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Success Story Interview - Sarah Fine

An Interview with Sarah Fine (lachrymal on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Kathleen Ortiz of KO Media Management.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Sarah Fine:
I had a somewhat unusual situation in that I ended up finding representation for two books. My first, SUICIDE GATES, is a YA horror about a girl who makes the most of her accidental death by sneaking into hell to rescue a friend who committed suicide. The second, LOST SENTINEL, is a YA sci-fi/romance about a girl who gets a summer job at a group home for the severely mentally ill and has to fight her attraction to an amnestic boy who lives there—and with whom she shared a very memorable (for her, at least) encounter a few months prior.

For both books, I just got a kernel of an idea and worked it to death. For example, with Suicide Gates, I started with a twist on C.S. Lewis’s description of hell in his book The Great Divorce and added a strong friendship between two girls, a few cheerfully creepy evil spirits, and a hot guy with wicked knife skills. It grew out of that.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Sarah Fine:
About a year. I started writing very abruptly in November of 2009. It’s been a little crazy since then.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Sarah Fine:
I started writing Suicide Gates in February of 2010. I worked on it for about 3 months before I started querying, and then did some agent-recommended revisions as I went through that process.

For Lost Sentinel, I wrote it in July, sat on it for a month, then deleted about 75% of it and rewrote it in September.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Sarah Fine:
Not really. I haven’t been at this for very long. I’ve had great support from family, friends, and the writing friends I made this past year. And I learned so much from this site, AbsoluteWrite, and Nathan Bransford’s forums. There’s so much access to critique, support, and information out there—it helped me keep things in perspective and stay both realistic and sane.
QT: Is this your first book?
Sarah Fine:
No, I wrote a paranormal romance last November and most of its sequel before I realized I needed to settle in and learn a few things. Then I wrote Suicide Gates.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Sarah Fine:
No creative writing training. However, I’m a clinical psychologist and have a fair amount of scholarly writing experience. The two types of writing are obviously quite different, but my academic training certainly helped with language precision and grammar. I’m kind of a grammar fiend.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Sarah Fine:
Not a strict one. I write a lot on the weekends and on Mondays; my “work-from-home” day turned into a writing day. I sometimes write in the evenings. I don’t force myself to write unless I feel like it. Things have to percolate for awhile before I’m ready to go, but once I am, I write pretty quickly.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Sarah Fine:
With Suicide Gates, I wrote it initially in third person, rewrote it in first person, then rewrote the beginning several times before I decided it was ready.

With Lost Sentinel, like I said, I completely rewrote it once.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Sarah Fine:
Apart from my family, I have one amazing critique partner who was crucial to the evolution of both books and my most vocal cheerleader throughout (thank you, Justine).
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Sarah Fine:
I tend to outline so I don’t get lost or drift. Of course, things change as I go, but I don’t like to feel aimless.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Sarah Fine:
I started querying Suicide Gates in June and took my time with it. I had my share of rejections, but I also had about a 20% request rate, so that helped me stay positive. I still had several requests out in mid-October, but I was pretty excited about Lost Sentinel and decided I couldn’t wait, so I sent out a few queries for it in the last week of October. Things happened very quickly after that. One agent offered representation for Suicide Gates and another offered representation for Lost Sentinel within about a 24-hour span. Then most of the agents who had one or the other agreed to read both manuscripts. I ended up with five offers of representation, all for both books.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Sarah Fine:
They had to rep YA and be open to urban fantasy/paranormal, preferably darker stuff. I gravitated toward agents who were savvy with social media and described themselves as editorial. I had the incredible good fortune to end up with an agent who is all of the above. She also happens to be a T-Rex, so my children are thrilled.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Sarah Fine:
If an agent mentioned something in an interview or on her/his website that was relevant to my manuscript, then I certainly referenced it. Otherwise, I just sent a standard letter. I did my research, but I didn’t spend much time agonizing over it.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Sarah Fine:
Be merciless with revisions. Don’t be afraid to rewrite or cut. There are more words where those came from. Read both published and unpublished writers’ work with a curious and critical eye; it helps you identify things you might need to work on in your own writing. Listen carefully to critique, even when it’s something you don’t want to hear.

And finally … USE QUERYTRACKER and all its features. It was such an amazing find. I’d never have been able to find or organize all that information myself.