Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker.
Learn More...
Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker. Learn More...

Success Story Interview - Sarah Ahiers

An Interview with Sarah Ahiers (falen1 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Michael Bourret of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Sarah Ahiers:
It's a YA Contemporary Fantasy, with a generational curse that affects only the men on a small east coast island. The main character, Cora, is a newcomer to the island but gets involved in trying to solve a murder that her boyfriend is unjustly accused of. Basically it's a murder mystery with shark people because I can't just write simple things.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Sarah Ahiers:
Oh, since I was a kid. But I've been writing seriously, toward the goal of being a published author, since 2009. A full decade!
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Sarah Ahiers:
Hmm, I think it took me 2-3 months to write the draft, and then another month or so to revise, and then it was ready to go!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Sarah Ahiers:
Oh for sure. I actually stopped being a writer for about 2 years around 2005 or so? And once you're actually a published author, your expectations shift a lot and I don't know a single author who hasn't questioned whether all the publishing stress is actually worth it? But I think that's a rite of passage everyone has to go through.
QT: Is this your first book?
Sarah Ahiers:
It is not! I'm actually the published author of ASSASSIN'S HEART and THIEF'S CUNNING through HarperTeen. But besides those two, this was the fourth novel I've actually queried since 2009. It took me until #3 before i landed my first agent, and now this one since I was searching for a new agent.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Sarah Ahiers:
I do. I have an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. It is absolutely the best program and the most magical place. I love to talk about it, so reach out if you have any questions!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Sarah Ahiers:
I do not. When I'm actively drafting something I try to write Monday-Thursday for a few thousand words a pop, but otherwise, nope. Writing every day works for some people, but not everyone and I don't believe in pushing yourself to fit a process that doesn't work for you.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Sarah Ahiers:
Umm, I think I just had one edit. This isn't counting, like, line edits of which I probably had 2-3 passes while working on bigger edits. But, yeah. The book was pretty clean and well formed when I finished it.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Sarah Ahiers:
I do! My classmates from my Hamline graduating class. We're called The Front Row because we always sat in the front row. They're my go-to readers, and are amazingly smart, helpful, and supportive.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Sarah Ahiers:
I always outline. I'm a firm believer in them. My outlines are very sparse, though. I also do a lot of character work beforehand and even write a query before writing my first draft.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Sarah Ahiers:
This book was a little different. I queried VERY SLOWLY at first. Because I had had an agent before and am a published author, I had all these referrals from friends. So I sent 2 queries around April of 2019, and then didn't really send any more until September. That's when I ramped things up a bit more since summer was over and I knew everyone would get back to work. So, officially, 9 months? But really more like 4 months where I was actively sending out multiple queries to different agents.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Sarah Ahiers:
Let's check QueryTracker!! Looks like 39? I had a few agents that I queried pass my manuscript onto other agents, so I'm not really sure how to count those ones, but yeah, under 40 or so.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Sarah Ahiers:
I spoke to a lot of my writer friends about their agents and what they liked about them and what they didn't. And I prioritized agents that I had referrals for and agents that I thought would be a good fit for what I wrote. Even after 9 months, though, there were some agents on my list I never got to query because they were just closed to queries.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Sarah Ahiers:
Yes. But that's because they were almost all referrals, so I mentioned that up front.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Sarah Ahiers:
Just keep on keeping on. So much of this industry is timing with a dash of luck. Just because something is a No now, doesn't mean it's a no forever.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sarah Ahiers:
Sure thing!

Query Letter:

The Island of New Amity has a secret: when the black shark migration arrives to its shores and the seasonal summer tourists flock to its beaches, the Summer Boys return, too. Carried by the tide into the arms of their wives, mothers, lovers, sisters, the Summer Boys spend a few short weeks on land before the curse that afflicts them drives them into the sea once more.

Seventeen-year-old newcomer Cora Turner knows all about curses. Haunted by the disappearance of her older brother, Caleb, Cora and her mother have moved to the island to start over with family. When she meets Jess Cooper and learns the whispers about him are true—he's a Summer Boy—she realizes ending his curse might be the answer to breaking her own, and maybe even returning Caleb to her.

But while Cora searches for answers, she and Jess can't ignore the growing attraction and heat between them. As they spend their summer days together, the residents of New Amity show Cora they don't trust the Summer Boys or their dark secrets. When Cora's aunt June is murdered, the Island quickly places blame on the nearest Summer Boy and Jess is accused and arrested for the crime.

If Jess doesn't return to the sea when it calls him, his curse will claim his life before he ever sees the inside of a courtroom. But Cora knows Jess is innocent even if the Island believes him capable of murder, and she must put aside her search into the curse to prove it.

But it's not easy finding the real killer on an island of old magics where nobody trusts the Summer Boys, or their friends, and where everyone seems to be hiding dark secrets of their own. If she fails to solve June's murder, Jess will die and the true killer will go free. But if she succeeds, maybe both of their curses will be broken. She'll have to hurry, though. Curses, and the sea, wait for no one.

THE SEA KEEPS is a YA Contemporary Fantasy complete at 100,000 words and could be described as Maureen Johnson's Truly, Devious meets Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island. I'm the author of Assassin's Heart (HarperTeen 2016) and Thief's Cunning (HarperTeen 2017) and have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sarah Ahiers