To find out more about Sara check out these links:
submissions guidelines here:
“What I’m Looking For” post here:
Publishers marketplace here:
1. Since you started agenting what do you think the biggest change has been? How have you adjusted your agenting style to compensate?
Great question and thanks for inviting me here! I love Adventures in YA Publishing - y’all do great work!
My answer to this question starts with the iPad. In April 2010, Apple introduced the iPad. In September 2011, amazon introduced the Kindle. On Christmas Day 2011, publishing changed. This is a gross overgeneralization but go with me. On that Christmas many people received iPads and Kindles as gifts and began to buy ebooks en masse. Part of the ebook excitement revolved around the devices themselves and part of the excitement revolved around the new prices attached to books. When I started working in publishing in 2006, ebook sales were less than 1% of the book market by units sold. By early 2012, after the iPad Christmas, ebooks were on their rapid journey to the 30% of the market (by unit) which is where they have been hovering for a few years now. I get that 30% number from this Forbes article from Feb 2014:
In my opinion, the greatest change in publishing since I started agenting has been the rapid expansion of the ebook market. How has my job changed based on this growth? I’ve broadened my agenting strategy to consider print books and ebooks and their different opportunities and impacts on my clients’ careers. When I put a book on submission, for example, I consider if it will make more money with an ebook-only deal or with a print + ebook deal. When talking to our publishing partners about an upcoming book release there is a distinct strategic difference in sales and marketing for print books vs. ebooks. In publicity and promotions, the ways to attract buyers’ attention differs for print purchases and ebook purchases. In short, my agenting style has changed since 2006 in how I strategize for print books AND ebooks.
Let’s narrow the scope a bit though. This post is for Adventures in YA publishing so I want to make sure to speak specifically about the changes in the ebook market as it relates to young adult novels. Today, in February 2015, my young adult client books still sell better in print. There is an argument which says teens don’t own the devices to read ebooks and another argument which says teens don’t have the credit cards to buy ebooks even if they do own the devices. There is some truth in those arguments although I would want to see cold hard data before inking my name to any statistics. I will share percentages for my clients as examples though:
BREAKING BEAUTIFUL by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (April 2012, Walker/ Bloomsbury) - a serious contemporary young adult mystery - has sold 75% in print and 25% in ebook to date.
THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann (September 2012, Greenwillow/HarperCollins) - a steampunk gothic middle grade fantasy - has sold 90% in print and 10% in ebook to date.
CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally (December 2011, Sourcebooks Fire) - a contemporary young adult romance with a heroine who plays football - is considered my one big cross-over success at 50% ebook and 50% print. We say “cross-over success" because we assume those higher ebook sales are coming from adults buying the book.
These are only three examples out of hundreds of thousands so take these numbers with a grain of salt. In general, in my experience, I want a young adult novel to have a solid print strategy as, while the ebook market is exploding, the print book market still seems to be the bread and butter for this genre. Unlike in 2006, my agenting style in 2015 includes evaluating client strategy with ebooks in mind. Strategy includes looking at formats (print, ebook, audio book, etc), distribution, sales & marketing, publicity & promotions and subsidiary rights. I also need to share all this information with clients to keep them up to speed on the publishing industry and opportunities for their careers. Exciting times, yes?
2. What has never changed?
I’m sure every agent would answer this differently as we all have different experiences of publishing. For me, what has never changed is my enthusiasm for long-term commercial and artistic success in the book world. I just love this industry and am happy to be a part of it! I’m positive that authors will continue to write jaw-droppingly, breath-stealingly great books and I’m also optimistic that they will continue to be able to make money on those books. I’m excited about bookstores and libraries and Scholastic Book Fair. I’m inspired by authors, librarians, booksellers, kids, teachers, parents, sales reps, editors, publishers, publicists and my fellow agents. People are buying books, reading books, talking about those books and to that I say HUZZAH! What has never changed is my love of authors and their books.
3. What is your favorite part of the job?
I have several! My absolute favorite part of this job is working with my amazing, talented, inspiring, incredible authors. They are rockstars and they deserve all praise and thanks! My second favorite part of the job is celebrating when new fans fall in love with my clients' books and talk/write/post about those books. Third favorite is walking into the bookstore and seeing client books on the shelves. I have a fourth, fifth and sixth favorite too but I’ll leave those for another interview. ;)
4. What are some of your favorite authors/books and why do you love them?
Great question! I am a reader and fangirl just like y'all and I love to talk about books I love!
Here are some of my favorite non-client Young Adult reads from 2014:
FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe
I love our heroine’s effortless depiction of bisexuality as well as the chemistry and overall brilliant narrative voice.
