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August 2018
A Message from Kristin Nelson

One Thing to Negotiate When Dealing with a Big-5 Digital Imprint

Kristin Nelson

Weeks after RWA 2018 and the conversations are still unfolding. It’s clear romance publishing is undergoing a lot of change, the biggest being that Big-5 romance imprints are publishing a lot more debuts as digital-first (with no print edition guaranteed in the contract) or digital-only (with no print edition at all planned from the outset of the deal). Not surprising, given the tectonic shifts that have happened in romance over the last eight years. (On the other hand, it’s encouraging to note that Sourcebooks Casablanca and Kensington often hold true to their core model of publishing in both print and digital.)

Every Big-5 digital-only romance imprint is a little different. Several now offer a profit-share model that consists of no advance but an equal 50/50 split of the revenue generated. Some offer a small advance and higher royalty percentage to the author. It varies.

But all digital-only romance imprints seem very keen on keeping world rights, which means they want the right to sell your book in the English language around the world plus the right to sell translation rights to foreign publishers. That makes sense, after all, since foreign publishers pay advances that can immediately boost a book’s bottom line. If you’re an author who’s flying solo, without an agent, it might be advantageous to have the publisher go ahead and sell translation rights on your behalf. The granting of world rights in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing—but, in general, we at NLA prefer to reserve world rights and sell translation rights ourselves on behalf of our author clients.

If you’re flying solo with one of the Big-5’s digital imprints, chances are good that your granting world rights will be a condition of the deal. All well and good. But if you do grant world, please scrutinize the out-of-print (OOP) clause in your contract. This spells out exactly which conditions must be met before a book will be considered out-of-print, which must happen before you can request that your rights be reverted back to you. All OOP clauses include a sales threshold. Some publishers express that threshold in terms of author earnings; others express it as a number of copies sold over a particular period of time—usually twelve months (i.e., two consecutive six-month accounting periods). Either way, if the number drops below the specified threshold, the author can request a reversion of rights. 

Sounds straight forward, right? It is, as long as you include one key phrase in the OOP clause: “full-length English-language edition.” Why bother, especially if you’re granting your publisher world rights? Because including this phrase means the publisher is only allowed to tally up sales of your English-language edition when they’re calculating whether or not your sales have fallen below your OOP threshold. If you don’t include that phrase when granting world rights, then your publisher can tally up every single copy sold in the world, in all languages, including English. That has the potential to inflate your sales figures, keeping your numbers floating comfortably (for the publisher) above threshold. In sum, if your book’s sales never fall below threshold, your book will never be designated out-of-print, and you may never get your rights back.

Rather a key difference. 

Furthermore, we at NLA often limit the OOP to the “full-length English-language edition in the United States,” so what can be included in the sales threshold is restricted even more, which is even more beneficial to the author. This key language is just one more tool to have in your savvy author toolbox.

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Think Like an Agent

Why I’m So Picky About Fantasy

By Quressa Robinson

As someone who not only represents adult and YA/MG SF/F, but also grew-up reading it and continues to read it regularly, I’ve gotten to a place where my standards for these genres are higher than for any other. And, to be clear, science fiction and fantasy are two separate genres. (There are some exceptions.)

In all commercial genres, writers can fall into relying too heavily on tropes. Certainly there are tropes in mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, science fiction, and fantasy—and tropes aren’t bad. But relying on them as the only way to tell a certain type of story inhibits a writer’s ability to infuse their story with their own spin on a genre. I want to see stories from writers who aren’t simply bucking trends and tropes, but who are taking a nuanced approach toward them. Nuance is the key for me in so many things.

Relying on some of the more common tropes can make your work feel dated. Below, I look at some of these common tropes and explain what I look for in SFF—namely, innovative, clever, and forward-thinking approaches.

The Chosen One

We are all familiar with this trope. The hero is destined—by prophesy, blood, or something else pre-ordained—to save us all. It’s very Highlander—there can be only one. The problem is that this often takes agency away from the hero. No matter what they want, they either have to do the “right” thing and save the world or do nothing and let the world go to shit. That’s a lot of weight to put on someone’s shoulders, and the narrative often rests on the internal and external journeys our hero takes.

But what if there isn’t only one? What if there are multiple possibilities, and a story explores the type of person who would decide to act versus the type who would decide not to? What if the prophecy is BS? Or the “Chosen One” discovers that they aren’t really the chosen one and that things were interpreted wrong? I’m eager to see someone play around with this trope and really go all in subverting it.


