Book Broker – an interview with Lindsay Guzzardo
Agent: Lindsay Guzzardo
Bio: Through tenures at Amazon Publishing, Guideposts Books, and Penguin/Signet, Lindsay Guzzardo acquired and edited numerous bestselling titles to fantastic customer and trade reviews, particularly in commercial fiction, women's fiction, and romance. Now a literary manager of adult fiction, Lindsay applies her comprehensive market knowledge and keen editorial instinct to identify and nurture exciting new talent for Martin Literary. She will consider any adult fiction with a clear, marketable, compelling hook, and strong voice.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
An intriguing 1-2 sentence pitch, the more specific the better, with as many of the five W’s as makes sense. Avoid generic pitches that say something like, “A story about hope.” (I recommend focus-grouping different pitches with friends, family, and fellow writers—what stands out to them and why? Do you find that one pitch receives more positive feedback than the others?)
One of my clients, M.B. Henry, whose pitch immediately stood out to me was: “D-Day as told from the perspective of five very different women.” I love the specificity and knew this was a fresh take for WWII historical fiction. Her book ALL THE LIGHTS ABOVE US: Inspired by the Women of D-Day is publishing in May.
When I’m excited about the hook/premise, I then look for strong writing and pacing to match. I can tell fairly quickly whether an author has invested time and effort in the craft. The quality of the writing is, of course, critical, but a commitment to the craft also speaks to the dedication of the writer and how our working relationship could go with, hopefully, the eventuality of publishing 1-2 books a year.
I also like hearing that the writer is part of some sort of writing community, has beta readers, and that the manuscript has undergone revisions, whether it’s through a professional editor, mentor, or a critique group—again, demonstrating commitment.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
A basic lack of fluency in publishing terminology—this comes in the manner of little effort being put into filling out the Query Manager form. So many authors do a fantastic/thorough job—it’s an unforced error to fill in “I don’t know” or “N/A.”
Also, if a writer says he/she has been working on this one manuscript for years. It’s fine to revisit manuscripts, but if you’re looking to have a career as a commercial fiction writer, there’s an expectation that you’ll be delivering your next manuscript within a year. Always be working on your next project and build up a stable of manuscripts. I’ve been telling my authors to watch Tick, Tick…Boom on Netflix for this very reason.
3) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?
Southern and Gothic fiction. I’d love an Appalachian setting or a contemporary storyline set at an old plantation with rich, evocative writing to match!
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?
They’re definitely important—anything that can quickly help me “see” the book and have a clear vision for it is an advantage. But it’s also something that I will research as well, so if it isn’t completely on-point, that’s okay. Get it in the right ballpark for me.
Query Manager asks for this field, and what’s difficult to overcome are writers who say “I don’t know,” “there isn’t anything like it,” or “it’s for everyone.” I need to see *some* fluency, some research, some understanding of the genre and the business.
Given how competitive every step is in the journey to publication, it’s imperative to be up-to-speed and knowledgeable about, at the very least, publishing 101.
5) What typically draws you deep into a manuscript? What common snags are likely to break your narrative immersion?
Start in the middle of the action, whether it’s the middle of a party, a conversation, a chase/heist, the hero getting fired/dumped, etc. Introduce clear stakes quickly and raise an intriguing question I want answered. I read many many (many!) manuscripts that start with an “info dump” about the character and his/her life up to the opening of the story. A good test is seeing whether you can cut the first chapter without losing anything—that often can make for a much more compelling beginning. I’ve sometimes had to scroll to the fifth chapter to find the “true” beginning, where the action starts and a compelling question is raised.
By far, the most common obstacle I encounter in manuscripts, more than finding an engaging/commercial voice, is story structure—many writers can craft a strong opening and a strong ending, but the middle devolves into stasis. I see this over and over. Characters are aimless—the tension doesn’t ratchet up at a steady rate, leading to an overall lack of momentum and propulsive drive to the narrative. There’s a lot of fat to fill word count. I don’t feel the *need* to keep reading. One of my favorite phrases is “tightly plotted”—when I find something that’s tightly plotted, I get very excited!
In short, I can tell if a writer is “pantsing.”
The good news is that this is a very common problem that can be fixed. The not-so-great news is that fixing it requires a lot of work. The writers who have a willing and open spirit, who embrace that they might have to go back to the drawing board, and then do the work are the ones who put themselves in a much better position.
I recommend every writer read The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field—it provides great/accessible tips on how to craft tightly-plotted narratives, with satisfying and cohesive A, B, and C storylines that arc at a nice pace, and how to plant early setups for later emotional payoffs.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I wish all the good and worthy books could find homes. There are far more worthy books than slots available, and it’s so hard to let good books go.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
IS THIS ANYTHING? by Jerry Seinfeld—it was fun to revisit his classic jokes. I appreciate the craftsmanship and specific word choices to elevate the humor. It’s truly an art.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
The first books I took on as an agent are publishing this spring, and it’s been an incredibly exciting and rewarding journey to play a part in helping bring them to the world.
THE LAST NIGHTINGALE (March 16) by NYT-bestseller Anthony Flacco. Chilling and atmospheric historical suspense set against the backdrop of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—an honest detective, along with the two orphaned siblings he adopts, tracks a serial killer terrorizing their city
For lighter fare, THE FRIENDSHIP BREAKUP, a mom-com with humor and heart by Annie Cathryn, is publishing February 2023!