Agents and the art of the query

Cathy and I are back from the Association of Writers & Writing Program’s 2022 AWP Conference & Bookfair, held this year on March 23-26 in Philadelphia. We had a blast. Talked into the wee hours of the night, caught up on every aspect of our lives, imbibed an impressive amount of wine—as well as a few martinis.

We also attended some amazing panel discussions in a conference that convened more than 7,000 publishing professionals. We’ll be sharing some of what we learned in a series of posts. There’s no way we could cram it all into one. Panel topics ranged from explorations of voice and point of view in narrative to nailing your first book deal to the role of feedback. And so much more.

First up, we attended a panel titled “Call Your Agent: Finding Representation for Your Writing.” This extremely helpful panel gave some great tips for authors looking for representation for their books. Agents on the panel included:

  • Dana Murphy – The Book Group (handles Y/A, adult, nonfiction)
  • Annie Hwang – Ayesha Pande Literary (handles literary fiction “with teeth” and mission-driven nonfiction)
  • Stephanie Bellman – Trellis Literary Agency – (new agency, handles adult fiction)
  • Duvall Osteen – Aragi Inc. (handles literary fiction, humor, and narrative nonfiction)

Bullets below are not attributed to any particular agent but are a collection of quotes from all of the above. These are the questions anyone querying needs to ask, with answers straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. 

What should authors look for in an agent?

  • Someone you can trust editorially, who will commit to you in all stages of your career. Someone you can get both good and bad news from.
  • Someone who will be your biggest fan, but not a blind one. An agent translates the industry for you. What did that publisher mean?
  • An agent’s job is to know things you don’t.

What are agents looking for?

  • Duvall: I’m looking for a big, loud voice in a novel, a person I’ve not heard before. Less plot, more VOICE.
  • Comparative titles, query letter are important, but sample pages are the most important. It’s an extremely crowded marketplace. We see all the challenges a book might face upfront. Something very fresh and inventive is crucial—a new narrator, new setting, new storyline—all facilitate getting your book seen and read.

How to find an agent: 

  • Look at your favorite books and read the acknowledgements to see if an agent is thanked. 
  • Do your homework. Research agents to find out why they’d be right for you. What have they represented? Why would you fit on their list? 
  • Follow agents who seem like a good fit for your book on social media. You’ll learn when they’re open to queries and what they’re seeking at any given moment.

On the all-important query letter:

  • An effective query letter has three parts: Hook, Look, and Books. The hook gets the agent’s interest, the look encourages them to read on, and books refer to comparative published titles.
  • Look at the agency’s website for submission guidelines: formatting, page count, etc., and follow them! 
  • The VOICE of a writer is the most important thing in a query. Match the tone and voice of the query letter to the tone and voice of your book. 
  • Keep your query brief. Agents read queries quickly. They’re looking for what’s jumping out at them and feels different.
  • If you’ve heard nothing in six to eight weeks, send your query again.

A footnote on comparative titles:

  • Always include comparative titles. This shows respect for both your work and the agent’s time. Comparing your book to others shows you are thoughtful about your work in the context of the marketplace.
    • Comparative titles are books that are kin to yours, that would be in the same section on a bookshelf. 
    • Make sure the comps you give are contemporary novels, not classics.
    • Don’t base comps on plot. How is your WRITING similar? Sometimes that involves movie/TV shows as well, and you can include these, but make sure to give a book comparison, too.
    • Comps let agent know who is going to buy your book. Think of Amazon’s: “People who liked this book also bought…”
    • Don’t say there’s nothing like my book out there—it’s probably not true, and it says you work outside the box. Agents work inside. Even a whiff of this is bad.

What if an agent urges you to revise and resubmit?

  • Be happy! This happens when a book is promising, but an agent doesn’t have time to edit it with you. You need to edit it yourself and send it back.
  • The agent will sometimes take pains to give you specific feedback, so don’t rush back with your revision. Process and digest the feedback. Take your time. Don’t be afraid the agent will forget you.

