A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry
The short answer is nothing. There actually isn’t much you can do.
Rarely discussed in publishing is the fact that certain countries don’t recognize or honor copyright law. Persian countries (including Iran and Iraq) are an excellent example of territories that don’t. Persian publishers will often translate popular novels and publish them in their countries without a license, and the author does not receive a dime as an advance or royalties.
Kind of shocking, isn’t it?
This situation has happened a number of times for my authors. We usually find out about unlicensed editions when an author receives fan mail or a lovely note from the translator. Even though the Persian publishers don’t feel much obligation to the author, we have found over the years that the translators actually do. And often they will reach out to the author and ask permission to do the translation—even though they know (and are quite apologetic) that the publisher has no plans to compensate the author in any way.
I have a special place in my heart for these morally centered translators.
So what can an author do when it becomes apparent that his or her books are being translated and published in countries that don’t honor copyright protection?
My answer is this. The author should offer to write a special foreword for the edition in exchange for a nominal fee. It’s my attempt to get the author at least some compensation. Yet so far no Iranian publisher has taken me up on this offer.
But I’m hopeful. Someday…
Photo Credit: Peta de Aztlan
Congratulations to Stacey Lee whose debut novel Under A Painted Sky is a finalist for the 2016 Pen Center USA literary Award.
A big thank you to the judges Daniel José Older, Isabel Quintero, and Margaret Stohl.
Emily Easton at Crown Books for Young Readers has won, at auction, Scott Reintgen’s debut science fiction young adult trilogy beginning with THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. In the novel, a Detroit teen accepts an interstellar space contract only to realize the promised millions must be won in a brutal competition where winners face the ultimate choice—take the money and become pawns in the corporation’s sinister plans or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise their humanity. Publication is scheduled for 2017. Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency brokered the mid-six figure deal for North American rights.
To celebrate Scott’s awesome news, I’m delighted to share with my blog readers Scott’s original query letter that landed me as his agent and resulted in an auction for a mid-6 figure young adult book deal.
Date: July 1, 2015 at 1:58:01 AM MDT
I have the highest respect for you and how you represent your clients. After looking through your submission guidelines, I felt that my novel might be a good fit for your list. Thank you for your time and consideration.
THE BABEL FILES [title was changed for the actual submission to editors] is a completed, YA science fiction book of 83,000 words. Readers familiar with Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Fonda Lee’s Zeroboxer will find similar elements in my work. I do feel one of the most important features of this novel is the focus it has on a main character who is a PoC. Having worked in urban schools my entire career, I so often find my students have little to no representation in these types of books. I was hoping to give them an opportunity to see themselves, vibrant and on the page and victorious. To this end, I followed advice I received from author Mary Anne Mohanraj at the World Fantasy Convention. She suggested I seek readers of a diverse background in the beta process. I did just that and was incredibly pleased at the response to Emmett’s authenticity and relevance.
Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why Babel recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family, forever.
As he and nine other teenagers wormhole their way through space, Emmett discovers the promised millions aren’t a guarantee. Each recruit must earn the right to travel down to Eden. There, Babel will use them to mine a substance that’s quietly become the most valuable in the world. Emmett’s year-long flight will act as a competition. Every training session is measured, every point matters, and Emmett will do anything to win. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. Secrets about the volatile substance they’re hoping to mine, about the reclusive humanoids already living on Eden, and about their true intentions for the kids that don’t win their competition. As Emmett uncovers the truth, he realizes he’s not fighting for wealth or glory, he’s fighting for his life.
I am a 10th grade English and Creative Writing teacher who has spent years sharing my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels with my students, and I’ve started writing stories with them in mind. THE BABEL FILES is my third completed novel, and the first in a science fiction trilogy. I have included sample pages below for your consideration. I look forward to your response.
The following would have been impossible even seven years ago:
This week I sold the film/tv rights for a memoir that a major publisher took out-of-print in 2013. But because of the indie-publishing revolution, the author had made her memoir available in the digital realm. Because of that, it was discoverable by a major Oscar-winning director and producer who not only took an interest, but also optioned the rights for television.
Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? Back in 2005, I met Kim Reid at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. Kim had made a pitch appointment, but she pitched me a novel that didn’t sound right for my list. However, in the course of our conversation, I learned about her extraordinary childhood as the daughter of one of the lead detectives who helped solve the Atlanta child murders, committed by Wayne Williams in the seventies and eighties.
I immediately told her, “You need to write that. I could definitely sell it!” So she did, and I signed her as a client. It took sixteen months of dogged determination, and Kim surviving a slew of rejections, but I finally sold No Place Safe in June 2006.
