Book Broker – an interview with Kate Garrick
Agent: Kate Garrick
Preferred genres: Literary fiction and upmarket fiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction, science and the environment, history, current affairs, and education.
Bio: I’ve been an agent with the Karpfinger Agency since 2015. Before that, I was an agent and contracts director at DeFiore and Company for thirteen years. I grew up in Northeast Florida, and I got my B.A. in English Literature from Florida State University and my M.A. in English and American Literature from New York University. I lived in New York for more than twenty years, but I’m now based in Portland, Oregon, where I live with my family.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
There’s a certain confidence I think unites many of the projects – particularly the fiction – I’m drawn to. It’s not cockiness, but rather a clarity of intention, which I find comforting as a reader. It’s a little like being in a car with a good driver: you know you’re going to get where you’re going safely, and so you can rest easy in enjoying the view. I think this sort of confidence is the je ne sais quoi so many of my colleagues – and my editor friends – yearn for, and it’s hard to say where it comes from. I think it’s a combination of innate talent and a real sense of *why* you’re writing the book you’re writing, but there are undoubtedly other factors involved. On top of this, I’m always drawn to a new perspective – in fiction and non-fiction – which I find to be a really important part of how I end up positioning a book to editors. There really are only so many stories we tell as human beings, and so it’s always been important to me as an agent to find writers who are coming at those stories from new angles.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Oh gosh, the warning signs frequently present themselves long before I get to the manuscript. It’s often really obvious if someone hasn’t done any research into the sorts of books I represent. I’m not saying that means they’re necessarily not ready for representation, but it’s usually not a great place to start. I ask for the first five pages of a book along with the query, so I’m biased on this particular point, but I do think it’s important to make those pages as polished as possible. I’ve had writers complain that their particular book doesn’t take off until later, but the fact of the matter is that everyone’s going to start on page one, so why not make sure page one is as great as possible?
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
I’m strongly in favor of personalization. This is a business that runs on personal relationships, and it’s good to start as you mean to go on. I really do think the most effective way to personalize a query letter is to find a book I’ve represented that’s in the same wheelhouse as your own and then mention that in your letter to me. Extra points if you read the book and it actually is in some way similar to your own.
4) How much importance do you give to comparable titles in a query letter? How do they help you assess whether a manuscript is a good fit for your list?
Notwithstanding my answer above, it really depends on how accurate and recent the comparable titles are. It’s wonderful if you’ve written something comparable to A Confederacy of Dunces or Rabbit, Run, but those don’t tell me much about how your book fits into today’s market, and while I will say I don’t think I’ve ever passed on a book because of the comp titles, outdated ones serve as something of a red flag.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
To be honest, this is usually the paragraph I care about least. Of course it’s nice if an author has prior publications, but it’s invariably no guarantee of anything when it comes to the manuscript. I suppose my advice here would be to focus on the most relevant parts of your bio – if some part of your life overlaps with the book you’ve written, that’s a good thing to know – and to keep it brief.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
While I’m really excited to see how the changes that have been made in the last year will resonate throughout the industry in the coming years, I have to say it still feels like there’s a stink of ivory tower-ness hanging on us, and it’s that more than anything I’d love to see undone. I think there’s a tradition in publishing of valuing prestige above nearly all else – prestige in prizes, sure, but in MFA programs and publications and even the universities where our assistants got their bachelors degrees. I’d love to see publishing embrace a wider range of perspectives across the board, and I think that won’t truly happen until we can see beyond someone’s CV, whether they’re an author or an employee.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I have been having the hardest time reading actual books for pleasure during this pandemic, and I hate it. A book I listened to on audio that I loved, though, was The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, which is about matsutake mushrooms, the destruction of old growth forests, and capitalism. It was one of those books that sort of sneaks up on you, but it’s so brilliantly observed and full of incredible insights, I listened to all eleven hours of it in two days.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Claire Boyles is set to publish her debut story collection, Site Fidelity, in June, and it just makes my heart sing. The stories are mostly set in Colorado, and, in the words of Pam Houston, who gave us a wonderful blurb, they “feminize the myth of the American West” in order that we might have a road map for survival. As a recent transplant to the West myself, I so value Claire’s insight and dedication to place.