In our Query Series, authors discuss the queries that landed their agents, and the agents explain why the query worked. Today, we are so pleased to welcome debut author Susan Adrian and her agent Kate Testerman of KT Literary. Susan's YA thriller, TUNNEL VISION is forthcoming with St. Martin's Press in January 2015, and she's here to share her unique experience of landing an agent.
Susan Adrian is a 4th-generation Californian who somehow stumbled into living in Montana. In the past she danced in a ballet company and worked in the fields of exotic pet-sitting, clothes-schlepping, and bookstore management. She’s settled in, mostly, as a scientific editor. When she’s not with her family, she keeps busy researching spy stuff, eating chocolate, running the Fearless Fifteeners debut group, and writing more books.
When I started querying this book, I wasn't your typical first-timer. I'd had an agent for 3+ years, and had written several books with her, but it just didn't work out. We hadn't sold, and we hadn't clicked on anything except the first book. After I quit writing in frustration with the whole process, I was sucked back in by this book (full story of that on Nova Ren Suma's blog), and I knew it was time to change. So I did a really scary thing. I left my agent, and started querying all over again.
Kate was on my short-list from the beginning. I knew I wanted an agent who handled YA and middle-grade books exclusively, who was really entwined in the kidlit market. I wanted someone who communicated well throughout the whole process—not hand-holding, but I really need to know what's going on in a somewhat mysterious industry, and feel comfortable asking a lot of questions. More, I browsed through Kate's clients, and realized I'd either read and loved or wanted to read Every Single One of them.
But you know what really got me? She has a quote from Madeleine L'Engle on her website:
Madeleine L’Engle once said, “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.” Write for children. Write for adults. Write for yourself. And then, when you’re ready to find a literary agent to take your work to the next level, think of us.
Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite authors all-time, and I've always loved that quote. And that "write for yourself"? That's just what I had done. She was on the list.
I handled queries with a big 'ol spreadsheet, and Kate was in the top tier first-round. I sent out queries on November 9th, and I'm pleased to say that of 9 queries, I had 7 requests for fulls or partials by December. Kate asked for a partial in November, requested the full in January, and offered in March. I ended up with two other offers as well, but as soon as I talked to Kate it was absolutely no contest. Her enthusiasm for the book and her clients sold me. Two years on, with my book coming out next year, I'm still convinced it's a great match.
(P.S.: I only realized when I pulled this out that I spelled her NAME wrong in the header. Agh. It's embarrassing even now. But Kate talks about that below…)
Dear Ms. Shafer Testerman:
As a fan of Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins, I have been impressed with your relationships, and successes, with your clients. I think you might be a great match for my book, THE TUNNEL.
Jake Lukin just turned 18. He's decent at tennis and Halo, and waiting to hear on his app to Stanford. But he's also being followed by a creep with a gun--and there's only one explanation.
Someone knows his secret.
Jake has the ability to tunnel. When he holds a personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, he "tunnels" into the owner. He can sense exactly where they are, like a human GPS, and he can see, hear, and feel what they do. All without the person's knowledge. It's the kind of ability the government would do anything to possess: a perfect surveillance unit who could locate fugitives, hostages, spies, or terrorists with a single touch.
Jake's dad, a Major General in the Air Force, warned him never to tell anyone--that if he knew the government's secrets, they'd never let him have a normal life. But his dad's been dead for two years, and Jake slipped. They found him. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards.
But someone else has found him too. Even the Department of Defense doesn't know who else is after him, but they want Jake's talent, badly. Now his mother and little sister are in danger, and Jake is faced with a choice: protect his freedom and his future, or protect his family?
THE TUNNEL is a YA suspense novel, complete at 75,000 words, that might appeal to readers of Harlan Coben's SHELTER or Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series.
Until recently I was represented by [redacted]. [redacted] and I parted amicably. She has not seen this manuscript.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
So here’s my big deep, dark secret (or not so secret, since I’m pretty loose with it on Twitter): I’m a big nerd. And when I got this query about a teenage gamer, I was intrigued. Of course, diving into the query, there was so much more than just a passing reference to Halo. Susan mentioned several of my clients, and I think people who’ve read them know they’re amazing authors with fantastic grasps on the teenage girl experience, but I’d long been looking for a comparable voice that felt realistic, relatable, and intriguing in a male narrator. Jake had it all, plus a secret power that wasn’t something I saw every day in my query pile. (Thank you for not being someone who could control the elements, Jake!) Reading the opening pages, I knew immediately that Susan could handle both action (the first scene is incredibly cinematic – I could almost see the storyboards as I read it) and character. Jake’s relationship with his sister Myka is truly the heart of the story, and that was evident right away.
Getting into the nitty gritty, I’m often asked if there’s any instant turn-offs when I read a query, and here you’ll see that even though Susan spelled by Maiden name wrong (it’s Schafer, not Shafer), I didn’t immediately reject her! I also loved that she mentioned comparables, but didn’t phrase them as an absolute “if you love this, you’ll love that!” She used “might,” which appeals to my stubborn side. She was also frank about her history in the publishing industry and clear that this was a brand new manuscript. When we spoke, after I read and loved the full manuscript, I was able to get more backstory, but this was all I needed at this point.
And here we are, 2½ years from that initial query, looking at a January 2015 pub date for what is now called TUNNEL VISION. We can’t wait to share it with the world!
Kate Testerman: After a dozen years working in publishing in New York City, Kate moved to Colorado and formed kt literary in early 2008, where she concentrates on middle grade and young adult fiction. Bringing to bear the experience of being part of a large agency, she enjoys all aspects of working with her authors, offering hands-on experience, personal service, and a surfeit of optimism.
Her clients include Maureen Johnson, Ellen Booraem, Stephanie Perkins, Carrie Harris, Trish Doller, and Matthew Cody, among other exciting and acclaimed authors. Kate is a graduate of the University of Delaware’s Honors Program, a former cast member of the New York Renaissance Faire, and an avid collector of shoes, bags, children, and dogs. Her interests cover a broad range including contemporary drama, urban fantasy and magical realism, adventure stories, and romantic comedies. She is an active member of the SCBWI and AAR.
For additional information, please read this Agent Spotlight. (photo credit by Wendy Schott.)
Thank you so much, Susan and Kate!