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Publishing Interviews: Sara Kendall, Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation

In our new Publishing Interviews Series, 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.

Sara Kendall is a graduate of Scripps College, and is the
literary assistant at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. She is an English major, an aspiring literary agent, and a lover of desserts.

Thanks for joining us today, Sara! I'm sure we're all eager to hear what, exactly, an assistant does.

When did you decide you wanted to work in publishing?
My original goal in life was to be a veterinarian. But I formally renounced that ambition on my eighth birthday (I have distinct memories of making this announcement to my family). My third grade teacher had made some off-handed comment to me the day before about "becoming an editor" when I grew up, and I took it very seriously. I didn't know what an editor did; she told me they read books and I was instantly won over.

I was in tenth grade when I really started to figure out what people in publishing did. I dabbled in journalism and a couple other English-y things, but I always came back to books. I started looking for internships as soon I got to college.

I know you started working as an intern. Can you tell us about your experience interning before getting hired at Nancy Coffey? How many internships did you go through? When did you start interning?
I started interning the summer after my freshman year of college. Landing a first internship was difficult, and I've heard similar statements from other people in the industry. I mostly answered phones and emails that first summer, which gave me good office training for my other internships. The summer after sophomore year, I got an internship at the Irene Webb Literary Agency, which was, at the time, right near my home in CA, and it was an unbelievable experience. By the end of it, I was fairly certain I wanted to be an agent. But I wanted to experience the "other side" of publishing before I made up my mind.

The summer after my junior year, I did an internship at HarperCollins. It was a fantastic place to work, and I loved being there. They have a great internship program, and I learned a lot there. It was also my first time in New York! I met with FinePrint and Nancy Coffey Lit that summer--they kindly let me come in and do an informational interview so I could figure out how lit agencies worked in the big city. I graduated a semester early from school, and spent the Spring semester interning at FinePrint and Nancy Coffey--another amazing internship program that offers tons of hands-on experience and really prepares you for a job in publishing.

Can you tell us what an intern at a literary agency does? What kind of hands-on experience did you get?

As an intern, you learn how to do *everything.* At my internships with both the Irene Webb Lit Agency and with FinePrint/Nancy Coffey, I got to read and respond to query letters, learn to write Reader's Reports, read requested manuscripts, learn how to write an editorial letter, how to write a pitch, learn how auctions are run, how contracts work, how film rights work, how foreign rights work...haha, really everything! And I was really lucky in that I got to work for places that really wanted their interns to get a lot out of their experience--which is something I've heard from a lot of fellow publishing interns. I'm not sure how many industries you can say that about.

Now, as an assistant, what does your job require? What do you do for work?
As an assistant, I've gotten to do *more* of everything, haha! In addition to the things I learned to do as an intern, I've also gotten to spend more time on our amazing clients' projects, and started to get to know them better, which I've really enjoyed. I'm currently doing a blog tour for a client, attending a truly awesome three part session on contracts, learning to maintain our website, and helping Joanna set up an agency blog (yay!). Duties vary from day to day, but there are always manuscripts to be read, and cupcakes to be eaten.

...Cupcakes are an important part of the job. *cough* We seem to receive a large number of them in the office. And I've taken that duty very seriously.

What are your goals as you continue to work in publishing? Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I would really love to be an agent someday--hopefully a place I'll be in five years!

What is your favorite part of your job?
Okay, this may sound weird, but...line edits. Line edits are my favorite part of the job. I just started doing them, and they are amazing. Generally line edits are done as sort of the "final stage" before a manuscript is sent out to editors, after the agent and the author have gone through a round or three of bigger edits. You get to see the entire project--from character voice to sentence construction--come completely together. It's very satisfying.

And because we must know, who are your favorite YA authors? Favorite books?
AH, ALL OF THEM. Is that an answer? Probably not, haha.

Okay, let's see. I think it'd be cheating to just go through and list all of our YA authors and all of FinePrint's YA authors, but I do really love their work--including the fabulous work of Kody Keplinger (duh). (Interview Note: I swear I didn't make her say that!) So outside of them, I would have to say I love Libba Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, Elizabeth Scott, Melissa Marr, Shannon Hale, Richard Peck (just finished Three Quarters Dead--a.mazing), Laurie Halse Anderson, Cat Bauer (Harley, Like a Person...also amazing), Francesca Lia Block, Ally Carter, Meg Cabot (especially the Mediator series), Frances Hodgson Burnett, Gail Giles (Dead Girls Don't Write Letters is one of my favorite books of all time) ...this isn't really narrowing things down, is it?

BUZZ QUESTIONS! I asked Sara to answer these as fast as possible without thinking.

Last Book you read? Thirteen Reasons Why. Finished it this morning on the subway. If you haven't read this yet, go read it now. Seriously.
Favorite Book Cover? A Great and Terrible Beauty
Favorite Character? Vidanric, from Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel books. He was my first literary crush ;) Oh, and both Smith and her books should be on my favorites list.
Last movie you watched? Despicable Me. SO FLUFFY.
The person you most want to meet (living or dead)? Okay, so this is completely without thinking, right? No deep internal discussion on who I most want to sit down with? Because off the top of my head--Max Brenner. That man makes excellent chocolate.
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. Love it! It's obvious Sara will make a rad agent one day. :D

  2. thanks for a stellar interview, Kody & Sara!!

  3. Fabulous interview :) Sara, I love that you want to meet Max Brenner. That man *can* make incredible chocolate.

  4. So interesting-- thanks for the interview Sara!

  5. Sara sounds superfabulous :D

  6. Great interview, thanks Sara & Kody! :)

  7. I think I can safely say that you are well on your way to making that five year mark, Sara! You ROCKKKKK!!
    We'd crumple to paper dust without you. Swears.

  8. Faaaantastic interview! Thanks so much, Sara and Kody!

  9. How flattered am I? And what a fabulous interview!

  10. Thanks so much for having me, guys! This was totally fun, and I've loved reading the comments. I hope you'll come visit the shiny, new NCLit Blog--we're launching in just a couple days, and I'd love to get to know all the fabulous YA Highwayers.


  11. Great interview!

    And I'm totally with ya on Max Brenner, Sara. Oh, those chocolate eggrolls...I dream about them.


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Item Reviewed: Publishing Interviews: Sara Kendall, Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger