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April 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

#NLAquerytip Series

Kristin Nelson

One blog reader and fan called my new series “a kick in the groin”—painfully honest truth about queries that hurts so good.

I’ll take that as a compliment! In case you haven’t been following along on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve listed my tips here. For the full scoop on each one, go check out the blog posts.

Fact #1:  Shorter query letters get a better request response from agents and editors.

Fact # 2: Literary agents rarely read the entire query letter.

Fact #3: Clearly outlining in your query letter how your story fits in the market will encourage literary agents to read your entire email letter closely.

Fact #4: A really good title for a novel will catch an agent’s attention.

Fact #5: A really terrific concept in your query won’t save you if the letter itself is poorly written.

Fact #6: If you have to defend that your novel is over 200,000 words in your query letter, then you are not pitching your story from a place of strength. And agents are more likely to pass.

And I’m currently working on tips 7 through 10, so more to come!

Pub Rants University

Recording only of The Nitty-Gritty: How Digital is Transforming the Publishing Landscape

Friday, December 01 at 12:00 pm

This is a recording of the Webinar held on June 25, 2014.

Agent Kristin has given this workshop at numerous writers’ conferences in 2014 and invariably, attendees tell her this workshop was worth the price of conference admission! For the first time, NLA Digital is making the recording available to writers for the low, affordable price of $19.99.

Agent Kristin explains how the world of publishing is rapidly changing and how this impacts writers at every stage of their careers. She explains digital changes making the headlines and tackles the confusing terminology peppering these news stories. (What is agency pricing exactly and why did the Department of Justice slap Apple’s hands? What role is Amazon playing in all these changes?) She also tackles contract terms that may restrict traditionally published authors from self publishing.

Key Topics:

  • Should an author digitally publish?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • Can an author who is traditionally published, digitally self-publish?
  • What are the potential contract hurdles?
  • Can an author partner with an agent to digitally publish?
  • How is the agent role changing as the industry changes?
  • What is metadata and why is it your friend?

You can buy access to this Webinar recording until December 1, 2017.




Register Now

eSpecial Price

FREE March 23 - April 30

           
Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Fearless Negotiation: An Agent's Most Important Role for an Author

By

The genesis: In January 2015, Backspace co-founder Karen Dionne and I had a conversation in which she mentioned that writers sometimes want representation so badly they are willing to sign with an average or even a below-average agent. Trust me, not all agents are equal. I replied, “Well, writers don’t know what they don’t know.”

In that moment, a lightbulb went on for both of us. Writers don’t know what a good agent does. How could you if (1) you’ve never experienced it and (2) you’ve only ever had one agent and no way to assess just how strong he or she might be at the job?

Thus, this series of articles was born.

*******

Article #3: Fearless Negotiation: An Agent’s Most Important Role for an Author

Of all the skills a literary agent is required to have, the most important is the ability to negotiate well on behalf of the author client. Authors hire agents to protect their business interests in publishing. In my mind, and other folks may disagree with me, all other skills are kind of moot without this one.

This is why a literary agent has a job.

To say this another way, your agent might be a great communicator or team builder, give great marketing feedback, have good relationships with editors, have good taste in picking projects (all wonderful skills to have), but if they aren’t also a good negotiator, then just how valuable are these other skills to you and your career? A good agent will have the complete skill set.

All this begs the question: How do you know if your agent is a good negotiator? Here’s how:

1.) Good agents negotiate all deals. Sounds simple enough. Doesn’t that always happen? Not necessarily. 

Good agents don’t accept the initial offer from the editor. There is always something that can be negotiated. A higher advance, a better escalator in the royalty break, two books instead of one, restricting the rights, holding or giving audio. The list goes on and on. I share with my authors the original offer and then the final offer before accepting. Does your agent? They should.

Good agents negotiate the deal even if an author brings the publisher offer to the agent. Where the offer comes from doesn’t matter. Every deal and every contract is negotiable. Always. There are no exceptions.

Good agents are willing to walk away from an offer if the terms aren’t favorable enough for the author. If you are interviewing agents, ask if that person has ever walked away from an offer and why. Every good agent will have a story.

Here’s mine. There is a small but well-known publisher that doesn’t include an actual out-of-print clause in their contract. Instead, they include a clause that says the Publisher will hold a meeting once a year and determine, in good faith, whether the rights should revert to the author.

