Agent Q&A with Sarah Ballard


For our second #UAQnA, we put Sarah Ballard in the @UA_Books twitter hotseat to answer your questions live. For those that missed it, Sarah's pearls of publishing wisdom are collected here. Follow the #UABookBlog and #UAQnA hashtags for more blogs, and for the chance to have your questions answered by a UA agent in another live twitter Q&A.


Q: I would love to know what agents would like to see (or not like to see) on an unagented author website. #UAqna — @KojiADae

A: Not too many bells and whistles. Not glossy head shots. Most important is what writing you have done: collected links to anything online etc plus a sense of where your writing comes from and wants to go. Something about your background/interests that gives us an angle. #UAQnA SB



Q: Do you think that agents and publishers would be biased against someone who’s written their first book later in life?

A: Youth just is attractive, isn’t it… but I don’t think age is hugely important. All agents/publishers want to know this book isn’t a one off – there is plenty more great writing to come, and you will need to be prepared to explain why it took you so long. But sometimes life experience is a great asset. The quality of the writing is all.



Q: What’s more important, style or substance?

A: Strange how often that’s asked. I would’t tell a visual artist I had a great idea for her next painting, and then feel I’d done the work. You absolutely need both, in every sort of writing, AND they have to work together. Your style has work with your story, 100%.



Q: When writing a synopsis for my novel, should I include spoilers?

A: No right answer to this – pros and cons. But I would. I’d make the synopsis a clean, clear account of the whole book. Because if you say ‘and then there’s an incredible twist you won’t see coming’, I won’t believe you (sorry!) but if you tell me what it is, and it’s good, I’ll be full of curiosity to see how you do it.



Q: I’ve heard that some agents barely read past the first few paragraphs of a submission. Is the first page really that important?

A: I’m afraid it is. Though I’d like to think I’m slower (more patient?!) than some. It’s like picking up a book in a book shop and looking at the first few paragraphs before you choose it. You try to be more objective than that – discount your mood etc. but in the end it is a subjective, gut response. I keep going until I’ve made my mind up. Sometimes 1 page, sometimes the whole book (you know – when you’ve stood in a book shop for half an hour, by accident. Rare and amazing.)



Q: What do you wish people would stop doing in their queries?

A: I get quite a lot of Dear Sir/Madam approaches. My inbox is busy and I feel like deleting email which seems to be an accident/mass mailing. I’ll engage most if it’s addressed to me, for clear reasons (such as admiring my writers, feeling we have taste in common…).



Q: Hoping to submit soon, all digits crossed! What’s the best way to address an agent? Full name, Mr/Ms or first name? @UA_Books #UAqna @KRhosair

A: That's a good nuts and bolts question! I'd say full name. Just Dear Sarah, or Dear Sarah Ballard seems about right to me. Good luck with it! #UAQnA SB



Q: And another one (excuse my greedy opportunism!!) Would anyone @UA_Books welcome a YA mythological fantasy submission? #UAQnA   @KRhosair

A: That's not up my street, I'm sorry to say, but we have plenty of agents looking for YA and fantasy. Take a look at our website for more information. My lovely colleague Jane Willis might be the person for that. #UAQnA SB



Q: Is it possible to keep the integrity of a real-life story by giving it a dramatic arch that might make it more readable as fiction? Thinking spefically of a diary. #UAQnA @BeebsyMcA

A: It depends on the context. If you're writing in controversial or political territory, for eg, you should be careful about changing a timeline. Generally tho yes - in memoir you can play with timeline and the arc of a story. Often you should. Life is otherwise chaos! #UAQnA SB



Q: Hi - if your story is not told chronologically - should the synopsis be the story outlined chronologically? #UAQnA@aileach34

A: Hi Annie. No, the synopsis should be a summary of the book, in the order of the book. If you find that feels too complicated or confusing, it's probably a sign that you need to look at the structure of the book. #UAQnA SB



Q: I am an American living in Bulgaria. I write with American English, but I am heavily influenced by Bulgarian culture and EU issues in my writing. Because of this I think it might appeal to UK audiences. Do UK agents take on American authors? #UAQnA  — @KojiADae

A: Hi Koji. Yes absolutely. We are interested in all nationalities. If you were based in the US, it would make sense for you to have primary representation there, but it sounds as though UK representation might work for you. Good luck. #UAQnA SB



Q: I know this is asked a lot but how do you know when you've done enough editing to submit to agents? I could edit forever! I'm lucky enough to have had one bursaried read from a lit consultant but obvs I can't keep paying for re-reads.... #UAQnA @MaxineFrances

A: My time is nearly up... Hi Maxine. It sounds to me as though you need to let go of it and do it! One professional read is certainly enough. Do the work they suggest, and then send it. Good luck. #UAQnA SB

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