Simon & Schuster Children’s UK has pre-empted a "major" three-book middle-grade series from debut children's author Larry Hayes, in a six-figure deal struck following a "high-speed pitch" via video conferencing platform Zoom.
Publishing director Ali Dougal secured world rights in the new highly illustrated series from Becky Bagnell at the Lindsay Literary Agency, in what was Dougal's first acquisition in the role at S&S.
Promised to be "laugh-out-loud", the series begins with How to Survive without Grown-Ups, featuring siblings Eliza, 10, Johnnie, 5, and their angry spaniel, Myrt, as they embark on a crazy adventure after their parents embark on a one-way trip to Mars.
The synopsis reads: "Ten-year-old Eliza has been left home alone with Johnnie, her five-year-old genius brother. But their parents haven’t gone away for the weekend –they’ve left on the first mission to Mars and are never coming back. Despite being afraid of everything, Eliza, annoyingly brilliant Johnnie and their angry spaniel, Myrt, manage to cross the Atlantic in an old sofa, then navigate their way into outer space. On the way they discover how to defeat a vampire squid; talk dolphin; sneak onto a mysterious secret island; and steal a rocket before chasing across the solar system to rescue their parents."
The series, dubbed "super commercial", will launch in autumn 2021, and the first book will take the form of Eliza’s journal, including notes, doodles, annotations and letters. S&S plans to partner Hayes with a "top-tier" illustrator to create the "high-spec" paperback. Book two in the series will follow in summer 2022 and book three in spring 2023. The series will be supported by "significant marketing and PR investment".
Hayes, a father of two with a day job running an investment fund, said he hadn't been prepared for the level of interest from publishers, but Dougal called it "a no brainer".
"I feel incredibly fortunate that Larry and his brilliant book came my way so soon after joining the S&S team," said Dougal. "It’s a no-brainer: kids love the idea of saving the world when the grown-ups are being useless, so they’re going to adore Eliza and Johnnie’s brilliant, exciting, crazy adventure. And Larry has cracking plans for books two and three, involving a certain flying car and some extreme time travel. There’s huge scope for this series."
Hayes said: "It’s impossible to know how good a story is when you’re writing it. The first sign I’d cracked it came when I read this to my own kids. Halfway through, they hid under the duvet. Then they started shrieking and ran round the house. I took that as a positive. But nothing prepared me for the overwhelming interest from publishers, and I’m just thrilled to be working with the children’s team at Simon & Schuster. There’s a brilliant vibe and they’re warm, talented and terrifyingly efficient."
Bagnell at the Lindsay Literary Agency added, heaping praise on the strength of S&S' pitch: "Larry Hayes has written a wildly funny, accessible and original story and I’m delighted it’s going to be published by the brilliant team at S&S. Ali Dougal masterminded a pre-empt with lightning speed and together with their impressive Zoom team pitch it made S&S the clear publisher of choice."