THE LAST BEST KISS by Claire LaZebnik
This book has such stunning chemistry! My heart raced, I held my breath, I cried. I just love the emotion - it reminded me of BOYS LIKE YOU by Juliana Stone which is such an emotionally complex and intense and beautiful read. Love it!
THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Stunning world building here - I felt like I was seeing a world I’d truly never seen before. It was unique, complex, lush and breath-taking. And the hero and heroine’s journey was utterly engrossing. Amazing conflict, brilliant characters, stunning world.
And, two upcoming Young Adult client book I simply have to rave about:
BIGGIE by Derek Sullivan (March 2015)
Derek is a debut author and BIGGIE takes a serious look at the pressure we put on kids. BIGGIE is funny but not necessarily light with a surprising narrative voice. Henry “Biggie” Abbott is an overweight, gentle hero challenged to play ball to impress his stepdad and perhaps also a girl. BIGGIE releases March 1 and has already received amazing reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist. Derek is online at www.derekesullivan.com
and on twitter @DerekESullivan
JESSE’S GIRL by Miranda Kenneally (July 2015)
JESSE’S GIRL is such a special novel. Miranda had this hero in her heart years ago and it’s taken until this story to get him on the page. This is also her sixth contemporary young adult novel set in her Hundred Oaks world (following BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE from last summer and RACING SAVANNAH from Dec 2013). Maya is a musician asked to shadow Nashville’s teen rock star for a day for what they both think will be a trite school project. Maya wants to make it big in her own life and Jesse doesn’t trust anyone further than one could throw a grand piano. Their story is simply stunning. Here’s a wee preview:
Happy reading everyone! I also talk about books I’m reading on twitter at #SaraBookClub - check that hashtag for more recommendations.
5. What are some things you love to see in a query?
Great question! There is an objective component to queries and a subjective component to queries so let’s look at both…
Objectively, I want the query letter to demonstrate superior writing. The sentences should be expertly crafted and there should be balance. A query letter should tell me who, what, where, when and why and should be able to do so in 1-2 paragraphs. Grammar should be correct, characterization should feel authentic and the plot should be demonstrated in a tight and compelling way. Objectively I should be able to read a query letter and know the author is an expert writer. The query letter should read like the back cover copy of a novel.
Subjectively, I love query letters with personality. I represent genre fiction - romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy and science fiction. No book club books or self help books here. So, it’s ok to be a little irreverent. Also, I love knowing that a writer has done their research. It’s a nice touch to include, “I really loved THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY by Jaleigh Johnson” or “I saw THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann in my kid’s Scholastic Book Fair.” It’s not a deal-breaker or a deal-maker, but I am impressed when a writer can demonstrate some knowledge of my clients’ books (again, it shows they have done their research). Finally, I am not personally a huge fan of rhetorical questions in a query letter. “What would you do if your sister were framed for murder?” is LESS powerful to me than, “My heroine’s sister is a genetically-engineered clone framed for the murder of the most popular girl in high school” which is how Stefanie Gaither queried me for FALLS THE SHADOW (love it!)
In short, I love sharp writing, a compelling story and a bit of personality. It’s ok to say “I follow you on twitter." It’s also ok to say, “I read your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing” or “I met you at the SCBWI conference in Albuquerque. Finally, I love it when authors include the link to their author website and twitter account if they have one.
Hope that helps! I am actively acquiring right now and read all my queries myself. My current query-reading turn around time is 2-8 days. Send queries firstname.lastname@example.org
Submission guidelines for queries are here:
And there is a huge long blog post about successful queries here:
6. Which is more crucial: emotional connection or current marketability?
Emotional connection translates to, “do I love it?” Current marketability translates to, “can I sell it?” Both are 110% important to me before I offer representation on a book. :)
An insider secret, though, is that I personally lean a bit toward the “Do I Love It”/emotional connection side of the fence. When I fall in love with a book...OH WOW do I fall in love with a book! For example, I offered representation to Alis Franklin on LIESMITH in January 2014. LIESMITH is a queer urban fantasy about an exiled Loki disguised and hiding out as the CEO of an Australian tech company who unleashes the Wrath of Asgard by falling in love with a man in his IT department. I fell in love love love love with this book despite the fact that print deals for urban fantasy (in the adult market) had been a wee light in 2013/early 2014. I’m so glad I followed my heart though - we had multiple offers for LIESMITH and the final product is absolutely stunning and raking in great reviews. So, for me, great writing trumps all.
Hope that helps! Happy writing and reading to everyone! Thanks for having me here,
We always love having you!!!!
We always love having you!!!!