Kensington Publishing did a lovely job with it. Good packaging. Wonderful editing. And then the book was published, and bookstores shelved it, oddly, in African American Studies rather than in biography, where it truly belonged. I can honestly say that the shelving diminished the book’s discoverability, as well as its ability to sell.
Heartbreaking. By 2013, the work was out-of-print, and the rights reverted to Kim.
Luckily, the digital revolution happened. So Kim, in partnership with NLA Digital LLC, indie published the memoir to give it a second chance at life. Director/producer John Ridley found it. Bought a copy. Read and loved it so much that he convinced ABC Studios to buy it for him.
Suddenly, a memoir that would have dropped completely from sight was saved by publishing’s digital transformation. This title now has a ton of exciting new possibilities unfolding.
This is why I love agenting in the digital age. Authors have so many more options available now. And this particular terrific story happened to a very worthy book!
Photo Credit: Alyssa L. Miller
To celebrate just having spent the day in York with Rhiannon, here is her original query for A WICKED THING that landed me as her agent.
Dear Kristin Nelson:
One hundred years after falling asleep, Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she, and the kingdom, should be living happily ever after.
But her family are long dead. Her “true love” is a stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by strangers while she slept. Aurora wants space to make her own choices, but she cannot risk losing the favor of the prince or the people and ending up penniless, homeless and, worst of all, alone. With rebellion stirring in the backstreets of the city and everyone expecting Aurora’s promised goodness to save them, she must marry the prince and play the sweet, smiling savior that everyone expects, or the kingdom will tear itself — and Aurora — apart.
When Aurora befriends a young rebel, she begins to doubt that the kingdom deserves saving. As the rebellion begins in force, and her wedding day hurtles ever closer, Aurora must decide whether she is willing to sacrifice her freedom to save this new world from burning, or whether she should be the one to light the flame.
AFTER is a young adult fantasy that will appeal to fans of Malinda Lo and Gail Carson Levine. It is complete at 70,000 words.
I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English Literature in 2011 and work as a freelance writer and academic editor. AFTER is my first novel.
I am submitting this novel for your consideration because I read that you love fantasy YA and are a fan of Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is also one of my all-time favorite books.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
What did I like about her query pitch? First off, it’s very well written. Even the pitch has a narrative voice to it. But a couple more things:
* I love the turning-on-its-head opening premise of the first sentence. She should be living happily ever after means she probably won’t be. I want to find out why.
* I’ve never seen a Sleeping Beauty retelling where the princess wakes up 100 years later. Wow. She might as well be on another planet. Everything she knows is dead and long gone. I can’t imagine what that would be like. This story is going to be intriguing on that aspect alone.
* The pitch is wonderfully written and the conflict is clear. Should she marry the prince? Is that truly her destiny or what is best for her people?
* The author comparisons used are apt for this work.
It’s a shoo-in for me to ask for sample pages.
Happy Release Day Stacey Lee! UNDER A PAINTED SKY is now in bookstores.
Since I’ve been doing nothing but blogging about queries for the last week, what better way to celebrate the release of her debut novel than to share Stacey’s original query letter (with permission of course!)
Dear Ms. Nelson,
I am seeking representation for my 77K-word YA historical romance novel, GOLDEN BOYS. Arthur Levine selected GOLDEN BOYS for the 2012 Golden Gate Award at the recently held SCBWI Asilomar Conference. GOLDEN BOYS is also a finalist in the Chicago North Romance Writers of America Fire and Ice Contest, results to be announced in April.
When fifteen-year-old orphan Samantha Young kills the richest man in Missouri in self-defense, she disguises herself as a boy and flees to the unknown frontier. She knows the law in 1849 will not side with the daughter of a Chinaman. Along with a runaway slave, also disguised as a boy, “Sammy” joins a band of young cowboys headed for the California gold rush.
The trail poses far more hazards than the demure violinist imagined, not just from pursuing lawmen, but from Sammy’s own heart when she falls in love with one of the cowboys, West Pepper, who doesn’t know she’s a girl. Sammy can’t reveal her true identity for fear of losing the cowboys’ protection. But when West’s confusion over his feelings threatens to tear them apart, Sammy has to choose between her love for West and her own survival.
I wrote GOLDEN BOYS because I often wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S. during its expansion west would have fared. My great great grandfather was one of the first Chinese to come to California at the time of the gold rush.
Thank you so much for your consideration,
Stacey H. Lee
So what inspired me to request sample pages? The terrific writing and the sheer originality of the premise. A Chinese girl violinist on the run via the Oregon Trail? I’m in. To me, it was a story that needed to be told and when I fell in love with the manuscript, I offered representation.
It certainly wasn’t because cross-dressing young adult historical westerns were all the rage in 2013. Talk about swimming against the current trends then….