A final note:  Above all, agents want to see that you’re trying—to position your book, to frame it correctly, and that you’re thinking about how your book fits them and their list. Do your homework, write a polished, professional letter. An agent is your partner in the publishing business, so be a good business partner in return. 

–Query on, friends. Karen

Enjoy some small-town stories

Hey Friends,

I was thrilled to have my novel, Arborview, included in this BookTrib recommended list of novels set in small towns.

Small towns are a genre unto themselves in literature. Please check out some of these titles. Some wonderful writers here, and settings that showcase community, connection, meaning–and sometimes the lack thereof.

Cheers,

Karen

Discuss ‘Arborview’ via Zoom Feb. 10

Hi Friends,

Please mark February 10 on you calendars! I’m hoping you can join us for an upcoming reading and discussion of my novel Arborview. It’s a virtual event, so there won’t be any safety concerns.

The hosting library does a terrific job supporting the local literary community, and there is always a great turnout. Here’s all the pertinent info from organizer Kate Farrish:

If you’re a fan of fascinating female characters and graceful writing, you’re going to want to read Arborview, Karen Guzman’s second novel, and hear her discuss it Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

The Tolland Public Library Foundation is sponsoring the free talk as part of its long-running Eaton-Dimock-King Author Series. In the novel, Guzman, a former Hartford Courant reporter, recounts the tale of two women who face hidden betrayals by the people they love most trying to start new chapters in their lives.

“Told with Karen Guzman’s trademark compassion, Arborview is the book we need right now: poignant, hopeful, and full of heart,” says New York Times bestselling author Michelle Richmond.

To register for the talk, visit tolland.org/library, scroll down to the Online Events calendar, click on it and navigate to Feb. 10 for the Karen Guzman event. Those who have registered ahead of time will receive the Zoom link by email.

Book gifts and reviews: the gifts that keep on giving!

Hi Friends,

We’re wishing everyone the best this holiday season. What books are on your gift list this year? And which ones are you hoping to receive? Please share. I just finished Andre Dubus III’s outstanding Gone So Long, and I’m gifting it to my husband.

In this season of giving, I’d like to ask anyone who has read Arborview to please leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. These reviews have become so important—too important, but that’s another story—and promoters and publishers keep an eye on them. If you can spare a few minutes, I would be ever so appreciative. You can just rate the book and jot a few words. “Nice read” or “enjoyed this” are fine. 

Here is the Amazon link: Amazon

And here’s Goodreads:  Goodreads

Good luck and good health in the new year!

–Karen

New short story debuts in Gargoyle Magazine

Hi All,

This holiday season is off to a great start, from a writing perspective. I’m thrilled to have my short story, Pilgrims, in the new issue of Gargoyle Magazine

Based in Arlington, Virginia, Gargoyle is run by editor Richard Peabody, a fixture on the Washington, D.C., literary scene. It’s such an honor to have my work featured alongside the talented fiction, poets, and nonfiction writers in this handsome volume. This packed issue is more book than magazine, and the range and power of the work is really impressive.

If you feel like kicking back over the holidays with some terrific work, or would like to make a gift to the reader in your life, please consider ordering this issue, and share your thoughts on Write Despite?

Stay safe and write well, friends.

–Karen 

Early book reviews, just in time for Halloween

Happy almost Halloween. Arborview is almost one month old, and I have to say it’s been a fun and productive month. I had a terrific Zoom launch reading hosted by my local library, and I have a few more events scheduled in coming months.

Numerous blogs and promoters have already featured Arborview, and we’ve received some really nice reviews, for which I am truly grateful.

Here are some of my favorite mentions:

A fun author interview with N.N. Lights Book Reviews.

 

“10 Things”, courtesy of Joanne Guidoccio, a fellow Wild Rose Press author.

One  sparkling book review ... and another one from two wild women

And this book spotlight with a nifty little video

Please add your voice to the review chorus. Check out Arborview and tell me what you think? Reviews are welcome on AmazonGoodreads, and BookBub.

Hope all your Halloween dreams come true—the good ones, that is!

–Karen 

Promoting time versus writing time…

Hi Friends!

