During this insider interview on our literary agent blog, Karen Sargent (author of Waiting for Butterflies (Amphorae Publishing Group / Walrus Publishing) shares tips for authors of all genres about how to write, publish, and/or promote a book. Karen also talks about how she worked with Mark Malatesta (former literary agent and former AAR member turned author coach) to improve her pitch materials to get literary agents and publishers interested.
Karen Sargent is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers organization with a Bachelor’s Degree in English-Secondary Education, a Masters Degree in Teaching Rhetoric and Composition, and several years of experience teaching literature and writing at the high school and college levels. Her students have earned publication, scholarships, dinner at the governor’s mansion, and (for 14 years in a row) all-expense paid trips to Washington, D.C. Karen lives in Missouri with her husband and two daughters where she has served multiple terms as president of regional and state English teachers’ associations, and she’s served nine years as an instructional coach for her school district. Karen frequently develops and presents workshops, and she’s presented at numerous state and regional English and education conferences. She’s also received both regional and state teaching awards. In addition, Karen served four years as editor of the K-12 student publication, Missouri Youth Writes. She completed the Missouri Writing Project as a grad student, which is affiliated with the National Writing Project.
Scroll below now to: 1) Listen to the audio interview, 2) Read Karen’s success story, 3) See a description of kare’s book, and 4) Read an excerpt of her book. Click here now to get a copy of Waiting for Butterflies and click here to visit Karen Sargent’s website.
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Audio Interview with Karen Sargent
Author of Waiting for Butterflies
Press the play button below now to listen or click here to download the file (left-click or right-click the link, then select “Save Link As”). This recording is 68 minutes.
“I was thrilled when I checked my email and saw the news that a publisher was making an offer on my book! The Acquisitions Editor met with her partners and they discussed the manuscript because they’d never published anything like it before. But they still wanted it!
My literary start was kind of odd. I found out that the wife of someone I work with had a best friend who was a literary agent, and I had an immediate connection with that agent. I hadn’t written a word of my book yet and she encouraged me through the initial process. Then when the manuscript was finished, I wrote my version of a query letter, which, when I look back on it now, was absolutely ridiculous. Everything I’ve read about query letters since then said, “Don’t do this!” and I did every single one of those things.
My original query was awful, but I didn’t think it would matter because I knew the agent and got to bypass the normal submission process the first go around. That agent took several months to review my book and recommend some revisions. But ultimately, in the end, there were three things they wanted me to change. I did two of them very well I just couldn’t hit the mark with one of them. So that didn’t go any further. Then I really had to dive into the query letter, proposal, and synopsis process for real.
I only sent four query letters out after that, before I started working with Mark. Not many, because I knew that I didn’t know how to write them. I sent them and they weren’t good, but I really didn’t know what to do. So not only was I writing poor query letters, I had no strategy and everything was wrong. Then I eventually pitched the project to an editor at a writing conference, and I used the query that Mark helped me with as a good chunk of my in-person pitch. That editor then asked to talk with me after the workshop and later asked me to send the manuscript.
The query Mark helped me put together made agents and publishers want to keep reading.My first query was too wordy. Agents would have had to read through too many things to get down to the gist of what they wanted to know. Agents don’t have time to wade through all that stuff. Mark’s final query gave them what they were looking for immediately.
I was also shocked and amazed that Mark helped me to get a positive response from a very, very well known New York Times bestselling author who agreed to let me send her a copy of my book for a possible testimonial. I’ve had several exchanges of emails with that author since then. She said my novel sounded like a great story. I was just surprised she took the time to reply at all!
When I first found Mark’s website, I was definitely floundering. I read everything and it felt too good to be true, some guy on the Internet with all the answers. I really wanted to believe it, but I also wanted to make a good decision, a logical decision and not an emotional decision. So I actually contacted some of the authors Mark had worked with to ask them about their experience, if it was worth the money.
I received wonderful feedback and it was the same kind of feedback I’d give someone if they asked me that same question today. I think, when I was trying to decide whether to spend the money to work with Mark, the number one important thing for me was integrity. To me that’s everything. I’m a teacher and my husband is in law enforcement and we’re not wealthy people, and it was a little bit of an investment for me to work with Mark.
