Query.Sign.Submit. with Sarah Marsh

Sarah Marsh

Sarah Glenn Marsh is a young adult and picture book author. Her YA debut, FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, will be released by Sky Pony in September 2016. She is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency.



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literary agent and author  Now for Sarah’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission!


What advice would you give to querying writers?

First, don’t query before the book is ready! I know it’s tempting to start querying before you know beyond a doubt that a book is agent-ready (I was guilty of this with my first novel, too), but please employ CPs and betas to ensure that you’re sending out the best work possible.

Second, be prepared to stay in the query trenches for the long haul. I was only there for a few nerve-wracking months, but I know many writer friends who were there for years, and their tenacity amazes me and shows just how dedicated a writer needs to be to see this process through all the way to publication.

Third, conduct yourself professionally! Never reply angrily to a query rejection. Do your research and be polite! Agents are business professionals who work long hours because they love books. Besides, publishing is a small field, and you’re likely to run into agents who’ve rejected you in the past if you continue to pursue a writing career. They may even become your good friends, so don’t burn bridges.

Last, don’t lose heart! Sometimes this process will make you feel low, or feel like a rejection on your book is a rejection of you as a person, when of course it isn’t. We’ve all had rough days while querying/on sub. It just happens, so find comfort in that you’re never truly alone in this rollercoaster of a business!

What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

1) Consider personality: would you work well with this particular agent?

2) Their sales history (if you have the funds, Publisher’s Marketplace is one way to do this). If an agent recently signed or sold something very similar to your book, he or she may not have room for you on their current client list. On the other hand, if you see a pattern (ie: this agent really likes fantasy), you might feel they’d be a great match.

What resources and websites did you use when querying?

AgentQuery and its forum site, AgentQuery Connect, are so special to me. I met CPs there, plus received feedback on my query, and was able to read others’ queries to understand what worked and what didn’t. I also used QueryTracker (the free version, though I later found the paid upgrade well worth the cost). And I visited sites like Literary Rambles to look up agent interviews, Preditors and Editors to make sure I was querying reputable folks, and participated in events like the online WriteOnCon to meet more CPs and gather feedback!

How did you keep track of your queries?

I made myself a spreadsheet in Excel! I had one ‘sheet’ for the book I’d queried prior to the one I got signed on, and then a ‘sheet’ for the book I was currently querying. The spreadsheet had columns like: Agent, Agency, Date Queried, and a Notes section where I could jot down reminders or little messages like whether an agent had requested my future work. I color-coded the spreadsheet as well, so when someone passed, I’d turn their line red. Or if they’d had a partial and upgraded to a full, I’d turn it yellow, and so on.


Are there any specific questions you’d suggest writers ask an offering agent during “The Call”?

Here are a few questions I think are important:

1) What houses/imprints does the agent envision your book at?

2) What’s a typical submission round like with this agent? How many rounds will the agent do before shelving a project?

3) How many rounds of revision does the agent think may be needed?

4) Ask to speak with some of the agent’s clients for references.

5) Is the agent interested in representing all your future works (in other words, is he or she a career agent, or by-the-book?). On a similar note, does the agent like your other book ideas? I suggest having short pitches ready.

6) Is he or she very editorial, or more hands-off?

7) If the offering agent is new to the business, does he or she have the support of an established agency to guide him or her in selling your work?

What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?

An emotional rollercoaster! I received multiple offers, and I was so nervous about the calls that I spent a lot of time researching the right questions to ask. Also, I had to take the agent calls up in our home office, because all our greyhounds start barking/whining whenever they hear the phone—they think it’s my husband calling every time! When the first of my offering agents spoke with me about how much she loved my book and where she could see submitting it, I was so anxious that I asked, “Are you offering representation?” at the end of the call. Oops!

How did you know your agent was the right one for you?

For me, this decision came down to personality, because all the agents offering had excellent reputations and happy clients. I chose Christa because I felt we could grow our careers together, and because I felt so comfortable talking with her. I knew I’d be doing revisions no matter which agent I chose, and wanted to feel free to speak my mind with my agent/business partner; Christa put me at ease, and was enthusiastic about all my book ideas!

