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What I’m Looking For: Kate Testerman

KateTesterman200With the recent expansion of KT Literary, all of us here wanted to share a little more about our tastes and interests, so you can better direct your queries and submissions to the most appropriate agent first. Sara, Renee, and I are all looking for young adult and middle grade fiction, so we hoped that by telling you a bit more about what we like (or don’t like), we can make the querying process a little easier. Remember, our most up-to-date submission guidelines are on the website here, but at this time, we are asking that you pick one of us to query at a time.

In general, I think it’s no surprise I love contemporary realistic YA. After all, I represent Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, Trish Doller, and Amy Spalding. That said, in contemporary YA, I find it’s very helpful for your book to have a strong hook. It doesn’t necessarily need a Hollywood tagline, but I find the manuscripts I’m most drawn to are the ones I can simply describe, and not just “When Anna falls in love, it changes everything…” That said, I do also love a dash of something magical or paranormal, like in Susan Adrian’s TUNNEL VISION. Jake’s ability to tunnel is extraordinary, but it’s how Susan grounds the story in realism that makes it work for me as a thriller. In Carrie Harris’ “BAD” series, (slight spoiler alert) what seems like zombies or werewolves ends up with a perfectly rational scientific explanation. I love that! Too often, I think writers turn to the paranormal as a crutch to explain something away. As I mentioned on Twitter, it reminds me of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the horrors of high school were revealed to be actual, literal demons from hell. That was fresh and unique then. Now, almost 18 years later, a fresh take on high school might explore the real psychological underpinnings of the cheerleading squad, or the hazards of tryouts for the spring musical.

I’m also hugely over the Chosen One trope (sorry, Buffy). I’ve seen it again and again and again, and at this point, it just makes my eyes glaze over. I’d love to see another do something different with it, really subvert it, but for now, I’m inclined to pass on every manuscript about a boy or girl who is plucked from obscurity to save a world or a race of people or the multi-verse or or or.

I still want to find a YA novel that really explores the life of a professional teen athlete. Not someone who gives it up due to injury or falling in love, but someone who spends the entire book as an athlete — gymnast, figure skater, tennis player, skier, whatever. The idea of a teen who might be supporting their entire family through their sport, their talents — what does that do to his or her parents? How does that affect her relationships with her siblings, or his interest or lack thereof in schoolwork? I want to know!

As much as I enjoy urban fantasy (some favorite authors include Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett), as I once said, “I’m unlikely to love a traditional high fantasy quest novel — aka, anything I could play out as a D&D campaign. Do your characters all meet up in a tavern on their way to seek a unique item that will help them defeat a big bad? Let me roll up my elven hunter, but please don’t expect me to offer representation. Which is, of course, not to say that great books don’t exist out there that fit those descriptions, but a) they already exist, and b) they’re just not for me at this time.” I also love Jasper Fforde — but if you’re going to offer me a manuscript where storybook characters come to life, or otherwise interact with the main character in a real setting, I need to know how it differs from Fforde’s Thursday Next series, not just have it feel oddly reminiscent of it.

In middle grade, I already represent my favorite superhero series, Matthew Cody’s Supers of Noble Green. The trick in pitching your MG superhero book would be emphasizing the difference. And I’m afraid I’m probably not the best agent for anthropomorphized animals having adventures, at least, not as the main characters. But I am a sucker for a pet dog, so long as you don’t hurt it. And I love mysteries, so long as it’s realistic for a kid to be investigating, a la THE WESTING GAME.

I also love Love LOVE sibling stories. Myka in TUNNEL VISION, Daniel Boone in Trish Doller’s forthcoming THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, Seany in ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: I could read about them, and how they interact with their (older) brothers and sisters all day. What’s the flip side of that? Show me!

In both YA and MG, I’m always eager to find diverse stories with diverse characters, not to fill a quota, but because they represent the world around us. And honestly, if I haven’t listed above what you feel could describe your manuscript, try me anyway! I don’t know what will be my next bestseller until you send it! I never would have thought I’d represent a MG novel in verse, and then I read A.L. Sonnichsen’s RED BUTTERFLY. Give me a shot — what do you have to lose?

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