I’m in charge of our family budget and I have kids. One of them is is in college and the other one will be one soon. Being a mom you feel selfish if you take a little chunk of the family budget and invest it in something for yourself. That was a real hard decision for me. I even took a little bit of funds out of my daughter’s college fund, trusting I’d make the money back. I had to really make sure that my family wasn’t going to sacrifice in a wasteful way so I could chase what might just be a dream.
The clincher for me that made me decide to work with Mark was the introductory coaching call that I had with him. Listening to Mark’s voice and the things he said, everything was in line with things I already knew or had read or just questions that were floating in my mind and I had no idea what the answers were. Mark had those answers and they made sense. So that first phone call, for me, erased my doubts and questions.
Publishing was such an unknown world to me when I started this journey, but I felt that Mark would be an anchor for me and guide everything in the right direction. It was important for me to have someone who knew the industry, that I could ask questions, and I knew that I could have confidence in him. Mark never led me anywhere or told me anything that didn’t turn out to be exactly what it should have been, or what he said it would be.
Now my whole family is invested in my books. I hardly wash dishes anymore! My husband does it. Everybody in the family has stepped in. They know when I’m writing and working on things and they sacrifice to help.”
Author of the novel Waiting for Butterflies
(Amphorae Publishing Group/Walrus Publishing)
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Book Description – Waiting for Butterflies by Karen Sargent
When a fatal accident takes Maggie Blake’s life before her role as wife and mother are fulfilled, she discovers that a mother’s love doesn’t end—just because her life does. Longing for her family after her death, Maggie becomes a “lingering spirit” and returns home where she helplessly witnesses her family’s spiral downward in the aftermath of her passing. Maggie’s husband, Detective Sam Blake, consumed by guilt from past mistakes, tries to redeem himself. Rachel, her teenage daughter, silently drowns in her own guilt as she secretly believes she is responsible for her mother’s death. Olivia, five years old and full of innocence, is the only one who can sense her mother’s presence. Maggie has limited interaction with the physical world after her death, and she’s restricted by her family’s grief and lack of faith. But she’s determined to keep an important promise and protect her family before her time runs out.
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Waiting for Butterflies Excerpt
Maggie heard the key in the front door and looked at the clock on the nightstand, 1:48 a.m. Nearly twenty-four hours had passed since the phone had jarred her awake and Sam out of bed. From his side of the conversation, she gathered an officer had been shot. “An off-duty detective” was Sam’s only offering as he got dressed, secured his weapon in his shoulder holster, and clipped his badge to his belt.
“Who?” she had called after him, but he was already out the bedroom door. Throughout the day news anchors filled in a few details: an officer, who remained unnamed due to a continuing investigation, had been found fatally shot in his parked car near an abandoned boat dock on the Mississippi. The shooting occurred around midnight, and her only communication with Sam all day had been a text saying he would be home late.
Maggie waited up, tucked into her reading chair in the corner of their bedroom, a leather journal open on her lap. The magnitude of the day weighed heavily on her. Her heart was so full of the agony she knew her husband felt that she was surprised there was room for more. But there was. Earlier in the evening a new grief found a vacant place and crowded in. Maggie prayed she could keep it hidden. Sam needed her now, even though she wanted nothing more than to feel safe and protected in his arms. When his footsteps echoed in the hall, she closed her journal and put down her pen.
“Mags, why are you still up?” Sam lumbered through the doorway toward her. He placed a hand on each arm of the chair and leaned forward, his face inches away. Grey eyes, dull from the late hour, found hers.
“I’m so sorry.” She placed her hand on his cheek, and he pressed into it, resting a moment. “Do you want to talk?”
A sigh rose from deep inside as he pressed his lips against her forehead. “Right now I just want to take a hot shower and collapse.” He straightened with a groan and ran a hand through his tousled hair as he stood. The silver at his temples seemed more distinct, the creases in his forehead more defined.
“You’re exhausted.” Maggie untucked the front of his shirt, unfastened the bottom button, and started on the next.
He leaned his head back and squeezed the nape of his neck.
“Who was it?”
Hesitating as if saying the name would be physically painful, he loosened his tie, unbuttoned his collar, and turned toward the bathroom. “Ricky Simms. And we don’t have a single lead.”
