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How I Got My Agent: Sara Polsky

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns, How To Find A Literary Agent, What's New, Young Adult Literary Agents.

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Sara Polsky, author of THIS IS HOW I FIND HER. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Sara is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: momiji5 won.)

 

this-is-how-i-find-her-novel-cover         sara-polsky-author-writer

Sara Polsky is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her first YA
novel, THIS IS HOW I FIND HER, was published in September 2013 by
Albert Whitman, and called “perceptive and sincere” by Kirkus Reviews.
Her writing has also appeared in The Forward, Poets & Writers, Strange
Horizons, and other publications. Find her on Twitter.

 

 

Preparing the Pitch

Thanks to a college internship at a literary agency, I already had an idea of how book publishing worked when I began looking for an agent for my first novel. But even having read dozens of other writers’ query letters during my internship, it took me many tries to write my own successfully.

(Query letter FAQs answered.)

I started working on my query letter long before I had finished the novel itself. While enrolled in a writing class, I had to prepare an “elevator pitch” — a one-sentence description of the book — to share with the agents and editors who came to speak to the class. I returned to that one-sentence pitch a few months later, once I’d finished my first draft, and expanded it into a full query letter. I knew the book wasn’t ready for agents yet, but I looked at the query as a test for myself: could I distill the story into a coherent pitch? If I were putting together the finished book, did I know what it might say on the cover flap?

The query helped me clarify the story I wanted to tell, and the reverse was true, too. As the book evolved through several more drafts, so did my query letter. Each time I rewrote it, it became stronger and more specific. The final query I sent to agents (http://confessionsofawanderingheart.blogspot.com/2013/09/example-query-sara-polsky.html) used a modified version of the book’s first sentence as the opening “hook.”

Seeking Representation

I looked at dozens of agent websites and interviews, building a list of agents who might be a fit for my book and the goals I had for my writing career. One of the agents on my list was Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary, whose bio mentioned that she liked character-driven young adult fiction and strong female protagonists. Even better, she and I had some of the same favorite books.

I sent Suzie my query in January of 2011. She requested the full manuscript a few days later, with a note that it might take her up to 60 days to read. While I waited to hear from her, I tried not to think about whether she’d started reading yet or liked the book. But within two weeks, I got a hint that she did: a note saying that she’d started reading, was planning to get a second read the following week, and would “be in touch soon.” That could only be a good thing, right?

(What are the BEST writers’ conferences to attend?)

Making a Connection

Once Suzie had finished the book, she sent me an e-mail asking to arrange a phone call. Also in the e-mail were several pages of notes about the book — passages she’d loved, questions she had, and suggestions for revision. When we spoke, she compared my book to a book by one of my favorite authors. I already knew I wanted to work with an editorial agent who would help me strengthen the manuscript, and Suzie’s feedback convinced me she was the right agent for me.

After I signed with her, we went through several rounds of revision on the book, strengthening the secondary characters and the romance subplot. Eventually, the manuscript was as strong as we felt we could make it, and Suzie found an editor and publisher who loved the book, too. Part of my query letter made it into Suzie’s pitch letter to editors and then, finally, onto the jacket of the finished book.

GIVEAWAY: Sara is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: momiji5 won.)

 

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16 Responses to How I Got My Agent: Sara Polsky

  1. JennyGoss says:

    I’m jealous. I think Suzie Townsend just seems like such a nice agent! She passed on mine.

    I also wrote my query while writing my book, but I scrapped it and have rewritten it countless times. Sometimes I’m still not sure the query is up to snuff! It’s so hard writing them!

  2. Lisdoonvarna says:

    I’ve never thought about working on my query letter and novel simultaneously but that’s a really good idea if they can help clarify help each other. And it’s wonderful to know that some agents get involved with a book that quickly. Thanks so much.

  3. Vicky says:

    Thanks, Sara, for your excellent advice! We can never get too much good advice. Your book sounds wonderful and I look forward to reading it.

  4. writeandtravel says:

    Thank you for your insight. I was so set on finishing the manuscript that the query was the last thing on my mind. Now that I am getting close to my self-publication date and daring to let people know, I realize that I have to “hook” those that are interested in my future story. I’m drafting that one to two sentence summery that I can throw out to co-workers that inquire about the book. It has become good practice to learn to keep it short and to the point before I lose their interest. Best of luck on your book!

  5. Jeri Baird says:

    Congrats on finding someone who sounds like a dream agent! Can’t wait to read your book. Best of luck with it!

  6. jlhuspek says:

    The query letter is the hardest writing you’ll ever do (IMHO), and there’s no way you can get TOO much information about it. Thanks for the article and the reminders of what makes a good query.

  7. jenniferf28 says:

    I am not even close to needing to write a query, but this is great info to retain for when I do. Every time I turn around it seems there is some “little” quirk about writing that needs to be learned.

    Thanks a bunch!

  8. kadelr says:

    Your post came at just the right time! I’ve just finished the first draft of my YA novel and was pondering practicing query writing. I thought I might wait until after my first round of revisions, but hearing your story, I’m ready to put together the first draft of my query. It and my manuscript can grow together! Thank you, and much publishing success to you and your book!

    Kelly

  9. vbodden says:

    Sounds like a compelling story. The first line of the query (and the book) are quite a hook! Thanks for the information on the process of connecting with an agent.

  10. karinne2346 says:

    excellent instruction! That kernel of the one-liner to describe your book really struck me as a way to get started. Thanks for that! looking forward to reading this one, too.

  11. T Brockett says:

    It’s nice to know that someone who has read many query’s, still struggled to do her own. Thanks for making me feel better about rewriting mine about ten times.

  12. momiji5 says:

    Great advice! I had actually just started doing that myself. Nice to know it can pay off.

  13. burrowswrite says:

    Thanks for the column. Great stuff!

  14. vrundell says:

    Thakns Sara, for sharing your story. It’s always a great idea to have a crystallized plot summary in mind when writing–and it sounds like what developing the elevator pitch early in the writing would bring. I know my writing lacks some clarity in the first go-round, so this is an idea I’ll be implementing too!
    Best of luck on the book!
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

  15. It’s nice to know there are editorial agents out there. I have completed a query for my novel and am revising and rewriting the novel. I know my query will evolve like my novel with rewriting. Good luck with your book!

  16. Lina Moder says:

    Sara gave us a GREAT strategy and idea! Developing the query at the same time as the manuscript in order to keep track of the strengths of both is a wonderful way of knowing exactly what you’re writing and if it’s strong enough.

    Love her idea about making the query like back cover copy and to make it specific:)

    Lovely post, and her book sounds awesome!!

    Thank you:)

    linamoder at gmail dot com

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