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Success Story Interview - Carmela Dutra

An Interview with Carmela Dutra (CarmelaDutra on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Lindsay Guzzardo of Martin Literary Management.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Carmela Dutra:
A Murder Most Fowl is a cozy murder mystery that unfolds in the Bay Area of California. Amateur sleuths Beth Lloyd and her twin brother Seth run a chicken-themed food truck. Beth underestimates how many speed bumps they will face by signing up their food truck to participate in a reality show. Things go from heated to intense as the elimination round takes on a literal meaning, and a contestant is found dead.
As a dedicated fan of cozy mysteries, I’ve always had this quirky idea about siblings working together to solve something. So, one day while chatting with my grandmother (who is a twin), I thought, why not make them twins and turn it into something enjoyable for others?
QT: How long have you been writing?
Carmela Dutra:
Writing has been a part of my life since high school, but in 2009, I fully embraced it by drafting my first picture book.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Carmela Dutra:
I completed the first draft during NaNoWriMo in 2021. Then I placed the manuscript on a shelf for a short break before I started self-editing. Once I finished revising my work, I sought feedback from beta readers, and completed a final edit before submitting to agents. Then I returned to the drawing board and made additional edits/revisions.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Carmela Dutra:
Feeling overwhelmed by the querying process is a normal thing. Wondering if the effort you're putting in is worth continuing. However, my goal is always to finish what I start, so when I felt like quitting, I prioritized my mental health by taking a brief break. I also reached out to other authors I befriended who had success with querying and talked to them about my feelings. It was a great reminder that we all go through this and to keep pushing forward if it’s what you want.
QT: Is this your first book?
Carmela Dutra:
Before transitioning to the adult market, I wrote and illustrated five picture books.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Carmela Dutra:
Except for creative writing classes in high school, no. I’ve always been a hands-on learner. My first three picture books were published by a now-defunct independent publisher. Following that, I independently published two additional picture books.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Carmela Dutra:
In theory, yes. When my two young boys are in bed, I make time for writing during the evening hours. Being a parent means being flexible, so there are more days than I like where I only get twenty minutes during the day.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Carmela Dutra:
Since my initial draft, roughly fifteen rewrites/edits.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Carmela Dutra:
Yes, and the feedback they provided was very beneficial.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Carmela Dutra:
I made the mistake of writing without thinking ahead, causing more work for me. As a result, I've become a big believer in detailed outlining. At the very least, I think you need to the bones laid out so you know roughly how you're getting from start to finish.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Carmela Dutra:
In April 2022, I started querying this book. But I’ve actively been querying various projects since 2020.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Carmela Dutra:
I queried 266 agents (this number includes agents who agreed to a resubmit), resulting in 27 requests for partial and full manuscripts, and 3 offers of representation.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Carmela Dutra:
Initially, I focused on agents who were known for their speedy responses. I wanted feedback to understand what was successful and what needed improvement. I used Query Tracker statistics to find agents in my genre who were likely to respond within a few days. Having prior experience with querying, I didn’t want to wait months. I also used Publishers Market Place, AALA, Manuscript Wishlist, and #MSWL to search for agents who were looking for something similar to what I wrote. To be frank, if they showed up on the mystery/thriller/crime search, I queried them. I believed so strongly in this book that I figured I should exhaust all my options.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Carmela Dutra:
When I could, yes. Sometimes, I started the query letter as if it were my pet’s querying their pets, asking if their owner could send their owner the full manuscript. That alone garnered me 7 full requests, with agents praising my creative querying.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Carmela Dutra:
Five things:
1. Make certain that your manuscript is actually prepared to be queried. I had my eye on an agent to query, but I found out she would be closed for submissions for at least a year. I told myself ‘If beat the deadline for submitting my query, I can use the time to refine my manuscript.’ That plan completely backfired, horribly. Within hours of my submission, she replied, requesting the full manuscript. In a state of panic, I spent twelve hours working on my novel to make it better. Don’t do this. Querying is already stressful, so adding unnecessary stress to yourself is not helpful. In the end, she didn’t like the comedy woven into my story and passed.
2. Search for agents seeking what you’re writing. Don’t go to great lengths to prove that your manuscript is a good fit for them. If they explicitly say they don’t represent your genre, don’t try to persuade them they’ll adore your writing. The chances of it happening are very low. Reflect on whether you truly want someone to represent you without a full appreciation for your work.
3. Consider paying for Query Tracker Premium. Query Tracker Premium was so helpful for me in identifying agents who were fast responders. I loved tracking their response timelines. This was especially helpful because it allowed me to see if I had already contacted this agent or agency about other projects, and when.
4. Consider carefully before accepting any offers that come your way. I didn’t feel a connection with the first agent who verbally offered representation. Following our initial Zoom call, instead of feeling elated, I recall feeling uneasy. The second agent wasn’t a good fit either, attempting to shape my writing to her liking without listening to what I had to say.
I consider myself fortunate to have been able to engage with multiple agents, particularly through email. I had multiple agents email me about revisions and resubmissions, besides receiving two verbal offers and one formal offer with a contract. Having those email conversations regarding R&Rs was beneficial for me to identify what I wanted in an agent and what wouldn’t work for me. Talking to them, and sometimes the authors they represent, helped me decide on which path to take.
5. Comparision is the killer of joy. Don't look at what's happening for other authors. Focus on your journery. Celebrate all the wins, no matter how small. Sent your first query? Celebrate! Got your first rejection? Celebrate! First partial request? Celebrate! First positive tailored rejection? Celebrate! Celebrate everything and focus on the joy YOU have of writing. Not others.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Carmela Dutra:
Of course! Looking at other query letters from genre helped me learn how to write mine, I'd love to pay it forward. This is the actual query letter I sent out.

Query Letter:

Dear Agent,

Owning your own food truck is killer work, especially when murder is involved.

When twins Beth and Seth Lloyd unexpectedly inherited a food truck from their late aunt, Beth knew being her own boss would be challenging. But it wasn’t until she signed up for their truck Kluckin’ Good to compete in a food truck showdown that she learned just how many speed bumps they would face. Unfortunately, the Lloyd twins get more than they bargained for when the friendly competition turns fierce and someone sabotages the contest. Things go from heated to intense as the elimination round takes on a literal meaning, and a contestant is found dead. Beth and Seth follow the breadcrumbs and become entangled in a twisted case that could put one of them on the chopping block.

A Murder Most Fowl is the first book in a new food truck cozy murder mystery series, full of sharp humor, entertaining characters, and tasty treats with a side of murder. A Murder Most Fowl is a complete unpublished manuscript at 72,000 words and is perfect for fans of Arsenic and Adobo and readers who enjoyed the witty humor in Dial A for Aunties.

I’m a 35-year-old novelist living in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, and an active member with the Sisters in Crime organization. When I’m not playing Dinos with my two sons, you can find me with a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. A Murder Most Fowl is my debut novel and has already won second place in the 7 Hills Tallahassee Writers Association contest for unpublished manuscripts. Before writing my first cozy mystery, I wrote and illustrated five picture books and won ten literary awards and four honorable mentions for my STEAM children’s picture book titles. LITTLE KATIE GOES TO THE MOON, and LITTLE KATIE EXPLORES THE CORAL REEFS.

As a literary agent with a passion for books, I believe your expertise would be invaluable in bringing this story to a wider audience. As an agency who represents an amazing array of books, I believe that A Murder Most Fowl would be a great fit for your agency. It would thrill me to discuss the possibility of working together further. Thank you for your time and consideration. You may reach me at XXX.