Kate Schafer of kt literary is a literary agent whose clients include Maureen Johnson, Alyson Noel and more. She is also known as Daphne Unfeasible, and she has a great blog. Today, she’s here answering some questions about her job, why writers need agents, her favorite books, and more!
Could you describe a typical day as an agent?
I work from a home office, so my typical day varies from other agents’ who go into an office. That being said, mine starts with checking my email pretty much as soon as I wake up. After seeing if there’s any glaring emergencies, I grab some breakfast, return to the computer, and catch up on my news feeds, which include publishing news, writer blogs, and other sites that may spark an idea. After that, I put together a post for my Ask Daphne! blog, and continue dealing with emails. After that, I may have to prepare a submission or review a contract — both take up a lot of time, so it’s not something I do every day. If it’s a very good day, I get an offer for one of my clients, and get to negotiate with the publisher, consider beginning an auction, or present the offer to the author. I try to keep up to date on my queries as well — although I’d prefer to read 30 at a time then let one every few minutes take me away from other work. After lunch and The Daily Show from night before, if I’m not fielding calls from Hollywood or catching up with editors, I try to dive into the partials I’ve requested, looking for the next great new client. Reading can continue well into the evening, as does checking email. It’s probably not healthy, but email is the last thing I check before bed, too. When you’re talking to people all over the world, an email can come in at any time of the day, and if I can easily respond quickly, I like to do so.
What do you love about your job?
Everything? Can I say “everything”? I love finding new authors, and putting them in touch with editors who love their manuscripts as much as I do. I love being my own boss, and responsible for my own success. I love my clients — reading their blogs, talking them down around deadlines, giving them great news, getting advice about music.
What could you live without?
Failure. Rejections are tough even if I didn’t write the book. I’m still championing it, and I hate the rejection as much as authors do. Also, seeing a book you love and have worked with the author and the editor on for years not do as well as you all hoped is tough too. Everyone wants your book to do well, and when it doesn’t, you have to plan for the next success — because it WILL come. I have to believe in that, or I couldn’t do my job.
How did you get started in this career?
I always knew I wanted to work in publishing, and my first job in the industry was a perfect introduction — working in the rights department of Houghton Mifflin, assisting the people responsible for both adult and children’s, foreign and domestic rights. Besides teaching me about rights (and putting me in close proximity with Curious George), I was working with or contacting people in every other department of the company — editorial, publicity, production, sales, etc. It was a great way to learn about the business as a whole, rather than from one small specific viewpoint. After a while at HMCo., and a brief foray into the rights department of another company, I found my way to the powerhouse literary agency Janklow & Nesbit, which ended up being a ten-year masterclass in agenting.
Do you have any advice for aspiring agents?
Read EVERYTHING you come across. Keep up with the industry trades — subscribe to Publishers Lunch to follow what’s being sold and who’s doing what, and Daily Publishers Weekly for more industry news. Take any job that gets you into the industry, and that you can find a way to make interesting for yourself. Find a niche, and become an expert in something — or at least an educated reference on some specific topic. Keep reading. Make friends and contacts. Have fun.
What makes a book really stand out to you?
I think it’s voice. Lots of times, I’ll be really intrigued by a plot, but be disappointed when it comes to reading the chapters, because the narrative voice didn’t live up to the originality of the plot. Of course, voice alone doesn’t work – it still needs a plot. I think Andrew Karre of Flux said something similar, and I bet a lot of other editors and agents would agree. Sometimes it’s a concept, but I need the voice to work for me as well.
Why do writers need agents?
So they can write, and not worry about contracts, and submissions, and negotiations, and subsidiary rights approvals, and marketing plans, etc. A good agent enables a writer to concentrate on their next novel, while the agent handles the business side of their relationship with their publisher. In this day and age, most editors won’t even look at an unagented author’s material, so we’re needed to get that first read as well. Editors trust that material coming to them from an agent has already been vetted, and if an agent has built up a good relationship with an editor, and has a history of sending strong manuscripts, there’s an extra layer of trust as well that an unsolicited submission isn’t going to have.
What advice do you have for writers looking for an agent?
Do your research, mostly. Use whatever resources are available to you to learn what you can about any agent you’re considering submitting to — the internet, books, other authors. But don’t every trust any one source. I’ve put up a selection of Writers Resources on my site, which my readers have added to. And once you’re ready to submit to an agent, if they’ve provided any guidelines for submitting, FOLLOW THEM! Provide the information they ask for, use spell check, and send the best query letter you can. After that — practice patience, and work on your next novel.
What are some of your favorite books (not by your clients)?
Oh man, there are SO MANY. I love pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman, tear through books by Nora Roberts, usually with tears in my eyes by the time I’m done, love Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES series, have an almost complete collection of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, can’t keep up with Meg Cabot but try my best, adore Kate Seredy’s classics, and have almost a dozen copies of different editions of THE PRINCESS BRIDE.
What books coming out in the near future by your clients are you excited about?
I’m really excited by Maureen Johnson‘s upcoming SUITE SCARLETT, which Scholastic is publishing in May. Maureen’s gotten some fantastic praise from her fellow YA writers, and we think this book is going to be a real blockbuster. Alyson Noel is at work on a paranormal romance that’s very exciting — called EVERMORE, it should be published by St. Martin’s in Winter 2009. She’s also got CRUEL SUMMER coming out this summer (how appropriate!) that is told entirely in emails, text messages, diary entries, and blog posts. And I have a debut novelist, Josie Bloss, whose first teen novel BAND GEEK LOVE will be published by Flux in July.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything you wish I’d asked?
Nope! I think you just about covered it all! Oh wait, there is one thing. If any of your readers have specific questions about publishing, searching for an agent, or anything about the industry, I’m happy to answer their emails on my blog, Ask Daphne! Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much!