Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Category: Agent Kristin

5 Qs Authors Don’t Ask but Should When an Agent Offers Rep

In the last two weeks, we at NLA have offered representation to seven authors, most of whom received multiple offers. All agents are aggressively seeking new talent right now! It’s awesome to talk to savvy authors who have a list of good questions prepared for their initial conversations with prospective agents, questions like:

• What is your communication style?
• How would you describe your dream client?
• What is your editorial vision for my work?
• What would your submission strategy for this work be if you took it on?
• What happens if my project doesn’t sell?
• Are you open to me writing in different genres?
• Can I chat with a current client?

All these are questions you should ask; you definitely want your agent to be a good personality match and share your vision for your career. But you also want that agent to be your best advocate and protect your business interests in the publishing industry. With that in mind, here are five key questions authors should also be asking, but in general I never hear:

1) What is the average duration of a contract negotiation at your agency? At NLA, average time is three or four months, as we’ll stand firm on key clauses until a compromise is reached. We don’t rush it. If a publishing house has recently revamped its boilerplate contract, then that timeframe can more than double, as we’ll have to negotiate the boilerplate contract first, and then negotiate your specific deal.

2) Will I be involved in seeing the original offer and then the final offer from the Publisher? NLA always shares with our clients the details of the first offer and what we negotiated to create the final offer. Clients are always invited to participate in the process and weigh in.

3) Will I have a chance to review the original contract from the publisher as well as all the requested changes documentation, and then the master redline of the final contract I’ll be signing? Can you walk me through any contract clause that I might not understand? At NLA, we share all this documentation, whether clients want to read it or not, so that clients are 100% confident that their deal and contract have been fully negotiated. And I’ve spent many an hour on the phone or Skype, combing through contract particulars with clients to make sure they’re completely comfortable with what they’re signing. Most agencies simply forward on the final contract for signatures, and that’s it.

4) Do you regularly audit royalty statements? How much money has the agency recovered by doing so? At NLA, we’ve recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for our authors because we regularly catch errors when auditing their royalty statements. And we catch errors in almost every accounting period—that’s how frequently it happens.

5) How many non-agent support staff are at your agency? This is important, as it’s very hard for an agent to do all of the above, and do it well, without significant assistance from non-agent support staff. At NLA, we have three agents and a team of six in-house non-agent support staff to protect our clients. Most agencies have a lot of agents and very little, if any, support staff. The agents are expected to be independent silos and handle all of the above plus all agenting duties. It’s not possible to juggle all that without letting stuff fall through the cracks.

Bonus question to ask if you are feeling bold: What percentage of your clients make their living solely from writing? If you ask me this question, I can truthfully say that 95% of my clients earn their living as authors—meaning they earn enough money to support themselves without a secondary job or support from a partner.

Back in the crazy days of the late 2000s, there was a popular agent, active on social media, who landed a lot of clients, posted some sexy six-figure deals, and then disappeared. I ended up taking on a former client of this now defunct agent/agency and realized, to my horror, that the author had been signing boilerplate contracts with no negotiated changes. The agent hadn’t negotiated a thing! The author was new to the business and had no way of knowing the agent wasn’t doing the job. Even though that agent looked hot from the outside, s/he had actually done very little to protect the client’s interests.

You can make sure that doesn’t happen to you. This is your career. Ask the above 5 Qs. After all, these aren’t the sexy tasks, but they do affect an author’s bottom line. Don’t feel uncomfortable or worry that you might insult the agent. If an agent becomes defensive when asked legitimate questions, then chances are that agent isn’t right for you.

Stay smart, savvy, and shrewd. Check out my “What Makes a Good Agent” article series on Pub Rants. You are your own best advocate.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Chris Potter


2016 End of Year Stats!

 

Wowza, did last year fly by! I was just getting used to writing 2016 on documents, and now I have to switch to 2017. In any case, it’s time for our end-of-year stats:

2 new agents at NLA (Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Burby come on board!)

39 career New York Times bestsellers (up from 37 in 2015. So close to being able to say “more than 40.”)

