The first thing I want to say about Sara is that she has a twin out there—she reminded me of my husband's sister, Leanne. I know that doesn't mean much, until I tell you that my sister-in-law is the most approachable, do-anything-for-you, WARM person in the whole state of Texas. Sara is the type of person you want to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner.
Sara's warmth, however, didn't distract from her professionalism. It is apparent that she is extremely wise about the business side of book-making. In fact, one of the best parts of the presentation was when Sara described to us "the bench." The bench is a delightfully happy, always-sunshiny place where writers and their art reside. Butterflies and warm breezes swarm the place. Everything is safe at the bench, and at the bench, your art always succeeds. However, if you want to see your book published someday, you're eventually going to have to hop off the bench, take other people's advice, and acquire a thick skin. Book publishing is a business—and businesses are about making money. If a writer isn't willing to put forth the work and effort required to make her book thrive in the business, then she probably needs to head back to the bench. (And that's okay—it's a happy, safe place!)
More short bits of wisdom from Sara:
- Before you begin the query process, your book should be 99 ½ % ready to go. Sara sees way too many unpolished MS.
- When querying, if you follow the rules, you're already ahead of the game. Each literary agent has specific submission guidelines and requirements, and you'd be surprised at how many people ignore them. Follow the guidelines, and you're already rising above the slush.
- Having an author website and blog is ESSENTIAL in today's market. If agents like something you've submitted, they might cyber-stalk you. Give them something to find!
- When Sara reads a first chapter, the first red flag of "bad writing" to her is the data-dump. Avoid it. (And feel free to pronounce "data" with either the short or long "a" sound.)
- Authors need to know their genre and market. If Sara were to name off a list of authors in your genre, you should know exactly who she's talking about.