Book Broker – An interview with Kat Kerr
Agent: Kat Kerr
Bio: Kat joined Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2019. She graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelors in English in 2009 and is drawn to literary and commercial voices within the adult and YA markets, as well as adult nonfiction. She loves strong, voice-driven works with quirky, heavily flawed characters. She is actively seeking both commercial and literary fiction as well as memoirs and journalistic nonfiction. As a Korean-American bisexual reader and writer, she feels strongly about supporting programs like We Need Diverse Books and has particular interests in own-voices works by first-generation immigrants and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A strong concept and good writing. I’m a highly editorial agent and feel comfortable working on structural issues if I have a clear vision of the author's work and where it can be improved to help a manuscript reach its potential, but the art of writing well is something the author has to deliver on.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
That would definitely have to be where the author spends most of their time telling me how their book is going to make me feel (this story talks about family issues and is full of raw emotion as it explores themes in x,y,z...) versus actually telling me what the book is about. I want to know who the main character is, what they are trying to achieve, and what is standing in their way.
3) What's a typical early warning sign that a manuscript isn't structurally sound?
Poor pacing that can be due to a rushed narrative and chain of events, or from using too many page breaks within a chapter. When this happens in the beginning pages in a manuscript, it makes me think the author is too close to the idea of their story and executing the moments that excite them rather than thinking about their story as an entire journey that the reader will take alongside the character.
4) Are you currently open to submissions, and is there anything in particular you are looking for right now?
Yes, I am open to submissions! I have eclectic tastes but there are a couple of things that I’m particularly hungry for: a gorgeous, heart-wrenching literary story in a similar style as The Leavers by Lisa Ko, and a dark science fiction or near-future speculative with all the twist and art of Black Mirror.
5) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Be prepared, be patient, and be kind. In that order.
Be prepared: not just in making your manuscript as polished as you can or in perfecting your pitch, but also by doing your due diligence in regards to agent research.
Be patient: nothing moves fast in this industry, and it might take time for agents to respond—it’s not just about the size of our inbox. If client stuff comes in, we have to prioritize them over queries and submissions. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be very good agents.
Last, be kind. We don’t just sign books, we also sign people. Being rude and unprofessional is not going to make me want to work with someone, no matter how good their book is.
6) What do you love most about being an agent apprentice, and what do you find the most challenging?
I love being an advocate for books I believe in. I live for the moment I find a manuscript that makes me fall in love with reading all over again and then getting a chance to work with the author and help this amazing story get published and into readers’ hands. The most challenging part of being an agent is learning how not to overwork myself. I have to constantly redefine my goals, making sure they stay realistic, and remind myself that no one benefits if I burn myself out.
7) If you disliked a submitted manuscript but thought it could be a bestseller, would you take it on? (This is a question from one of our Twitter followers.)
I would never take on a manuscript unless I absolutely loved that work, beginning to end, and wanted nothing more than to read it over and over—because as an editorial agent, that’s exactly what I’ll do as I work on it with an author. A manuscript could be absolutely amazing and have bestseller potential, but I still have to be the right agent to champion it.
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