Sarah LaPolla, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Sarah LaPolla is an associate agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She studied creative writing at Ithaca College and has an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. She started working in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, Ltd. in 2008 and became an associate agent in 2010. Sarah represents both adult and YA fiction. For adult books, she is looking for literary fiction, urban fantasy, magical realism, dark/psychological mystery, and literary horror. On the YA side, she welcomes all genres and is drawn to unique voices and strong, complex characters. To query Sarah, please email Paste a short query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript into the body of the email. Attachments will not be opened.

LS: On your blog, Glass Cases, you feature short stories. I’m curious why you decided to feature shorts and how many stories you receive a week. What percentage of the stories you receive do you post? 

I put the limit at 1500 words mostly for space, but also to limit how much of a novel is displayed. I’ve had writers send multiple excerpts from the same novel, so eventually I had to put a limit on it. I like thinking of the blog as a place for writers to share work, talk about it, and get it noticed. But, I can’t publish someone’s manuscript for them, especially if it’s something they’re trying to sell on their own.

LS: How did you get into publishing and how long have you been in the business?

I’ve been in publishing for about 5 years total. I started interning with smaller literary agencies while I was getting my MFA, around 2007-2008. Then I moved to Curtis Brown as the foreign rights assistant in the beginning of 2008 – aka the year the industry changed – and I’ve been there ever since. I still have a hand in foreign rights, but I started building my own list about two years ago.

LS: I’ve read that steampunk isn’t really your favorite genre because it’s difficult to ‘visualize’ the details. How, if at all possible, could a steampunk writer sway you into representing the genre?

There are some genres I just don’t rep, whether it’s because I don’t personally read them or don’t have the right editorial contacts to sell them. I prefer to be more of a specialist (for lack of a better term) and focus on what I know really well and love on a personal level. Steampunk is a subgenre of sci-fi, which falls under “things I represent,” so technically I could be swayed if I find the main character compelling enough. But, writers should query with caution. Steampunk just isn’t my thing. I can’t always tell what makes one steampunk novel “good” vs. what makes another “bad.” If you write steampunk, you probably wouldn’t want me as an agent. There are better qualified agents for that genre.

LS: You’ve mentioned being a fan of witches, ghosts, aliens and centaurs, but not vampires, werewolves, angels, gods, shapeshifters, or zombies. Why is that? Do you think that some supernatural constants are played out? Do you think a resurgence is at all possible at this point?

A resurgence is always possible. Not only is it possible, it’s highly likely. If you look at publishing history since Dracula, you can see that they always come back and never really go away. But it’s true that right now certain paranormal creatures are played out. It’s not a matter of me not liking them; it’s a matter of not being able to sell them to editors. A long break is in order, and when they do come back, they won’t be the cute vampires who don’t bite that we’ve been seeing in paranormal romances. Vamps and werewolves tend to get reinvented each time they get popular again.

LS: What are some of your grammatical pet peeves?

Incorrect grammar in general is a pet peeve.

LS: What are the five elements that a manuscript should have to get your interest?

Strong main character, compelling voice, beautiful or clever writing style, intriguing premise, and equally strong supporting characters. (I’m big on characters!)

LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, can you read a novel for pleasure without critiquing it?

Most of the time, yes. Since I don’t have time to read for pleasure often, I usually pick books that I know will be worth my time so there’s usually not much to “critique.” Other times I do find myself editing as I read or wondering if I would have advised the author to make certain choices.

LS: What’s your opinion on self-publishing and the popularity of the e-reader and how do you think both will impact publishing in the next five years? 

I’ve reached a point where I no longer have an opinion on self-publishing. It’s something different than traditional publishing and I believe both can be beneficial depending on what the writer wants out of their writing career and what types of book they write. I think many self-published authors still think “self” and “traditional” are linked, and that’s where many (not all!) end up making careless mistakes. If a writer wants to self-publish, they should own that decision and do it right. A very successful self-published book can lead to a traditional publisher, but the books that do that are rare and the writers don’t usually set out to get a traditional deal through their self-published book. It just happens.

I don’t really see self-publishing impacting traditional publishing in the next five years, but I do see it getting more organized as a separate entity and becoming more respected. E-readers have already impacted publishing, and I see that developing even more in the near-future. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but I think we’ll see a significant decrease in hardcover releases.

LS: As of January 2011, you were 3/4 of the way into writing your own YA novel. How’s that novel going?

Thanks for asking! I’ve now finished a complete first draft of a YA, which was also my first attempt at writing fiction.

LS: Finish this sentence if you would: “I’d love to represent the next __________.” 

J.D. Salinger


Thanks to Sarah for chatting with us and for supporting LitStack!


*Angie Dilmore contributed to this interview*

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