Writers of books for children and teens share their experiences with bullying in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, a forthcoming anthology edited by YA novelists Megan Kelley Hall (Sisters of Misery) and Carrie Jones (Need). Inspired by the past year’s number of tragic incidents stemming from teenage bullying, the book aims to support and comfort young readers and to let them know that others—including some of their favorite authors—have also grappled with bullying. Authors’ response to the project was overwhelming: hundreds of them offered to lend their voices to Dear Bully.
A blogging coincidence initially planted the seed for the book. Jones and Hall, who have never met in person, are both members of Girlfriends Cyber Circuit (through which YA authors cross promote one another’s books on their blogs) and are Facebook friends who read each other’s blog. On April 1, the day that nine students were charged in the death of bullied Massachusetts teenager and suicide victim Phoebe Prince, both authors were motivated to blog about bullying.
“When I read what Carrie had written on her blog,” says Hall, “I contacted her and said, ‘Let’s do something about this.’ The facts that Phoebe lived in my home state, and that readers have repeatedly told me that they’ve met the ultimate ‘mean girls’ who appear in my novels in real life, made me angry enough that I was moved to do something.”
What Hall and Jones did, that same day, was launch Young Adult Authors Against Bullying on a Facebook page. “Within a few days, the page had more than 500 members,” says Hall. “Our original thought was to bring YA authors together, but we had such a great response from young adults, parents, teachers, librarians, and even coaches that we opened it up to let everyone participate. It became a portal where people posted discussions and links to anti-bullying sites. It soon took on a life of its own.”
Meanwhile, on her own blog, Jones posted a story about being bullied as a child and encouraged other authors to share stories about their experiences with bullying. The impressive feedback on both her blog and the YAAAB Facebook page (which currently has more than 4300 members) led Jones and Hall to the idea of collecting the authors’ stories in an anthology. And they had no shortage of willing contributors. She and Jones received more than 200 entries, including essays, songs, poems, letters to former bullies, and illustrated pieces—and heard from another 100 individuals offering to write for the anthology. “What surprised me was the generosity and the real affection that YA authors have for their readers,” Hall remarks. “They genuinely want to reach out to them, to be there for them.”
In May, the authors approached their respective agents—Jones’s is Edward Necarsulmer IV of McIntosh & Otis, and Hall’s is Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary—about the book project. They quickly got on board, and brokered a deal with HarperCollins for world rights to Dear Bully in early June.
Tara Weikum, editorial director of HarperCollins Books for Young Readers, was the acquiring editor. “I was intrigued by the idea, and quite impressed by the list of potential contributors,” she says. “All of these authors were so passionate about wanting to be a part of this, to be involved, to do something. The fact that this wasn’t a collection of short stories but personal stories also grabbed me from the beginning. I knew that this collection had a chance of reaching so many different readers—that it had a chance to actually make a difference.”
Thanks to the contributing authors’ quick turn-around time, Hall and Jones were able to deliver all the submissions to HarperCollins by October. Associate editor Sarah Dotts Barley, who is working with Weikum on Dear Bully, helped tackle the challenging task of selecting the final 70 entries to include in the compendium. “The variety of the pieces is so impressive,” she observes, “and all were very effective and very personal. There couldn’t be a better time to be publishing a book on this subject.”
The final roster of contributors, all of whom donated their work, include Heather Brewer, Mo Willems, Ellen Hopkins, Cecil Castellucci, Eric Luper, Carolyn Mackler, R.L Stine, Alyson Noël, Lauren Kate, Lisa McMann, Lauren Oliver, Nancy Werlin, Jon Scieszka, and Nancy Garden. Jones and Hall, who also contribute pieces to the collection, are donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to a national anti-bullying program.
Dear Bully will be released next fall simultaneously in hardcover and paperback, and will also be available as an e-book. “We’ve already had a great reaction to the book in the school and library communities,” says Weikum. “We also expect that teens will buy the book themselves, since the contributors include so many popular authors, so we wanted to do a paperback edition with a price point that they can easily afford.”
The anthology will have a companion Web site, which the authors are in the process of creating. Visitors to this site will be able to access stories submitted for the book that were not included due to space limitations, as well as much new material. Jones and Hall have also recently launched a Facebook page, which ties into the book and will eventually be merged into the book’s companion Web site.
“So many amazing stories came out as we put together Dear Bully, and the writing is so powerful,” observes Hall. “Using our platform as authors to give voice to all the kids who don’t have one—kids who are being bullied, or kids who are bullies but don’t understand why—is very important. We really hope the book opens up dialogue among teens, parents, and educators. This has been a labor of love for me and Carrie, and we truly hope that it makes a difference in the fight against bullying.”
Jones amplifies this wish. “As an author, I know how powerful story can be,” she says. “Our hope, with Dear Bully, is to use the power of story to enlighten and support kids—to let them know that while everyone’s story is different, other people have gone through some horrible experiences and have managed to survive.”
Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. HarperTeen, $16.99, paper $8.99 fall 2011 ISBN 978-0-06-206098-3; -206097-6