This idea and term are so deeply rooted in white supremacy and racism that every time I read it I cringe. It’s a derogatory term that has long been used to diminish BIPOC, and I am not alone in being tired of seeing it in SFF. Part of the issue is real-world historical context. I can speak as a black woman on this—although I know other IPOC have their own history with this term. In US history alone, black people were property and seen as not human. The amount of “corruption” of someone’s blood with blackness was measured in terms. To see this same concept being used in a fantasy story is disturbing, often because it’s used with such laziness—it’s an instant way to throw obstacles in front of a character and establish personal stakes. But they are imposed and not organic to the story.

Not to mention that real-life mixed-race/mixed-heritage people exist, and the idea of “half breeds” so overly simplifies what their individual issues might be.

This is where nuance is key. If you are going to create a character who is part of two races, don’t make that their central struggle. Plenty of people of mixed race/heritage live happy lives with supportive, loving parents and extended family. Don’t make your story about the “good” races—elves, humans, angels—getting mixed with the “bad” races—orcs, trolls, demons. Don’t make the world so simplistic and narrow minded. If you want to explore othering, start by thinking through the many different ways the people around you, in this world, are ostracized and how that affects them.

Blood Magic

This one is a bit personal. I love the idea of blood magic as a type of magic. But it’s often seen as evil. Why does it have to be bad? Why does any magic system have to be inherently bad? There tends to be a lot of black-and-white, good-and-evil in fantasy. Let’s see what shades of gray look like. Let’s see what blood magic can look like when it’s used for good, evil, and in-between.

Medieval/European/Western Setting

Seriously, we live on a whole giant planet with multiple continents—of which only two seem to get featured, geographically and culturally speaking, in most SFF. But on all continents, there are many, many cultural POVs. For instance, telling me you’ve written a story with an “African” setting doesn’t evoke much; a story set in a fantastical version of Morocco will not present the same geography or culture as a story set in a fantastical version of Nigeria. And there is more than Ancient Egypt to take influence from. It is easy to do a pseudo-European setting. Try harder.

In this area I’m particularly looking for #ownvoices. This is a term mostly used on the children’s side, but I think adult publishing is starting to understand what it means as well. Simply put, it means a marginalized author writing about their own marginalization.

This is why I was so excited to see THE POPPY WAR. I read this book on submission as an editor, so I’m not sure how much has changed, but I remember being wowed by the setting, the characters, and the world building.

I will say, I’m eager to find marginalized SFF authors regardless of whether you write about your marginalization or not. This is, again, where nuance matters. A medieval/European/Western setting from a BIPOC author will likely have a POV different from what we’ve already seen so much of in SFF—namely, BIPOC existing in those settings.

POC in the Future

On that note, one SF and post-apocalyptic trope that really bothers me is the lack of POC in the future. There are so many nuanced ideas waiting to be explored just by placing POC in an enhanced future. Give me more nuanced stories that don’t erase POC from history or the future.

I’d love to see more adult SFF in my inbox. Tastes are subjective, but know that I’m on the lookout for nuanced approaches. Below you’ll find some books that I’m currently reading or that are on my to-be-read list:

TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse. I am currently reading. This has Indigenous cultural influences and is written by a Indigenous author. I can count on one hand the number of SFF novels I can say that about. Not only do I want to support this writer so that I can get more SFF stories from her, but I also want to see doors opened for other Indigenous SFF writers. This one feels dark, just like I like it, and seems to have a very flawed but fairly kickass heroine—which is something else I’m finding I’m leaning toward. This is a classic role that you tend to see a male protagonist in, so it’s great to see writers focusing on a variety of three-dimensional female perspectives.

THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR by Tessa Gratton. To be read. So, three female protagonists, all in the standard roles that are typically filled by male protags. They are sisters. They are fighting for the crown. It sounds like we’ll get three very different strategic approaches to accomplishing this goal. I can’t wait!

THE TIGER’S DAUGHTER by K. Arsenault Rivera. To be read. What intrigues me is that it is an epic fantasy based on Asian mythology and has ladies falling in love.

THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson. I am currently reading. It is an interesting take from the perspective of the colonized who want to take down the imperialist from within. Love how assimilation and indoctrination are handled.

