By day, Sarah Gerton puts her obsession with YA and MG books to use as an associate literary agent in New York; by night, under the pen name Sara Holland, she’s the New York Times bestselling author of Everless (out now from HarperTeen!) and its upcoming sequel Evermore. She grew up in small-town Minnesota and now spends her free time exploring the city, seeking out new sources of books and caffeine, and hanging out on Twitter @Sara__Holland and Instagram @sarahollandwrites
Welcome to PubCrawl, Sarah! You’re going to be such a great addition to our crew. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get into publishing?
I’ve been writing pretty much my whole life. When I was six, my parents got me this craft kit where you could write and illustrate a story, and send it in to be bound up in this red fake leather cover. (I wrote a story about a friendly sea monster named Stleznen.) I guess I put two and two together early on, that the stories in books were just stories that people had made up and written down. That maybe I could do it too, someday.
In high school, I started researching the process of how to get a novel published, and learned about literary agents—what they did, why they were important. Back then a lot of agents kept blogs—not to mention PubCrawl!—and I fell down the rabbit hole. I never actually queried anything at that time (thank goodness, because my stuff was terrible) but I stayed plugged in to this online community of agents. I thought that these people had really cool jobs.
After college, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, and through that got introduced to all sorts of publishing jobs I’d never known about—subsidiary rights, production, marketing, all corners. But my favorite part was hearing from real, live agents: how they approached their work, what their days looked like, their favorite and least favorite parts of the job. After that, I managed to land a job as an assistant at a fabulous agency, and I’ve been there ever since!
I love that Stlezen story, I remember you telling it at your launch party for EVERLESS. I love hearing about how other publishing professionals got into the business. You’re an author, too! Can you tell us more about that: what has that journey been like?
I had sort of an unconventional path into authorship which ran parallel to my journey into agenting. I took writing classes in college which were great, but focused largely on adult literary fiction. And I always knew that what I really wanted to write was what I loved reading—namely, YA, and especially YA fantasy. Searching for a way to flex those muscles, I stumbled across the website for what was then called Paper Lantern Lit and is now Glasstown Entertainment, a boutique book development company started by Lauren Oliver and Lexa Hillyer. They would come up with a concept, then find an author with the perfect voice and work closely with them to create and sell a book. I thought that sounded awesome, so I submitted a writing sample and promptly forgot all about it for a while.
Imagine my surprise when one of their lovely editors reached out to me, saying they liked my sample and wanted me to consider me for an upcoming project. I wrote and revised a few sample pages, and it was honestly so much more fun than anything I was doing in my college classes. Although they ended up going with another writer for that project, the whole experience taught me a ton about craft and totally affirmed my love of writing YA. So I told the editor to please keep me in mind for future projects… and lo and behold, two years later the stars aligned for EVERLESS!
I LOVE this. And I totally feel you re: the writing journey running parallel to your publishing career–it’s been the same for me. Your debut novel, EVERLESS, came out this year. (which, is AMAZING, btw) What has been the most exciting part about the whole debut process? Anything fun or unexpected about the experience you’d like to share?
I definitely wasn’t prepared for just the sheer awesome weirdness of seeing a book that I wrote out in the wild. That’s the inside of my head, and it’s just sitting there on the shelf for anyone to pick up. Yet in readers’ hands, it becomes theirs, not mine; I’ll never know exactly how they imagine it, which is scary but also so cool. My favorite encounter with a reader took place at one of the airport bookstores in Heathrow (yes, to my deep American jealousy, there was more than one!) I was in line to buy a book for my flight, and a young girl ahead of me was holding a copy of EVERLESS! I was tired and hungry, dragging my suitcase and not very eloquent—I think I tapped her on the shoulder and was like, “I, uh, I wrote that.” But we ended up having a nice conversation and I signed her book. I never thought something like that would happen to me!
OMG that’s so cool! Btw, your UK covers are gorgeous, too! So what would you say to aspiring authors and publishing professionals? Do you balance both? What. Is. Balance!? (#solidarity)
It’s definitely not always easy to balance writing and a day job, but I try to keep my life in order by having set times to wear each of my hats. I work on my own writing in the early mornings before work, and on weekends. Weekdays I’m at the office, and evenings are for catching up and reading manuscripts.
There are tradeoffs for sure: I write more slowly than some of my author peers, and I’m not one of those agents who will respond to your 3 AM email within five minutes; my inbox will still be there in the morning. But overall, being a writer has informed my agenting in some really fantastic ways, and vice versa. Knowing how waiting and rejection feel has made me more compassionate as an agent, and seeing the ups and downs of publishing at the office has allowed me to be more relaxed about my own books than I might be otherwise.
I completely agree re: becoming more compassionate. It’s a blessing to be able to understand it from both sides. Moving from the serious to the silly: you’re on a pub crawl with your fictional friend crew. Who’s in it?
That’s a tough one! Hermione, obviously. Howl and Sophie because they’d be massively entertaining. Emika Chen from WARCROSS, so she can teach me how to ride an electric skateboard. Zuzana from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, and Mateo and Rufus from THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END, because those kids could use a fun night out.
Ooh! Excellent crew. in the event your pub crawl has turned into a PUB BRAWL, what fictional weapon are you wielding?
Give me Will Parry’s Subtle Knife from the His Dark Materials trilogy. Hopefully no one would mess with me if I had a blade that could go through literally anything—but if they did and things went south, I could just cut a hole in the multiverse and my friends and I could nope out to another world!
Ha! A+ choice. Welcome, again, Sarah! Congrats!!