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!