Well, isn’t that nice and vague? Why have a contract at all then? Why don’t we just shake hands on a deal and the whole publishing endeavor and go from there?

In my view, the contract exists so that crucial items like this are clearly spelled out. After much back and forth, during which the publisher asked why I thought I was so special when the editor could cite dozens of other agents who had allowed their clients to sign the contract with this vague language (uh, why?), I counseled the author to walk away. Ultimately the author makes the final choice. It was devastating and super hard for the client, but said client did walk away. That publishing entity is now defunct.

Talk about dodging a bullet in the long run…

2.) Good contract negotiation takes time. Literally. 

Even with a basic boilerplate for my agency in place, most contracts take 6 to 12 weeks to negotiate fully. Every author is unique. Every deal is unique. So every contract negotiation is unique. There are many rounds of back and forth for the requested changes, as publishers are always introducing new clauses or making tweaks to their house contracts. In addition, there may be unique elements negotiated for your specific deal that necessitate changes to several contract clauses that won’t be true for any other author at that particular house.

The contract belongs to the author, so the author has a right to know all the details about what was negotiated on his/her behalf. When I complete a negotiation, I send on the final contract to the author along with the master redline that shows all the incorporated changes. I also send along the requested changes documentation with all my notes and responses from the publisher so the author can read the entire communication chain. They see what was given, what was let go, and why.  In ad nauseam detail.

The contract is legally binding, and you, the author, are going to sign it. Don’t you want to know and understand what your agent has negotiated on your behalf? If I were an author, I certainly would! I don’t share this info just to “be nice.” It’s rightfully yours.

Does your agent share these details with you? If not, why? Ask for it. Read your contract in its entirety. If there’s anything you don’t understand (and it’s OK if that’s the entire contract!), schedule a phone call with your agent to discuss.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the number is around 50% for agents who don’t fully understand a publishing contract or have the ability to explain the meaning and importance of the clauses there in detail.

Do you really want that person representing you?

If a new boilerplate from a publishing house is introduced, then it can take 6 to 9 months to get a new agency boilerplate in place that is reasonable for an author to sign. In the last 6 years, both HarperCollins and Macmillan introduced entirely new contracts. Rumor has it that later this year Random House and Penguin will merge their contract forms into a new Penguin Random House contract boilerplate. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s probably coming in the not-so-distant future.

Contracts turned around quickly or that take less time than what I’ve mentioned above = the agent is not negotiating or is not standing firm on key items until a compromise is found. And compromise can always be struck so both publisher and author are happy. But that takes time and several rounds of negotiation.

You don’t want agents pushing through a contract quickly simply because they need the money, or can’t be bothered, or don’t understand the clauses.

By the way, most agents are not lawyers (although some are). I’m not, nor do I think it absolutely necessary for an agent to also be a lawyer. An agent just has to be good at publishing contracts—which often necessitates thinking like a lawyer. None of the publishers’ in-house contracts managers I work with are lawyers either, and yet they do the negotiation. However, lawyers are often consulted on points of intellectual-property law if necessary.

By the way, lots of smaller agencies work with freelance professional contract managers (who once worked in-house for the big publishers) to assist in contract negotiation. This is a good thing, and I highly recommend it so that the author benefits from the contract manager’s savvy and gets a level of protection if the agent sucks at negotiation.

But it’s still essential for an agent to be a good negotiator. Why? Because it’s the agent who negotiates the initial offer (that’s what you’re paying them for!), not some hired contract professional. And often that necessitates some savvy pre-negotiating skills during the offer stage—before a contract is even generated. For authors further along in their careers, this is a given; they know it needs to be done. It’s not a maybe. And if your agent is not a good negotiator, you can see pretty clearly how that is going to impact your level of success and your longterm writing career. Your agent might not know how to do this.

Next month, Karen and I will tackle The Negotiating Tactics of Good Agents.

Kristin's Book Club

Fascinating Facts in American History

I have to gush. Bill Bryson is one of my all-time favorite writers. And I particularly love listening to him narrate his own audio books. The first one I ever listened to was A WALK IN THE WOODS. It’s the only audio book that made me pull off to the side of the road while driving because I was laughing so hard.