59 books released in 2016 (25 print releases, 9 reprints, and 21 digital releases)

new clients (lots of exciting news to share soon)

30,000+ queries read and responded to (estimated)

92 full manuscripts requested and read (up from 87 last year)

project currently on submission (just happened!)

86 foreign-rights deals done (down from 99 last year, mainly because I only took on one client in 2014): 17 in Asia, 3 in Brazil, 10 in Mexico/Latin America, and 56 in Europe

TV and major motion picture deals (one not announced and yet and the other, sadly, was cancelled half way through the negotiation, much to our dismay)

50 print runs for my longest-selling title, Jamie Ford’s HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET—which originally published in 2009. Up from 46 just last year. The Energizer Bunny of novels with millions sold!

conferences attended (which includes Y’ALL West, RWA, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Honolulu Writers Conference)

Millions of units sold of bestselling series, which had a 10th-anniversary edition in 2016—yay Gallagher Girls!

Millions of units sold of bestselling individual title. WOOL just keeps finding new readers.

Millions of units sold of two bestselling series—yay Marie Lu!

140 physical holiday cards sent

713 electronic holiday cards sent (up from 539 in 2015)

Not telling it’s so embarrassing eggnog chai lattes consumed during November and December (I actually tracked them this year, and that just made me less likely to share the actual number.)

Lots of late nights reading on my living-room chaise with Chutney (that old dame just keeps getting more snuggly with every year)

All great days loving my job!

Welcome to the new New Year!

Photo Credit: Richard Grandmorin


NLA Welcomes Danielle Burby

 

As announced on Publishers Weekly, NLA is pleased to welcome two new agents: Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Burby.

I was always the class bookworm, but, for some reason, I spent most of high school convinced that my future was in Broadway. In fact, I felt really bad for the English teacher who told me she thought I was destined for a career in books because she was so very wrong. Turns out she knew me better than I thought! Of course, looking back, the fact that I never left the house without a minimum of two books (the book in progress and at least one backup) should probably have tipped me off.

I double majored in creative writing and women’s studies at Hamilton College (both “impractical majors” that have been incredibly practical for me) and figured out that creative writing classes do a really great job of honing your editing and critiquing skills. After internships at several top literary agencies and publishers, I spent four years at New York based literary agency and began building a client list before moving to NLA in January 2017.

I primarily represent YA and MG along with very select mystery and women’s fiction. I look for a strong narrative voice and a cast of characters I want to spend time with (which doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be likeable!). Something all of my clients have in common is the ability to sweep me up in their writing and make me grateful for a chance to spend time in their worlds. When I finish a novel and immediately want to thank the person who wrote it, I know I will have the enthusiasm to fight tooth and nail for that author.

Click here to check out my Manuscript Wish List.


NLA Welcomes Joanna MacKenzie

 

As announced on Publishers Weekly, NLA is pleased to welcome two new agents: Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Burby.

I owe my love of books to the librarian of my childhood bookmobile, who, after I had worked my way through The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High, lifted the velvet rope and let me in to the grown-up section, where I discovered V.C. Andrews. And to my father, who gifted me Cat’s CradleWuthering Heights, and One Hundred Years of Solitude for my 15th birthday.  In 2002, I got my start in publishing at a Chicago-based literary agency. While there, I successfully placed numerous manuscripts that have gone on to become critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling novels. I love working with authors who embrace the full publishing process (read: love revisions) and am committed to the stories my clients want to tell both with the words they put on paper, as well as with the careers the build.

I am excited to join the Nelson Literary Agency team, and to expand my list in both adult and YA. I’m looking for the epic read that, at it’s center, beats with a universal heart. In particular, I’m drawn to smart and timely women’s fiction, as well as absorbing, character-driven mysteries and thrillers—both, ideally, with a little edge. I have a weird obsession with, what I call, “child-in-jeopardy lit” and can’t get enough kick-ass mom heroines. On the YA side, I’m interested in coming-of-age stories that possess a confident voice and characters I can’t stop thinking about. Originally from Poland, and by way of Canada, I’m all about narratives that deal with the themes of identity and the immigrant experience as well as those that delve into all aspects of the relationships that make us who we are—parents, siblings, best friends, and first love.