THE IMMORTALS by Jordanna Max Brodsky. I’ve read the first book in this trilogy. It is a modern approach to greek mythology. Love the way it centers around a morally ambiguous and pretty brutal female protagonist.

UPROOTED and SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik. I’ve read UPROOTED and absolutely loved it!!! Dragons, romance, magic, and a lyrical fairytale/folktale quality. I want to see something like this in my inbox, but from a non-European or non-Western culture. And I’m equally excited to dive into SPINNING SILVER and enjoy more spellbinding storytelling from this author.

Kristin's Book Club

The Hate We Shouldn't Be Giving

Two years ago, I had a conversation with a family member who thought Black Lives Matter was about rioting (face palm). After much discussion about what BLM truly meant (using publishing as one context), I would have handed this person a copy of THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been published as of yet. 

VERDICT: A must-read. This is the millennial generation’s To Kill A Mockingbird. And although it was published as a young-adult novel, it truly is a story for everyone.

It’s too simple to say THE HATE U GIVE is a social-issue book because that would imply that it’s not a page-turning read. And it is. Book club loved Starr. They loved that this is a story about a young African American woman’s voice as a powerful weapon. That words are power and Starr uses hers for good. She also learns the power of words when hers are twisted by those around her.

This is a highly accessible book, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what would happen to Starr, her family, and her neighbors when their worlds inevitably implode. The audio reading by Bahni Turpin is particularly wonderful. When choosing how to consume, consider the audio version as Bahni captures Starr’s voice and after all, having a voice is what the story is about at its core.

Excellent review from Library Journal so you have a sense of the story: After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. 

I found the character of Hailey, Starr’s frenemy, well drawn. Thomas did a masterful job giving the reader a new level of understanding by presenting this character who truly doesn’t think she is racist but actually is. When I finished the novel, I had to rewatch Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist from the hit broadway show Avenue Q because I think that’s pretty accurate. I saw this show when it first opened on Broadway in 2003 on one of my first trips to New York as a newbie agent. It’s stuck with me for years and is one of my all-time favorites.

Every day, we simply have to be aware of our own biases and how they play out in the world. We have to consciously counteract. I expect to fail often but vow to be aware and try again for a better tomorrow. This book might inspire readers to do the same. 

New Releases

The Hollow of Fear

by Sherry Thomas

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram–and a number of malevolent forces…

Buy It Here:


The Deepest Roots

by Miranda Asebedo

Morgan Matson meets Maggie Stiefvater in a story that will make you believe in friendship, miracles, and maybe even magic.

Cottonwood Hollow, Kansas, is a strange place. For the past century, every girl has been born with a special talent, like the ability to Fix any object, Heal any wound, or Find what is missing.

To best friends Rome, Lux, and Mercy, their abilities often feel more like a curse. Rome may be able to Fix anything she touches, but that won’t help her mom pay rent. Lux’s ability to attract any man with a smile has always meant danger. And although Mercy can make Enough of whatever is needed, even that won’t help when her friendship with Rome and Lux is tested.

Follow three best friends in this enchanting debut novel as they discover that friendship is stronger than curses, that trust is worth the risk, and sometimes, what you’ve been looking for has been under your feet the whole time.

Buy It Here:



by Gail Carriger

From New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger comes the delightful sequel to Imprudence.

Accidentally abandoned!

All alone in Singapore, proper Miss Primrose Tunstell must steal helium to save her airship, the Spotted Custard, in a scheme involving a lovesick werecat and a fake fish tail.

When she uncovers rumors of a new kind of vampire, Prim and the Custard crew embark on a mission to Peru. There, they encounter airship pirates and strange atmospheric phenomena, and are mistaken for representatives of the Spanish Inquisition. Forced into extreme subterfuge (and some rather ridiculous outfits) Prim must also answer three of life’s most challenging questions:

Can the perfect book club give a man back his soul? Will her brother ever stop wearing his idiotic velvet fez? And can the amount of lard in Christmas pudding save an entire species?

Buy It Here:


Nyxia Unleashed

by Scott Reintgen

“A thrilling space adventure with an incredibly diverse cast. I couldn’t put this sequel down!” –TOMI ADEYEMI, New York Times bestselling author of Children of Blood and Bone

Discover book two in the sci-fi space trilogy that Bustle described as “The 100 meets Illuminae” and Marie Lu called, “a high-octane thriller.”

Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one.

Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis spaceship survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population.

But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces-Babel and the Adamites-with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late?

Buy It Here:

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