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Publishing Interviews: Sarah LaPolla, Curtis Brown

In our new Publishing Interviews Series, teen contributor Kody Keplinger sits down with people on the other side of book publishing -- agents, editors, and more -- providing insight into industry happenings and just what goes into getting a young adult novel on shelves.
For the first interview in our publishing series, I decided to have a chat with Sarah Lapolla, a new agent at Curtis Brown and a graduate of Ithaca College (which is where I go! Woot woot for IC writing majors!). Sarah was nice enough to answer my questions about agenting, books, and her really awesome blog.
Thanks for joining us today, Sarah? First, can you tell me how you get into agenting? Tell me about your journey to your job at Curtis Brown and what sparked your interest in this side of publishing?
- My original goal after college was to move to New York and become an editor. I didn't really know what an agent did, at least not exactly. Then while I was in grad school, I had internships with two agencies and I realized agents also did editorial work, but they also got to discover and support a project from its very beginning stages. I loved the idea of that, so I started looking for jobs at agencies. I started as an assistant to the foreign rights agent at Curtis Brown, which is not where I saw myself, but I'm happy I started there. I think it's an important part of the industry to know about, but it's not one that a lot of agents really get to work with firsthand.

So what are you looking for right now fiction wise?
- I love fiction with strong narrators. I'm always impressed by complex, original characters whom I can relate to and be surprised by at the same time. Genre-wise, I'm looking for literary fiction, urban fantasy, magical realism, horror, and young adult. I especially love older or crossover YA.

We love YA here on YA Highway (obviously), and I see on your submission requirements that you rep YA. So who are your favorite YA authors?
- I'm not sure the genre would exist, at least not as we know it today, without S.E. Hinton, who wrote The Outsiders when she was just a teenager herself. My favorite book of all time is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and even though it was his only novel, the author, Stephen Chbosky, has to be listed as one of my favorites. JK Rowling is another. Her level of devotion behind the world she created is incredible. I think the YA audience are at important ages, so I love any writer who has such an obvious passion for speaking directly to them. I think they can see it behind the writing too.

I love your blog, Glass Cases. Can you tell us a little about it?
- Glass Cases is a blog for writers. The name comes from a quote in The Catcher in the Rye. To me, it's about preserving words. I majored in creative writing at Ithaca and again in an MFA program at The New School, and I'm very pro-writer. I know how hard it is to get published, and while I'm not trying to get my own work published, I wanted to offer a place for unpublished writers to show their work. I also use it to talk about books, publishing, pop culture stuff that I find relevant to writing, and other things I like talking about. I didn't want it to be another industry blog because there are so many of them already, and all of them are doing a much better job at it than I would.

When you are reading - either submissions or published books - what keeps your interest? What makes you keep reading?
- Hm... good question. It's hard to say. Plot is important, obviously, but like I said before, I need to find the characters engaging. Both elements need to work together though.

By the same token, what are you pet peeves in fiction?
- Cliched phrases! I've also been noticing the word "ravenous" a lot in fiction lately, so I'm adding that to my "cliched words" list. I'm also tired of lame female characters, especially in YA. I don't want to see any more female protagonists who don't really come alive until some boy - be it a vampire, werewolf, zombie, or human - enters her life andthensuddenlyeverythingchanges! It's upsetting, and insulting, and needs to end.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers seeking representation?
- Do your research. There are a million blogs, guides, and websites devoted to how to query and who to query. Choose an agent who represents your genre. The other key thing to remember is to not get discouraged. Rejection is a huge part of publishing. It's practically a rite of passage. Embrace it, move on, and keep looking for someone who loves your project as much as it should be loved!

What advice do you have for aspiring literary agents?
- I'm still learning, so I feel strange offering advice. I guess I'd say it's best to keep up with what's happening in the industry because it's changing at a pretty rapid pace. That said, try not to read ALL of the "future of publishing" articles. There's way too many of them, and usually they're cynical.

(Sarah had to answer as fast as she could!)

Last book you read? Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor

3 words that describe the kind of books you want to represent? character-driven, original, engaging

Favorite book character of all time? Ugh, don't make me choose!!! I'll have to go with Holden Caufield. I just have to. But ask me tomorrow you might get a different response. I get way too invested in fictional characters.

Book you most want to see made into a movie? Ooh, probably Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I'd also like to see an adaption of the short story, "The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link.

Something we'd never guess about you? I've seen the movie Wayne's World over 50 times. And yes, at one point in my life I did count.

Check out Sarah's blog, Glass Cases. You can also follow her on twitter.
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Great interview! Thanks Sarah & Kody.

  2. Every now and again, I consider being an agent... (I know you can't just walk in) and foreign rights calls to me, since I'm semi-fluent in 4 other languages... but I don't like selling... but then I guess agents don't really sell, books do... Oh well, rambling.

    Thanks for the awesome interview. I really need to read Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. I keep hearing about it. (I've now jotted it down on my hilariously overwritten-on piece of of scrap paper. I think it might have been on there before too, but who can read anything on that? lol)

  3. Great interview, very informative. Thanks for sharing Kody, and for giving the interview Sarah.

  4. Oohhh thanks for the interview!! :D It was great!

  5. Thanks for the great interview. *runs off the check out Sarah's blog*

  6. Er, can you please link her blog for us. I googled it but it didn't show up. Thanks.

  7. This is so weird. Just yesterday I was researching this agent and wishing that I could read an interview about her likes and what not, and then *poof*, you feature her on your blog. Great interview--now let me go polish off that query letter. :)

  8. Great interview!

    And I so agree with the pet peeves :))

  9. Stina, the blog link is at the bottom of the post :)

  10. So... if one were, to, say, write Sarah a query letter entirely in Wayne's World quotes (not that I could do that from memory or anything....)

    Just kidding. Thanks for the interview, Sarah and Kody!

  11. Kate, a query in Wayne's World quotes would be amazing. Probably wouldn't guarantee a request, but impressive nonetheless :)

  12. Oh I see it now. Thanks Kaitlin. :)

  13. Don't tempt her, Sarah -- Kate will do it. And do it well.

    Thanks for the interview, you two! I absolutely agree Ender's Game needs to be made into a movie. A 3D one, now that we have the technology. IMAGINE. *imagines*

  14. Excellent interview! (I would also love to see Kate's WW query.)

  15. Fantastic interview. Love that you are doing this as a series--this will be very valuable to a lot of writers. And great job with the questions!

  16. Thank you to Sarah and Kody for this interview! It's wonderful to get some extra information on what Sarah likes, especially since there isn't that much info about her on the web (yet!)


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Item Reviewed: Publishing Interviews: Sarah LaPolla, Curtis Brown Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard