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December 2019
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Every Writer Is Equal When Facing the Blank Page

Kristin Nelson

Tis the season for eggnog chai and holiday shopping. As I considered what to write about for my last article of 2019, I felt compelled to end on a positive, optimistic note for writers in the trenches. I’m going to guess that authors trying to get that first foot in the door have heard a lot of rejection language over the last twelve months. These aspiring writers might be looking at established authors wistfully, perhaps assuming that writing must be effortless for them. Words of gold just automatically drop off the pen onto the page. Every word is a treasure. 

And rainbows and unicorns always follow too.

I love my clients. They are an incredible and talented bunch. But “every word is a treasure” is not a reality of the writing life. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of clunky writing from my clients. Rejoice, writers. Clunkers happen to everyone. There are no exceptions. 

When my clients are at their writing clunkiest, here are the four things that seem to hold true:

  • They haven’t quite nailed the story that actually needs to be told.
  • The story’s POV (point-of-view) needs to shift to a different character, or from first person to third person or vice versa.
  • They are writing to the novel pitch/summary rather than actually focusing on writing the scene that needs to happen for the novel as a whole.
  • The character doesn’t have a strong enough backstory, so their development is lacking on the page.

Beginning writers and established authors are all equal when they’re facing that blank page and starting something new. If I took a poll at a writing conference, I’m positive 90% of new writers there wouldn’t think that to be true. They would believe that once an author’s first book is published, their writing becomes smooth sailing. That’s definitely a misconception. Here’s another piece of maybe-good news. When starting a brand-new novel, every author, even those who are established, is in the same boat. Every single story to be told is unique. Even if you have written one novel, starting a new one is basically learning all over again how to write a novel because the tools used to craft the debut might not work for book two. 

But every novel written is one more step on the path toward mastery of the arts of dialogue, scene tension, world-building, and so on. Which is why I always tell writers, never stop creating new stories. And if an agent or editor says no to one novel, jump right in there and get another novel going. 

Just today I spotted a Deal Lunch announcement for an author who sold a debut novel. I saw a different project from that author back in 2016. So huge kudos to that writer. If your first submit doesn’t sell, so what? You have other stories to tell. If that writer had quit, they wouldn’t be popping champagne to celebrate the sale that just happened in 2019.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Every Path to Success Is Unique

By Danielle Burby

If there’s one thing that really clicked into place for me in 2019, it was the realization that there is truly no one author-career formula or path that is guaranteed to work. Each individual author and each individual book are on a unique and singular path.

In some ways, that can be a terrifying realization because I, like many of you, appreciate rules and structure and clarity. But, more powerfully, this realization is actually quite freeing. There are a million different paths to success, and each author’s success looks unique. What worked for your favorite author or your critique partner might not work for you, and what works for you might not work for anyone else. That’s a beautiful thing because once you believe it, it frees you from those niggling worries that block your creative process—it frees you from measuring your journey by other writers’ signposts.

Although there are rules of thumb and guidelines and best practices that shouldn’t be ignored, their outcomes are never guaranteed. So my wish for all of you in the New Year is to recenter yourself in the joy you take in being a storyteller:

Make powerful art that means something. If your stories mean something to you, if they excite you, then chances are they will mean something to and excite others. If you’re in a place where you could use a centering reminder about what art means, watch or rewatch the video of Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art commencement speech. It’s always a great source of inspiration!

Develop your craft in 2020. Every writer, even those with millions of copies in print and multiple titles on the New York Times bestseller list, constantly changes and grows. Take joy in knowing there will always be new things for you to learn! Sign up for a class or workshop this year. Join a critique group. Attend a lecture at your local library or an author event at your local book store. Sign up for a writing conference. Not much going on in your area? Pick up a book or two on writing craft. Need help with plot and structure? Check out Story Genius by Lisa Cron. How’s your scene craft? Check out Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld. Prose falling a little flat? Don’t miss Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. From character development, dialogue, and emotion to self-editing and revision for writers, there are many great resources to help you.

Discover new books and authors. Become a student of story! Become an expert in your genre. Read a genre you’ve never read. Pick up a novel or two by authors who don’t share your gender identity, heritage, or orientation. Pay attention to how various successful writers spin their tales, how they color outside the lines, how they break the “rules” you learned in those workshops and conferences and books I just recommended. Think about why their stories worked anyway. Or didn’t. Learn the rules, and then learn, in your own writing, how to break them beautifully and with intent.

Write from a place of joy and play and excitement. Create books that make you proud. The rest will follow. This is my wish for all of you in 2020.

Kristin's Book Club

Pulitzer Prize Winner is Up Next

In November, we met to discuss Thomas Morris’s nonfiction work The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth. Although I personally enjoyed reading these stories in the light of modern medicine, this title was not a big hit with book club. In the end, the book presented an overwhelming number of cases to keep track of, and the real interest for us was not in the prurient stories (why do boys place foreign objects in places they shouldn’t go?) but in the stories that were actually medical mysteries we were keen to learn the modern diagnosis for. In a nutshell, the book might have been better served focusing on that angle. 

Next up, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer. A delightful romp of a read, at least for me so far. 

Jacket copy: Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes—it would be too awkward—and you can’t say no—it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world. Question: How do you arrange to skip town? Answer: You accept them all. What would possibly go wrong?

New Releases


by Scott Reintgen

Ever since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them—into battle, on hunts, and now at the world-renowned Races.

Elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion by honing their ability to create and control phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy—which are summoned back to life each sunrise and burst into flames each sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to survive the brutal nights. While murder is outlawed, breaking bones and poisoning ashes is legal, even encouraged.

Eleven riders will compete in this year’s races, but three of them have more to lose than the rest—a daughter of two former champions, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Which one will attain their dream of glory and win power of their people? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

Buy It Here:


Make Mine Magic

by Shanna Swendson

A frothy, romantic adventure with a hint of old New York glamour and a dash of magic.

Jilted at the altar, small town librarian Claire is forced to go on her romantic honeymoon in New York City alone. After enduring one too many meals for two as one, Claire invites a seemingly harmless little old lady to join her for high tea at the Plaza.

Unbeknownst to Claire, said little old lady is actually a grand wizard, who bestows Claire with a magical amulet that makes her the sitting Queen of the magical community.

Claire is swept into the gilded world of New York City wizards—and a bitter power struggle for the throne. With the help of a cursed former Prince, Claire must untangle this web of deception and find the magical community’s rightful leader before her ‘honeymoon’ is over.

Only available on Audible. Pre-order here.

Buy It Here:

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