Meet the Agents: An Interview with Sandra SawickaHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent Sandra Sawicka .Sandra joined the marjacq agency in March 2014 after two years of working for UK publishers and a variety of placements with agencies. Prior to that she was studying and completed two degrees – MA in American Literature from Warsaw University and MA in Publishing from Kingston. Sandra’s Agent Hunter page is here, her twitter feed is here and the Marjacq agency page is here!
Q. What books/authors do you love in commercial fiction? (Crime, women’s) Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors.
Erin Morgenstern – Night Circus – I think it’s magical and different to anything I’ve read before.
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes – I have a bit of a soft spot for serial killers in literature, but after a while they all get a bit samey, this though was a breath of fresh air. So original and it all came so well together in the end.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Donna Tartt – Secret History – from the opening line to the very end I was engrossed. The darkness, daring and imagination that went into this book, astonishing. I love the relationship between the main characters too.
Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex – I was always allergic to people saying things like ‘this book will change your life’ – this one did, though. It tackles difficult, sometimes taboo issues of gender and cultural identity in such a tender, warm way.
Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho – dark and disturbing, a biting satire of the 80s, got to love.
Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni – such a great debut, I love the setting, the old New York and the main characters, a contemporary fable.
Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being – I loved the hook for this book, a Japanese lunch box washes up on Canada shore post-tsunami, containing a teenage girl’s diary – I was gripped.
Chad Harbach – The Art of Fielding – I know nothing about baseball, but I still loved it. Quite like Eugenides, Harbach writes literary fiction with broad appeal.
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
Philip K. Dick – Ubik – an old classic from a visionary writer. A great concept and the ever-present paranoia, so typical of Dick’s prose, make it a fantastic read.
Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere – as a Londoner, I love the idea of this other world underneath. Also, strikingly original.
Charlaine Harris – Dead Until Dark – guilty pleasure. I love Sookie Stackhouse and her wit and resourcefulness. Always a fun read.
Stephen King – Christine (and many more) – I think Christine is my favourite out of all King’s books I’ve read, because he takes a ridiculous idea and makes it so damn scary – and that takes a skill.
Laini Taylor – The Daughterof Smoke and Bone – a YA novel set in my favourite place ever – Prague. Also, unlike any other YA paranormal novels out there.
I’m drawn to original concepts and well-constructed worlds. Complex characters, perhaps with a dark streak or a dry sense of humour, are always a plus.
No hard sci-fi, though.
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
I love popular science, so it would be great to find an interesting project in the field, I’m particularly interested in astronomy (but for ‘normal’ people – think Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe), latest discoveries in science, genetics etc.
Fashion and travel (but not memoirs), as well.
Q. And are there any areas of zero interest to you in non-fiction? What would you NOT want to see?
Humour, military, history, body & spirit, paranormal experiences (not sure that’s a genre- but please, please don’t send me your alien abduction stories).
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
I would love something that takes the well-known genre/trope/stereotypical character and twists it inside out. In other words – something new, exciting, but fun and approachable at the same time.
As for genre – I’m always on a look out for good women’s commercial fiction (but not chick-lit), historical and YA.
Q. What’s your biggest turn-off in a covering letter? What would you really hope to see?
I hate when people tell me what the book is about in the cover letter – and then I have the same thing all over again in the synopsis. Cover letter, to me, should be about the author, what they have achieved so far, what they are looking for etc. It’s always a nice touch when I can tell they actually have gone to the trouble of reading up on my interest and it’s not a blanket submission.
Be succinct, but remember this is your chance to grab the agent’s attention, so ‘Please find the synopsis & 3 chapters attached. Kind regards,…’ might not be enough.
Misspelling my surname is a big no-no, too.
Q. What are your biggest peeves in an opening page or opening chapter? And what do you love to see?
Rhetorical questions! That goes for the cover letters too, by the way.
Obviously, something that will draw me in from the first line would be ideal, but I appreciate this is not easy to do. I’d say avoid the clichés, like two people talking in a bar, or someone entering the room. Or a murder. A newspaper article. A dream. The list goes on…
My all-time favourite opening is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
Q. Do you have any unpredictable loves?
Yes! University setting. I don’t care what genre, could be anything, love ‘em all.