Oops! Literary agent and “pitch” ignites YA backlash

The self-published YA debut novel that lands a six-figure publishing deal and has Hollywood panting over the film rights  is always going to get readers and writers talking.


The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is the book in the limelight, although Bergstrom admits he thought traditional YA publishers wouldn’t embrace the content, hence the self-publishing plan: “The morality of the book is more complicated than a lot of YA so I wanted to try doing it on my own.”

Then word got out about about the book and a literary agent was soon on the scene.

Tracey Adams of Adams Literary representing Bergstrom said she even got one publishing offer based on the pitch alone: “YA Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Bourne Identity, with a dash of Homeland.”

The buzz about the book was enormous. But where there’s a buzz there is often a backlash.

In this case, trouble kicked off when the winning pitch was fleshed out with more detail. As follows:

Publishers Weekly reports…

Bergstrom’s heroine is Gwendolyn Bloom, a Jewish, slightly overweight 17-year-old, who is transformed into a “lean warrior with hair dyed fire-engine red,” during her mission to rescue her father, a kidnapped diplomat. Her search takes her into Europe’s most dangerous slums, and into contact with gangsters, spies, and arms dealers.

The criticism that followed was directed at the focus on the heroine’s physical transformation. Online comments rolled out like this:

“A slightly overweight girl who is transformed into ‘a lean warrior’? No thank you.”

“A slightly overweight girl has to become skinny to be a kickass heroine/warrior. I’ll pass.”

“Weight has nothing to do with bravery, or skills. You basically just said that for her to be someone good she had to be ‘like a man’.”

Then just when the brouhaha started to settle, the literary agent unwittingly lobbed another “controversial” comment into the mix.


Tracey Adams was quoted as saying: “Kicking butt to save your dad is actually a lot easier for me to swallow than kids killing kids in The Hunger Games.”

YA fans really, really didn’t like this. More comments:

WOW you’re gonna pitch the book by shooting down the HUNGER GAMES?

“Why the Hunger Games shade? Why downplay the success of a franchise of well written books that are the essence of moral complexity?”

And so it went on. We’re convinced, however, that Scott Bergstrom will be unaffected by all the fuss. After all, time will heal – publication of The Cruelty is scheduled for winter 2017.

Until then, here are 7 lessons we’ve learned from this situation:

1. Never mention someone’s waistline in a pitch.

2. Don’t shoot down another book to win someone over.


3. Never underestimate the passion behind the genre.

4. Think before you pitch.

5. Don’t spend your money on red hair dye when you could buy red food instead.


6. The YA community is a warm and welcoming one – but don’t cross them.


7. Warrior status ticks all the boxes. You don’t need to be a “lean” one.





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