Sarah Kapit is an author of middle-grade fiction. Her debut novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, was published by Penguin Random House in February of 2020, receiving three starred trade reviews. Sarah’s second novel, THE MANY MYSTERIES OF THE FINKEL FAMILY, is coming in March of 2021. In her previous life, Sarah earned a PhD in History from UCLA. She lives with her family (including a goofy orange cat) in Bellevue, Washington.
I started writing books around 2015, after finishing my graduate degree and not getting an academic job. That disappoint gave me the push to pursue a lifelong dream that had previously seemed out of reach.
My first book was a YA historical fantasy that was, in retrospect, a mess. I proved to myself that I could finish something, but I had no idea how to revise it to make it coherent. So I didn’t even try to query it.
For my next manuscript, I switched to middle-grade and found that my voice was more of a natural fit there. I entered AMM Round 2 and was selected. My wonderful mentor taught me a ton about how to revise and critically evaluate my own work.
I started sending out queries for my new and improved book. At the same time, I started working on a new project. I just had a feeling that this new book was better than anything I had written previously. With my AMM mentor’s encouragement, I entered it into Pitch Wars 2017. I got in and once again learned a ton about revision from working with a great mentor.
Although I did Pitch Wars, I was not one of those people who got an agent offer three days after the agent showcase. I got an average number of requests, and none of those agents ended up offering. So I sent out about 50 queries and eventually received three offers of representation. I signed with my first agent almost three months after Pitch Wars ended. We went on sub with that book and sold it to Penguin in spring of 2018. That book is GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! (Then it released a month before a global pandemic–that’s another story.) My second book is coming out in March of 2021, also with Penguin. THE MANY MYSTERIES OF THE FINKEL FAMILY was sold as an option book to my editor.
My first agent recently left agenting, so I had to find a new agent. I just signed with Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown.
This is my fourth time mentoring for AMM. I have also been a Pitch Wars co-mentor twice, including 2020. My Pitch Wars 2019 mentee is now agented and an AMM mentor for this round. I have had critique partners go on to become published middle-grade authors.
I stay in contact with my mentees and am very willing to provide feedback on additional manuscripts if they want it. I know from my own experience that the AMM book might not be “the one,” but you’ll still learn a ton about writing and revisions that will serve you in the future. I care a lot about providing my mentees with strategic advice on querying, pitch contests, and publishing decisions. Writing for publication is both a business and an art, and my mentoring reflects that.
It’s no exaggeration to say that being selected as an AMM mentee changed my writing life. For the first time in my life as a fiction writer, I had someone who believed in my abilities as a writer. That was a major boost to my confidence. Even more importantly, my mentor showed me how I could revise my work and make it better. Without the mentorship I received in AMM and Pitch Wars, I might not have ever learned how to really revise a book from the ground up.
I want to pay it forward to other writers by offering them the same kind of guidance. It can be really overwhelming to revise a book on your own. An edit letter points you in the right direction and provides the necessary tools to get started. I find it incredibly rewarding to see my mentees improve their writing with my guidance. I am honored to play a role in my mentees’ improvement in their skills, though all of their success and general awesomeness is entirely their own.
I strongly believe that writing is one of those skills that requires you to constantly level up and learn new things. Critiquing others’ work, much like reading, is one way to indirectly develop writing skills. And it’s something that I very much enjoy doing!
Mentorship helped me to become the writer that I am today. I want to help others develop their skills as a writer and better achieve their creative vision.
As a mentor, I am tough but encouraging. I may ask my mentees to make pretty significant revisions, with an eye towards improving skills and preparing a manuscript for querying. I never want my mentee to make a change that doesn’t feel right for their book, but I do ask them to remain open to different possibilities.
My work as a mentor continues throughout the querying process and beyond. I want to be there to strategize, commiserate, and otherwise help my mentees get through what can be a pretty difficult industry. Writing for publication is hard, but it is so much more enjoyable with guidance from someone who has been there.
Voice is key to me when selecting a mentee. When I see a manuscript that nails that middle-grade voice, I get very excited. I love fun, commercial stories with well-defined characters.
- Magical Realism/Fabulism
I am looking for contemporary, fantasy, and science fiction stories. Across all of these genres, I want to mentor a book with a strong voice and memorable characters. I am not the best fit for serious, issue-driven contemporary books.
For fantasy, I am looking for fantasy with a real-world setting, whether that be contemporary or historical. I am not the ideal mentor for secondary world fantasy. Contemporary stories with just a hint of magic are also great. These stories may fall under the umbrella of magical realism or fabulism, although it is important to note that magical realism comes out of specific cultural contexts.
Some MG tropes I love: boarding school, found family, quirky families, twists on fairy tales, kids learning how to be friends despite big differences between them, first crushes.
I WILL PROVIDE:
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
- Freestyle in chat
The way that I mentor varies a little depending on my mentee and what their manuscript most needs. Usually, I begin by giving my mentee a pre-revision assignment. I may ask a list of questions, or ask my mentee to write a reverse outline. We might brainstorm new plot ideas together. This really helps mentees to get into the mindset to begin major revisions.
