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Agent Spotlight: Sera Rivers Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Sera Rivers here. She is a senior literary manager at Martin Literary Management.

Hi­ Sera! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Sera:

1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I’ve always loved writing, reading, and everything related to creating stories more than anything. After getting an MFA in writing for children, I worked in educational publishing for seven years and launched Avenue A Books, a children’s graphic novel imprint at Center for Responsive Schools. As Avenue A’s acquiring and managing editor, I loved working with new and established children’s book writers and illustrators to create picture books and middle grade graphic novels from concept to publication. When I left educational publishing, I knew I wanted to stay in children’s publishing. Agenting has been a dream job of mine for years, so I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Martin Literary was looking for someone to join their children’s book division. I’ve been with the agency for a little over three months now, and it’s just as amazing as I’d imagined. I work with a very supportive, collaborative team, which is very important to me.

Since I’m just getting up to speed, I’ve been actively seeking to build my list by reading through queries and requested manuscripts, attending conferences, and meeting with potential clients. My current clients have kept me quite busy as well. In addition to preparing proposals to go out on submission, I’ve been working with each of my clients to create a plan of action to move forward with all their writing projects. I also must stay well-informed on what’s selling and what publishers are looking for—and are not looking for—so I meet with editors to get a better grasp on what they’re excited to discover, and I stay up-to-date on industry news. Plus, so much more!

About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Martin Literary Management, founded in 2003, is a full service literary and media management agency. We focus on representing authors of adult nonfiction, fiction, and books for children and young adults. Our clients’ titles have appeared on the New York Times bestseller and other national bestseller lists, earned strong reviews, received many awards, and garnered national media attention. Many of our clients’ works have been optioned and developed for film and television projects and have helped promote speaking engagements. 

 

We pride ourselves on providing thoughtful and considerate management of our clients. We also pride ourselves on being a modern literary agency capable of developing the many potential ancillary opportunities that exist outside of the book world. 

What She’s Looking For:

3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I am mostly seeking to represent middle grade and young adult novels, as well as graphic novels for children of any age. I do represent picture books, but I am only looking for scary picture books and stories that tackle tough topics.

I’m especially interested in inclusive narratives and authentic representation. I welcome queries by children’s authors and illustrators who identify as BIPOC, LQBTQIA+ and other underrepresented and marginalized identities and cultures.

For graphic novels and young adult, I have a wide range of interests, which can be found on my #MSWL on my website.

For middle grade, I am partial to contemporary stories that tackle tough topics.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I would really like to see something that’s not been done before, whether that’s a new spin on an age-old tale, or a subject matter that hasn’t been fully explored. I have such an eclectic taste that I cannot pinpoint anything specific. That said, I do gravitate more toward darker subject matters and books that tackle tough topics. I want to be thrilled, scared, deeply moved by the characters—sucked into a world so intensely that I don’t come back up for air until I finish the last page.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I am not interested in high fantasy, historical fiction, or adult fiction/nonfiction.

Agent Philosophy:

6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

I want to live in an inclusive, welcoming world that reflects the diversity of my community, and I believe that books have the power to create positive change that supports that vision. I want to champion books where children can see themselves and their peers reflected in the narrative, that uplift historically excluded voices, that tackle real-life challenges and traumas, and that celebrate the diverse world we live in.

Editorial Agent:

7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

Yes! Having worked as an editor for years, I can never shut off the editor brain. When working with my clients, I generally go through at least one or two rounds of revisions before submitting to editors. I focus on the big picture: filling in any plot holes, adding layers to the emotional arc, clarifying confusing scenes, and strengthening any weak spots. I write comments directly on the manuscript during my second read through, and if necessary, provide a detailed editorial letter with my suggestions for revision. I also have a discussion with the author (or illustrator) on my suggestions for change so that we can brainstorm ideas together. Talking through revision suggestions helps me better understand their vision for the book and helps ensure that my suggestions for change are clear.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

I only accept queries through Query Manager, and I would like to see the query letter, a full synopsis (that includes the book’s ending), and the first ten pages of the book (or entire picture book) as well as a link or file upload of any accompanying artwork.

