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August 2020
A Message from Kristin Nelson

COVID Leads to New Normal

Kristin Nelson

Note: Dear Readers, due to WordPress changes and updates, we were not able to deliver our July newsletter. We apologize if you missed it!


As we head into August, we are officially settled into a new, semi-permanent state of Covid. What does that mean for publishing in 2020, and what does it mean for authors?

For publishing:

  • Editors will not be going into their main office spaces for the rest of 2020.
  • Agents are getting quite good at Zoom coffee chats as a way to connect with or meet new editors.
  • I’ve seen a lot of editors’ and publishers’ living rooms, and they’ve seen mine.
  • Marketing meetings are full-on eight- to ten-person Zoom gatherings, which is kind of fun.
  • Editors are still acquiring. All agents at NLA have closed deals since March, one of which was a pre-empt for a debut author. That particular project was submitted on a Friday, and the editor pre-empted the following Monday.
  • Marketing directors and publicists are getting remarkably good at leveraging virtual spaces—although the verdict is still out on how their efforts are translating to book sales. (Although one agent here at NLA had her debut author land on the New York Times bestseller list!)
  • Publishers are taking the time to re-evaluate leadership and hiring practices, and they’re rethinking publishing’s lack of diversity and representation.
  • August is not going to be the dead month. Traditionally, that’s when most editors and decision makers go on vacation, so agents usually avoid submitting until after Labor Day. Not this year. We are in it full speed.
  • There will be no travel to New York. Oh, I miss my Manhattan neighborhood walks and excellent pastries! And no international travel to book fairs for the foreseeable future, mainly because America is not getting a handle on the coronavirus, so there are travel bans or mandatory 14-day quarantines. 

For authors:

  • Known and established authors are seeing a rise in sales as readers gravitate to the tried and true.
  • Debut authors are having a rougher time. More creative strategies are needed to make debuts stand out. Hard to say whether more debuts would have broken out in the past six months if COVID hadn’t happened. I have no statistics, but I would say, yes, we probably would have seen higher numbers for newly published authors had the pandemic not been a factor.
  • Mid-list authors, as always, will be the most at risk. Editors, driven by decision makers with the final say, are scrutinizing option material, only looking for the “bigger” books and often passing on subsequent books by authors who haven’t broken out. That leads to a need for more career strategizing between author and agent.
  • Big books are going for big money. But the definition of a big book might be narrower now.
  • Film/TV deals that would be great for animation are hot properties. That is one field of Hollywood that is pandemic-proof, so all studios are aggressively looking. 

If you are an aspiring writer, you need to stay the course. The world could shift once again if a vaccine becomes a reality. And no matter what, publishers still need books to publish to stay afloat. 

Recent News
Guest Article

Interview with NYT-Bestselling Author Roseanne A. Brown

Author of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

This month, NLA’s Omar Medina sat down with Quressa’s client Roseanne A. Brown, whose debut novel, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published June 2 by Balzer + Bray.

Tell us about ASOWAR!
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a dual-POV YA fantasy set in a world inspired by West African folklore and following two protagonists: a refugee named Malik and a princess named Karina. When Malik’s younger sister is kidnapped by a vengeful spirit, he makes a deal to win her freedom in exchange for killing Princess Karina. To complete his task, he enters a competition for Karina’s hand in marriage in order to assassinate her. However, he is not aware that Karina is planning to sacrifice the winner of the competition in order to bring her dead mother back to life. Thus we follow the two of them as they try to outmaneuver the other without realizing it, and the way their plans are derailed when they actually meet and realize they might be falling in love.

Can you give us any little hints about what’s coming in book 2?
In book 2, we will be exploring more of the continent of Sonande past the city-state of Ziran, where the entirety of book 1 takes place. We’ll also be diving more into Karina and Malik’s pasts, plus deepening the rules of magic and of course the romance.

