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Apr 22, 2021

Agent Spotlight Series: Sarah Gerton

A warm welcome to Sarah Gerton! Sarah is an associate agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd., building a list of fiction and narrative nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Sarah graduated from Wesleyan University and the Columbia Publishing Course. She has been at Curtis Brown, Ltd. since 2015. 

CritiqueMatch: How did you become an agent? If you were not an agent, what career would you have pursued?
Sarah: I actually learned about literary agents when I was in college. That was the heyday of Blogspot and Tumblr, and a lot of agents maintained blogs where they wrote about their work. I stumbled across some of these blogs and thought, wow, this sounds like a dream job! After college, I had the privilege of attending the Columbia Publishing Course, which brought me to New York. I applied for assistant jobs at a whole bunch of agencies, and was lucky enough to land a position assisting two wonderful agents at Curtis Brown. After a few years, I got the green light to take on my own clients, and here we are!

CM: Once you make an offer of representation, what happens next?
Sarah: Typically, when I sign a client, I’ll want to do a couple of rounds of revision on their agent before sending the manuscript on submission. I write an editorial letter, and while my client is working on those edits, I’ll start brainstorming about a submission strategy. When the writer and I feel like the manuscript is as strong as we can make it, we’ll talk through our submission strategy and send the project off to editors.

CM: What sets you apart from other agents?
Sarah: Well, one thing that sets me apart is that in addition to being an agent, I also write YA books under a pen name (Sara Holland). That experience has given me a deep understanding of authors’ emotions at every step of the publishing process, which I think makes me a better advocate for my clients. I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of amazing people in the book world, and those connections have often come in handy when I need to pull strings as an agent. And editing my own books, I believe, has given me a sharper editorial eye—as well as compassion for how hard writing and revising is!

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers? 
Sarah: I am very hands-on! Revising is one of my favorite parts of the agenting process, and I’m happy to be involved with edits to whatever extent my clients want me to be. Sometimes they like to brainstorm big-picture ideas with me and throw around plot ideas, which is great. Other times, a client will want to work on an initial draft on their own and then send it to me for feedback, which is great too. We usually end up doing at least a couple of rounds of edits in order to submit a strong, polished manuscript to publishers.

CM: What makes a good synopsis? Any online resources you recommend that help authors write a synopsis?
Sarah: I think of a synopsis as similar to flap copy (the book description that appears on a book’s front flap or back cover) if flap copy revealed the ending. It should walk the reader through the main character’s full arc. The good news is, at least in my opinion, if you can write a good query letter, the synopsis should be easy—you’ve already learned how to condense your story; now you just need to expand it a little again. Author Susan Dennard has a wonderful breakdown of how to write a 1-page synopsis here: I refer to it all the time. 

CM: Name a book you recently read and can’t stop thinking about. 
Sarah: RAYBEARER by Jordan Ifueko! It’s a vivid, joyful YA fantasy that brought back the way I felt reading fantasy as a child—that pure wonder and enchantment.

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Sarah: There’s been a lot of discussion lately about skewed power dynamics between authors and agents. And to be sure, agents certainly hold immense power in the industry. However, it’s really important for everyone to remember that at the end of the day, agents work for authors, not vice versa. I suppose that’s not a myth per se, just an important reminder. 

CM: What are some opportunities that were created for authors/agents/publishers from technological advancements/disruption?
Sarah: One silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s caused widespread acceptance of working from home. While I love New York, it’s an expensive city, and requiring publishing workers to be in Manhattan offices certainly creates a barrier to entry for people without the means to relocate and live here. In this time of social distancing, I’ve heard more and more accounts of companies willing to relax WFH policies or even hire folks from outside the tri-state area, which I think is to the benefit of companies, employees, and potential employees. 


Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Fiction and narrative nonfiction for middle grade and young adult readers. 
  • While fantasy is Sarah’s first love, she’s eager to read YA and MG fiction of all genres, gravitating toward character-driven stories with unforgettable settings. 
  • On the nonfiction side, her interests include beautifully written history, reportage, and/or memoir for a young audience.
What you’re not interested in:
  • Picture books and adult books. 


2 Client Examples
(This list includes affiliate links)
  • EVERYTHING WITHIN AND IN BETWEEN by Nikki Barthelmess, coming October 5, 2021 from HarperTeen
  • THE QUIET YOU CARRY by Nikki Barthelmess, published in 2019 by Flux Books


Query Tips

Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

  • Try to balance professionalism with voice in your query letter. While it’s important to keep in mind that this is a business letter, I also love seeing a little glimpse of who you are as a writer—whether your calling card is humor, beautiful prose, sharp observation, or something else!
  • Don’t focus too much on the query letter at the expense of the manuscript itself. While the introduction is important, the book is of course what’s really crucial. Often I’ll read a perfect query letter and then scroll down to a first page that feels slapdash. On the other hand, I’m more than happy to overlook an unpolished query if the pages really sing. 


Submission Guidelines:
Please send queries to Sarah at with “query” in the subject line, and paste the first ten pages of your manuscript in the body of the email beneath your letter. She will respond if she’s interested in seeing more.