Before joining Sterling Lord Literistic in 2017, Sarah worked as an editor for fifteen years, holding roles at G.P. Putnam Son’s, Hyperion Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Over the course of her career, Sarah has had the pleasure of editing many talented authors including the likes of: Jodi Lynn Anderson, Kasie West, Claudia Gray, Michael Buckley, Eileen Cook, Erin Summerill, and Megan Shepherd.
Sarah is looking for middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction across all genres. She is particularly drawn to middle grade fantasy and contemporary with heart, humor, and magic. In the young adult space, she has an affinity for southern voices, high-concept plots, grounded sci-fi/fantasy, historical, mysteries & thrillers, and emotionally compelling contemporary. Sarah graduated with a BA in English from the University of Virginia. Sarah accepts email queries at email@example.com.
Thank you, Sarah, for joining us here at WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books!
ON THE LETTER –
What common mistakes do you see in query letters? Do you have any querying pet peeves?
Too much plot description is a querying pet peeve. If it’s going on for three paragraphs, my eyes start to glaze over. That amount of plot should be saved for the synopsis.
I think a query letter should be friendly yet professional and short and to-the-point.
Do you always look at the pages or only if the letter compelled you to?
I try to always look at the pages unless the pitch is so far left field from what I work on.
What wording should an author use when she has split with her agent and is querying for another? Do agents feel less comfortable with writers in this situation?
Most authors use the wording “amicable split” without naming the agent. I don’t need to know who it is and I don’t need to know the details unless we decide to work together. But having previous representation doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all. There are all kinds of reasons for splitting with an agent. If another agent sparked to an author’s writing, it’s probably for a reason. I am more wary, though, when a book has already been out on submission. I would have to disclose to an editor that the book had already been rejected at that house.
You are one of the only agents at SLL that accepts queries by email. Why is that?
That’s changing! The website is being updated soon with the new query guidelines.
ON CLIENTS & MANUSCRIPTS –
Being a University of Virginia (Go, Cavs!) alumni, you enjoy southern voices. What is a southern voice to you?
Often times I read a “southern novel” and it’s really just set in the south with some y’alls thrown in, but there’s nothing in the voice that makes it southern. Southerners have a way of spinning a tale rich in mythology and history. It’s a tough thing to explain but you know it when you see it!
What are some common problems you see in manuscripts (clients included)?
Too many adverbs!
In opening pages?
I can’t stress enough to authors the importance of the opening pages (even the opening lines). It needs to hook the reader right away.
When a client’s work is on submission, how often do agents update her? How often is appropriate for her to ask?
I think checking in after two weeks is common practice. It can be a slow process, but no news is better than radio silence.
Roughly, how many clients do agents take on in a year?
I think it depends on where the agent is in their career. I am building my client list, so I will take on probably more than someone who is representing several bestselling clients who demand a lot of time and attention.
ON BEING AN AGENT –
How long does it usually take for you to turnaround a manuscript you requested? When is is appropriate for a writer to follow up?
I am trying to get back to authors in 4-6 weeks. If I requested the full manuscript, I will be back in touch sooner. I think it’s appropriate to follow up after 6-8 weeks.
What do you enjoy about being a literary agent? Why did you leave editing to do it? Is it as common in reverse?
I loved being an editor, but I did find that you are expected to stay in your lane. As an agent, I can work on whatever I want—that’s pretty freeing! Also, no meetings! I don’t think it is as common in reverse. Maybe it’s the no meetings.
What does your editorial background allow you bring to your representation?
I think being a former editor gives me a good eye. I know how difficult it is to get a book through an acquisitions meeting. I will use my editorial skills to get a manuscript into the best shape possible. I also know the inner workings of a publishing house. I can walk an author through every step of publication from acquisition to marketing and sales.
How do agents know which editors are looking for what and the happenings within publishing houses?
I think it’s really important as an agent to cultivate those personal relationships with editors. You find those perfect matches by going to lunch and coffee with people and spending time gabbing about books (job perks!).
What is going on in the Children’s market right now? Middle Grade? YA?
The children’s market is leading the conversation about diversity right now with We Need Diverse Books and the Own Voices movements. In terms of trends, there’s nothing that’s really dominating. I love that I’m seeing more books that play with format (INVISIBLE EMMIE was a favorite of mine this year). I think horror is a genre people want to see more of but it’s just so tough to pull off. And contemporary fantasy like THIS SAVAGE SONG is making a sort of comeback, which is nice to see.
Wine or cocktail?
Cocktail! I like to adjust with the weather but my go-to is an Old Fashioned.
Cookie or Cake?
Cake of the German Chocolate variety.
Snow or Sand?
Sand! I don’t ski and I hate the cold.
Ebook or Paper Book?
This is a tough one. I know I should say paper but I actually do read a lot of ebooks. If it’s a favorite author like Donna Tartt or Ann Patchett, I will absolutely buy in hardcover. I really go back and forth.
We can’t thank you enough, Sarah, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family!
STERLING LORD LITERISTIC, INC.
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES –
Query letter and first three chapters pasted in the body of the email. Email queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and query letter coach, opening pages editor, and overall story analyst as The Query Quill. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the chair of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Award. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine.
When she isn’t working on her work-in-progress PIN UP, you can find her biting her nails over her novel #LOVEIN140 which is currently on submission, belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), screaming herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, or otherwise trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). Say hi! http://www.mmfinck.com/queryquill