3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Kate Schafer Testerman (kt literary)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Kate Schafer Testerman (kt literary)

Hi Kate!
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few marketing questions. Before we dive into marketing, give us some facts about yourself.

I started kt literary over a year and a half ago now, after moving to Denver from NYC. My main areas of interest are YA and middle grade fiction, although I also look for great, funny women's fiction, and pop culture nonfiction.

I'm a one-woman shop, so I do it all -- review queries, read submissions, keep up with editors and authors, review contracts, track payments, etc. I have a contracts manager to lend a hand occasionally, and an intern this summer, but what I love about being on my own is the autonomy and sense of control.

If I love a project and want to sign the author, I'm the only one who needs to say yes.

And I love saying yes!

I know you are big into social networking and marketing so tell us more about your web site/blog.

Absolutely! The first incarnation of the kt literary website went live even before we were officially open for business. But since then, we've expanded and revised the entire site. My "web monkey" (AKA Husband), helps with some of the behind the scenes technical details, while I do all the writing and minor updates.

I've also committed to blogging at (Ask Daphne!) every day -- well, every business day -- with posts that range from writing advice, query reviews, news about my authors, or interesting links about the biz.

I honestly don't believe I could do my job, as it's evolved, without the web. My website is my face on the Internet, and without it, I wouldn't have found some of the brilliant authors I've signed in the last few years. Using Twitter and Facebook, as well as my blog, allows me to maintain contact with editors in NY, my authors, and other writers.

I follow you on each of those and am always interested in your interesting advice and honest perspective. Since we're already discussing your online presence, in your opinion, what are the top 3 things every author should do/must do to promote their book?

First of all, write the best book you can. But once you have that, I think the most important things you can do to promote your book are as follows:

1. Have a website that can be easily found. Use your own name, if possible. If that's not available, add "books" or "author" to the URL and see if that's free for you. You can also use your book's title, but that may mean moving things around if you want more than a one-book career. I don't advise trying to get overly creative with your website's name or address -- you want people to find it with the most basic of web searches -- your name and or your book's title.

2. Closely tied with the above, I'm a huge proponent of Seth Godin's advice that your web site must be "Unique, Useful, and Updated." Now, that may mean a blog that you update regularly, but it shouldn't be just a single page that you put up a year ago and then forget about. Keep it alive, not static. As for unique -- well, it's all about you and your books, so that's not something you would find elsewhere. To keep it useful, consider if you can have deleted scenes or extras, like a DVD, that add value to your site, and would tell the readers who find you something they don't get just from your book. Again, it could be an author's blog --consider it behind-the-scenes commentary, if that helps! If you're on Twitter or Facebook, make sure your site has links, and consider a feed that shows your tweets on your own site.

3. Finally, I think you need an open mind. You need to be able to do anything, to be WILLING to do anything to promote your book. I'm not talking about going crazy, dressing up like the characters in your fantasy novel, and shoving to the front of the crowd at the Today show, but be open to any possibilities your publisher and their marketing or publicity team come up with. Take advice from other successfully published authors, and find a way to make their ideas work for you. Talk to professionals, if you can afford it. And know that, ultimately, not everything will work, but you need to be willing to try everything to find the thing that does work for you and for your book. Blogs are not beneath you. Ditto to blog tours. Have you considered being available for Skype readings? Are you putting together a package to offer for school visits? Do it all!

Obviously, you enjoy the social networking aspect because you seem to do it all (Twitter, Facebook, and BLog). But, how important do you feel social networking is to authors?

Vitally important, I think. Gone are the days when an author could write a brilliant book, send it to a publisher, have it published to great acclaim, and then write another while remaining a virtual recluse. OK, fine, not completely gone -- it still works for Thomas Pynchon. But are YOU Thomas Pynchon? Probably not.

Besides using Twitter and Facebook, etc. to add updated content to your website, social networking is fantastic for building a community. It's all right there in the name, really. Social = community. Find other authors in your genre or age range, add your thoughts to their conversations, comment regularly, and you'll find people who want to do the same to you. Not as a tit-for-tat thing, but because you're adding to the community naturally. And authors are fantastic about promoting their fellow writers' projects. I see that on Twitter everyday.

Once you're established, social networks are also the ideal way to keep in touch with your fans. You may not be able to respond to every email or fan letter you receive, but you can tweet daily, and provide some of that back-and-forth with your fans that creates a lasting relationship.

So if you like the idea of social networks, do you feel it is beneficial for authors to team up and promote books as a group?

I think this is a great way to build community. Groups like the Class of 2k7 and subsequent classes or The Enchanted Inkpot, which gathers a group of authors in a single genre, are brilliant ways of drawing attention to the members. You may not be the bestseller among the group, but if you have a bestseller (or a widely acclaimed novel that hasn't yet hit the lists) among you, that increases the number of eyes coming to your site. The more views, the more your star may rise. And it's not just about sales -- one author on a group blog may have a devoted following of blog readers, and will bring that audience to a group blog.

