Agent Advice: Kate Garrick of DeFiore and Company

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kate Garrick of DeFiore and Company) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agencies.

This installment features Kate Garrick of DeFiore and Company Author Services, LLC. She joined the publishing world in 2000 after earning her M.A. in English & American Literature from NYU and has been with DeFiore and Company since 2002. She’s originally from Jacksonville, Florida, and is a graduate of Florida State University. She also Tweets.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

She is seeking: literary fiction, women’s fiction, short stories, offbeat/quirky pieces, and nonfiction in the areas of politics, memoir, narrative, and cultural/social issues. She does not accept: children’s, young adult, genre fiction (romance, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns), poetry or prescriptive nonfiction.


Briefly, how/why did you become an agent?

It took me two years working as an assistant at an agency, a time during which I investigated the possibility of working in other areas of publishing (editorial, magazines), only to realize I actually wanted to become an agent in my own right. There’s a kind of freedom in agenting—no one’s handed me a mandate or told me to seek out books in particular areas—that, I especially love and would be very reluctant to give up.

Tell us about a recent project you’ve acquired. Title, author, anything notable? How did you know this was a had-to-have project/author?

I recently closed a deal for a novel—The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla—that I’m beyond excited to see in print. As with most of the fiction I’ve taken on, it was one of those projects I just *had to* represent—a sure sign is when I find I can’t stop talking about a book for weeks after I’ve finished reading it.

Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now in fiction and not getting? Any particular subjects that automatically pique your interest when you see them in the slush pile?

I’m not really motivated by subject, particularly in fiction. If the writing’s great and there’s a strong voice, I can get lost in just about any story.

(Do you need multiple literary agents if you write different genres?)

One of the areas you seek is literary fiction. It seems as though, typically, literary works are thought of as “important” works with beautiful writing and envelope-pushing or groundbreaking subjects. What, to you, constitutes a piece of literary fiction? Something different? Anything more specific?

Oh wow, that’s a tough question! In part, I think, because the line between literary and genre fiction is (thankfully) blurring somewhat. Writers like Gillian Flynn and Tana French come to mind: twenty years ago those books may not have been considered literary, while it seems clear now they are, to some extent at least. I suppose I think of literary fiction as fiction that’s engaged in exploring the world in a meaningful way—I’m not sure if that’s more or less specific than the definition you offered.

While we’re on the subject, what are some of your favorite literary titles? Perhaps list 2-3 you wish you’d repped, so potential queriers can get a sense of your tastes?

Of the novels that have been published since I’ve worked in publishing, I’d say Motherless Brooklyn [by Jonathan Lethem], Cloud Atlas [by David Mitchell], and Gilead [by Marilynne Robinson] would be my top three favorites.


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One of the nonfiction areas you represent is politics. Can you expand on that a bit? What are you looking for here? Does the fact that it’s an election year change your tastes at all?

This actually gets me in trouble sometimes, mostly because I’m not terribly interested in representing political screeds. But I *am* interested in the ways we interact with our political system and the ways it can affect us, so something along those lines would appeal to me greatly. It hasn’t landed on my desk yet.

Where are people going wrong in their memoir submissions to you?

Memoir’s become a tough category for me—even though some of my favorite books I’ve sold (Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time [by David Goodwillie], for instance) are memoirs—because 1) it’s become more about the subject than the writing, and 2) it’s harder and harder to shock people with your life story, which is what a subject-based market necessitates.

I should say, too, though, that I’m not terribly interested in being shocked, and so that’s another problem. I’m still open to memoir submissions, but I’m looking for ones that have the same difficult-to-pinpoint quality I’m looking for in fiction—a combination of voice and story that I just can’t turn away from.

(How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.)

According to a profile of you I saw online, you accept short story collections. Is this accurate? If so, what’s the best way to grab your attention here, and how healthy is this market?

I do, but I do so very, very rarely, and generally only when the author is already working on a novel.

What are a few of your favorite industry blogs or Web sites (must-reads for writers)?

I admit I read fewer industry blogs than I used to, but I tend to keep up with Publishers Marketplace and Galleycat. Between the two—and the bookish types I follow on Twitter—I find I’m able to keep up with most everything that’s happening in the industry.

What do you see as the number one thing aspiring authors can do to thrive in publishing?

I’d say behaving in a professional, pleasant way with everyone you encounter on your path to publication is a pretty good start. Obviously, that’s no guarantee of financial success, but it’ll go a long way toward making sure people *want* you to succeed, which is no small part of the battle.

Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

I’ve taken a hiatus from writers conferences for a while.

What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

I have a soft spot for romantic comedies—books and movies (Breakfast at Tiffany’s—the movie—is one of my all-time favorites).

Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

Read, read, read. If you’re an aspiring author, there’s no better how-to than the published works of your fellow writers. There’s also no better way to ensure there will be a publishing industry around to potentially publish your work than buying its product.


This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
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or follow her on Twitter.


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