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Dec 1, 2020

Agent Spotlight Series: Duvall Osteen

 

A warm welcome to Duvall Osteen, a literary agent at Aragi Inc., where she represents a diverse list of award-winning and notable authors. She represents fiction, narrative nonfiction, and select graphic novels. Her literary interests include writing rooted in place, especially the South, multigenerational storytelling, family drama, and literary suspense. Duvall holds a Masters of Arts in Southern Cultural Studies from the University of Mississippi. 

CM: Any noteworthy publishing trends in literary fiction books published in the last five years?
Duvall: You know, I think what we’re seeing in literary fiction, with the push to publish more diversely, is less of a trend and more of a broadening of scope that I hope will last forever. I think the stories publishing now that feel fresh and new have been there all along. Certainly, we represent examples of that, which we are very proud of. Many of our authors have been among those who have paved the way for authors writing about places, ideas, languages, genders; across races and countries – so, if it seems like a trend, it’s been very hard-won, but more than a trend, I think readers are eager to discover newness, and what better place for that than fiction? 

CM: An agent-author relationship is all about the people. What attributes do your best client relationships share?
Duvall: It’s important to me to have a personal relationship with my authors. When we connect personally, it helps me better understand what they need from me as an agent, as we work to build their careers. Some clients like me to be more hands-on, others less so. All of my clients have a good sense of humor, even if the style of humor manifests differently across my list. I think that’s a key component. Also, a mutual trust.

CM: How many authors do you represent? How has your author list changed over time? 
Duvall: I represent roughly 45 clients, but only about half are active at any single time. A few of my authors are professionals in other fields, so they may really only write one or two books. I don’t typically take on clients who only plan to write one book, but in each case, I loved the person and the material so much, I was happy to be a part of the work. My author list hasn’t really changed over time, and I don’t anticipate that it will – I am committed to representing authors whose work I love, and that looks wildly different all the time. You’ll find a lot of diversity on my list, of material and among my authors. I have broad tastes, so I’m always eager to read from a wide variety of voices and styles.

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers?
Duvall: Quite, especially at a macro level. First, I work with authors on bigger picture edits, and edit more via asking broad questions rather than line by line. Of course, there is also a time when focused editing is necessary, and that takes shape based on the individual needs of the book, and the work style of the author.

CM: How do you pitch books to publishers in a world that requires social distancing? 
Duvall: Lots of Zooming about! And occasionally socially distanced walks in the park, when appropriate. BYO-coffee, BYO-wine, BYO-walking shoes!

CM: Name a book you recently read and can’t stop thinking about. 
Duvall: I read Severance by Ling Ma during the second week of March, just before NYC shut down because of Covid. The novel is about many things – but the predominant thread is about a virus that takes over the world, leaving people in a zombie-like state. It was insane timing, and a brilliant, satirical novel. I highly recommend it. 

CM: How important is voice in a query? 
Duvall: Very! A query is the author’s way to introduce themselves and their work, so it should reflect the author’s style, and it should have a strong, succinct pitch for the book. 

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Duvall: That we read at work! Boy, do I wish that were true. It’s not a myth that we spend all day reading, but that day, at least in my house, is Sunday. 

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Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Literary fiction and narrative nonfiction with a strong voice
  • Writing rooted in place, writing that explores interpersonal, especially family relationships, or relationships to the land, the environment, and socioeconomics
What you’re not interested in:
  • Genre books (science fiction/fantasy/romance)
  • Children’s books, young adult books 
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2 Client Examples

    FSG/MCD - 2020
    Delphinium Books - 2019
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    Query Tips

    Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

    Dos:
    • Include a small personal element that shows you’ve researched the specific agent you’re querying – finding the right agent is a huge move in your career, so you want to show you’ve taken this process seriously! 
    Don'ts:
    • Be overly familiar, or comp your book to classics (it’s not Moby Dick, we promise, it’s just not, and for that, we are glad!) 
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    Submission Guidelines:
    Please submit all queries to queries@aragi.net.
    Aragi, Inc. represents a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. We do not represent screenplays. Submitted queries should include a cover letter with your name, a short bio, the title of the work, and a brief synopsis. Manuscripts should be attached as .PDF or .docx files and should be titled in the format “Last Name_Manuscript Title,” e.g., “Ginsburg_Sunset City." You may include a full manuscript or an excerpt of whatever length you choose. We do not accept queries by mail or over the phone.