clients and the Fuse team.

In young adult, I would love more books about family relationships (complicated sibling relationships, dealing with parents) in contemporary YA, with a particular interest in mental illness or non-neurotypical characters. I have a lot of serious and sad stories so I’d love to see some smart, humorous voices as well. I am still really looking for a fun, fresh non-western fantasy (maybe a desert or a jungle, come on, guys!), but fantasy has become more difficult in YA these days.

In middle grade, I am always looking for more middle grade. I tend to be drawn more towards contemporary, magical realism, and horror than towards full fantasy or portal fantasy, but I will always take a look. I always want STEAM and sports for girls. I love stories about friendship breakups. I also would really like a survival story, particularly one about a girl, like “Hatchet.”

I would also really like to see more non-fiction stories in both middle grade and young adult with fresh voices and unique topics.

Middle Grade. I want a lot more middle grade, but I’m very picky about voice. You must write like a middle schooler, not like an adult pretending to be a kid or trying to teach them lessons. Would love something with a touch of magical realism like Wendy Mass’s books or FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH. I like when magical things seem totally possible in MG.

YA Fantasy with unique settings. Would particularly like to see authors of color writing about their cultures, not the faux middle age England we’re used to seeing in fantasy. Loved STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN.

YA Alternate History. I love history and think adding fantasy or SF to it is a fun way to learn. Have enjoyed books like WALK THE EARTH A STRANGER (Oregon trail-era) and the GRAVE MERCY series (set in Brittany prior to joining France). These can be tricky because a lot of research is required. Don’t just make everything up. Bonus points for historical periods I don’t see a lot of (eg anything not the American Revolution or American Civil War?).

YA Contemp. I still love YA contemp but it’s getting to be a more crowded marketplace so your idea has to be REALLY different (please Google books similar to yours). Or the writing has to be gorgeous. I”m particularly fond of stories about family members, siblings, friends and found-families that have a touch of heartbreak but are ultimately hopeful. Would love to find more books like FALLING INTO PLACE by my client Amy Zhang.

MG/YA mystery. I loved Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown and, more recently, Veronica Mars. Anything where a smart kid or teen uses his or her brain to figure out twisty mysteries, I would be interested in seeing. However a lot of the ones I see, the main character just kind of happens upon a lot of information and I want the main character to be more dynamic and interesting. Humor a plus.

Diversity. I still very want diverse authors and diverse characters.

Random Specific Ideas

– Still looking for a YA about the Egyptian female-king Hatshepsut. I was greatly inspired by the book The Woman Who Would be King. Mostly, what I am interested in is what it takes for a woman to be ruler when male leaders were the norm. (Something inspired by the Chinese female empresses like Wu Zetian would also interest me.) Vaguely Egyptian-inspired romances are not going to cut it. Sorry.
– I am obsessed with the notion that Sally Hemings was a teenager in France when Thomas Jefferson first started grooming her to be his concubine. I would love to see her decision to leave France (and freedom) and go back to the United States dramatized, but obviously this is a very tricky subject–what with the master-slave and teen-adult dynamics–and would require a lot of care and research.
– I would like something about an asexual teenager for YA, possibly without that being the main focal point. (Maybe combine the asexual-ness and the aforementioned mystery solving or something like that?)
– I would love a MG survival story about a girl out in the wilderness. (Any wilderness!)
– Oddly I’ve been thinking about how much I loved A League of Their Own and would like a MG or YA book about a female baseball team, but humor is also necessary for this one. Also strong female relationships.
– Have been thinking about something I call “real world dystopias” such as Ebola outbreaks, living in a war zone, modern day slavery, etc. Hopeful endings are a plus.

Always looking for more non-fiction for middle grade and young adult audiences.

Emily is also looking for a select list of commercial fiction which includes fantasy & science fiction, women’s fiction, along with pop culture and humor titles. She is not looking for poetry, short stories, screenplays or anything that is “publishable” and not amazing. Please look online to see what has been done already.




Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing.

Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s.

For YA, she is especially interested in contemporary, thriller/mystery, and horror. She looks for a compelling voice and a strong hook that will set a YA novel apart in the flooded market.

For MG: She is open to all types of middle grade and especially enjoys adventure, mystery, and magical realism.

For both YA and MG, she is interested in unique settings and cultural influences, interesting structure, complicated romances, diverse characters, sister or friendship-centric stories, and stories that feature artists of any kind.

In picture books she is drawn to cute, funny stories (as opposed to sweet and quiet) that will grab kids as well as the occasional nonfiction biography on a subject whose story has yet to be told.

PENELOPE BURNS: Agent at Gelfman Schneider/ICM Partners

Penelope Burns started at Gelfman Schneider/ICM Partners as an intern in 2012, and (after a brief stint as a book-to-film scout) became a full time agent in 2015. Since then, she’s been actively building her own list of clients. She likes to joke that it’s easier to ask her what she doesn’t like to read, her tastes are so varied!

She reads widely in all genres YA and upper MG – if there’s a distinct voice she’s normally all in. The Problem with the Other Side by her client Kwame Ivery is a good example – that drew her in from the very first line.

For YA, She’s always looking for a contemporary romance that will give her Sarah Dessen/Morgan Matson/Sandhya Menon vibes or a YA thriller like Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé or The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas. Some recent favorites in YA fantasy include Caster by Elsie Chapman and The Merciful Crow duology by Molly Owen.

For Middle Grade, she loves humor with a dose of heart, like in Corey Ann Haydu’s novels or her own client Doug Cornett’s Finally, Something Mysterious. She loves when a book can leave her with a goofy smile on her face and the desire to just read it all over again! Another recent favorite in MG was The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani.


She’s also a huge fan of TV and always looking for books that make her feel like she’s watching one of her favorite shows, be that reality TV like Survivor or The Amazing Race or the mind-blowing show Mr. Robot. She will also unashamedly watch anything the CW puts out (current faves: the silliness of Legends of Tomorrow, campy fun of Legacies, and ghostly mysteries of Nancy Drew).


Amy Giuffrida – Associate Literary Agent – The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency


Horror– Give me your dark and twisted tales that make me question reality. Stories set around Halloween, ghosts and hauntings–all with themes of friendship–are perfect stories for me.

Romance– I really want to see sweet first love stories. I want to feel that wave of butterflies first love creates and the awkwardness of a first kiss or that tension of having a crush—no matter the type of coupling (F/F, M/M, or F/M).

Contemporary– I’m always in search of strong, young characters that fight to change the world. Also, enemies to friends, friendship break-ups, and feel good family stories are always at the top of my #MSWL—think MG or YA Schitt’s Creek.

Mystery– I’d love to see stories including a group of teens that band together to solve puzzles and mysteries. Think of a modern day Goonies or Scooby-Doo with diverse characters.

Adventure- As a rescue dog mama of three, I am on the hunt for a story that includes a rescue dog–preferably one with a breed who is often cast as naughty. But please don’t send me one where the dog speaks.


I am seeking twisty suspense, light magical realism that is grounded in every day life, dark academia, cozy mysteries, southern gothic, and contemporary upmarket women’s fiction.

In Horror– I want scary, smart stories.

Psychological Thrillers– Give me all the unreliable narrators and unexpected twists and turns.

Romance/Rom Com- Give me books that make me swoon, laugh, and cry all at the same time. Stories of best friends turned lovers makes me super happy, no matter the coupling. I’d love to see more of true love stemming from blind dates and making it in the face of diversity. I also seek f/f love stories—give me RED WHITE & ROYAL BLUE,  but with female characters. Would also LOVE to see some stories set during holidays in non-Western settings.


MG, YA, and Adult– I am looking for powerful stories from diverse voices, including cookbooks that highlight family stories or ancestral anecdotes.


Talk tomorrow,


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