Next, I send an edit letter. I typically break my edit letter down into several big sections: plot, character, worldbuilding, and writing. For each section I will provide my thoughts and offer some possible suggestions for improvement. I always make it clear that my suggestions are only possible solutions. If my mentee has another idea for improving their work, fantastic!
If my mentee has any questions about the revision letter, I’m happy to talk it out with them. Once they’re feeling good about the revision plan, I let them get to work. (Though of course I’m happy to answer questions, serve as a sounding board, and offer encouragement from the sidelines!)
I read my mentee’s new draft once it is complete. Usually, I have some additional suggestions for how to make it stronger, if my mentee would like them. I am willing to read additional drafts. Usually, my editorial feedback gets lighter the more we work on a manuscript together.
When my mentee is ready to query, I provide suggestions on their query letter and advise on querying strategy.
I want to work with someone who is eager to improve their writing abilities and willing to put a lot of work into their revisions. They should be open to feedback and making major changes to the manuscript, if necessary. It is totally okay to not know exactly how to fix a manuscript, and it is also okay to disagree with me! But I want my mentee to at least be open to exploring different possibilities.
Self-awareness is an asset as a writer, so I’d like for my mentee to have some idea of where their strengths are as a writer and where they’d like to improve.
My ideal mentee really loves middle grade. If they don’t already read recently-published middle grade books, then I would like for them to be open to reading more of them and learning about this (awesome) field of kidlit.
I am looking for contemporary stories, fantasy, and science fiction. I love a strong middle-grade voice and memorable characters.
In general, I prefer fun, commercial middle-grade. For examples, take a look at my favorites list. If you can comp your book to anything on my list, please send! Basically, I want books that kids want to read–books that will leave them smiling. I am not the best fit for books where the dog (or a parent) dies.
Here are some elements that I’d particularly like to see–though I am definitely open to concepts that don’t appear here.
- Disabled main characters written by disabled writers (including neurodivergent characters)
- Stories exploring complex family relationships
- Unlikeable female characters
- LGBTQ+ main characters
- Jewish fantasy
- Exploration of cultural mythologies that have been underrepresented–something that would fit in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, or a literary approach such as WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER
- Kids with strong interests–think STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! or IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHINS
- Sports stories that aren’t just about sports (think GHOST)
- Stories in epistolary format
- Outer space adventures
- Any kind of historical fantasy
- Whimsical magic (like LOVE SUGAR MAGIC)
- A new twist on old fairytales and folktales
- Contemporary stories with just a touch of magic (such as THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, written by my critique partner)
- Stories that blend fantasy and sci-fi elements (like SAL & GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE)
- Reality TV or a wacky competition of some kind a la THE CANDYMAKERS or THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK
- Exploration of real life kid issues using a science fiction or fantasy concept (such as WE’RE NOT FROM HERE)
- Body positivity
- Politically involved kids (think SOMETHING TO SAY or STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN)
- Anything that offers the same kind delightful fun as the Enola Holmes Netflix movie
DO NOT SEND ME:
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Death of a parent as a major plot point during the novel
- Greek/Roman mythology
- Books written in verse
- Stories that center around solving puzzles
LOVE SUGAR MAGIC by Anna Meriano
THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ by Adrianna Cuevas (my critique partner!)
SAL & GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE by Carolos Hernandez
NEVERMOOR by Jessica Townsend
STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! by Jessica Kim
IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHINS by Nicole Melleby
STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN by Jennifer Torres
WE’RE NOT FROM HERE by Geoff Rodkey
THE BEST AT IT by Maulik Pancholy
THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK by Ali Benjamin
THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN by Brandy Colbert
DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy
THE CANDYMAKERS by Wendy Maas
LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE by Donna Barba Higuera
WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF by Sarah Allen
SOMETHING TO SAY by Lisa Moore Ramee
WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae Keller
Classic middle-grade: BALLET SHOES, HARRIET THE SPY, A WRINKLE IN TIME, ANIMORPHS
Recent YA and adult books:
GIDEON THE NINTH & HARROW THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir
SPOILER ALERT by Olivia Dade
YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson
TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW by Rachel Lynn Solomon
THE DEVOURING GRAY by Christine Lynn Herman
RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston
THE KINGDOM OF BACK by Marie Lu
THE MIDNIGHT LIE by Marie Rutkoski
OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin A. Reynolds
THERE WILL COME A DARKNESS by Katy Rose Pool
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie Dao
SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novick
LOCK IN by John Scalzi
WAYFARERS series by Becky Chambers
THE EXPANSE series by James S.A. Corey
TV and movies: The Good Place, Gilmore Girls, Great British Bake-Off, The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix Babysitters’ Club, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Parks & Recreation, Knives Out