Pub Rants

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

Category: publishing

Be a Warrior! By Quressa Robinson

It should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m a huge nerd. Science fiction, fantasy, pop culture–I have a deep love of many fandoms. So many of them have their own identities that are easy for me to relate to–for instance, Slytherins are competitive, ambitious, and deeply protective of those they call their own. These are all qualities I feel I possess, and also think are great qualities for an agent!

As we gear up for a winter that’s teeming with exciting fandoms, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the hopeful and uplifting trailers that have rolled out for A WRINKLE IN TIME, directed by Ava DuVernay. “Be a warrior,” Oprah says to Meg. I felt ready to fight! I don’t know what, but I was ready. Yes! Be a warrior!

So how can you be a warrior when it comes to your writing career? Many aspects of the process can feel daunting, so learning to wage war on your doubt and feelings of defeat will only propel you through the arduous, never-ending process.

What tools does a warrior-writer need?

Persistence: A warrior never gives up! They keep going no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way. It’s easy, at any stage of your career, to throw your hands up and quit. Rejection is consistent and doesn’t stop when you sign with an agent, or even when you have a published book. Knowing how to push through the hardships, the rejection, the feelings of doubt, even imposter syndrome, makes all the difference. Being a persistent warrior can help you keep your emotional sanity in an emotionally sapping industry.

Endurance: Most writers give up at the querying stage. There are just too many NOs to handle. Maybe they weren’t prepared for the wave of rejections. Maybe they were too invested in their work to have an objective view of it. If you want a lasting career in publishing, you’ll have to overcome a lot of obstacles. Querying is just the first step. If you can’t get past query rejections, you’re already dead in the water. Be a warrior. Remember that there are many battles left to fight. You can lose many of them and still win the war. You just need that warrior perspective.

Adaptability: Publishing is a changing industry, and trends ebb and flow. What’s hot now might not be hot later. Everything is cyclical. Most writers don’t realize that the books being publishing now were likely sold to publishers a year or two ago. It’s also possible that it was another year or so before that when the author signed with their agent. Vampires might feel passé, but eventually readers will be excited for a new wave of vampire books. Keeping this in mind, a warrior will be able to go with the flow or roll with the punches. It’s not easy to predict which stories will become a hit with readers, so being ready to change things up is an important warrior trait to have.

Communication: The best warriors know how to share their strategies with others. In an industry where people spend most of their time with words, you’d think good communication would be a given. But you’d be surprised how many struggle to effectively convey their thoughts and ideas. Knowing how to advocate for yourself and express your needs is essential to moving ahead in this industry, but that all begins with your writing. Craft a solid query letter and make sure you have written a strong manuscript. It’s challenging to differentiate between good and bad when you’re first starting out, but getting feedback from others, giving feedback in return, and being clear about expectations will go along way in helping warriors craft strong writing that will get them the win they are looking for.

Dedication: Warriors need to be fully committed. The road is rough, and if you aren’t 100% all-in, it will be obvious. Publishing is a very collaborative industry. Agents are working with their clients to get manuscripts ready for submission; agents and authors are working with editors to make sure manuscripts become books that sell well; and authors are engaging with readers to build their fan base and ensure future success.

Prolificacy: A warrior is always thinking about that next step, that next campaign. A writer should always be writing, thinking about writing, and forming story ideas. It’s all too easy to get over-invested in one idea, one manuscript, to the point that you can’t move on. When you’re querying, write your next book. That way, if your manuscript is rejected, you’ll have another ready to send out. When you’re agented, work on a new manuscript while you’re out on submission. If your agent can’t sell your first book, you’ll have your next lined up. If they do sell it, your editor will be grateful that there are options for a sophomore book right away.

So warriors, go out there. Be bold. Be smart. Be strong. Be a Warrior.


