Kat Kerr

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. Kat feels strongly about supporting programs like We Need Diverse Books and is passionate about creating space in this industry for those from historically marginalized communities. She is actively seeking to grow her client list and is particularly hungry for magical realism, literary leaning speculative and science fiction, women’s fiction, YA works with a lot of heart, and narrative nonfiction with something to say.

Why did you become an agent?

I came to agenting by actually starting out as a writer. My whole academic career was based around honing my writing craft and, like many, fully believed that I was going to graduate, work a day job, write the next great American novel, not knowing anything about how to actually get a book published. When I did finally finish writing my first novel and started doing research into the publishing process, I learned about what a literary agent does and something clicked for me. I really enjoy being an advocate for books I love and I knew I wanted to be a part of helping manuscripts become books and getting them into readers’ hands. While I do hope to continue to write, my passion for being an agent is unequivocable. I love working with my clients and being part of helping make their dreams come true.

What does daily life look like for you as an agent?

I think the life of a literary agent is a lot less glamorous than people think it is, lol! It’s a lot of wearing my pajamas while reading submissions, working on client projects, and consuming unhealthy amounts of coffee. I typically try to break my day up into segments, with my clients’ projects taking priority.

What do you like the most about being an agent? What is most challenging about being an agent?

Working with my clients is the best part of my day. I love being their advocate and really helping them in their creative process. Whether it’s unknotting a stubborn plot line or bringing depth to a character’s emotional journey, the ability to see their creative visions and work with them puts me in the best position to advocate for their work when it comes time to going on sub. As for the most challenging part of being an agent? It’s a bit hard to say. Like any job, there will be ups and downs and publishing is no different, but I would have to say that currently, while living through a pandemic, it would be managing the work-life balance. 

How does being an API affect your job?

When I first decided to go into publishing, it was tough for me to convince myself to just go for it. My cultural upbringing was highly traditional. My mother came from a traditional family and she upheld certain ideals, particularly for Asian women, which was to go along with the status quo and not to challenge it. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t create waves. If I must speak up, do it gently. Be modest and humble. Always do for others and put myself last. Be strong, but in a quiet way. 

I love my culture. I love my family. And I have a lot of respect for my elders. But a love for heritage and traditions doesn’t negate my desire for progress. It’s okay to be ambitious and want things. It’s okay to take up space. It’s okay to shine.

Without the understanding of nuance, these traditions and mindsets are used as reinforcement by this society to uphold systemic racism and the “model minority” myth. 

And so, as an agent, that’s something that I’m constantly aware of, within myself and within the stories I want to champion. I choose to use my position in this industry to uplift stories that don’t go along with the status quo but challenge it. Stories that will rock the boat. That will create waves. 

I think it’s important for me to clarify that just because this was my upbringing doesn’t mean it’s the same for every other API out there. No community is a monolith and we deserve to have all parts of us represented. 

What is on your #MSWL? What kind of stories are you looking for, particularly from API creators?

I am always hunting for stories within the API community that involves body-positivity, LGBTQIA identities, and addressing the mental health stigmas still strongly held by our communities. Whether it’s an issue-driven plot or something that exists in the peripheral, these are all topics that really strike a chord with me and that I would love to see more of. 

What’s the most important thing to you in a query letter? 

I think it’s important for a writer to remember that their query letter is their first impression to an agent. It should be professional, with a concise but intriguing pitch, and tell me a little about themselves as an author. The first thing I look at in a query letter is the pitch for the work and evaluating whether or not the core concept for the manuscript is something I’m into. From there, I evaluate the sample pages to see how the writing checks out.

What do you look for in a Twitter pitch?

Regardless of whether it is a Twitter pitch or query pitch, I always want to know who the character is, what they are trying to achieve, what’s standing in their way, and what’s at stake. With social media, using comparative titles is a great way to concisely convey the feel for an author’s work, but they aren’t always necessary. The most important thing for me is, again, understanding the core concept and determining whether that is something I would be interested in.

How many new authors do you sign annually?

I have to admit, I don’t normally keep track. It’s usually depends on how many projects I’m juggling at the moment and what I find in my submission inbox. I currently have seven clients whose projects I’m super excited about and I’m still in the process of building my list!

What are the trends in the industry at the moment? How do you think creators should navigate these trends?

Trends are so hard to navigate as well as predict! My best advice for creators is to not keep them in mind during their creative process. Think about how long it takes to write a book, and then land an agent, and then sell that book, and work on that book with a publisher before it even hits the shelves. It takes time. And, within that time, the market will come and go. Instead, focus on telling the best story you can tell.

What are the Dos and Don’ts for creators when querying an agent?

Do follow up with nudges if the agent has listed their response times anywhere, especially if there is a change in status! Unless an agent specifically states that no response is a no, then you are fine to follow up. But, also be mindful that many agents are far behind in their reading currently. Empathy and patience will go far. 

Don’t pitch on social media unless it’s during a designated pitch contest. Each agent has their own system for accepting queries and, given how large some of our inboxes are, pitching an agent through any other venue can actually prolong response times. 

Do be professional and courteous in your query letter as well as online. 

Do make sure that you have your query letter, synopsis, and sample pages/requested pages ready to go. Unless you are pitching a non-fiction work, you should always have a completed manuscript when querying. 

Do you have any advice for API creators when choosing an agent?

Think about the type of relationship that you are looking for and what you hope to get out of your agent. Doing research ahead of time is good and very helpful, but if you don’t have access to a writer’s group or whisper network and the agent you’re looking to query/accept representation from doesn’t have much of an online presence, you can always have a list of questions ready to go during an offer call to ensure that the agent you sign with is going to be a good fit for you. The most important thing is for you to get out of the relationship what you need as an author. 

After signing, what does the relationship look like between you and a client? How often/how do you communicate? What can a client expect?

I like to think of myself as a pretty accessible agent. I always want my clients to feel free to come to me with anything; whether it’s scheduling brainstorming sessions, or having general questions about the industry and how it works. I am an editorial agent, so I work with clients on editing their manuscript prior to going out on submission, and I’m a big believer in transparency. 

What is one thing you wish querying API creators knew before sending their query letter?

Be bold. You got this.