What I Learned from Assistant Editor Sara Sargent

A few days ago I spoke about what I learned from editor Jessica Garrison (Dial Books), at the SCBWI 2010 NY Writer’s Intensive. Today I’ll share what I learned from my second critique with assistant editor Sara Sargent. In case you didn’t read the previous post, at the event authors were given the opportunity to sit down at a round table with an Editor (and 10 other authors) to get feedback on the first 500 words of his/her manuscript. The neat thing about this type of set-up is not only do you get personal feedback, but you also learn from what the editor says to others.

What I Learned from Sara Sargent:

  • Decide who your main character is.
  • Good books have scenes with a mix of action, dialog, and what’s in the character’s head.
  • Pacing is important.
  • Middle grade and teen books need to include the following three things: Family, Friends, and School.
  • When contacting an agent/editor only pitch one book.
  • Any character introduced in the first one or two pages should end up having a sizable presence throughout the rest of your book.

Tips For Writers From Sara’s Point of View:

  • Don’t waste your time sending queries to editors. Always look to get an agent first! This is because of: 1)Liability on the editor’s part. 2) Your work will be in the slush pile and that’s the last concern for an editor. 3) Editors rely on agent submissions. 4) Agents are looking for talent, actively!
  • Even if an editor has expressed interest in your book (say at an SCBWI critique etc.) that actually doesn’t hold that much weight for an agent.
  • An editors attention is harder to get than an agents.
  • Sara couldn’t think of a single author on their list at Balzer + Bray that was found through the slush pile. It just doesn’t happen from her point of view.
  • Always read submission guidelines carefully!
  • The reason the picture book market is down is because publishers don’t know what a successful picture book will be. Should they play safe? Should the book be quirky? The market is so fickle they really have no idea what will work and sell.
  • Editors are sick of paranormal and vampire books! This is mostly because the books that they see are lacking in “World Building.” A successful book has a lot to do with really fleshing out your world. The world must be vivid with clear rules. Most books submitted are lacking in this department and that’s why they are sick of them. Create your own world! Make it rich.
  • Author platform can be very important. This is something like your website, your blog, your twitter account, etc. If you have some impressive stats please do share this in your query letter. Mention things like how many people visit your blog per day, etc. However anything under 300 visits per day is not very impressive in her book.
  • Blazer and Bray does all types of Kids books from PB to YA. However, Harper Teen may be better for Teen submissions. But Blazer and Bray does look for more literary books and less commercial books, while Harper Teen is more commercial.
  • Be careful sticking with an idea too long if it is not working. Sometimes you need to walk away.

Sara Sargent joined Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books, in 2009. She previously held positions at the Waxman Literary Agency and Miramax Books. Sara is looking to acquire YA and middle-grade novels with romantic, dystopian, and coming-of-age themes; she is admittedly partial to nerdy protagonists and stories about summer camp.

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