“Oh no,” she whispered as the realization seeped in. Sam blames himself. Simms was the new detective Sam had handpicked for his division. He’d groomed the rookie officer, told him to wear the uniform a few years to make himself a viable candidate, joking that Simms reminded him of his younger self when patrolling the streets couldn’t provide the challenge he sought. And there were no leads. Was this it? Would this be the cold case that ended up in a box coated with dust and pushed to the back of a dark shelf, haunting her husband the rest of his career? Maybe not. It had only been one day. How many times had Sam voiced his disdain at Hollywood’s unrealistic portrayal of police work? This wasn’t a one-hour TV drama. But Maggie knew the first twenty-four hours were crucial.
She reached for the journal and squeezed it, measuring the weight of the prayers she had written inside, some with answers and some still waiting. Certain prayers demanded to be written down. The hustle of the day often made it difficult to settle her mind and left her feeling as if her prayers disappeared quicker than visible breath on a frigid day. But when she needed to explore precisely what she was feeling, thinking, questioning, the journal kept her focused. She picked up the pen and rolled it between her fingers. A tinge of guilt bit into her. Sam should have been the center of her prayer tonight. But he wasn’t. Nate was.
Maggie could no longer shake the weariness that had enveloped her a few hours earlier. Sam started the shower, and as if on cue, sorrow stung her. She tried to blink away the tears, but it was no use. She opened the journal. The words of her last entry blurred.
Lord, I know children are a gift, not only that You give to us, but a gift we give back to You. You allow us the privilege of experiencing the kind of unconditional, all-consuming love You have for us by giving us these little people to raise for You, to someday return to you with hearts that know You. But not when they are only nine-years-old, right? Forgive me, but I just can’t wrap my heart around it, Lord. What is the purpose?
She placed her pen on the page and continued.
How will Nate’s mom get through this? How does a mother watch her little boy slowly lose the battle for his life? How does a mom—
Her hand froze. Did she dare write the words, so visible, so undeniable? Her fingers pushed the pen forward.
—hold on to her faith . . . as she lets go of her child?
The confession weighed on her, crushing her heart, making each beat labored, pounding, painful. To separate herself from her words, she closed the journal and ran her fingers over the smooth brown cover. Her thoughts wandered to morning. She longed to sit on the edge of Olivia’s bed and wake her with a kiss, letting her face linger beside her child’s, breathing in the warmth of her sleep. She imagined Rachel’s morning sounds across the hall, dresser drawers opening and closing, the shower starting, her voice carrying the melody of her latest favorite song above the spray. Then she pictured Nate’s mom. What familiar sounds would be replaced by silence in her morning?
Nate’s mom, a woman Maggie knew only through pictures and a blog she stumbled upon months ago where she learned about their fight for his life. She followed their struggle, celebrating when the news was good, praying when it wasn’t, all the while marveling at the depth of his mother’s faith, her lack of anger, her total acceptance of God’s will. And each week she fell more in love with the little boy whose smile betrayed the disease that ravaged him.
Last week’s post had been a good report: Nate’s blood counts were up, and the doctors were encouraged by the initial results of a new experimental treatment. But today, when the latest post appeared, shock and anguish sliced through Maggie as she read the single sentence his mother had written: “Last night we laid Nate in the arms of Jesus.”
“What are you writing?”
Sam stood in the doorway to the master bath, toweling his hair. His athletic build from the early years of their marriage was still evident despite the approach of middle age. His bicep flexed at the movement, and Maggie longed for the strength of his arms around her. She clasped the journal once more before tucking it into the side table drawer.
“Oh, just … stuff. You know—” She resisted the urge to lighten her burden. Although Sam would want to know about Nate, it wasn’t the right time.
“Stuff? I’ll never get that, Mags. When something bothers you, you write. When something bothers me, I need to hit golf balls or chop wood, work through it.” Sam grabbed her hands and pulled her to him.
“Yes, that’s what you always say.” Her smile was gentle. “But it’s not just writing, remember? It’s praying, too.”
“Yeah, I don’t get that either. But that’s okay. Praying about a problem is your department; doing something about a problem, that’s my department.”
Sam’s arms encircled her waist and her body settled into his. His familiar scent was therapy. Her heartbeat slowed; her tension eased.
