Friday, April 1, 2011

Brawl 'n Haul Contest: Interview with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown

Today, Vicki and I divide and conquer. The fabulous Vicki is hosting a Blackjack game where you can win more entries into the Grand Prize drawing of your choice. Some lucky players will also win a prize! If you haven't done this with her, it's super fun! I was giggling all through her first ever Blackjack contest. 

Here, I am hosting an interview with Agent Awesome, Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown. Vicki and I were thrilled at this opportunity! If you write YA or Adult, you definitely need to read on to see if your work is right for her. She has been wonderful to work with and would make a great agent for anyone lucky enough to get her!

So, first her blurb from the Curtis Brown website, then on to the interview.

Sarah LaPolla began at Curtis Brown in 2008, working with Dave Barbor and Peter Ginsberg. Sarah is interested in literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, science fiction, literary horror, and young adult fiction. She loves complex characters, coming-of-age stories, and strong narrators. Sarah graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Writing and English, and went on to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She is always on the lookout for debut authors and welcomes email submissions at

Please note: Sarah prefers e-mail queries!

Me: How did you decide you wanted to be an agent?

I wish I could have one of those stories where I wanted to be an agent from the time I could read a book and moved to New York in a dramatic fashion to follow my dream. Truthfully, I didn’t know what an agent was until I was about 19 or 20 and even then it wasn’t explained to me very well. So when I moved to New York for my MFA program, I started interning at agencies (the “working in publishing” dream was real!).

Once I started learning what an agent actually did and how excited it could be to help build an unpublished writer’s career, I gave up on any previous romanticized notions I might have had about publishing. (The three martini lunch in the offices of Random House was very appealing until I learned it didn’t exist.) So, I kept applying to agencies and got used to being asked “so, what do you do again?” by my family. 

Me: Do your clients have any upcoming releases you want to share?

My fabulous client, K.M. Walton’s debut YA, CRACKED (Simon Pulse) is being released in Spring 2012.

Me: I love that you showcase new writers on your blog, Glass Cases. How did you come up
with that idea?

I started the blog before I became an agent. If anything, it was an effort to hold on to my writerly roots and support the unpublished who either have no interest in traditional publishing or are ready to query. Stories are posted once a week and the rest of the time I like giving writing or query advice or just waxing philosophic on various literary or pop culture-related things.

Once I became an agent, I very much wanted to keep the blog going with my original intent. There is a very strict “no crossover” rule, meaning anyone who sends me a query via the blog gets deleted immediately. Contributors to the blog are welcome to query me as an agent, as long as they do so through the appropriate channels. So far, it’s been a success and the writers have been very understanding about that, so I am grateful.

Vicki: What types of submissions do you wish you saw more of? Less of?

I really want to see more horror, dark mystery, and fairytales (fractured or otherwise) for YA. Dark mysteries for adult would be great too. Also, adult dystopian, as long as it’s original in execution.

On the “less of” side, I am still getting vampire queries, so that makes me cringe. Anything with “creatures of the night” I stay away from. I also steer clear of anything labeled “women’s fiction,” which for some reason I get a lot of. Anything written with the intention of excluding half your audience not only makes little sense, but usually ends up being rife with gender stereotypes.

Vicki: What's the craziest book idea you've come across in the slush pile?

I can’t share anything specific, but a general idea of what I consider “crazy” is when people combine genres for the sake of combining genres. I guess to cover all bases, but it always fails.

For instance:
Timmy is caught in a well…in 1942…and Nazis might kill his parents…and it’s up to a werewolf and an angel to stop them and rescue Timmy…who turns out to be a ghost. For the record, I completely made that example up, but you get the idea.

That said, I do like when people play with genre and incorporate different elements into one novel, but what you decide to use should go together in some way.

Vicki: What's the most outrageous thing you've seen/heard an author do trying to get noticed?

I will never understand why writers include pictures of themselves with their kids or pets with their queries. Or send a large FedEx envelope with one sheet of paper in it. Once I open it and see it’s a query, it will go into the pile with everyone else. It doesn’t matter how you ship it.

Me: What is the best way to catch your eye in a query (in a good way)?

Be succinct and get to the point. Before I even read a query, if I see it is only two or three paragraphs, I am already relieved. And if the first paragraph is a three to five sentence plot overview, even better. All I do is search for that anyway, so you might as well put it up front.

Me: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see in queries?

Like I mentioned above, the biggest mistake I see in queries is when a writer fails to mention what their project is about. There can be long lists of publication credits and how their own lives have prepared them to write their story - and all of those things might be impressive - but without knowing what that story is, why would I request it?

Vicki: For books you read for fun, what influences your choice the most (title, cover art, back description, excerpt, word of mouth, reviews)?

If I’m browsing in a bookstore, a good title will grab my attention. I pay attention to reviews, but not closely. Word of mouth by people I trust (Twitter pals, literary friends, and publishing folk) is usually what influences me most. Also, if I know an author I admire likes a particular author I haven’t read yet, I will check them out.

Vicki: What book title (real or imagined) best reflects your life?

Ooh, good question. Even though it makes me sound like a complete literary snob, I will say Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion (essays count, yes?). Content-wise, it’s not really relevant to my life, but the title suggests consciously starting a new chapter in life while remaining slightly nostalgic, which I think I do a lot.

Me: On my blog, I have a bit of an obsession with personalized license plates. What would yours be? You have 8 spaces.


Sarah, I love the license plate! Thank you for the wealth of information here.

