Agent Advice: Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary

Agent Interview by
contributor Kerrie Flanagan 
“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary) 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 agents.

Kate Schafer Testerman with KT Literary. After nearly ten years with industry powerhouse agency Janklow & Nesbit Associates, Kate formed KT literary in early 2008, where she concentrates on middle grade and YA fiction as well as diving into some adult commercial fiction and narrative nonfiction. Bringing to bear the experience of working with a large agency, she’s looking forward to concentrating on all aspects of working with her authors, offering hands-on experience, personal service, and a surfeit of optimism.

She is looking for
: “
brilliant, funny, original middle grade and young adult fiction, both literary and commercial; witty women’s fiction; and pop-culture narrative nonfiction. Quirky is good. Please note: at this time we do not represent picture books.”

 

GLA: How did you become an agent?

KST: Perseverance, and being given a chance. I was working in the foreign rights department of a literary agency as an assistant, doing my job as it was required, but always eager to take on more responsibility.  Over time, I was promoted to handle foreign rights on agency titles on my own, and as I did that, I also continued to volunteer to do more, especially in the realm of kids books.  Eventually (and yes, this whole process took about nine years), I signed clients of my own.

GLA: What misconceptions do people have about agents who don’t live in New York?

KSTVery few, I find! I hear more and more lately about agents that aren’t located in New York. With technology such as it is, it’s almost easier today for me to stay in touch with people 1,600 miles away than a few years ago, when I was only six blocks away. One thing I do come across sometimes is when authors think if they live in Colorado, they need to have a Colorado literary agent. There’s benefits, I guess, but I don’t consider an author’s location when deciding to sign them. And as an author, I wouldn’t worry too much about an agent’s location either.

GLA: What do you do to stay in contact with editors/publishers when you are back home in Colorado?

KST: My best tools? Facebook and Twitter! That, and regular e-mails and phone calls to check on submissions, and catch up on anything new and exciting.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

KST: I just placed a YA novel with vintage photographs with Quirk Books. The author, Ransom Riggs, is an amazing photographer, with a a long history of interest in found photos—this novel will place that interest in the character of a young boy who discovers “orphaned” photos—in more ways than one.

GLA: Do you have any exciting news to share about current clients?

KST: I do! Maureen Johnson’s forthcoming series about a British ghost police force has been sold in Germany, France, and Italy, with pending deals in two other territories!  Plus, we’re thrilled to be working again with Brilliance Audio on an audio edition of the series.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?

KST: Fantastic middle grade novels. I feel like my cup runneth over a bit in terms of the quality and quantity of YA submissions I receive, but I would love to see more great middle grade novels, particularly those you’d call “boy books.”

 

GLA: What are you tired of seeing?

KST: Guardian angels, vampires, werewolves, and the over-used idea of a main character who suddenly discovers they’re the only one in the world (or multi-verse) who can save X.

GLA: You represent mostly middle-grade and YA, but on your website you say you are open to some adult fiction. What does an adult fiction novel have to have for you to say yes?

KST: I think it would need to be compulsively readable and character-driven. In my free time, I love reading Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie and Sophie Kinsella—they write characters that I become emotionally involved with, and plots that make me keep turning pages. Plus, humor.  It’s got to be funny—or at least have a sense of humor about itself.  I feel like I gravitate right now to characters in their late 20s or 30s—not just the wife and mom who’s looking to make a fresh start because of something that happened, but bigger idea books.

GLA: What is a common mistake you see in the middle-grade/YA submissions you receive?

KST: In queries, telling me what happens without spending time allowing me to invest in the character. Without that connection, I don’t care what happens. I also hate being told that that everything out there in the market is bad, or that the author couldn’t find anything good to read, so they decided to write a book themselves. It’s insulting to me and to my clients.

 

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GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where people can meet and pitch you?

KST: I don’t have any scheduled at this point, but if any of your readers are organizing conferences, I’d love to be considered. I’ve meet several clients through conferences, and really enjoy going to them.

GLA: What is something about yourself writers would be surprised to know?

KST: I’m not sure there’s anything they don’t know already! I put a lot of myself on my website, blog, and Twitter feed, so writers who follow me already know I used to work at a Renaissance Faire, belong to a coed bowling league, am going for my White Belt in Nia, and have a serious crush on Nathan Fillion. I guess one thing I don’t speak too much about is my own interest in writing. It’s on the backburner right now while I concentrate on building kt literary and working with my clients, but some day I’m sure I’ll focus on it again. I think having some experience as a writer myself helps me be a better agent.

GLA: When writers first contact you, what do you want them to send and how?

KST: In a query, I ask for a letter pitching their book and a little about themselves, plus the first three pages of their manuscript. If I like that, I’ll ask for the first five chapters and a full synopsis. If I like that and still want to read more, I’ll ask for the full manuscript. I’m always amazed when someone thinks they have a better idea of what I want to see than I do. But seriously, five non-sequential chapters from somewhere in the middle of your book aren’t it.

GLA: What advice do you have for new writers?

KST: Read everything you can get your hands on!  Read novels in your genre, read books about writing, read author blogs.  And know that just finishing a manuscript, while a personal triumph, doesn’t mean your novel is ready to be shopped.  Learn to love to edit, and find a critique group.


This agent interview by Kerrie Flanagan,
director of Northern Colorado Writers and
a freelance writer. Visit her blog, The Writing Bug.

 

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  2. Elizabeth Kaylene

    I’m writing a book right now and am planning on pitching it when it’s finished. This was a huge help in preparing me for how to do it. Thanks so much for posting this, and thanks to Kate for taking the time out to answer these questions!

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