For me, the best queries have a great hook as an opening line, include a concise description of the book, and include the book’s genre, word-count, and at least two comparable titles. It is also very helpful when I see a clear connection between the author and the book’s main character and/or subject matter. For example, if a story includes folklore from another country, what is the author’s relationship to that folklore and country? Similarly, if a writer is writing outside of their identity, what is their reasoning and why are they the right person to tell this story?

9.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

I urge writers to do their research before querying agents to save everyone’s time and effort.

I’m likely to pass on queries that do not include my name, such as writing “Dear Agent,” get my name completely wrong, or just use a generic salutation such as “Hello.” I also receive many queries for genres that I don’t represent, such as adult novels, which is an automatic decline. These types of queries make me wonder if the person querying is just spamming all agents in the hopes of landing anyone.

Response Time:

10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

I try my best to respond to queries within 30 days, though I am leaning closer to 40 days lately, due to the volume of submissions I’m receiving. When I request a manuscript, I hope to read and respond within two months.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

I am open to authors who have previously self-published or have published with smaller presses when they have a new, unpublished project that they are querying. I cannot traditionally publish a book that has already been self-published.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

The publishing world is always changing; therefore, agents must be open to forever learning about and adapting to these changes. But no matter where the publishing world takes us, I believe that an agent’s role will always be vital. We work hard to shepherd the books we love into the world and advocate for the best publishing deals for our clients. We help our clients build their writing/illustrating careers and guide them through obstacles and successes along the way. I don’t see that role changing.

Clients:

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

Brooke Hartman

Mariana Llanos

Rebecca Roan

Brian Russo

I am actively building my list of clients; my full list of clients can be found on my website.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

This is my first interview as an agent! Thank you!

Links and Contact Info:

15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

Writers, illustrators, and graphic novelists should contact me through Query Manager at https://querymanager.com/query/SeraRivers

My manuscript wish list and submission guidelines can be found on my website: https://www.serarivers.com

Publisher’s Marketplace: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/serarivers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/writeloudly

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writeloudly/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeraRiversWriter

For more about Martin Literary & Media Management, visit: https://www.martinlit.com

 Additional Advice:

16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

One question I get a lot from new writers is if they will have a harder time finding an agent or selling a book if they do not have any writing credentials. Let your writing do the talking for you. While it’s wonderful hearing about publishing credits or writing awards, my main focus when considering representation is on the book being queried. I pay attention to the writing style, the voice, the plot, the pacing, the characters. Do I love this story enough to read more? Do I love this story to promote it? The answer must always be yes, no matter the credentials of the writer.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sera.

­Sera is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through August 28th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.

 

 

50 comments:

  1. Hi Natalie, loved the post and the excellent interview with Sera.
    *When you commented on my Monday's post you assumed the photo was with me and my son but the man was my favourite singer..... had a good laugh.
    Take care
    Yvonne.

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  2. Informative interview, Natalie and Sera. I enjoyed it.

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  3. This is a great interview! So informative, I'll definitely be bookmarking this.

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  4. Very informative. Thanks for sharing. I especially appreciate the links.

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  5. Thank you for the interview and opportunity for a critique!

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  6. Thank you, Natalie and Sera, what an interesting interview with such helpful guidance. Sera - congratulations on your new position with Martin Literary and thank you for the Query Critique Giveaway. Natalie – the Literary Rambles blog is an excellent and valuable resource. Thank you again!

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  7. Exciting interview with a new agent! Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Thank you for the interview and for clarifying in your wish list what picture book horror looks like, I didn't know it was a term for that age group.
    katiefischerwrites@gmail.com

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  9. Thanks for a great interview. I'm definitely adding Sera to my list of agents to query!
    michelle.r.stimpson@gmail.com

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  10. Awesome interview. Thanks for introducing us to Sera.
    Kirsty.rorke@gmail.com

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  11. Thanks for sharing your insights, Sera, and offering a critique opportunity. Love the supportive energy of this blog!