“Come on.” He pulled back and kissed her forehead. “Let’s get some rest.”
Maggie slid into bed and tucked herself close to Sam, inviting sleep. But his breathing didn’t ease. While she teetered between both worlds, he was still working the case. Resisting the rest that lured her, she skimmed her fingertips up his arm and across his chest. His muscles were rigid, his whole body tense. “Want to talk?”
“No.” His chest rose and fell. “Yes. If there was something to talk about.”
He was holding back, as he often did, not disclosing information in order to protect the investigation, or maybe to protect her from worry. But he might succumb with a little encouragement. “There has to be something. What’s your instinct tell you?”
“My instinct?” He grunted. “It doesn’t matter what my instinct tells me. It only matters what the evidence tells me. And there is none.”
“Come on, Lieutenant Blake. Trust yourself. You’re good at what you do.”
He shifted from his side to his back and stared toward the ceiling. The investigation reclaimed her husband. Attempting to keep him with her, she traced a path with her finger from his temple, along his jawline, down his neck. The combination opened the vault.
“It doesn’t add up.”
His jaw clenched beneath her fingertips.
“Simms was off duty. He’d worked the day shift with me, and had to be back on at 7:00 a.m. So what was he doing parked at the riverfront so late?” He shook his head. “He was a good cop. I know my detectives.”
She sensed a question in Sam’s statement. “But?”
“But … something’s off.”
He grew quiet again. Maggie brushed her fingers along his temple, imagining thoughts ricocheting inside his head like silver orbs in a pinball machine.
“Ricky was shot at close range, through the driver’s window.” His voice was a whisper.
“A murdered detective, a mysterious gunman. This is Cape Spring, Sam, not St. Louis or Memphis, not some big city.”
“The kind of headline you hear on the evening news somewhere else, right? But it happened. Here. To Ricky Simms.” Sam raked his hand through his hair. “No evidence, no witness.” He turned back on his side and pulled her close. “Does all this make you nervous, scared?”
“A little,” she confessed as she turned her back to him and snuggled closer. But after all these years of being married to law enforcement, I’ve learned I can’t walk around worried every moment you’re at work. It’s not in my hands.”
Sam kissed the back of her neck. “Good. Don’t worry. I can take care of myself. I will take care of myself—so I can take care of you and the girls.”
And that’s all it took. A sob swelled in her throat. She tried to hold back but the tears surfaced.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Come on, Mags. Don’t cry. It’ll be okay.”
“I know. It’s not that. It’s just … well, I don’t want to go into it, but what if something happened to one of the girls? I don’t think my heart could survive.” She’d presented Sam a mystery, a giant leap from the Simms case to this, but she refused to burden him with the details.
“Why would you say that? Nothing is going to happen to Rachel or Olivia. This doesn’t have anything to do with the girls.”
“It’s just been on my mind tonight, and I can’t stop thinking about it.” Her throat tightened, restricting her voice to a whisper. “Losing one of the girls is my biggest fear.”
Sam lay still beside her. She imagined him visiting that horrific place for a brief second.
“I’m so—” she started.
“No.” He shook his head. “We’re not talking about this. It’s late and we’re both exhausted.”
His arm tightened around her. “Nothing is going to happen. Our girls are healthy and happy and safe. And we’re both here to make sure they stay that way.”
“Promise?” Maggie said.
Karen Sargent is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers organization with a Bachelor’s Degree in English-Secondary Education, a Masters Degree in Teaching Rhetoric and Composition, and several years of experience teaching literature and writing at the high school and college levels. Her students have earned publication, scholarships, dinner at the governor’s mansion, and (for 14 years in a row) all-expense paid trips to Washington, D.C. Karen lives in Missouri with her husband and two daughters where she has served multiple terms as president of regional and state English teachers’ associations, and she’s served nine years as an instructional coach for her school district. Karen frequently develops and presents workshops, and she’s presented at numerous state and regional English and education conferences. She’s also received both regional and state teaching awards. In addition, Karen served four years as editor of the K-12 student publication, Missouri Youth Writes. She completed the Missouri Writing Project as a grad student, which is affiliated with the National Writing Project. Click here now to get a copy of Waiting for Butterflies and click here to visit Karen Sargent’s website.
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