Click here to check out my Manuscript Wish List.



What Is Your Magic Number?

All aspiring writers want their magic number to be one.

The first novel a writer ever wrote is perfect from conception.

The first novel lands a literary agent.

The first novel is so awesome, it immediately sells at auction.

The first novel is published to great fanfare and much commercial success.

The dream-come-true of overnight success. Well, I’d like to tell you something about that. Overnight success is a fabrication created by media outlets because it makes for a good story.

Ninety-nine-percent of the time, overnight-success stories are fiction. Most of these stories don’t divulge that the author ghostwrote ten novels for other people, or wrote three of their own novels that are tucked away because the author was working on craft.

In real life, what is the magic number—the number of novels written before a writer gets picked up by an agent, sold, and published?

I’ll tell you right now, it’s not one. If you poll a large number of authors and ask them how many novels they wrote before their first one sold, and then if you average the numbers they give you, my sense is that you will land right around four.

One of the truths I highlight at writers conferences is that for more than half of my clients, I passed on the first project they sent me. It wasn’t until they sent me a later, more mature work that our agent-author love match bloomed.

Why do I tell you all this? If you’ve just completed your first novel, awesome. Celebrate this huge achievement. But it doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t sell, or if you independently publish it and it doesn’t get much traction.

Keep on writing. Your magic number might be two or six or ten. My guess is that if you are passionately writing with ten novels under your belt, success is just around the corner.

Photo Credit: Andy Maguire


Why It’s Dangerous To Think That “Diverse Books” is the Latest Hot Trend

Just recently, PW published an article in which agents shared their thoughts on children’s books and YA trends. Although I’m quite tickled that so many agents are seeing lots of submissions featuring diverse characters, it’s dangerous to consider diversity the latest YA trend.

I’m sure I’m not the only agent who can say they’ve been repping diverse authors/books since day one. It certainly didn’t take a trend for me to sign those books and authors (for example, Kelly Parra’s awesome MTV Book Graffiti Girl in 2007, Kim Reid’s memoir No Place Safe in 2007, and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry in 2008). But I can say this: unequivocally, before #WeNeedDiverseBooks became a rallying cry in April 2014, selling in a diverse author/book was tons harder to do. I have my submission logs to prove it. It often took me about 12 to 16 months of grim determination to find a diverse book a home.

If diversity is now hot enough to make the selling-in part a lot of easier, trust me, I’m all for it. Yay! Finally! But I absolutely do not want diversity to be considered a trend in young-adult literature, and here is why: If something is a trend, then it can go out of fashion just as quickly as it came in. And quite frankly, that would be a travesty.

The blunt truth is that selling a diverse book is a perfectly normal thing to do in publishing. So my rallying cry? Agents, new and old, even when diverse books become harder to sell, as they inevitably will (in publishing, trends of every kind have always come and gone), keep on keeping on.

Diversity is not a trend. It’s simply here to stay. This is the new normal.

Photo Credit: Ahmed Alkaisi


Why I Can’t Tweet My Manuscript Wish List

If you’re a writer on Twitter, you probably know that #MSWL is a popular hashtag. It’s how lots of agents and editors broadcast their submission wish lists.

I love it! But I can say with complete certainty that I’ll never post a #MSWL list. Why? Simply because I honestly don’t know what I’m looking for until I start reading it.

Case in point: When I read Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY in manuscript form, never in a million years would I have posted to #MSWL that I was looking for a young-adult novel set in the American West, with two female protagonists—one Chinese, one African American—on the run and cross-dressing as boys to disguise themselves.

Yeah. I don’t think that would have come up.

But the minute I started reading, I knew I had to have that book. And thank goodness Putnam Children’s agreed with me.

So here’s the plain, honest truth: I have no idea what I’m looking for until the voice of a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go.

Just recently, I sold two science-fiction novels—DARE MIGHTY THINGS and THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. Both, oddly, feature a competition at the heart of the story.

Ha! If you’d asked me whether competition stories were on my wish list, I probably would have said no. Popularity of The Hunger Games and all.