As we've mentioned, in addition to the interview, Sarah has offered a ten-page critique for one of our lucky contest participants who write YA or Adult (sorry all those MG and PB writers!).

In your comment, be sure to mention that you want to win the critique (Prize #1), otherwise we'll put you in for the alternate Grand Prize (Prize #2 - which is nothing to sneeze at, either). And if you haven't already, let us know if you spread the word in any way shape or form (Twitter, Blog, Sidebar, Facebook, etc.) and we'll give you an additional +5 entries in the drawing.

And if you're just joining us, here are the rules for our Brawl 'n Haul contest. For a longer explanation and the posting schedule for the contest, click here.

  1. You must be a follower of both blogs
  2. When you comment, let us know if you prefer Grand Prize #1 - 10-page critique by Sarah LaPolla (Note: your ten pages must be for a YA or Adult work) or Grand Prize #2 - A Prize-filled Gift Basket. If you don't mention one or the other, we'll put you in for #2.
  3. You can earn 5 bonus entries for the grand prize by spreading the word in any way shape or form (twitter, blogs, facebook, sidebar, etc.). Just let us know!
  4. This is open internationally! Woo hoo!
  5. Contest Closes Saturday 2 April at midnight EST. All winners will be announced Monday, 4 April 2011.


Joanne said...

Hi Janet and Sarah, I'm passing on the amazing contest, but thank you for the interview. It's always nice to get an insider's view of the industry, and on the daily workings of an agent.

Happy Friday to you both :)

Lisa Potts said...

Great interview, ladies! Thanks so much for referencing Sarah' blog. I'm popping over there now. This whole week has been a lot of fun.

Lori M. Lee said...

Yay! Thanks for the wonderful interview. I love Sarah's blog, and I'd love prize #1!

Also tweeted!

Margo Berendsen said...

I didn't know she had her own blog! This was some great info, I just started working on my query.

Carolyn V said...

Great interview! It's so great to hear what Sarah wants from a writer. Thanks for the great info! =D

Monica Mansfield said...

Nice interview!

I tweeted about the contest (@MonicaMansfield) and I would like the 10 pg Critique Grand Prize. Who wouldn't?


M said...

grand prize #1, please!
I tweeted this contest link as well.

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss janet and miss sarah! its cool reading a interview bout a agent causd mostly it authors. this was a neat interview. i like how it says what to put in a query. guess i wont be sending a picture of my pet raccoon or shak the shark from in my fish story. ha ha. thanks for a cool interview and a cool contest.
i hope you both have a fun weekend.
...hugs from lenny

Unknown said...

Great contest! I'd love to win prize #1. I'm a follower of both blogs and I tweeted the contest. @KristiHelvig
Thanks. :)

Victoria Dixon said...

Great interview, Janet and many thanks to Sarah for doing it. Janet, I would seriously LOVE to see Sarah's thoughts on MTC, as you know. This is just for the record. It's only taken me this long to say. LOL I put you all in my blog post earlier this week.

Marquita Hockaday said...

Thanks for the awesome contest! I am following both blogs and I would love to win prize # 1- the 10 page critique from Sarah--she's pretty cool :D I tweeted here:!/KeeKeeHockaday/status/53846326538010624

Talli Roland said...

Fantastic interview - how great to get the inside scoop!

Kathryn Rose said...

Very great contest! And I love Sarah's blogs (and tweets). :)

Tweeted! @KatLovesBoho

I'm in for prize #1 please!

Melissa Hurst said...

Great interview! I've enjoyed the fun at your blog and Vicki's this week! Thank you!

I'd love a chance for prize 1 and I tweeted about the giveaway here:!/mehlane/status/53868800965222400

Katie Kelly said...

Prize #1 would be awesome!

I re-tweeted Melissa's tweet. (Thanks, Melissa)!/Katie_writes/status/53871363932426240

MikeS said...

Paranormal romance? That's a genre?

But I was glad to read in the interview that all vampire queries are tossed out right away.

You almost have me convinced to want prize #1 instead of prize #2, except I'm not eligible since I don't follow both blogs.

Kate Larkindale said...

Fantastic interview!

I'd love a chance to win the critique. So much, I tweeted about it!

Laura Pauling said...

What a great contest. I'd love the 10 page critique. I follow at both blogs! And I'll tweet. @laurapauling

Thanks for the chance!

Jolene Perry said...

Totally prize #1.
Should I just keep saying that??

You two are awesome =)

Lindsay said...

Ooh, great interview.

Oh, and prize number one :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Awesome interview!

Prize #1

Kaleen said...

I love Glass Cases! Please enter me for the critique by Sarah LaPolla (I have a completed paranormal romance MS ready to go).

I've added the link to this contest on my blog:

And I'm tweeting it right... now.
Thank so much for this opportunity!

Susan Fields said...

Great interview! I especially like the advice about what she likes in a query.

I'd love to win the critique.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Thanks!

Christa Desir said...

Cool! Great interview!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great interview, Ladies! It's one worth going back to if I ever have a YA manuscript. :)

LTM said...

great interview! I also like the glass cases and the short queries, the personalized license plate...

did I mention here that I'd love GP #1? AND I hit 21? woo woo! :D xoxo

June G said...

I just rewrote my query, shortening it to two paragraphs. Nice to see Sarah concurs! Who could resist prize # 1. Critiques are always good. I tweeted(@junegoodwin) and follow both blogs. Thanks.

Missed Periods said...

That was a great interview. It was really helpful to learn what she likes and dislikes in a query.