Following an eight-house auction, debut author Joelle Wellington will publish her YA thriller Their Vicious Games with S&S's Atheneum Books for Young Readers. The dark academia novel is described as Ready or Not meets The Bachelor, slated to be published in summer 2023.

Having eight houses competing for her book was a unique experience, one Wellington described as “nauseating” and her agent Quressa Robinson, who managed the deal, called “such a whirlwind.”

Wellington pitched Their Vicious Games to Robinson in a cold query, and after revisions, Robinson offered her representation for the book. The book went on submission in September 2021, and after two rounds in auction, Robinson, now at Folio Agency, sold North American rights while at Nelson Literary to editor Alexa Pastor at Atheneum the following month.

“I thought I’d have to convince all of these people that my book was worth it,” Wellington told PW. “And then, it was like everyone was trying to convince me that I should choose them. Made me feel a bit like the Bachelorette, to be honest.”

Among the stiff competition, Pastor stood out to Wellington because she “​​didn’t apologize when I told her my personal experiences with institutional violence. Instead, she thanked me for sharing.” Wellington said.

Their Vicious Games follows Adina Walker, a recent graduate left fearful for her future after her college acceptance has been rescinded. Her only hope of getting back on track is winning The Finish, a contest consisting of three secret events featuring 12 girls, with the prize being access to an elite family who can use their power and influence to the victor’s benefit. However, when the game proves to be life-or-death for its competitors, Adina must find a way to survive and make her own rules outside of this twisted game.

The novel explores the harm that Black students face within institutions, with Wellington leaning into the “metaphorical claustrophobia” of being trapped, she said. “Being surrounded on all sides with no way out. There is no community to retreat back to. Yes, it’s a bit like torture, but it makes for a very exciting thriller, yeah?”

Wellington hopes that readers will walk away from this harrowing thriller feeling hopeful. “I hope they realize that no one place is meant to define us or make us, because we as people are constantly reinventing ourselves and growing and changing,” Wellington said. “We are never complete and we shouldn’t be, because that means it’s over. Most of all, I want people to realize that there is an After. There is always an After.”