But once Emmett got a hold of me in THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS, I was 100% in. And in DARE MIGHTY THINGS, once Cassie Dhatri convinced me that competing for the opportunity to be an astronaut was cooler than competing for a prince and a kingdom, my inner geek girl squealed with delight. I was in.

So keep that in mind when you ask an agent, “What are you looking for?” If they have a ready answer, take it with a grain of salt. Rarely do we find exactly what we are looking for.

As the Rolling Stones would say, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Photo Credit: Hey Paul Studios


#1 Reason We Requested Only 216 Sample Materials In 2015

At the beginning of 2015, I implemented new submissions guidelines. Instead of reading queries and then requesting sample pages, I now request that authors include the first ten pages of their manuscript along with their query letters.

What a difference! Instead of reading only 45 full manuscripts (like I did in 2014), I read 87 full manuscripts in 2015, plus 129 sample pages, and although many of these projects weren’t right for me, they did end up being right for another agent.

Now, having tried this new submissions process for a year, I can definitely identify some pros and cons.

PRO: I’m guessing writers probably love it. It gives them a chance to wow me with some opening pages, whereas before, if they didn’t perfectly nail the query letter, they might have been out of luck.

CON: Sometimes it takes me weeks longer to respond to queries than I would like. If I know I have to read some pages with it, I can’t just breeze in and get it done in 30 minutes. I need at least an hour to read the sample pages attached.

PRO: I’ve learned that some writers can nail the query letter, but their actual pages are not quite ready for an agent to read. And I can decipher this pretty quickly. This allows me to ask for full manuscripts of novels that are ready.

CON: It’s more pressure for the writer to really nail those opening pages.

PRO: The number of novels I read all the way to the end went up in 2015. It’s pretty rare for an agent to read an entire manuscript if they know early on that the project isn’t for them. I actually read many more novels to the conclusion before making a decision about offering representation.

CON: Man, I was a bit slow in getting back to some writers. I had several manuscripts for an embarrassingly long period of time.

INTERESTING TIDBIT: When I do ask for a full, I almost always make my decision on whether it’s right for me within the first 60 pages.


2015 End-Of-Year Stats!

It’s that magic time of year when I tally up the numbers and share Kristin’s Yearly Stats! Apologies for being so slow to get this posted.

37  :  total number of New York Times bestsellers (up from 33 total in 2014)

51  :  books released in 2015 (22 print releases, 9 reprints, and 21 digital releases)

3  :  new clients, two of whom sold at auction for six figures. One deal is public, the other is not yet announced. The third client is going on submission next month!

29,000+  :  estimated number of queries read and responded to

87  :  full manuscripts requested and read (up from 45 last year)

129  :  number of sample pages requested and read (down from 856 last year. See my January Newsletter column Think Like An Agent below to learn why we requested far fewer sample pages this year than we have in years past.)

2  :  number of projects currently on submission

71  :  foreign-rights deals done (down from 99 last year, mainly because I only took on one client in 2014), 14 in Asia, 3 in Brazil, 3 in Mexico/Latin America, and 51 in Europe

4  :  TV and major motion picture deals

46  :  number of print runs for my longest-selling title, which is Jamie Ford’s HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET—which originally published in 2009. Twelve for the hardcover version, 34 for the paperback—four of which occurred in 2015! Crazy for a title to still be getting reprints after six years.

8  :  conferences attended (which includes Bologna Book Fair, London, BEA, and Frankfurt Book Fair)

3 million+  :  copies in print/sold for my bestselling long-running series this year

2.5 million+  :  copies in print/sold for my bestselling individual title

3.5 million+  :  copies sold for my bestselling hybrid author

Millions and Millions  :  ebooks sold for four of my bestselling indie-publishing-only authors. I can’t even track anymore.

100  :  physical holiday cards sent

539  :  electronic holiday cards sent

Not telling it’s so embarrassing  :  number of eggnog chai lattes consumed during November and December

Lots  :  of late nights reading on my living-room chaise with Chutney

All  :  great days loving my job!

Happy New Year!


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