Editor / Agent Spotlight

AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Sarah N. Fisk of the Tobias Literary Agency

Today I’m delighted to introduce Sarah N. Fisk of the Tobias Literary Agency to our Mixed-Up Files readers. Sarah is a former mechanical engineer who made the switch to publishing in 2011. They have worked in the publishing industry as an editorial assistant, author’s assistant, publicist, and art director.

Sarah, who is also an author, is a former Pitch Wars mentor, board member, and Agent Liaison. They host the podcast Queries, Qualms, & Quirks and have a passion for spreadsheets. Sarah is one of the founding members of Disability in Publishing. They were a Pitch Wars mentor since 2012 and an intern at Fuse Literary before joining the Tobias Literary Agency in 2021.


Dorian: Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for being with us.

Sarah: Hi! Thank you so much for having me.


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about the Tobias Literary Agency and your current role there?

Sarah: The Tobias Literary Agency is a full-service literary agency headquartered in New York City with satellite offices in Boston, Nashville, and Fort Worth. We represent established and debut authors. Our client roster includes Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, renowned scientists, historians, Emmy-nominated journalists, celebrities, and Pushcart nominees. We take pride in supporting our clients’ long-lasting careers.

I am an assistant literary agent at Tobias, which basically means that I’m brand new! I started in October and opened to my own queries in January. I’m currently being closely mentored by multiple agents in the agency, as my wishlist spans both the Childrens and the Adult department. So even though I’m now signing my own clients, I have experienced agents checking everything I do and making sure I’m doing things correctly and responsibly.


Dorian: Sounds great. In addition to being an agent, you’re also an author. Can you tell us a bit about your work?

Sarah: Sure! Keeping Her Secret is a YA romance where two girls who shared their first kiss together meet up a couple years later at summer camp and, rather than facing their feelings for each other, they start a prank war. I also write adult romance under the name Aria Kane if you like things a little more spicy!


Dorian: What was your path like to becoming a writer and then an agent?

Sarah: Ha! It’s been a long road. I started taking writing seriously in 2008. I do this with everything, but I took a lot of time to deliberately learn as much about both writing and publishing as I could. I wrote a book that never saw the light of day, another book I queried that didn’t go anywhere, then started querying my debut novel in 2013. In 2014 I signed with my agent and got my first publishing contract and the book came out in 2015. 

Kind of on a parallel path, I became an editorial intern for a small press in 2011 or 2012 and was invited to be a Pitch Wars mentor in the first year. I worked in various publishing roles over the years and stayed with Pitch Wars until last year. In 2019, I started thinking about making the switch into agenting and did my signature long period of research and determining it was the right move for me. Especially with agenting, once you start taking on clients, everything you do deeply affects the writers you work with and I take that very seriously. I started applying for roles that seemed to be a good fit for me and got my first agent role (internship) in 2021.


Dorian: What books inspired you as a child?

Sarah: My parents weren’t readers, so we didn’t have books around the house, so all my books were supplied by school and public libraries. My grandmother taught me to read at a very early age and I was reading at a 5th grade level by Kindergarten. When I was at her house, she would drive me into the city (it felt like HOURS but now I know it was about a 40 minute drive) each week to check out the max number of books the library would allow. She also had many of the Hardy Boys books at home so I read through all of those in one summer. 

I was definitely one of those kids who sat in the back of the class and read, but most teachers didn’t mind because my grades were stellar.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something that resonates so much with me:

“I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library is open, unending, free.”

I remember when I was in college, I kept thinking about this book I had read as a child, but I couldn’t remember much about it. I knew that the main character flew through space on a butterfly made of light. I told my friend, who was an avid reader, but he didn’t know what it was. That Christmas, he gave me a used copy of Heartlight by T.A. Barron! He had done research to figure out what the book was. That was so special to me.


The thing that really clenched it for me was when we read The Giver in 5th grade. It was truly an epiphany for me that books could be about a world so different from our own, but say so much about ours – and that a person not that all different from me could write that!




Dorian: I love that Ta-Nehisi Coates quote. What are some of your favorite more recent middle-grade books?

Sarah: Some of the ones I’ve read recently and really enjoyed are Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart.







Dorian: Are there certain themes or subjects that resonate with you more than others?

Sarah: Yeah! I just put out a #mswl tweet about wanting to see more stories about older sisters who have too much responsibility placed on their shoulders at too young an age. Overall, I’m really drawn to complicated family relationships, especially sibling relationships. I love books that challenge societal norms and books that feature disabled or neurodiverse characters. As someone who grew up in the midwest and small towns in the south, I’d love to see more books set there as well.


Dorian: Besides your job, what is something that kept you busy or entertained during the pandemic?

Sarah: I started doing uv resin, usually jewelry or keychains. It’s fun and I decided early on I wanted it to be a hobby I don’t monetize because I have enough of those! I post pieces I make on Instagram if anyone’s interested.








Dorian: What tips do you have for querying writers?

