Grazia Magazine praised S. V. Leonard’s debut thriller, The Islanders as “A Best Book of 2021” and now her second thriller, The Influencers has just been released and fans are excited! Sarah’s concepts and characters are unique and modern (think Love Island with a murderer incorporated into the mix). Yet the nod to Agatha Christie and her whodunnit theme runs through S. V. Leonard’s stories, making these books deliciously addictive.
I guess because I’ve seen these books being splashed around socials, talked about and praised over, I never even thought of Sarah as being a debut author. She seemed to me like an author everyone knows and talks about, an author who has stamped her foot onto the commercial market podium and been there for a long time. That’s why I’m thrilled to learn how Sarah secured her “bloody fabulous agent” through an avenue not many aspiring writers would know about. It’s a modern, well-suited and quick way to attract the eye of an agent, without having to create and compile the dreaded bundle of query letters, cover letters, synopsis.
How long have you been writing?
I have always enjoyed writing, although it took me a long time to realise that writing novels was something I should try. The first book I ever wrote was when I was about 7 years old and it was about three little, white dogs. I have an extremely vivid memory of it being our (me and my writing partner, also aged 7) turn on the computer to write up our story and I was yapping on about the audiobook. I was obsessed with there being an audiobook.
Skip forward twenty years to 2016 when I decided to write a novel which considering I had never really done any writing before or even seriously thought about being a writer seems a bit ridiculous but there we are. I was living in Kuala Lumpur (somewhere I had moved for work) and I’d had the idea for a YA fantasy novel churning around in my head for a while and one day I just started writing it….on the notes section of my mobile phone, though I eventually moved across to google docs. I had no idea what I was doing or where the story was going or anything.
I got to about 20,000 words into my first novel and thought to myself that now was probably a good time to learn more about writing. I watched the videos of several authors and editors over on YouTube: I learnt about story structure and character and when I made it to the end of my fantasy novel, I learnt about editing. I worked on my first novel for three years and it went through several rounds of revisions, I queried it but didn’t have much luck.
The idea for the book that is now my debut came to me when I was watching Love Island during the summer of 2019. I don’t know what made me think it but I thought how interesting it would be if a killer used that as the location for their crimes. I drafted it in about 3 months and edited it during Lockdown. What happened next will come in the answer to your next question.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
My path to publication wasn’t your average one (if there is such a thing) but it is very modern which is quite fitting with the premise of my books. On my 30th birthday, I participated in a Twitter Pitch Competition called PitMad. I pitched The Islanders, my debut, as a crime novel that all takes place on a fictional reality show where my main character is forced to solve a murder live on TV. That tweet (yes a tweet!) got me my bloody fabulous literary agent (Emily Glenister at DHH Literary) and a two-book publishing deal with equally fabulous editor Siân Heap at Canelo. It was the best birthday present anyone could ask for.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
Siân requested fulls from the off so I sent that to her on 5th September and she emailed me offering publication on 11th September. I remember the moment vividly because I was on the way to the Lake District for my great aunt’s 80th birthday weekend away and as the train was pulling into the station the email came in. I am super impatient so I gave it a quick glance over as I was pulling my luggage from the rack, mainly to get the rejection over with. I nearly collapsed when it was a long email offering publication.
Because I was (am) new to publishing, I was keen to have an agent by my side and someone I could build a career with, I queried Emily Glenister at DHH Literary on 5th October, she requested the full on 9th October and she offered on 16th October.
I started my first (probably never to be published novel) in 2016, I started writing The Islanders towards the end of 2019 and signed my agency and publishing contracts in autumn 2020.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
For my YA fantasy, probably about a hundred and I got around five full requests.
For the book that became my debut, I queried a small amount before PitMad, maybe twenty, and then when I got the offer a few more (as I wanted representation).
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
Step one: Head to youtube and watch ALL of Alexa Donne’s videos on querying. They cover how to write a query, how to write a synopsis, how to query and how to adapt your query if you’re not getting any traction.
Step two: Once you’ve drafted one, get feedback. It is quite easy to do this on Twitter or Instagram if you join the writing community there. Lots of people do query swaps. I recommended getting feedback from more than one person.
Step three: Refine, refine, refine.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I couldn’t believe it. I had received SO many rejections for my first novel and several for this one that when I received Siân’s email I just assumed it was a no. It was strange because I got off the train and my cousins were meeting me at the station. I’d not seen them in ages because of the pandemic so they were chatting away and I found it really hard to focus. When I finally had some alone time, I read the email over and over again, unable to believe it was real. I was convinced there had been some mistake or is was a scam email or something.
I didn’t celebrate as much as I should have which is why I’m throwing myself into celebrating Book 2.
What’s next for you?
My second novel, The Influencers, comes out on 10th March which I cannot wait for, I’m really proud of this book and I am loving seeing early reviews coming in.
I am currently drafting Book 3 though I realise I have plotted two characters’ stories much more than the third (it’s multiple point of view) so I’m currently going over his journey in greater details. I hope to get a good first draft by the summer. Your readers can hold me to account on that!
How exciting! And congratulations on your publication of The Influencers, Sarah. I have added the links to Alexa Donne’s YouTube videos so thank you for that incredible resource. I love Sarah’s tips on joining a writing community via social media to bounce ideas, drafts and feedback off each other. This is a MUST for aspiring authors.
What an awesome and unique journey Sarah has had! And PitMad sounds like a brilliant, quick way to get in there and showcase your talent. You can follow S. V. Leonard here for news about her books and writing.
Thanks Sarah and thanks for stopping by, readers!