sassinsf.com
@matokah

AGENT
Jordan Hamessley at New Leaf Literary

WRITES
MG & YA Contemporary and Speculative

DEBUT
GOODREADS AUTHOR PROFILE
ANA ON THE EDGE (October 20, 2020) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: 16 STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, AND US (Fall 2021) Knopf Books for Young Readers (contributor); ELLEN OUTSIDE THE LINES (Spring 2022) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

BIO

A.J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection) and Ellen Outside the Lines, both published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us anthology, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend, a handful of aquarium fish, and two cats who act like dogs.

PUBLISHING BACKGROUND

I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to pick up a pencil, but it wasn’t until law school that I started considering writing as a viable career option. That’s when fiction writing became an outlet for me. After graduation, I worked as a tech journalist and then a legal editor, all while writing fiction in my spare time. I spent ten years finding my voice and honing my craft, primarily within the YA and Adult spaces. In early 2018, I rediscovered middle grade literature. I especially loved how queer characters and topics were handled for this age category–but search as I might, I couldn’t find a story featuring a nonbinary character.

This is when the first hint of an idea that would eventually become Ana on the Edge sparked into existence. I drafted all spring of that year, then was accepted into the #WriteMentor mentorship program and revised all summer based on feedback from my mentor and other readers. I began querying in the fall and signed with my agent soon after. Based on my agent’s feedback, I revised through the end of 2018 and went on submission early in the new year. Ana on the Edge sold in a preempt to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in January 2019. I revised under contract in the summer of 2019 and completed my final proofreading pass in 2020. Last June, my editor acquired my sophomore novel, Ellen Outside the Lines, based on a proposal (50 pages and a synopsis). I spent last summer completing my first draft of that story and as I write this, I’m working through my first revision pass based on editorial feedback.

I broke this down so specifically because from a quick glance it appears that I wrote a book, signed with an agent, and then got my book deal fairly quickly. This is all true, but it doesn’t reflect the decade of starts and stops, the double-digit NaNoWriMo projects, and all the other ideas I shelved before I got where I am now. The journey to publication can be long and winding, but I’ve learned a lot and I’m excited to share my knowledge with someone else through this program (as I continue to learn more myself).

EXPERIENCE

I worked as a TA in both undergrad and grad school, which helped me hone my feedback style into one that aims to be uplifting but also constructive. I really enjoy working with writers to pinpoint the heart of their story, whether it’s a legal article for a client’s blog or a punch-in-the-gut middle grade contemporary novel (or virtually any other genre).

I’ve participated in various writing critique groups throughout the years (both in-person and virtual) and got my first taste of an intense revision process when I received mentorship during the 2018 #WriteMentor program. In 2019, I became a mentor myself, first with #TeenPit, a mentorship program aimed at high school students with a desire to improve their writing craft, then as a 2019 #WriteMentor and Pitch Wars mentor. I also mentored with #WriteMentor again in 2020.

To date, two of my four #WriteMentor mentees have signed with agents, as has the mentee I co-mentored for Pitch Wars, who also recently announced that the middle grade contemporary manuscript they revised during Pitch Wars sold to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at auction. I continue to offer feedback on manuscripts for friends who are at virtually every stage of the publication process.

OVERVIEW

I knew very little about the publishing industry before my own mentorship experience. My mentor took so much time away from her own writing to help guide me and offer notes on my manuscript, as did other writers I connected with that summer. I would not be where I am today without their support. I want to pay forward the kindness and knowledge others have so graciously extended to me by being an advocate for another writer and their story.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and this industry can often feel very opaque when you’re just starting out. I want to be there not just to give someone feedback on their manuscript but for the long-term, past the revision stage, into the querying trenches, for future manuscripts, and beyond.

I will always love contemporary stories that have a unique voice, as well as those with a light speculative/fabulist bent. That said, I read widely and am really open with respect to genres. Above all, I’m hoping to find a unique perspective, a memorable cast of characters to root for and fall in love with, and a story that hits me in the feels, regardless of time period or setting.

In a perfect world, I’ll get a submission that completely takes me by surprise, one that I’ll just have to have, even if it doesn’t precisely fit anything I’ve listed on my MSWL.

  • Fantasy
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Historical
  • Sci-Fi
  • Contemporary
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism
  • #ownvoices
  • LGBTQIA
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy

It’s my belief that no trope has been overdone, especially if you’re a writer who hasn’t seen your identity or background on the page yet. In terms of genre preferences, I’m mostly wide open. I didn’t choose romance simply because it felt more like a genre for the YA and Adult age categories, but if you have crushes and even first relationships in your book, that’s completely fine. In terms of fantasy, I tend to prefer mine grounded in the real world or else set in a world that doesn’t resemble medieval Europe. I’m not the best mentor for horror, unless it’s more on the psychological side of things. Darker storylines are fine though!

I really love reading perspectives I haven’t read before, as well as familiar tropes or plots told from different angles. Diverse characters are a huge plus, whether or not the story itself is about what makes them diverse (this includes LGBTQ+, disabled, neurodiverse, and virtually any other cultural background). Sci-fi and fantasy stories that inspire my imagination but also reflect the realities of being human (or having emotions that I as a human can relate to if your character is a different type of creature) are just as appealing to me as more familiar historical or contemporary settings.

