Monday, April 23, 2012

YA/MG Agent Series: Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown

Sarah LaPolla is a literary agent with Curtis Brown LTD. in New York. She represents YA fiction, among other genres, and is on the lookout for debut authors. As if that isn’t awesome enough, Sarah’s also an active member of the online writing community, a hilarious and informative twitterer (?tweeter), and the face behind the Glass Cases blog, which features works by unpublished authors. All that, AND she agreed to be interviewed by me with only minimal threats of bodily harm involved.

Welcome to the blog, Sarah! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview.  My first question:  What is your favorite part of the agenting biz?

Sarah: Hello Michelle! Thanks for having me.

My favorite part of agenting is working with my clients, hands down. They are so talented and dedicated, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of getting their stories in the hands of readers.
Michelle: What are you actively looking for right now?

Sarah: Well I represent both YA and adult, but I’ll focus on the YA here. With YA, I love a good contemporary story that has unforgettable characters. Character and voice are what I look at most in submissions, but I’m also hoping to see more plot-driven stories in my slush pile – mysteries, thrillers, horror, and non-dystopian sci-fi in particular!

I’m also looking more into Middle Grade, which isn’t something that appealed to me when I first became an agent. I think MG is on the rise though and I’d love to see a great literary, coming-of-age MG, in the style of John Green or Jenny Han, but younger (of course). I think MG readers are ready for something like that.

Michelle: Is there anything you’re sick of seeing in the slush pile?

Sarah: Paranormal romance. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it when it’s done well, but I’m just tired of it. I’m ready for the next thing.

Michelle: What are the biggest mistakes you see first-time authors making in the query process?

Sarah: Sometimes I know when someone is new to the querying process when they spend too much time talking about the inspiration for the book, how long it took to write, or the themes they hope to invoke. More seasoned queriers know that agents just want them to get to the point – what is this book about, who is the main character, what genre is it. Everything else is just extra information that usually has no bearing on whether I request the manuscript.

Michelle: How far into a manuscript (or query letter, for that matter!) are you willing to read before deciding to reject an author? First paragraph? A couple of pages? The first chapter?

Sarah: I always read the entire query letter unless it says in the first line that it’s a genre I don’t represent (i.e. picture book/children’s). With requested manuscripts, I always give it at least 50 pages, depending on how much potential I see in the story. If it’s clear that I’m just not into the narrator’s voice, then sometimes I stop at 25. If I do like the voice and the writing, but I’m editing the plot development as I go, I’ll finish the entire manuscript so that I can offer revision notes.

Michelle: I see you have an MFA in Creative Writing. Does your education make you more willing to work with an author on a project that isn’t quite there yet, if you see its potential, or does this have no bearing on your decision?

Sarah: I am pretty editorial when it comes to both requesting a revision and in working with my clients, and my education definitely contributed to that. I know the importance of revision, and I have a better eye for helping a writer envision where a project can go.  They don’t have to listen to me, of course, but I always hope they do!

Michelle: What is your number one piece of advice to authors?

Sarah: Read in the genre in which you write. If you’re not a fan of what you write, how can anyone else be? Writers should also know their competition, what works in the genre, what doesn’t work, what does the market have too much of, what is something new you can bring to the table, etc. Know your field inside and out.

Michelle: What is the best way for authors to contact you?

Sarah: I prefer email queries – sl @ cbltd . com. Paste the query in the body of the email, and include the first five pages – also pasted in the email. No attachments, please!

Michelle: Thank you again, Sarah!

Sarah: Thank you!

Michelle: *Lets Sarah out of headlock*

Sarah: Phew! I can breathe again :)


  1. Mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi. *rubs hands together* *gets laptop out*

    1. Hmm, that does sound like a certain novel, doesn't it? :P

  2. Another agent who represents YA contemporary! I'll be adding her to my list. Thanks, Michelle. Sarah sounds great :)

  3. Great interview. Sarah sounds like a great find for any lucky author!

  4. Awesome interview, Michelle and Sarah!

    Adding Sarah to my query list this very moment

  5. I've been hearing that a lot about paranormal romance lately. Makes me so relieved I decided my heart was set on a contemporary.

    Thanks for another great interview, Michelle

    And of course thank you to the lovely Sarah!

    1. Thanks, Naomi!

      It's hard when the trends are always changing, isn't it? Glad you went with your gut (or was it heart?).

  6. Just checking into say that I love this series of blog posts. Another fantastic agent :-) Who knew they were such a friendly bunch. :-)

    1. Thanks, Amaleen! So glad you like it!

    2. I have to agree that these interviews are making agents, as a group, seem less intimidating and more approachable. Who knew they were normal people?! Haha. Sarah sounds awesome, as have all the other agents.

  7. I agree with Sarah that reading in the genre in which you write is great advice. It's the best way to avoid writing something redundant. It'd be awful to spend a year or whatever slaving over a book ony to find that the market is already saturated with books of that exact sort, or that you've written Harry Potter 2.0.

    I also find that it helps with creating a voice that sounds age appropriate (eg. read a lot of YA to sound appropriately teen).

    1. All so true, Julia. That was actually kind of what happened with my first book, which was a failure. Not a teen voice at all, and it certainly wasn't breaking any new ground, all of which I would have known had I read more in my genre!