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PitchFest Interview & Feedback - Kate Schafer Testerman with kt literary

From Diane Holmes, Founder of Pitch U:

A big welcome to Literary Agent Kate Schafer Testerman, better known as Daphne Unfeasible. As the query letters poured in for Kate, we found ourselves asking, “What is this strange power she wields?”  We suspect it’s a strange super power over both wit and words.

Kate will be with us Wednesday morning, giving her feedback in the comments and answering questions between 10:00 a.m. - Noon, Mountain Time.

Please make her feel welcome! 

Meet The Industry Pro:

katephotoName: Kate Schafer Testerman

Company/Title: kt literary, llc.

Length of Time In Industry: 15 years

Professional Affiliations: Member of the AAR, SCBWI

Clients/Titles/Claims to Fame: Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, Matthew Cody, Ellen Booraem, Thomas E. Sniegoski, Ransom Riggs, Josie Bloss, Lili Wilkinson, and more!

When Pitching to Me:

What should Pitch U writers include in their pitch to you? Their query letter?

I don’t want writers sitting reading their pitch out loud to me, no. But I’d hope that they are so familiar with their story that they can tell it to me in a compelling, engaging manner.

Conference Pitch Confessions:

Here’s why I really go to conferences and take pitch appointments:

To mingle with other agents and editors.

Here’s how I wish writers would approach their time with me:

As an opportunity for feedback on their presentation. For the most part, if I like a pitch, I’ll ask for the same material as I would if I liked a written query, which anyone is welcome to send to me. It’s only the truly exceptional pitches that have me jumping right to a request for the first five chapters.

Of the appointments I take…

  • _90__% know their genre/sub-genre when asked (and their pitch reflects that genre).
  • _50__% know how to pitch and give good pitches that impress me.
  • _10__% seem scared out of their gourd.
  • _5__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are due to having a good pitch alone.
  • _1__% of my “Yes, send me something” responses are because I worked hard to get information out of the writer.
  • _50__% of writers are comfortable having a conversation with me and answering questions about their books.
  • _5__% of writers come across as being ready for publication.
  • _80__% seem like nice people despite all other issues.

When I get home…

  • _99.9__% of manuscripts I request are actually sent.
  • _90__% of requests are sent within 30 days.
  • _80__% of the requests sent do, indeed, reflect what I thought the story would be about.

Query Religious Argument:

The title, genre, and wordcount belongs…

  • ___ Before the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • ___ After the book “pitch” paragraphs
  • _X__ Makes no difference to me
  • ___ I don’t read the query first, and that information is a minor consideration
  • ___ Other:

Industry Pro Scenario:

Take us through your process: When you prepare to pitch this book, who are the different audiences you have to “sell” on it?

When I love a manuscript, I like to work with the author to polish it until it’s ready for submission. Once we’re there, I put together a list of ideal editors, based on my previous interactions with them, other titles I know they’ve edited, or things they’ve talked about as being interested in.

Once I have that list together, I’ll discuss with the author, in case there’s any they’d like me to add – say, someone the author met at a conference, or who might have read an early partial of their manuscript.

Once we have the final list, I start making calls. I like to pitch projects over the phone, and then follow up with a written pitch via email with the material. I love being creative with the pitch letter, though I will often look back at the author’s original query to me, and see if it includes any particularly great turns of phrase that I want to use, or paragraphs I may steal whole hog for my letter.

Ideally, that’s all it takes! Sometimes, however, if a manuscript doesn’t sell on an initial round of submissions, we may tweak the manuscript or the pitch to make it even better – and keep going until we have a deal, or an even better next novel to sell instead.


How did you end up where you are now in the publishing industry?

I always knew I wanted to work with books. When I was ready to settle down and find a real job after college, I answered every classified ad for an entry-level position in publishing until I talked my way into a subsidiary rights assistant job. With thanks to great contacts, hard work, and years of experience, I opened my own agency in 2008, and have been going strong ever since!

What are the 3 deals you’re most jazzed about?

I’m tremendously excited for the first book in Maureen Johnson’s new “Shades of London” series, THE NAME OF THE STAR, which comes out in September. Putnam will publish in North America, HarperCollins will publish in the UK, Brillance will do the audio, and almost a dozen other publishers have licensed it around the world.

I also can’t wait for Stephanie Perkins’ follow-up to ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS to be released! LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR comes out from Dutton in September as well, and will be followed by ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER a year later.

And I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on a new deal for one of my current clients that I think is going to be really, really special. More soon, hopefully!

Where can we meet you in person (conferences, workshops, conventions, etc.)?

Because I just had a baby (he’s almost five months old, and is known on the internet as Beauregard Mozark Unfeasible-Implausible), I cut down quite a bit on my travel schedule for 2011.  (From Diane:  Best name ever!)

That said, I will be at Leaky Con 2011’s Lit Day in Orlando in July, and will be doing a workshop for my local Rocky Mountain SCBWI chapter in August. Beyond that, I’m available for conferences, and I love to travel, so please do be in touch if you’re organizing something.

Pitching Insights:

What’s the difference between a book that should sell but doesn’t and a book that actually sells?

I wish I knew! I’ve had some great manuscripts that the author and I both loved, but weren’t able to place. Sometimes it’s timing – maybe I’m going out with something at the same time as another book on the subject, or just after. Sometimes it’s market conditions – when everyone is looking for high fantasy, it can be hard to sell something gritty, or place a contemporary MG when everyone says they want speculative fiction. Sometimes everything can seem to be right for a book to be a huge success, and it just doesn’t happen. If there was one clear answer, I wouldn’t be a literary agent, I’d be a psychic!

Lighten the Mood and Get to Know You:

If you could command any writer (living or dead) to write a book of your design, who would you choose and what would she/he write?

I’d ask William Goldman to finish the sequel to THE PRINCESS BRIDE he teased us with in the anniversary edition!

What’s the wisest thing you’ve ever said?

Always pack an extra pair of shoes.

Who do you admire most in the publishing industry?

This is going to sound like sucking up, because it’s someone I’d love to sell a book to, but Alvina Ling at Little Brown. She’s always made such interesting choices as an editor, but what I most admire is her commitment to her friends. Some of her biggest authors are people she’s known for years, and their careers have grown along with Alvina’s. Plus, I’m totally jealous that she’s working on Laini Taylor’s amazing-sounding new novel!

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