What is the revision process like between you and your agent?

My agent is definitely editorial. I like this, because it tells me she knows the market and wants to send out the best possible version of my work. We typically go through a couple rounds of revisions on a project, and my debut was no exception. Even once we were on sub, we revised with editor feedback after the first round.

For our revision process, my agent reads and then gives me all her thoughts via email. Usually, she also has her assistant read and give a reader’s report as well (I love this extra feedback!). Then I read their comments over several times, think on them a while, and write my thoughts/ideas for changes below each comment. Christa reads over my ideas, then writes her thoughts below mine, and we go back and forth like this until we’ve hashed out a revision plan with changes that work for us both! When I’m stuck on something, I call her so we can brainstorm over the phone as well.

At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?

When I have a new idea, I typically write a pitch and research comp titles for it before beginning to outline and draft. Sometimes, I’ll share these pitches with Christa if I’m really excited about them. But usually, I prefer to wait until I’ve got a pitch, comp titles, and an outline written. That’s when I feel more committed to a project and therefore, more comfortable sharing it!

Once I know my agent is on-board with an idea, I’ll also send over a couple of sample chapters. With my last project, we did a brainstorming session for the novel via phone after Christa read over my initial pages, which was really fun! Not everyone works like that, of course, but since I write epic fantasy YA, I like sharing at this early stage and getting assistance with world-building! The more support, the better, I say.


Do you see the feedback from editors?

Yes, always. My agent thinks reading editor feedback is an important part of an author getting a thick skin and learning to take rejection and not be so bothered by it (this is a skill I’m still working on, admittedly!), so she shares them with a brief amount of support or interpretation. Personally, I still struggle with the near-miss passes more than the ones where my project clearly isn’t a good fit for someone.

What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?

Don’t be like me and obsess over it. The often-repeated advice of “keep writing your next book” does hold true, but also, I’ll say this: Do other things you love! Hopefully, focusing your attention elsewhere will let you recharge creatively and get re-inspired to work on something new. Plus, doing whatever you love outside of writing should help to pass the time of anxious waiting on subs, and will be more fun and/or productive than googling editor interviews!

Is there anything you learned while being on submission that you didn’t know before?

Many things, actually! Like the sheer number of factors that influence whether a book will receive an offer. It isn’t enough for a book to be good or even great. An offer being made (or not) also comes down to the market. For example, if another author at an imprint where you’re on sub has already written something in your genre and succeeded with it, you probably won’t get an offer from that imprint—which is completely out of your control. Offers come from a mysterious combination of luck and timing (and amazing writing), so even when you’ve written the best book you can, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll sell—this is something that took a while to sink in when I first went on sub.

Another thing I’ve learned is not to get your hopes up until there’s an actual offer on the table. Manuscripts have to go through not just one passionate editor who loves them, but typically a team, and potentially second reads from someone’s boss, and then an acquisitions meeting. Books can get turned down at so many stages, even once an editor loves them, so it’s important to remain cautiously optimistic once you know there could be good news on the horizon.

How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?

When I first got the news, I was at a fantasy convention called FaerieCon, in a bathroom full of ladies in sparkly, winged costumes! While there, I bought a special brass pendant as a good luck charm because (book spoilers!), and after calling my husband, one of the first people I got to share the good news with was Tamora Pierce—an author I’ve looked up to for a long time. When she said I reminded her of herself as a young author, the fact that my debut had sold really started to register. My husband and I also went out for delicious Italian food at one of my favorite restaurants.

Thank you, Sarah!

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  1. That's a really great list of questions to ask an agent. I'm not yet ready for the query process, but I think I'll be coming back to this when/if I get close.

    Great post!

  2. Yay, Sarah!!! Still so excited for you and your awesome book deal! And this was great advice. I love how you set up your spreadsheet; I used QueryTracker and was very happy with it, but I can see how color coding a spreadsheet could be even more useful.


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