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.

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