I WILL PROVIDE:

  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping comments in a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call

WORKING STYLE

I think it’s great practice to learn how to apply feedback from an edit letter, so I expect to send one to my mentee that touches on various aspects of craft, such as plot, pacing, worldbuilding, and character development. Since I can’t help myself from commenting when I love something I’m reading (or when I have questions about a line that isn’t clear to me), I tend to like to add in-doc comments to supplement my edit letter. My comment style trends toward a blend of telling you what I love, those moments I think are working super well already, and constructive feedback, where I point out areas that feel under-developed, confusing, or which may not even be necessary to advance the story.

While not at all required, if you’re a writer who prefers to hash things out via email, Skype/zoom, or the phone, I’m happy to make myself available for you to do so. I’m also up for texting/DMing to answer questions that come up during the revision process or simply to chat as you work on your manuscript.

IDEAL MENTEE

My ideal mentee is someone who is willing to put in the work to improve their manuscript, someone who understands that revision is usually more akin to major surgery than tweaking a word here or there. I’d love to work with someone who’s open to constructive feedback but also comfortable communicating when a suggestion I’ve made doesn’t work for them or align with their vision for their story.

As a mentor, it’s my job to flag anything that feels like it might not be working. I might even offer ideas on how it could be fixed or reworked. But ultimately, it’s the mentee’s job to assess my feedback and move forward in a way that feels authentic to their characters and plot. I’d love to work with someone who isn’t afraid to reach out and ask for help if they’re stuck.

I can’t stress enough the importance of open communication. I have a handful of projects in the pipeline which I expect will keep me busy next year, and I’m under no illusions that my mentee won’t have other things to focus on beyond revising. We can set a revision schedule that works for both of us, but I also hope my mentee can be understanding and flexible if something comes up on my end. Likewise, I hope they’ll feel comfortable reaching out to keep me posted if something on their end impacts their ability to hit any deadlines.

I’d also love to develop a professional relationship and friendship with my mentee that lasts well beyond AMM.

SEND ME:

  • Any and everything LGBTQ+ (think: IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS, IVY ABERDEEN’S LETTER TO THE WORLD, GEORGE, CATTYWAMPUS, KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES).
  • Quieter, more character-focused stories welcome!
  • A novel in verse (in literally any genre). I’ve recently enjoyed BLUE BIRDS and EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE.
  • I love epistolary novels like GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN (bonus points for great autism rep!), hybrid novels like PIE IN THE SKY, and dual points of view like EVERY SHINY THING (bonus points that it has mixed POVs: one is in prose, one in verse). Virtually anything that strays from the traditional prose format is of interest to me.
  • Stories that feature disabled (e.g., PLANET EARTH IS BLUE) or mentally ill characters (e.g., HURRICANE SEASON).
  • Historical novels that highlight a lesser known time period or historical event, such as LIKE THE WILLOW TREE or NUMBER THE STARS. Bonus points if it’s told from a marginalized perspective (magic/speculative elements welcome!).
  • Stories that center POC characters, such as FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME, or faith backgrounds like Judaism, Islam, etc.
  • Coming of age storylines.
  • Nuanced takes on friendship + friendship breakups.
  • Stories with a mystery or puzzle element (e.g., UNDER THE EGG).
  • Stories set in space or on a different planet that still have a character-driven focus.
  • I have a soft spot for vampires (major BUFFY fan over here) and I also like fae-type creatures.
  • Stories that focus on a very small community that feels like a world of its own (e.g., a real-life historical example would be a shtetl).
  • I love characters with interests in unusual hobbies or lesser-known activities/sports.
  • I’m open to any narrative style (first person present/past, third person, etc.) as long as the voice is strong.

The above is just a starting point. If your manuscript doesn’t quite fit into anything on my list, but you think we might work well together, please consider subbing to me!

DO NOT SEND ME:

  • Stories that glorify or justify abuse, violence, sexism, ableism, bullying, queerphobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, etc. (e.g., I don’t want bully redemption arc type plots).
  • Horror. I enjoy and have even co-mentored horror stories before but I’m not the right mentor to work with you on them solo.
  • Epic fantasy (think: LORD OF THE RINGS or GAME OF THRONES) or fantasy set in a medieval western Europe-style world.
  • I love humor, but prefer a humorous voice to gross jokes and hyperbolic slapstick antics.

FAVES

TV shows:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Veronica Mars
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • The Americans
  • Suits
  • Skins
  • Sense8
  • ATLA and The Legend of Korra
  • So You Think You Can Dance
  • Any and every HGTV home buying or house flipping show

YA books I’ve read recently and loved (since I already shared a ton of MG above!):

  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
  • The Silence of Bones by June Hur
  • The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  • I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver
  • Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
  • The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert
  • The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
  • What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter
  • Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
  • Anything by Anna-Marie McLemore

Places:

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Lake Como, Italy
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Literally any ice rink, bookstore, or library

Animals:

  • All of them. Every single one.