Sarah: The main thing is read other successful query letters and even back cover copy to find out how others have enticed readers with their story. So many query letters don’t actually tell me what the book is about, or they kind of do but there seems to be no conflict or stakes. Those two elements are very important in a query letter, and they need to be specific. “The world will never be the same again” is not specific enough to make a reader care.


Dorian: Can you provide our readers with links to your social media and podcasts?

Sarah: Yes! You can find out more about me as an agent at www.sarahnfisk.com, but you can go to www.sarahnicolas.com for all my other stuff as well. I’m on twitter @sarah_nicolas and on instagram as @presidentsarah. I also have a lot of stuff on my YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/sarahnicolasya.


Dorian: Thank you so much for joining us here at THE MIXED-UP FILES.

Sarah: Thank you for having me!


Agent Spotlight: Lynnette Novak

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome agent Lynnette Novak from The Seymour Agency to The Mixed-Up Files. We had a great talk about publishing and middle grade books. You can learn more about Lynnette and what types of manuscripts she’s looking for here. In the meantime, take a look at the interview to get to know her even better.


Dorian: Welcome to The Mixed-Up Files! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a literary agent and about The Seymour Agency?

Lynnette: In Canada, I was a teacher and a writer, then I added freelance editor to my titles. When I moved to the U.S. to be with my husband, I continued writing romantic suspense manuscripts and started to final and WIN contests, including becoming a Golden Heart Finalist (RWA) and having two manuscripts final in the Daphne (as well as other contests). I grew my editorial business online and was a mentor in Pitch Wars for two years. That’s what put the “agenting bug” into my system. I loved going through my slush pile, choosing which project to work on, and seeing it go somewhere. Both of my mentees acquired agents and one is now published! My writing career was starting to take off, but I was really drawn to agenting, so that’s the path I decided to follow. I’m so happy I did. I LOVE THIS JOB!!!


Dorian: How wonderful to be involved in so many facets of the book industry. What middle-grade books inspired you as you were growing up?

Lynnette: I loved Judy Blume, as well as many other authors, but she was my go-to.


Dorian: What are some of your favorite recent middle-grade books?

Lynnette: Too many to list! LOL It also depends on my mood. Sometimes, I want to read MG horror. Other times, I’m more in the mood for something contemporary, especially from a diverse author who can offer an authentic voice. I also like cute and funny as well as cool worlds in fantasy and sci-fi. Plus, I’ve recently fallen in love with novels-in-verse and graphic novels.


Dorian: What genres, subjects, or themes would you be thrilled to receive when you open your in-box?

Lynnette: See previous answer. LOL I’m really drawn to an author’s voice above all. Hook me with that, add a unique premise (or a twist to something that’s been done), and I’ll be thrilled!


Dorian: What do you wish writers who query you knew about the publishing industry?

Lynnette: I wish more authors would do their homework before querying. I receive too many queries with word counts that are way under or over the industry standard, which is usually an instant rejection.


Dorian: Good advice! What are some of your hobbies or special interests that aren’t necessarily obvious through your agent profile?

Lynnette: I’m a crafter. I do all kinds of crafts like: cross-stitching, building miniature houses, painting sculptures, diamond painting, scrapbooking, Rainbow Looming, needle felting, crocheting, and more!!! I’m also obsessed with animals and nature!


Dorian: Do you see any changes coming up for middle-grade books in 2022?

Lynnette: Oh, if only I had a crystal ball! LOL


Dorian: I guess that’s what we all want LOL. You mention that before you were an agent, you were an editor. What craft tips do you have for our readers who are also writers?

Lynnette: Learn about GMCs (goals, motivations, conflicts – both internal AND external—and what’s at stake), show/don’t tell, POV slips, talking heads, backstory dumps, pacing, and authentic dialogue.


Dorian: Great tips! Would you like to tell us about any middle-grade books coming out this year from The Seymour Agency?

Lynnette: Marzieh Abbas has a six-book early chapter book series, starring Muslim-American sibling Nadia and Nadir, coming out in the fall of 2022.

Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz’s COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES, a middle-grade anthology including 13 stories about the Jewish rite of passage by: NYT bestselling author Barbara Bottner, NYT bestselling author Nancy Krulik, NYT bestselling author Stacia Deutsch, award-winning author Alan Katz, award-winning author Laura Shovan, award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin, Sarah Aronson, Debbie Reed Fischer, Debra Green, Henry Herz, Jonathan Rosen, Melissa Roske, and Stacie Ramey is coming out in March 2022.

I can’t talk about the other MG deals yet because they haven’t been announced, but for the most part, those will come out in 2023.


Dorian: How can readers and writers follow you on social media?

Lynnette: @Lynnette_Novak on Twitter


Dorian: Thanks so much, Lynnette, for taking the time to talk to us!

Lynnette: Thanks so much for having me! I had a blast!!!




Are you ready to hone your skills in Ready Chapter 1??

Hello Mixed-up Files! Today, I’m sharing with you an incredible opportunity for your writing journey that is taking the craft world by storm (not a stormy night) called Ready Chapter 1.

Ready Chapter 1 begins its inaugural year-long workshop dedicated to propelling writers into publishing in February.

