Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guest Post: Sarah LaPolla on Finding Her Voice as an Agent

By Sarah LaPolla
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In a way, I’m still finding my voice as an agent.

My taste evolves based on what published books I read, what new genres my clients explore, and how my own preferences mature over time.

I started interning at an agency when I was 23 years old and Twilight-mania hadn’t yet hit, so YA was barely a blip on the radar of agents who weren’t already doing “children’s fiction” for years.

I spent my early 20s reading queries for literary fiction, memoir, and short story collections, which was coincidentally what I also read for fun.

Sarah works from home in Queens.
When I started taking on clients of my own, I thought I would absolutely focus on the same things, and maybe some urban fantasy, since by that time paranormal was everywhere.

The post-Twilight YA market had also taken full effect, so I thought I’d open myself up to that too, even though I really hadn’t read any modern YA other than Harry Potter. That changed quickly.

YA ended up becoming my focus as an agent, but I never planned it that way. I knew I always loved contemporary/realistic fiction, and for whatever reason I didn’t think I could turn that into my actual job.

I sought out things I would have loved to read as a teen, and I kept an eye on market trends to know what to avoid and what to look for.

Something that surprised me was that the books I loved as a teen helped create the current market, but wouldn’t be able to compete with the high concepts and modern voices of today. What I read for fun also changed because of this, whether YA or adult fiction. I lost patience for stories about the main character finding “themselves,” but not much else. I needed my characters to jump off the page and demand my attention. Rather than simply enjoy a book, I need to feel an emotional connection to it.

Since becoming an agent, I realized I am less crazy about what I thought I’d represent (quiet, coming-of-age literary novels, paranormal anything, memoir).

Instead, I found a voice representing edgy, decidedly not quiet YA, and have since started taking on upmarket women’s fiction and “quirky” literary fiction for adults.

I still love genre fiction, and hope to find that magical realism, literary sci-fi, or psychological mystery I’ve been waiting for. But what I’m more excited to find is something new that takes me by surprise and continues to influence my taste as an agent and as a reader.

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