What inspired you to write this book?
I first got the idea for this book in college in 2016 when I realized I had never read a fantasy novel where a character’s mental illness was not used as a metaphor or villainized in some way. As someone who has dealt with anxiety for most of my life, I wanted to see a Black character who reflected this struggle but still got to be the hero of their story. I’ve also always loved fantasy, so I knew I wanted to draw from the rich oral storytelling and folklore styles we have in West Africa.

On the topic of writing, are you a plotter or pantser?
I’m what some call a road tripper, which is where I have a solid idea of where I’m trying to go and know exactly what is in front of me at the moment, but I’m not sure where I’m going to stop along the way. Is it a very stressful way to draft? Oh, 100%. But it hasn’t failed me yet!

How did you come up with the magic system in ASOWAR?
The magic system in ASOWAR was inspired by the day-name system of the Akan people of Ghana, my mother’s people. Among the Akan, we have a tradition where one of the names an infant is given is decided by the day of the week on which they’re born. These day names hold great importance and, it’s believed, even have an effect on a person’s life, similar to the Western Zodiac. Using this tradition as a base, I created the magic system in ASOWAR where the day of the week a person is born decides what kind of magic they can do. Check out the full breakdown and learn what your magic and horoscope in the ASOWAR world would be.

Read the rest of the interview here, wherein Roseanne discusses getting an agent, writing about mental health, #BLM, and what’s in the to-be-read pile on her nightstand.

Insider Tips from NLA

Your Protagonist Must Fail

Angie Hodapp

Angie Hodapp is the Director of Literary Development at Nelson Literary Agency.

Throughout your story but especially in Act II—that yawning abyss between your story’s beginning and end sometimes referred to as “the swamp” or “the mushy middle”—your protagonist must fail. They must fail big. They must fail often. Why? Because if they’re not failing, they’re not trying.

Try-Fail Cycles
Try-fail cycles are a great way to test the weight-bearing capability of a story’s structure. Often, a weak story—one likely to collapse under the scrutiny of discerning readers—lacks try-fail cycles. These are exactly what they sound like: a character faced with a problem formulates a plan, then carries out that plan (try), but they are outmatched, or an unforeseen obstacle pops up, and the attempt is unsuccessful (fail). They fall back, lick their wounds, consider the added threat of the new obstacle and the new stakes that have been raised, and formulate a new plan…thus launching the next try-fail cycle.

Try-Yes-But Cycles
Not all try-fail cycles end in complete failure. The alternative is the try-yes-but cycle. Here, the protagonist carries out their plan, and some or all of their attempt is a success (yes); however (but), that success comes at a high cost, with some unforeseen and devastating consequence. This is the two steps forward, one step back effect, and while your protagonist might not have failed per se, the outcome still feels like a failure to readers because the stakes have been raised, the tables turned, and the jeopardy heightened.

Suspicion-Confirmation Cycles
The enemy of try-fail and try-yes-but cycles is the suspicion-confirmation cycle, which is inherently passive and uninteresting. This happens when a protagonist has a suspicion that rather quickly, usually within a few pages and through very little action, gets confirmed. For example, the suspicion “I think Jack is the one who betrayed me” is confirmed in the next scene when the protagonist passively overhears Jack colluding with the bad guys.

This is not to say that your characters should never have suspicions or work to confirm them. On the contrary! But it is not uncommon for newer writers to construct entire manuscripts on suspicion-confirmation cycles in lieu of the other types of cycles. Having a suspicion is not the same thing as attacking a problem head-on or being forced to actively react to an opponent’s unexpected maneuverings. Know the difference. In your own manuscript:

• Be aware of how many scenes are largely dialogue or internal rumination about what your protagonist suspects, or that culminate with the articulation of a new suspicion.

• Be aware of how many of those suspicions turn out to be correct. Newer writers let their characters be correct most of the time, if not every time.

• Be aware of how soon after a suspicion is formed it is confirmed, and how soon after it is confirmed a new suspicion is formed. You might be stuck in the suspicion-confirmation cycle.