The faculty is an All-star group of writers, agents and editors, including middle grade gurus Jonathan Maberry, Greg Neri, and Henry Neff.

Writer/illustrator Fred Koehler, who facilitates the first class on “Story Ideas the Sell”, is the mastermind behind this new and innovative project.

Here are some thoughts from Fred on the website, www.readychapter1.com, as they prepare to launch:

Writers are the nicest people you will ever meet. There is nothing quite as refreshing as finding yourself surrounded by fellow creatives who are passionate about the same things that ignite your spirit. Any place you find community within the writing world will become a refuge for you, especially as you deepen your roots. Because in those communities of like minded creatives, you discover that you are not alone. Others share your brand of weirdness. And every time you return to your normal life after hanging out with fellow writers will leave you feeling wistful. Like making friends at camp and then having to say goodbye till next summer. 

There are two writers inside each of us, and success requires both of them. The first writer, and the one that comes most naturally, is the pure creative. It’s the one that revels in the descent of the muses. The one that finds joy in the perfect turn of phrase or the plot twist that not even they saw coming. The second writer is the public persona of an author. It dresses up. Pushes past insecurities. Delivers the keynote. Invites others into the circle. Without the first writer, the writing itself will be transparent and shallow. Without the second, your stories may never see the light of day.

You can’t make Luck, but Luck can make you. I have had several serendipitous moments in my writing career to which I can attribute no amount of effort or talent on my own part. There was the TV station manager I met in line at the coffee shop. A month later I was on the CBS morning show. And then there’s the editor who thinks I bear an uncanny resemblance to their firstborn son. That editor always responds to my submissions. The more time you spend putting yourself out into the world, the more chances you will have to cross paths with Luck. And if you have a great manuscript ready when Luck comes knocking–that’s when the real magic happens.

Getting discovered is a dream come true for more than you. Yes, I realize that sounds a little bit like Dr. Seuss but we’re going to run with it. Everyone gets excited about the buzz of a shiny new talent. Publishers love to debut their latest rockstar, fingers crossed for chart-topping sales. Editors and agents build reputations on bringing brilliant books to life from previously unknown voices. And let’s not forget about all of your writing friends who get to dress up for the launch party. When and if it happens, embrace it. You only debut once so enjoy the ride!

Publishing takes its own sweet time. The publishing industry is the grocery store equivalent of that person who gets in the ten items or less lane with 25 items, asks for three price checks, tries to use expired coupons, and then insists on paying with a personal check for the part that the gift card doesn’t cover. Put otherwise, publishing is slow. If you write a story about the latest greatest pop culture moment of today, it will be forgotten by the time your book comes out. So write to trends instead of fads. Better yet, write from your source and ignore everything that is currently popular.

The book is never done until the publisher sends it to print. There are so many times I have thought that a story was (mostly) perfect just the way I wrote it and nobody else better say otherwise thank you very much. The crit group loved it. The agent said it was ready for submission. Editors who got a chapter asked to read the full. The story never would have gotten that far unless it was good. But good isn’t good enough for a publishing deal, much less a publishing success. Be prepared to trust your editor when they say that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps even a substantial revision. Fight for what matters in your story. Rewrite the rest.

If you’re not careful, you can forget why you’re here. If it’s money and fame you’re after, you will never be happy no matter how much money or fame comes your way. But if you create for the simple delight of exploration, letting your curiosity roam free until it hooks on an idea you can elevate to art–you have a lifetime of joy ahead. Everything else is gravy.

In addition to Koehler, Maberry, Neff and Neri, the award-winning faculty contains authors Janice Hard, Lisa Cline Ransome, agents Michaela Whatnall and Joyce Sweeney, and editor Lorin Oberweger and Harold Underdown.

Sweeney, also an author of 14 YA novels, represents a plethora of middle grade authors and will deliver the August workshop on Stakes and Tension for Ready Chapter 1.

Here are some of her thoughts on the website:

For RC1 Academy, you will be teaching Stakes and Tension in August. Can you give us one example of who has done this brilliantly in a book?The last thing I read like that was a graphic novel. THIS WAS OUR PACT by Ryan Andrews. It was non-stop surprises, yet every plot turn was satisfying. In recent picture books, I felt it in DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Le and Dan Santat. In middle grade, Christina Diaz Gonzalez would get the prize from me.

Describe the perfect client. No wait. Describe an imperfect client that you are willing to invest in. Perfect client participates in the process, wants to be an equal partner with me, trusts my business judgment but also holds to their own creative vision, is willing to pivot, revise or do whatever it takes to get to the goal. Is fun to talk to. The imperfect client has all the same traits, but perhaps projects that are harder to sell.

If your goal for 2022 was to finish drafting or revising a novel with a community like Ready Chapter 1, how would you prepare? I would pick a project that I know has a good hook and could sell, regardless of how much work I feel it needs. RC1 is the place to do that work. And I would write down every question I could think of to ask this amazing assembledge of teachers.


Hope this information on Ready Chapter 1 was helpful. To register, visit the website  www.readychapter1.com/ The first class starts Feb. 1 and there are still some spots available.