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An Interview with Karuna Riazi upon receiving an offer of representation.

11/11/2019

Karuna Riazi (ramentic on QT) has signed with agent Thao Le of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The book I queried is a YA magical realism, featuring a strong Muslim heroine who has to break a curse in order to save the boy she loves. I was inspired by too many heart-wrenching Korean dramas (what am I saying, there's no such thing as too many dramas) and my favorite undergrad professor playing old Medieval love songs to us one afternoon in the original Old English.
How long have you been writing?
I have, without exaggeration, been writing stories since around five years old. I have been writing seriously with an awareness of the industry since high school.
How long have you been working on this book?
I have been working on this book, on and off, since 2015. It feels like it's been an eternity!
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I was urged by friends to query mainly because I was hitting a wall with this story and felt like giving up. I was worried there was nothing marketable about it, that I was pouring time and energy into rewriting and revising it over and over only to discover that it was the worst thing I'd ever written...I am glad that they always had my back and urged me to see the good in it when my self-deprecating writer self could only focus on flaws.
Is this your first book?
No; I have two middle grade novels published with Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads. This is, however, the first time I've queried and the first book I've queried with.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have an undergraduate degree in English (literature, though, not creative writing), and am currently enrolled in Hamline University's Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I teach full-time, so currently my schedule is "is this your prep period? Do you have anything else breathing down your neck to be completed? Are your lesson plans in? Quickly, before someone realizes you aren't busy - write!" I am always open to suggestions from fellow teachers on how to make my approach more structured.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
This is the eighth incarnation of this book, which...I think, says everything.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I more had alpha readers who I constantly battered with excerpts and questions of, "Does this sound good to you guys?" They know who they are, and they know that I am remarkably lucky to have them with their love and patience for both me and the book.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I outlined pretty thoroughly, starting with a beat sheet and then fleshing it out. There have actually been as many outlines as there have been drafts of this book.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I guess you could say I was querying for two years! I pitched in #DVPit, got stage fright and rewrote a new draft and then queried interested agents in January of this year.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Since I was already published, I did not query widely. I think it was about 12 names max.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I focused on agents who had shown interest with the initial #DVPit request, that I knew well or had friends who were represented by them that spoke highly of them, and who had good reputations in the industry (including the reputations of their agencies). And then, of course, I also made sure that these agents represented the right genres.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
If I knew the agent and we'd spoken before about my querying them in the future, I mentioned that. I also made note at the beginning if it was something they had actively mentioned looking for in guidelines, or was similar to the taste they have in their client list.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
The best advice I was given by a friend that kept me focused was, "Remember that this is a business, and you are choosing an agent that will be a good business partner and support your best interests." Sometimes, you can feel obligated to query someone because you know them online and since they favorited a pitch, shouldn't you follow up? But if you have that feeling about something shady, you need to put yourself first and do your research, and if it doesn't feel right, step back. Even if an agent is wonderful and not shady, you're only one person who can only pick one agent, so go with your heart and your gut and focus on what you need. Other agents will understand.