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  12. Wonderful interview! I would love to win a critique. katy.klimczuk@gmail.com

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  13. I love hearing from agents! Thank you for sharing!

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  14. Loved that you are open to new authors and new ideas --
    perhaps even to a spin on classics.

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  16. Thank you Natalie and Sera. I'm drawn to this interview for so many reasons. I love that Sera champions inclusivity in narratives and gravitates towards protagonists who navigate tough topics. I also admire the editorial approach to supporting clients. My fingers are crossed for a critique! lizhansonbooks@gmail.com

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  17. Thank you for a great informative interview and for the opportunity, Natalie and Sera! What a great champion for kidlit! I tweeted the interview @CheekyPippa . I'd love the critique! Thank you very much, Rosanna Montanaro. Email rosannamontanaro@gmail.com

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  18. Great interview! Thanks for sharing with us, Sera! Best wishes at your new agency!

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  19. Great interview. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. Such a great interview. I had a fantastic experience with Sera at Critique-a-Palooza this year! eromero@evereducating.com.

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  21. Great interview and thanks for offering a critique giveaway. Best of luck, Sera, in your agenting career!

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  22. Great interview! I did repost on Twitter as I've been considering submitting to Sera Rivers. It was nice to get more insight. Best of luck to you both in your various endeavors!

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  23. Wow! Sera sounds like an amazing agent. I love her approach to agenting and her philosophy. Thank you for sharing!

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  24. Thank you for the great interview.

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  25. another informative interview! I've shared on Twitter

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  26. Thank you for the interview! I would love a query critique.

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  27. Natalie, thanks for sharing this great agent interview. I would love a query critique from Sera.

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  29. I'd be delighted to enter - sarah.steinberg@gmail.com - and so very much looking forward to your clients' books!

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  30. Great interview, Natalie, as usual. Very informative. Thanks! I will pass on the giveaway.

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  31. Thank you, Natalie (and Sera) for another great interview! I'd love a query critique: allison.prueitt@gmail.com. Thanks again to both of you.

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  32. Thanks, Natalie & Sera, for an insightful interview & the query critique giveaway.

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  33. Great interview Natalie and Sera! A query critique would be awesome.

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  34. I really enjoyed reading this interview—it was interesting to hear about Sera's journey from educational publishing to becoming an agent! And I can imagine it would be aggravating to get queries for book genres you don't represent. I'll pass on the query critique giveaway, but thanks so much for the great interview, Natalie!

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  35. Fantastic interview and very useful
    Lydialoeber@trunkythetree.com

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  36. Thanks for another interview! I love these--they are so helpful. I would also love to win the query critique for my lower MG novel. I follow thru email and your sidebar widget.
    helloelizabethjames - at- gmail.com

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  37. Great advice on including the author’s connection to the story—why they wrote it. beccabirkin at gmail

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  38. Thanks for another great interview, Natalie! These are so incredibly helpful!

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  39. Thank you for this helpful interview. Would love to enter the contest :)

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  40. This was a wonderful, professional interview! I'd love to enter the contest.
    Fosterjessicak@gmail.com

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  41. I would love to enter the query critique. Please enter my name. Thank you, Natalie
    Shanti Thirumalai shantit@gmail.com

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  42. Loved the interview. I am an email subscriber
    pkeintz@gmail.com

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  43. I was already studying Sera's agency page when I discovered this terrific blog. I'm delighted to be following by email. glenny.brock@gmail.com

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  44. Great interview, thank you! Regards, Gowri
    gowrisavoor@gmail.com

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  45. these interviews are incredibly helpful in my writing journey. thank you! (layne.grime@gmail.com)

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  46. Great interview! heather.gallagher@bigpond.com

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  47. It never occurred to me to consider what I can control. It makes sense, though. I set goals and achieve them, so I'm doing it. Perfect example of a different point of view. ;-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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