“Become the expert of your story by taking the time to know your characters, the setting, and subject matter of your book. Conduct ongoing research of current books in your genre; what are other authors writing, and how does your book stand out from the rest?” -Sera Rivers, Martin Literary Management
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings 20-25 literary agents and book editors to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 29th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 24 – 26, 2022, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our visiting agents and editors here.
An Interview with Sera Rivers
Sera Rivers is a Senior Literary Manager at Martin Literary & Media Management, currently accepting queries for middle grade and young adult fiction and graphic novels, as well as select picture books. Sera started reading at age four and has been obsessed with books ever since—if she could live in creative worlds, she would. She received her MFA in Writing for Children, with a concentration in young adult novels, from Simmons University. Her young adult memoir THE WICKED ONES won the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Sera worked in educational publishing for seven years and launched Avenue A Books, a children’s book imprint at Center for Responsive Schools. As Avenue A’s acquiring and managing editor, she worked with new and established children’s book writers and illustrators to create picture books and middle grade graphic novels. She loved helping writers and illustrators hone their craft to produce their best work. Now, as an agent, Sera provides editorial feedback to help clients get their manuscripts submission ready. Sera is especially interested in inclusive narratives and welcomes queries by children’s authors and illustrators who identify as BIPOC, LQBTQIA+ and other underrepresented and marginalized identities and cultures. Sera is specifically looking for: MG/YA: fast-paced, compelling, and mind-bending stories with unreliable narrators; twisting plots with endings that are surprising yet inevitable; contemporary stories that tackle tough topics, especially if they incorporate a magical element to them; horror (no demonic possessions); ghost stories; psychological thrillers; and speculative fiction. GN (author/illustrator only): all genres of the children’s market, except high fantasy or historical fiction. Select PB: stories about historically excluded communities; tough topics; horror (author/illustrator for horror only). Sera is not looking for: high fantasy, royal families (no princesses/princes); historical fiction; or adult fiction or nonfiction. Sera lives in Western Massachusetts with her partner Mike and her son Indigo (when he’s on break from college). When she’s not reading, writing, or story slamming, she can be found running all over New England training for her next ultramarathon. To find out more about Sera and what she’s looking for, check her out at SeraRivers.com. She tweets at @writeloudly.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Sera Rivers: For me, the best client/agent relationship is a collaborative one and communication is key to success. As an editorial agent, I usually have the client revise before we go out on submission. I provide an editorial letter with suggestions for change as well as schedule of meetings to discuss the suggested revisions to make sure my feedback is clear and the client has a strategy to revise. Once a project is out on submission, I keep clients in the loop on its status as responses come in. I also like to check in with clients to strategize next steps in their writing career—for example, which project will they work on next and what is their timeline for completion, etc. My goal is to help build clients’ careers, not just sell one book.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
SR: Whether it’s an author’s first book or second or tenth, the writing is most important—the book must have a compelling hook, strong characters, a solid plot, and a universal theme with a fresh perspective. In addition to strong writing, I look for authors and illustrators who are well-read in their genre, understand the nuances of writing for children, and are willing to revise.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
SR: Research, research, research! Become the expert of your story by taking the time to know your characters, the setting, and subject matter of your book. Conduct ongoing research of current books in your genre; what are other authors writing, and how does your book stand out from the rest? When seeking representation, conduct extensive online research to make sure you’re querying the right agents; does the agent represent all the genres you write? If so, does the agent represent your sub-genres and/or topics that you write?
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
SR: I’m excited by the growing advocacy to uplift diverse authors and illustrators and publish books that reflect and honor the experiences and lives of all young people.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and you want everyone to know about?
SR: I’ve just gone on submission with a young adult graphic novel about first love challenged by HIV stigma. We’re pitching it as a queer modern Romeo & Juliet, where no one dies at the end. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and I’m really excited about this important story.
Click here for more information on the 2022 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.