The Power of Persistence By Danielle Burby

We are in the season of hot chocolate, sweaters, and storytelling late into the night. Because of that, and because this is the last NLA newsletter of 2017, I wanted to share a story of authorly hard work, hope, and, ultimately, perseverance with you. If you have gotten nothing but rejections for your query, or you haven’t landed that agent, or your full manuscript has gotten nothing but passes, DON’T GIVE UP!

I met Jillian Boehme when I landed my first agency job in 2013. I was an assistant and she was my boss’s client. At that time, she had already spent eight years working toward a book contract. She’d written several manuscripts before landing an agent and been on submission to editors at every reputable publishing house with three additional manuscripts that had gotten nothing but passes. In 2007, she had also started a popular (and, at the time, anonymous) writing advice blog called Miss Snark’s First Victim, which boasted many success stories by connecting numerous authors with agents who went on to sell their books. And yet, despite her hard work, despite her industry connections, despite continuing to write and building her platform, despite having an agent, despite her persistence, she could not seem to sell a novel.

The thing about Jill is that she has an unrelenting work ethic mixed with a deep core need to create art. Every time she was knocked down (and it happened many more times than either of us wanted), she shook it off and approached her writing with a renewed sense of determination. When she submitted her fourth novel, a YA sci-fi, my boss and I gave her a massive revision that, among other things, included eliminating a love triangle by changing the gender of a character, throwing away an entire central plot line, and replacing it with an entirely new one. She got the edit letter, took a breath, and pulled it off beautifully, improving the manuscript by miles in the process. Sadly, that book didn’t sell either, but it did do something important. It pushed her to be a better writer.

By the time Jillian wrote her fifth book for submission to publishers, she had switched to YA fantasy, which my boss at the time didn’t represent, but happens to be one of my favorite genres. I was building my own client list and she and I had been working together for almost three years. We had developed a relationship built on trust, jokes, a love of chocolate, and mutual admiration. Neither of us knew for sure whether she’d ever land a book deal, but I had never seen any author work harder, bounce back from rejection more completely, or improve so drastically in skill and technique with each project. She approached her career with a dogged determination and kept trying even when she had every reason to give up. I loved her fifth book; it was the strongest thing she’d ever written. My boss stepped aside, we formalized our agent/author relationship, edited together, pushed it to be even better, and enthusiastically submitted to editors. We got so close. Every rejection was a heartbreaker, glowing and filled with praise. It still didn’t sell.

Now, twelve years in to Jillian’s journey to publication, five years in to my own relationship with her, and six publisher-submitted manuscripts later, all that hope and hard work has finally paid off. In November, we announced a deal with one of NYC’s major publishers. Jillian’s debut YA fantasy, Gathering Storm, sold to the brilliant and insightful Elayne Becker at Tor Teen in a two-book deal and will be published in Summer 2019. It is already generating film interest.

It is my personal philosophy as an agent that I need to be my clients’ biggest fan and cheerleader. We are a team. There were times when Jillian felt discouraged and couldn’t find hope; in those moments, I told her I’d take care of hoping for the both of us. I have read each of her books upwards of five times and we’ve had endless (and wonderful) editorial and strategic conversations. The agent/author relationship is a special one of shared enthusiasm and dedication to art and business. Through each rejection, we looked to the future and strategized about the next step. This was a very meaningful win. When the offer from Elayne came in, Jillian and I both cried a lot of happy tears.

Whether you are querying agents, waiting for that first book deal, or already published and working to climb higher, you can look to Jillian and her journey for inspiration. Remember that rejections are a badge of honor. It means you are in the game; people in the industry are reading your work. No matter how many no’s you get, all you need is one yes. And, most importantly, there is no such thing as overnight success. To move forward in this business (or in any business), you must constantly learn, grow, and improve. Work hard and don’t ever give up. You are reading this because you are a writer; keep writing and keep getting better. The rest will follow.


What To Do If Your Books Are Popular In Iran?