The novel, after several revisions, transformed away from the historical romance to an enduring story of Sammy and Andy’s deepening friendship. And that is the story of UNDER A PAINTED SKY that readers get to enjoy starting today.
And as further celebration, my original pitch letter to editors when this work was on submission. A couple of things to note:
1) As my letter reveals, UNDER A PAINTED SKY was not the original title. We have Stacey’s estimable editor Shauna to thank for that! It was a great suggestion and way more evocative than Golden Boys. LOL Titles can be tough. As an agent, I either come up with a terrific one right away for the submit or it doesn’t happen until after the book is sold etc. But editors trust me so I know they’ll read the manuscript even if the title isn’t 100% golden. Pun intended.
2) This novel has received a lot of accolades and two STARRED reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Over the last two weeks, several editors have reached out to me with congratulations and a request for me to keep them in mind for future stories like this. Given how wonderfully this title is coming out of the gate, it’s easy to assume this might have been a slam dunk of a sale when on submission.
It was not.
Putnam really took a chance and with Shauna’s (and Jen Besser’s) wonderful editorial guidance and vision, Stacey worked hard to perfect the story of Sammy and Andy for the novel you get to read today. My fingers are crossed that this is a sleeper hit in the making.
Hello EDITOR NAME REDACTED
It was so lovely to see you while I was in New York. As promised after BEA, I’m sending along GOLDEN BOYS by Stacey Lee, a young adult historical western a la True Grit.
After I had offered rep and Stacey accepted, I dug in to do the slow read. I was worried that my lack of sleep caused by staying up to read the manuscript had impaired by judgment when offering rep. *grin*
Lucky for me, it was just as good, if not better, than the first time I read it! I love love love it! Get ready to hold on to your saddle because I think you are going to love it as much as I do.
After a suspicious fire burns down her father’s dry goods store with him in it, newly orphaned Young San-Li, who goes by Samantha Young, confronts the landlord she suspects of setting the fire. When she accidentally kills him in self-defense, her only option is to hit the Oregon Trail. She knows the law in 1849 will not side with the daughter of a Chinaman.
With a whip-smart runaway house slave at her side, “Sammy” and “Andy” disguise themselves as boys and join a band of young seasoned cowboys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy must evade bounty hunters and hunt down Mr. Trask, the man entrusted with her dead mother’s treasured jade bracelet. When she also falls for West Pepper, a cowboy with no tolerance for greenhorn boys let alone girls, Sammy is convinced that the trail poses more hazards than a demure violinist can handle.
When the wild West doesn’t prove big enough to hide her, Sammy must choose–avenge her father, forsake the memory of her mother, or embrace a new identity forged in the frontier and forever lose her history.
Stacey Lee wrote her debut novel GOLDEN BOYS because her great great grandfather was one of the first Chinese to come to California at the time of the gold rush. She wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S. during its expansion west would have fared. This novel won the 2012 Golden Gate award at SCBWI Asilomar Conference. This work is also a finalist in the Chicago North Romance Writers of America Fire and Ice Contest.
If I was looking for evidence of how powerful Amazon has become in the book-selling market, then I don’t need to look much further than the news I received yesterday! Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series hit the New York Times young adult series list. [ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY]
So what you might ask. Agent Kristin always has titles hitting the NYT list (Ha! I wish that were true.) But it happens often enough that I’m guessing folks aren’t surprised to hear the news. So why is last night’s news a big deal?
It’s big because of the timing of the hit.
As a general rule, unless a title is a big perennial seller, titles don’t hit the list except during release week and the immediate weeks following. That’s when any given title is going to have the most number of sales (in a short period of time) to catapult it on to the NYT list.
But in Gail’s case, Waistcoats & Weaponry was the last title to be released and that happened in November 2014. It’s months after the release. So then the question becomes, what caused it?
I’ll tell you. It was the Kindle Daily Deal for Etiquette & Espionage that happened last week. Thousands and thousands of ebook copies sold during a short period of time. As we can now see from yesterday’s news, it was enough to propel the whole Finishing School series onto the NYT list. (FYI – once there are three books or more in a given series, then an individual title can no longer appear on the regular NYT list. It can only hit the NYT on the Series List.)
Hubby and I went out to dinner to celebrate my 35th New York Times bestselling title/appearance. I do tally the first appearance of a series on the NYT list, attributing “the hit” to the last release in terms of my title count. Otherwise I’m not sure quite how to do it.
Regardless, it’s news worth celebrating.
One of the reasons why I wanted Hachette to be forthcoming when I started asking about the shipping issues (many moons before the news became public) was because I had already guessed that Amazon was flexing some muscle in a contract negotiation.
So confirming it wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t probably already know…
But also so I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.
Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.
Because your motto is customer first, always.
Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers. It hurts authors (whom you claim to support) and you deserve the public fall-out that this spat creates.