Well, Arborview has officially been in the world for one week, and the reception has been heartwarming. Thanks to everyone who reached out with congratulations and who is already reading Arborview. Please share your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Eighteen people attended my launch reading via Zoom, which was hosted by my local library, and since then the book has been making the rounds on several Book Launch Blog Tours. 

Here are a couple. One is a little video of Arborview’s sales blurb copy, which tickled me pink. And the other is a fun “Ten Things I Never Expected to Like so Much.”

How am I feeling? Relieved, gratified, kinda tired. Arborview is being marketed much more heavily that my debut novel was seven years ago. All this blogging, and chatting, tweeting and instagramming takes time. Precious time.

Not that I’m complaining! I’m just eager to pour more of myself into my new writing project…which I am VERY excited about. My job as an author now is to divide my time between promoting Arborview and forging ahead on my new project. (Oh, and hold down my full-time paying job and raise my kid!)

Tips, anyone? How do you balance the marketing aspects with the creative aspects of being an author in this digital age? I welcome all advice.

And for anyone on NetGalley, Arborview is listed all this month. Apply to review, if you’d like. You get a free digital copy.

Cheers,

Karen

Launch Day for ARBORVIEW


It’s finally here! Arborview is in the world and officially for sale at a whole lotta outlets. Some lovely flowers arrived from my two best guys–husband and son–to mark the occasion.

Early spotlights are already rolling in from NN Lights Book Heaven and from Sparkling Book Reviews.

Wish me luck at my launch Zoom reading tonight. There’s still time to register, event will begin at 6 p.m. EST.

I’m eager for feedback! Please order a copy of Arborview and share your thoughts with me, or on Goodreads or Amazon.

Thank you, friends, for coming on this journey with me. It means so much

–Karen

One week until launch! Join us via Zoom

Hello All,

ARBORVIEW releases in just seven days! Look what arrived in the mail, my author’s copies. How I love my cover artist.

       

To commemorate the release, my local library is hosting a Zoom launch event on September 29 at 6 p.m. I’m hoping some of you can attend. Just register on the library’s site, and they’ll send you the Zoom link. 

We’ll have a short reading and then a Q&A session. It promises to be a lot of fun. Come, armed with questions for me.

More events are planned, and ARBORVIEW will be popping up on multiple blogs and book sites. Here’s an early guest spot  with some good excerpts. Feel free to Google the book’s title and my name to catch more.  My website will share larger events, as well as the ARBORVIEW buy links.

Can’t believe we’re almost there. It isn’t often you get to see a dream materialize before your very eyes. I’m walking on clouds, feeling blessed. See you on launch day!

–Karen

Pastry, divorce, and some good advice

Hi Friends,

As Arborview’s September 29 publication date draws near, I’m sharing another snippet from the novel. Here, Ellen ponders the state of her life and what—if any—advice she should give to her student Rosa.

Because both Ellen and Rosa are pastry chefs, dessert plays a big role in Arborview. Visit me on Instagram,where I’m sharing snapshots of some of the dishes featured. Please follow, like, and share!

The Kindle version of Arborview is already available as a pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere.

Cheers,
Karen

Here’s today’s excerpt:

This was how she had come to think of herself: a divorced person. She disliked “divorcée,” which Alice liked to throw about suggestively. The word had the faint stink of misogyny, of finger-pointing, the whisper of failure—more so a woman’s than a man’s. Why was that? American men were simply “divorced,” a neutral proclamation. No cutesy French name had been borrowed to designate their failed-marriage status.

And in truth, if Ellen had failed anyone, she had failed herself. This stinging little insight had come to her in Arborview, lying in dappled sunlight, where she was free to look at things and creep near the truth. The truth was she had fallen like a stone to the earth after all these years, and the voice she had learned to ignore had only grown louder. She had abandoned, or at least shelved, herself long before Zach worked up the courage to do it.

She really should tell Rosa: “Don’t worry about what your mother thinks, or your brother, or anyone else. Choose, or the world will do it for you.” This was what the girl needed to hear.