How I Got My Agent: Sara Polsky

“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, and agented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. 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. 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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“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 Polskyis 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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