Agent Interview: Sarah LaPolla!!

Querying Song of the Day: “She Got Her Own” by Ne-Yo ftg. Jamie Foxx and Fabolous

Today, we have the pleasure of chatting with my Agent of Awesome, Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, LTD! Sarah has worked with Curtis Brown since 2008, and officially started picking up her own clients last year. She also mans the terrific blog, Glass Cases, in which she gives her insightful thoughts of the publishing biz and even features submissions from up-and-coming writers! You can find a brief bio of Sarah here, and follow her on Twitter here.

The Agent-y Questions:

You received your MFA in creative writing. What types of stories/novels do you write?

My MFA is in creative nonfiction. I wrote mostly personal essays, some political stuff that was pretty terrible, and dabbled in memoir. My nonfiction tends to come out only in blog form now and I recently started writing fiction just to see if I could. I’m about ¾ done with a contemporary YA and have a rough outline for an adult literary fiction project. So far it’s fun, but I’m not taking it too seriously.

How do you feel your MFA helps you with your career as an agent?

MFAs are useful in becoming a better writer and a better judge of what “good” writing, which is not always the equivalent of “what I like to read” or “what will compete within a given market.” So, there’s that. More than anything though, my MFA program made me a better editor, which is a skill I use constantly as an agent, whether with my own clients’ work or in deciding whether to take on a new project.

When you’re reading a query/submission, what makes you know that you’ve found “the one”?

If the book has interesting and dynamic characters AND the premise sounds amazing, then it’s golden. There has to be both.

You recently tweeted that you were over vampires, angels, werewolves, and zombies. Should writers with these characters steer clear from querying you, or are you willing to have a look if the concept is unique enough?

Yikes. I guess just steer clear. I appreciate a good vamp story when I see one (and I still love me some True Blood and Vampire Diaries), but I’m just over them in books. I’d like to add gods and other forms of shapeshifters to the list of non-humans I don’t want to see anymore too. I just have no interest.

I do still like witches, aliens, ghosts, and (if you follow me on Twitter, you know this) centaurs! (Seriously, it doesn’t have to be the main character; just plop one in your next fantasy submission.) Of course, you need a solid plot to back up these characters, no matter what.

(Bloggers Note: Pam has a RIDICULOUS fear of centaurs–only to be matched by Quita’s phobia of mermaids. Quita has never been able to watch the Tom Hanks classic, Splash)

Is there a genre that you wish you saw more of in your slush pile?

I get a lot of queries for “magical realism,” but they always turn out to be fantasy. So, I wish I got more magical realism. I’d also like to see more horror and mystery, both on the literary side, for YA and adult. A great YA or MG ghost story that’s scary instead of romantic would be fabulous.

Including a synopsis is part of the submissions process for Curtis Brown LTD. Is the synopsis ever a deal breaker, or would you still request more if you enjoyed the query and/or sample pages?

Honestly, I gloss over a synopsis. It is never a deciding factor for me. If I’m hooked by the query, I’ll go straight to the sample pages and decide whether to request the manuscript from there.

I was lucky enough to receive an offer from you after a revise and resubmit request. What’s the number one tip you’d give a writer in the same position?

I can’t really answer this for all writers. In your case, we were on the same page with the revisions and you understood what I was asking in a way that still allowed you to make it your own. In this way, I guess my #1 piece of advice for writers would be to only revise if YOU agree with the revision suggestions. What one agent says could be different from another, and if you’re only revising to make one agent happy, then what happens with your next project? And the one after that? The last thing I want is for a writer to say “whatever you want, I’ll do it!” That’s not where the best writing comes from.
(Pam’s Note: I couldn’t agree more! Sarah brought up suggestions that I was already pondering with my critique partner. We were so in sync–only thing missing was Justin Timberlake!)

Are you attending any upcoming conferences?

January 22: Writer’s Digest Writer’s Conference/Pitch Slam (NY)

March 25-26: Write Stuff 2011 Conference (PA)

Just For Fun:

We’re avid Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans here at the blog, and we know you are, too! What’s your fave JGL movie?

Oh JGL… I’ve always thought he was adorable, but I didn’t fall IN LOVE with him until I saw him in Brick.
(Bloggers Note: Brick=One of the Best Movies Ever! Truly, we’d love to read or write a YA novel that’s just as clever)

We’re also lovers of music here. Is there any song that automatically puts you in a better mood, even if you’re having a crum-tastic day?

“Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe will pretty much brighten any day. If I need an entire album’s worth of happiness, I’ll throw on The Pipettes or some vintage They Might Be Giants.

Okay, we have to ask a food question. Is there any food out there that’s so delicious that you’d commit a crime to taste it again (it’s sad, but I’d have to say my mom’s lasagna…or Wendy’s new sea salt fries)?

Every time my sister visits me in New York we go to this Moroccan place called Zerza and get their saganaki (fried feta covered in honey). So simple, yet it’s the most amazing thing in the world. Luckily I don’t have to commit any crimes to eat it again. That with a toasted marshmallow milkshake would probably be my choice for a last meal (speaking of committing crimes).

What’s the last book that made you cry?

I definitely cried twice while reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Not sure if that was the last book to do it, but it was the most memorable.

Is there any book character that you’d run off with to elope?

Mr. Knightley from Emma is my idea of the perfect man. Just as smart and snarky as Mr. Darcy, but he’s actually a nice guy. Then again, if Oliver Wood asked me to run away with him, I’d do it. (Sure he’s not as smart, but you know he’s going pro, and who wouldn’t want to be a Quidditch player’s wife?)
(Bloggers Note: We’re both totally crushing on Kent from Before I Fall. So different with his bowler hat but SO sweet. Where was this guy when we were in high school??)

Major thanks to Sarah for completing this interview! She’s definitely worth your query, so get those babies critiqued and send them off…unless you’re writing about vampires. 🙂
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17 thoughts on “Agent Interview: Sarah LaPolla!!

  1. OMG. Brick! That movie freaking kills me. High school noir is the best kind of noir, in my opinion. For the one-liners alone, it's worth its weight in gold. "She knows where I eat lunch." Hee hee.It could use more shirtless JGL, but hey, whatever.Ahem. I second the sentiment about only doing edits if you're on board with them. I'm a big fan of the revise-before-you-sign-anything method, actually. For me, it was the best way of figuring out whether an agent would be a good fit for my writing.

  2. How can you be phobic about mythical creatures? Wait, I typed that, and then remembered I'm borderline phobic about zombies. So, okay, I get it. But then I'm wimpy–some ghosty parts of my novel scared me while I was writing them.And Sarah sounds great in all her interviews; I'll cross my fingers for that query I sent her a few days ago.

  3. Saganaki, oh, bliss. Love it.I'm under the impression I know the difference between fantasy and magic realism, but I bet some of the query writers Sarah mentioned thought so too–so, in the spirit of learning something new, Sarah, if you're reading the comments, could you give us your quick definition?

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