• Be aware of how hard you make your protagonist work to confirm a suspicion. Make it challenging. Make it active. Make it fraught with jeopardy. Make it come at a cost.

• Be aware of how many suspicion-confirmation cycles you’ve used in relation to how many of the other more active and interesting failure-based cycles you’ve used. In commercial fiction, you’ll be miles ahead of the field if you build your story’s structure on the latter, using the former sparingly.

New Releases

Malorie

by Josh Malerman

In the thrilling sequel to Bird Box, the inspiration for the Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock, New York Times bestselling author Josh Malerman brings unseen horrors into the light.

Twelve years after Malorie and her children rowed up the river to safety, a blindfold is still the only thing that stands between sanity and madness. One glimpse of the creatures that stalk the world will drive a person to unspeakable violence.

There remains no explanation. No solution.

All Malorie can do is survive—and impart her fierce will to do so on her children. Don’t get lazy, she tells them. Don’t take off your blindfold. AND DON’T LOOK.

But then comes what feels like impossible news. And with it, the first time Malorie has allowed herself to hope.

Someone very dear to her, someone she believed dead, may be alive.

Malorie has already lost so much: her sister, a house full of people who meant everything, and any chance at an ordinary life. But getting her life back means returning to a world full of unknowable horrors—and risking the lives of her children again.

Because the creatures are not the only thing Malorie fears: There are the people who claim to have caught and experimented on the creatures. Murmurings of monstrous inventions and dangerous new ideas. And rumors that the creatures themselves have changed into something even more frightening.

Malorie has a harrowing choice to make: to live by the rules of survival that have served her so well, or to venture into the darkness and reach for hope once more.

Buy It Here:

       

Hey, Who Made This Mess?

by Primo Gallanosa

Someone has been sleeping in Elephant’s haystack…

drinking from Lion’s bowl…

going potty in Ostrich’s sandbox (yuck!)…

and scratching Giraffe’s favorite tree.

Whoever it was has been leaving behind a suspicious trail of footprints. Is it a great big scary monster as the animals fear? Or is it something else entirely?

Follow the clues on every page, and you just might be surprised to see who is behind this very messy situation.

Buy It Here:

       

Set Fire to the Gods

by Kristen Simmons & Sara Raasch

Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Gladiator in the first book in this epic fantasy duology in which two warriors must decide where their loyalties lie as an ancient war between immortals threatens humanity—from Sara Raasch, the New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ashes series, and Kristen Simmons, acclaimed author of Pacifica and The Deceivers. Perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes, And I Darken, and The Winner’s Curse.

Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.

Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games, throwing Madoc in Ash’s path. She realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.

But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.

Buy It Here:

       

Dead Man Dancing

by John Galligan

In this sequel to the “gritty, brash, and totally gripping” (The Real Book Spy) thriller Bad Axe County, Sheriff Heidi Kick is investigating an illicit cage fighting ring with ties to white nationalism when her husband suddenly goes missing.

It’s a time for celebration in Bad Axe County as the town gathers for the annual Syttende Mai—or Norwegian Independence Day—festival. During this rollicking family-oriented event filled with dancing and food, Sheriff Heidi Kick discovers a dark and shocking event—a migrant worker has been savagely beaten but refuses to explain what happened. Then, a sudden murder of a band member shatters the festival. Something is deeply wrong in Bad Axe County.

As she looks for answers, Heidi plunges into a secret underworld where high-stakes cage fights double as combat training for the White Nationalist movement. Then all hell breaks loose for Heidi when her husband disappears and a secret he’s been keeping from Heidi is revealed.

A timely portrait of the deep divisions and simmering tensions brewing in our country today, Dead Man Dancing takes you into the dark heart of a movement defined by violence and hate. Featuring John Galligan’s signature “striking prose, engaging characters” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and unforgettable twists and turns, Dead Man Dancing is a breathless thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Buy It Here:

       
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