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


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


A Digital Love Story of Survivability

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


Debut Authors Pass On the Inspiration

After listening to an amazing series of keynote presentations at the 2015 National conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), during which authors wear their hearts on their sleeves, I feel the need to pass on the inspiration!

From the Success Stories Panel:

  • Ten years from first conference to first book published. And when editing with a critique partner, editor, or agent, recognize and acknowledge the issue, and then find the fix that works for you, as it’s your story. —Anna Shinoda (author of Learning Not to Drown)
  • When you decide you want to be an author, you need to try for real. —Mike Curato (author of Little Elliot, Big City and Worm Loves Worm)
  • You have to show up every day, and a lot of what you create will stink. Don’t wait for perfection. —Lori Nichols (author of Maple and Maple & Willow Together)
  • Torment your character. Give him/her a goal and spend the next 70,000 words thwarting it. —Stacey Lee (author of Under a Painted Sky)
  • You don’t need to win an award to acknowledge your talent or become a published or successful author. —Martha Brockenbrough (author of The Game of Love and Death)

Writers, keep writing! Keep the faith, and as Kwame Alexander reminded us in his SCBWI 2015 closing keynote speech (“Six Basketball Rules of Publishing”), “You’ll miss 100-percent of the time if you never take the shot.”

Creative Commons Photo Credit: @wewon31 #365


The Power Of A Kindle Daily Deal

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.


Worth The Conference Registration Cost

Last month I gave a webinar on how Digital is rapidly transforming publishing.

I love giving this workshop at conferences every chance I get because most writers are completely confused by the stories that are making today’s headlines and how that impacts writers. It’s my chance to really explain all that is going on.

Attendees always walk away telling me that my workshop alone was worth their conference registration cost. (Of course they could just be humoring me…) LOL

Still, it makes me happy. I always want aspiring writers to be informed as much as possible.

We are doing something unique this month and making the recording available for streaming.


Where Did All of Kristin’s Good Content on Contracts Go? To our eNewsletter!

In October, NLA implemented a new feature–a special News Alert eMail blast for subscribers of our newsletter. Today, a blast went out informing readers of how Harpercollins subscription service with Scribd will work and how authors will get paid.

Because my time is so limited these days (sadly!), regular or daily blog posts that alert readers about changes to publishing contracts and how that impacts authors just isn’t possible for me. But I am still doing great posts 2 or 3 times a months. Those columns can be found in NLA’s Monthly newsletter for our subscribers.

If you’ve been suffering from Pub Rants withdrawal, that would be the place to go to get your fix. Our eNewsletter is free. Just click on the Newsletter button at the bottom of our web page to sign up.

And for those of you who weren’t subscribers yet and missed that blast,  here’s the link to where you can see the news.

By the way, this is exactly the type of content I plan to tackle in tonight’s webinar:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

THE NITTY GRITTY – HOW DIGITAL IS TRANSFORMING THE PUBLISHING LANDSCAPE.

There’s still time to register.


Indie Author & Agent Partners – Thought 2

So last week when I was out in New York for the Writers Digest Conference, I gave a talk on why successful indie authors might want to partner with agents.

As I was putting together my talking points, I actually came to the conclusion that why they partner is the wrong question. The real question might be when should indie authors partner with an agent.

If  indie authors are becoming successful, an agent can accelerate their exposure in a big way. For example, I couple of weeks ago I took on self-publishing phenom Jasinda Wilder. On March 16, she released her 18th novel FALLING INTO YOU.

In less than one month, she sold 140,000 digital copies of this title.

Yes, you read that right.

That’s a crazy number of copies in a short period of time. She hit the NYT and USA Today list for several weeks in a row.

She decided to partner with me. My job is now to accelerate her exposure in any way possible. Within a week Publishers Weekly did a feature story on her and I imagine this won’t be the last coverage given her extraordinary success.

Would Jasinda get coverage without me? Sure. But there is no doubt I’m stomping on the gas. This can be incredibly beneficial in talking with publishers and for foreign deals.


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