Monday, May 26, 2014

Editor Sara Sargent: The Exclusive Pre-#LA14SCBWI Conference Interview

Editor at Simon Pulse and #LA14SCBWI Conference Faculty Sara Sargent

Sara Sargent is an editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, where she edits Jennifer Echols and Deb Caletti as well as many exciting debut authors. Most recently she was at the Balzer & Bray imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she launched authors Rosamund Hodge, Sangu Mandanna, Marcy Paul, and Kiki Sullivan. Prior to her time at HarperCollins, Sara worked at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, and interned with Miramax Books and Hyperion Books for Children. Sara has a Masters in Journalism. She can be found on Twitter @Sara_Sargent and on her website at

I connected with Sara to find out more about her workshops and intensive at the upcoming 2014 SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles, August 1-4.

* * *

Lee: Hi Sara! Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let's jump right in: As an editor, can you share what you see as the value for authors and illustrators in attending conferences like SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference?

Sara: Those of us fortunate enough to be in publishing learn so much just by participating in the business day-to-day and talking to one another about our work. For aspiring writers, a weekend of workshops, panels, and networking is the best way to mirror that experience. The more you understand about books and the market, the better equipped you are to be a part of the industry too. It’s an intense few days, but an unparalleled education!

Lee: Simon Pulse has some huge authors (Like Scott Westerfeld and Jodi Picoult-- and I've got to add Team Blog's own Suzanne Young to that list!) and as an editor you speak of working with "many exciting debut authors." Do you look to find talent that's new to you when you attend a conference like #LA14SCBWI?

Sara: I know the next New York Times bestseller is out there. Lurking. Revising. Toiling away. I don’t know where, but somewhere. I try to expose myself to as many writers as possible in the hopes of discovering him or her, and SCBWI is absolutely a place to find that new talent. Also, the organizers are very targeted in pairing authors with editors and agents, so I am only reviewing projects in the genres I’m most likely to acquire. Which makes me all the more hopeful about finding folks for my list!

Lee: A lot of times authors come to realize that they have a theme that travels across their work. I'm wondering if there's a similar thing with editors, and the manuscripts you're drawn to work on. Is there a theme that travels across the books you've edited?

Sara: Romance. Kissing. Cute boys. On the basest level, that’s my common thread. I have always been a sucker for romantic comedies and books with strong romantic plotlines. I edit what I like to read, so my acquisitions mirror my personal reading selections. Romance makes books more fun and exciting, and romantic tension makes me want to turn the pages.

Lee:  Speaking of tension, you're leading a Saturday workshop "Building Tension," and giving an Monday morning intensive that goes deeper into the same subject, "The Tension Headache: Raising the Stakes in Your Manuscript." The intensive description explains that giving readers a reason to care and keeping turning the pages is the key to writing that "unputdownable" book. Is that true for every kind of novel - romance, contemporary, steampunk, dystopia... everything?

Sara: I like to tell authors that even if they’re not writing mysteries, they are writing mysteries. No matter what the genre, every book should have a component of mystery and suspense that makes readers want to keep going. Without that, I can easily put the book down: never acquire it for S&S, never finish it. We’ve all read those novels where we’re skimming paragraphs because we must learn what happens next. That’s a great novel.

Lee: There's lots of discussion in craft books and workshops about there being two plot lines - external (the story's action) and internal (the character's arc) - is this raising up of tension something you suggest authors do for both plot lines?

Sara: With tension, too much is almost never enough. But it’s a weapon to wield deftly. It’s important to build tension within your plot and between your characters, and characters themselves must encounter situations that test them. Getting too caught up in external and internal plots, though, will have you going cross-eyed. We try to make these workshops about getting back to basics and making you less confused about the way forward. In all my sessions it’s about you realizing something new about your book and zeroing in on it with a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose.

Lee: You'll also be leading a breakout workshop on Sunday called "Developing YA Characters." Tell us more...

Sara: Improving character development is one of the most common revision notes I give to authors. And underdeveloped characters is a common reason I reject projects. Whether it’s making characters more likeable, more relatable, or just more interesting, it’s an area that often needs deepening. Because characters are people, they have many sides to them—and sometimes authors neglect certain sides because they think they don’t matter. My workshop will help you look at your characters in a new light and identify potential deficiencies. It’s a way of communing with your own characters like you never have before.

Lee: What's your current favorite piece of advice you'd like to share for those of us writing and illustrating for kids and teens?

Sara: Writing and illustrating is like dating. You’re great. Your work is great. It’s worthy of a future. You just have to be patient and find the perfect person to be your champion.

* * *

Thanks, Sara!

If you want to meet and learn from Sara in person, join us at the SCBWI Summer Conference. Registration and information here.

Illustrate and Write On,

No comments: