Pointers from the Pros: Q&A with Agent Kate Schafer Testerman

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.  This post is by guest columnist and SWO member Alicia Caldwell.

Back in May, lit agent Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary hosted a picture-prompt contest on her blog, and fellow SWO member Alicia Caldwell tied with another writer for first place.*  This earned Alicia a 30-minute phone conversation with the agent extraordinaire—and Schafer Testerman agreed to let Alicia share some of her tips with us.

Schafer Testerman blogs and Tweets as her alter ego, shoe-obsessed superagent Daphne Unfeasible.

FROM THE CONVO

A.C.: How do you get most of your clients?

KST: From queries or referrals.  Normally, when meeting authors in person, I generally tell them to send me a query and sample pages anyway.

A.C.: Have you ever taken on a client that you weren’t able to get published?

KST: Yes.  But then we would try with another book, and usually that one is successful.  I did have one client that I wasn’t able to get published, and the author didn’t want to keep changing the story.  That client decided to go with another agent.  I haven’t heard that it has been published yet.

A.C.: Do you refrain from telling people you’re a literary agent in fear they’re going to try and hand you their manuscript?

KST: Sometimes, in certain social situations. But I don’t always mind.

A.C.:  What do you get sick of seeing, story-line wise?

KST: There’s only one person in all the universe that can save the world.  If you can tell the story without it being paranormal, then do it.

(She elaborates on this here.)

A.C.: Why did you leave Janklow & Nesbit Associates to go out on your own?

KST: I got married and moved across the country.  I thought about applying for other companies, but I had heard wonderful things from friends who had started their own agencies, so I went for it.  I was able to take a lot of clients with me, so I didn’t have a difficult start.

A.C.:  How long should a synopsis be?

KST: Two to five pages for a synopsis.  You should tell all the pressing action of the book and the struggles the characters go through to get there.  Don’t leave anything out—including the end.

A.C.:  And a query letter?

KST: A shorter query is better because of the number of queries I receive.  It should contain two normal-sized paragraphs and an extra paragraph about you.  Start with why I should be interested in your book—the hook.  At the bottom, enter the word count and title of the book.

A.C.: In following your query critiques, I’ve noticed you’d like us to show you why a reader should care about the characters and what’s original about the story.

KST: It’s a balance.  You need to talk about action, but at the same time, show us what is different about the character.  Harry Potter was another version of the same story about an orphan, but we learned to love the character himself—and that’s what drew us in.

A.C.: You wrote The King’s Sister: A Novel of Arthurian Britain.  Why didn’t you write more books?

KST: I ended up self-publishing that one.  Looking back at it now, I can see why I couldn’t get it published.  There was something missing from the story.

I’ve worked on a couple of other novels and stories, but I decided I want to concentrate on other writers’ careers right now, not my own!

A.C.: Are there any upcoming conferences you will be attending, where writers can meet you in person?

KST: I will be at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in September, and I’m hoping to join the staff of the online WriteOnCon this August.

HER OVERALL ADVICE

Use the Internet and get involved with other writers.  Make connections.

By day, Alicia Caldwell and her husband are "just a para-normal people trying to raise a little monster." By night, she is an aspiring young adult fantasy author out of Utah. 🙂

*Click here to read Alicia’s winning entry.

In the Blogosphere: 5/31-6/4

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

CONGRATS ARE IN ORDER

A few weeks ago, lit agent Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary hosted a picture prompt contest on her blog, and fellow SWO member Alicia Caldwell tied with another writer for first place.  Her entry was certainly memorable.  Click here to give it a read.  This earns Caldwell a 30-minute phone conversation with the agent extraordinaire—and, as Testerman is YA author and writing hero of mine Maureen Johnson‘s agent, color me jealous!   Congrats, Alicia!

The next person I’m opening virtual champagne bottles for is up-and-coming YA author Michelle Hodkin.  Not only did Hodkin score Fox Literary Agency‘s own Diana Fox as an agent a few short weeks ago, but last week, she also landed a two-book deal for her debut YA series, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.  Truly awesome news, and I couldn’t be happier to have met her at a conference last fall or that all her hard work is coming to fruition like this!  Congrats, Michelle!

Dudes--don't forget I knew you when, when "everybody knows your name"!

HOW-TOs

This next post comes from YA authors Lisa and Laura Roecker, a sister duo, who are quickly becoming some of my favorite lit peeps out there.  I mean, not only are they from my humble homeland, Cleveland, but they also crack me up with just about every blog post—what’s not to love?  Here, they give suggestions on how to be perky like Kelly Ripa without becoming a cokehead or a caffeine pill addict like Saved by the Bell‘s Jessie Spano.  What’s not to love?  I, for one, could definitely use perkiness pointers!

Over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing, Martina Boone and Marissa Graff take a comprehensive look at how to craft successful scenes.  Definitely worth bookmarking.

She doesn't look very excited here!

CHILL, BABY, CHILL

I’m sure every writer has experienced the gut-wrenching awfulness when someone reads his/her book.  Will they like it?  What will they say?  Will this change how they view me?  If they don’t like it, does this mean it’s not publishable? In this post, the Rachelle Gardner-repped Jody Hedlund discusses this very thing and gives some insight as to the different perspectives of agents, publishers, and even your grandma as they read your book—and suggests with how much salt we need to take their reactions.

You really like me! I mean . . . do you??

RESTORING MY FAITH IN HUMANITY

Here, the Roeckers are at it again, making me even more of a fangirl with a mere post about how Sex and the City 2 sucked and how the unfortunate flick is a microcosm for why the rest of the world hates America.  I’m glad someone said it!

CONTESTS

In celebration of the awesomeness that is going on with her writing career, Michelle Hodkin is hosting a contest over at her blog.  Check it out!

As well, Inky Fresh Press is running a romance contest—don’t miss your chance to win some great (signed) books by Kate MacAlister and Cherry Adair!