A group of authors can also be a bigger draw for a bookstore for a signing -- or for a panel at a conference. There's a give and take in a group dynamic, a more lively presentation, most times, that can make for a better event. Talk to your publisher about group events, even if you're not on a group blog. Is your book one of three in a publishing season or month that retells a traditional fairy tale in a new way? Contact your fellow authors, and ask about a group event on fairy tales.

I even saw a group signing the other day at Books of Wonder in NYC with multiple authors named Sarah

I had not heard of The Enchanted Inkpot. I'll have to check it out. Since you feel online marketing and social networking are so important, do you ever Google writers to see if they already have a web presence or platform before you take them on as clients?

For me, the first thing is the book. If that doesn't work for me, the greatest website in the world isn't going to make a difference. Now, you very well may get a very different answer from an agent that deals more in nonfiction, where a fantastic platform can be paired with a ghost writer to improve the quality of the work. But in fiction, it needs to be about the text, first and foremost.

I do look for a web presence, or at least an interest in building a presence. An author who's not interested in being online probably isn't going to make a good match with me. If the author already has a blog, and I know I already like their writing, I may go back a few weeks and see what they're blogging about -- making sure they're not over sharing, that their goal for their website is to remain professional.

Some writers think they should post the details of their query process -- I can't advise against this enough. You don't want a prospective agent to come to your site and find the gritty details of your many rejections, or your preference for another agent. Don't post anything you wouldn't be able to show to a prospective employer or business partner -- which is what an agent is, after all.

Sounds like you think being online is critical as long as you do it the right way. So before you leave us, I have to ask (or my readers would kill me :), what are you currently looking to represent?

Within YA and middle grade fiction, I'm pretty open. I love contemporary voices, humor, romance. I would love to find a teen mystery that echoes Veronica Mars, or an urban fantasy that builds a unique world, and doesn't feel derivative. I would love to find a book about gymnasts or figure skaters -- I'm a little addicted to ABC Family's new series "Make It or Break It," and I can't help but think there needs to be a book about those hard core teen gymnasts. I have two superhero novels, so I'm full up there, and I think the trend for vampires and werewolves is nearing its end -- I want the next thing in paranormal, not the already done.

In women's fiction, as I mentioned on my blog the other day, I love novels that get me (in all honesty) hot, horny, and laughing. That’s the trifecta. I feel like Jennifer Crusie is an almost perfect example, but so is a lot of Nora Roberts (without the woman-in-jeopardy storylines). I don't want category romance, and as much as I might read and enjoy historical romance in my free time, I'm not looking to represent it -- unless you're talking about the next Philippa Gregory!

My tastes for pop culture nonfiction are a little harder to define. I enjoy travel essays and snarky entertainment criticism, but I want them to be about more than just travel or snark. I'm not looking for traditional memoirs.

Basically, in all genres, I want a voice that makes me stand up and take notice. Does your book have it? Submit to me and let me know!

Thanks for the insight Kate!

Thanks Shelli!


Anonymous said...

Great interview!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Shelli-it looks like you and Kate could be sisters! Thanks for the interview. It is all such great information. Between this and the last interview, web presence has been really emphasized. Kate, you sound really busy with your one-woman show. Are you planning on expanding your agency in the future and taking on more agents?

Carrie Harris said...

Kate is made of awesome, isn't she?

Oh, and Shelli, stop by and see us at the Inkpot! You'll see a few familiar faces!

storyqueen said...

Thanks for taking the time to interview agents like Kate! Great information.

Shelley with and ey

Susan R. Mills said...

I love your interviews! Thanks for doing them. And thank you, Kate!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I've been reading Ask Daphne for a while so I'm glad you profiled Kate here. Thanks for all the great info!

kathrynjankowski said...

Great post! As a fantasy writer, I appreciate the info on The Enchanted Inkpot (I'd never heard of it either). Thanks.

Christina Farley said...

Great interview with reminders of what we as writers should be doing.

Tess said...

That 'trifecta' has be cracking up!!! Great interview...makes me glad I'm blogging (it's a start, at least).

Hope you had a great b-day weekend! Mine was fantastic. Lots of family and even a nap. Very nice.

Kelly Polark said...

She gives some great advice. And sounds like one busy woman!
Thanks for the interview, Shelli!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

I once got a personal rejection from her. I was touched she responded. Amazing how just being kind can generate so much goodwill. She sounds wonderful and I'm glad things are going so well for her on her own. thanks for the interview, Shelli!

Anita said...

Loved this! Thank you!

Unknown said...

Jessie - It's a very loose, very hazy, maybe long term goal to expand, but for now, I'm very much enjoying being on my own, although I'm being hugely helped by my contracts manager, wonderful intern, and fantastic subagents.

Everyone else, thanks for the kind comments!


Bryan said...

I nominated you for a literary blogger award! YOU HAVE MANY MORE IT SEEMS! Check it out, copy it, and spread it around!

Loretta Nyhan said...

Great interview! And, I agree with the post-er who said you two could be sisters--that's the first thing I thought when I looked at this page!