Yes, he is that good! And ONE SUMMER does not disappoint. Just a few tidbits learned while reading:

  • The first crime to become “tabloid” news in America was the Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray murder, where they killed Ruth’s husband with a sash weight. It also became the basis for the classic 1944 film Double Indemnity.
  • The fact that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs (and that Lou Gehrig came close) in the summer of 1927 was truly a phenomenal occurrence. Modern major leaguers have only been able to achieve the same with the use of steroids.
  • Prohibition is the main reason we now have a Federal Income Tax. Government in the 1920s lost 40% of its tax revenue when alcohol was made illegal. Man, don’t we wish we could take that back now!
  • Charles Lindbergh did a remarkable thing crossing the Atlantic ocean solo in the Spirit of St. Louis. Lots of aviators died in the year 1927. And the fact we have airports all over the country is thanks to him. Too bad he destroyed his heroic reputation by becoming an anti-Semite Nazi sympathizer. The world did right removing his name from schools and streets.

Next up: My book club, much to my delight, picked NLA author Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY. I can’t wait to share this novel with my friends.

Guest Article

Good Agents Geek Out About Contracts

Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne is an internationally published thriller author, co-founder of the online writers discussion forum Backspace, and organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat and the Neverending Online Backspace Writers Conference.

To prepare for this month’s topic, I watched a video from the 2011 Backspace Writers Conference in which Kristin, Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management, Suzie Townsend (then of Fineprint  Literary Management, now with New Leaf Literary), and Diana Fox of Fox Literary discussed the nuances of publishing contracts.

One of the things I learned is that publishers often change their contracts to give themselves more favorable terms. Agents who are paying attention pick up on the differences and understand the ramifications. Agents who aren’t, don’t.

As an example, the agents explained how a few year ago Simon & Schuster removed four sentences from the end of the rights reversion clause. These sentences defined the sales threshold, which states that rights will revert to the author if the number of sales drops under a specified amount. Removing these sentences meant that if the publisher also bought digital rights, the book would in effect never go out of print, and the publisher would own the rights to the work in perpetuity.

This created a furor among agents who were paying attention. But not every agent caught the change. Some even let their clients sign the contract, then had to negate that contract and start over again. And some didn’t catch the change at all, which left their authors with no possibility of ever getting the rights to these novels back.

I also learned that agents “geek out” over contracts, as one agent put it. It’s a good thing they do, because as I listened to these agents enthuse over the finer points of contract details, my eyes glazed over. Not that the panel wasn’t interesting and enlightening—it was. Rather, I quickly realized that the nuances of contracts were so not my thing—like signing up for a study course and finding out two weeks in that you have zero interest in the subject.

“I go over every contract with a fine-toothed comb,” Diana Fox said. She then writes a detailed memo and sends it to her contracts manager, who goes over the contract again. “If Random House puts a clause in their boilerplate, I’ll know it.”

I read my first contract carefully. All 11 legal-sized pages of fine print. Four times. I also asked my agent questions, because I wanted to be sure I understood what I was signing.

But agents drill down deeper. An author might not even see the earliest version of the contract their publisher offers. “There are very few things publishers aren’t willing to negotiate on,” Scott Hoffman told the audience. “Some are deal-breakers, and it’s up to the agent and author to decide if a contract clause is in the author’s interest.”

So thank God for agents who geek out over foreign rights, audio rights, boilerplate contracts, and out of print clauses. Good agents watch out for their clients in ways authors don’t even know.

********

Karen Dionne is represented by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management. This panel discussion along with the full Backspace Writers Conference video archives are available exclusively to Backspace subscribers and online conference registrants. 

New Releases

Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery in Mayan Mexico

by Marcia Wells

Now that he has become the NYPD’s youngest crime-solving hero, Eddie Red and his best friend Jonah are ready to relax on a family vacation to Mexico. But when Eddie’s father is falsely accused of stealing, what they find is another complex mystery. Can Eddie – with his artistic talent and photographic memory – and Jonah uncover clues and catch the real crook in time? “Fast-paced, funny, and a sure pleaser for Cam Jansen Grads” (Kirkus), the Eddie Red series stars a hero worth rooting for.

Buy It Here:

       

Legend: The Graphic Novel

by Marie Lu

Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a military prodigy. Born into the slums of the Republic’s Lake Sector, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives are not as sinister as they often they seem. One day June’s brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Now, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June tries desperately to avenge her brother’s death. And the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together and the lengths their country will go to in order to keep its secrets.

Buy It Here:

       
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