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February 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Twittering: Not to Be Confused with Tittering

Kristin Nelson

Although Twitter can certainly incite a titter…

I actually first heard about Twitter way back in early 2007 via an agent friend of mine, Janet Reid. Heck, it might have been as early as late 2006. She was using it to stay connected with her clients and recommended that I join. I should always listen to Janet! I do wish I had gotten on board then, but I was just launching my blog, Pub Rants. It was hard enough to find time in the day for that let alone a new social-media platform!

I’m not one who likes coming late to the party, so I figured I’d wait around for the “next big thing.” That really hasn’t appeared, and since Twitter is firmly ensconced and here to stay, I’m jumping in.

If you’re game, here’s my twitter thingie (and yes, I know it’s called a handle): @agentkristinNLA

Besides, I just couldn’t handle any more haranguing from social-media user and journalist extraordinaire Porter Anderson.

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Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Agent As Savvy Business Manager


The genesis: In January 2015, Backspace co-founder Karen Dionne and I had conversation in which she mentioned that writers sometimes want an agent 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 off 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 #1 in the series WHAT MAKES A GOOD AGENT? by Agent Kristin and Karen Dionne, co-founder of Backspace

Simply put, a literary agent is the person an author hires to manage his or her publishing career.

Literary agent is actually an odd career. It’s the only job in which the the agent picks the client (writer) first, and then the client decides whether or not to hire the agent. What other job is remotely like that? None. It’s unique to this industry.

Regardless, once an agent offers you representation, saying “yes” and hiring your agent is a business decision—one with real consequences that directly impact the success of your career.

And not all agents are equal—especially in their skill set.

Yes, I know that many writers only receive one offer of representation and don’t have the luxury of their choice of agents. In the end, you’ll have to do what is right for you. Just keep in mind the nine criteria below as you make decisions about hiring—or firing—your agent.

I’m constantly amazed at how rarely writers demonstrate business acumen when it comes to their own publishing career—something that would never fly in their day jobs or in other parts of their lives. Ultimately, an author who is smart, educated, and business-oriented will have a more successful career.

The same traits that make a good business manager also make a good agent. Before I give you my list, take a moment to jot down your own list. In your opinion, what makes a savvy business manager? Rank your criteria in order of importance.

Now let’s see if we match up.

In my opinion, based on a decade-plus of experience, good agents:

  • command authority naturally
  • are good negotiators and unafraid to walk away from a deal if necessary to protect the author
  • are assertive (not to be confused with aggressive)
  • are comfortable with conflict and don’t avoid it (as in they don’t acquiesce to the publisher so as to not “rock the boat”)
  • advocate on behalf of the author (not to be confused with persuading the author to accept whatever the publisher wants simply to avoid conflict)
  • are highly organized
  • are skilled, financially stable entrepreneurs if they run their own agencies
  • know how to be team players
  • are good communicators, both with you and with the in-house publishing team

In addition, they might also be the author’s cheerleader!

I know from personal experience that a lot of agents are good at the bottom two items on this list (being a team player and being a good communicator), but these agents don’t rate high on what I consider the top seven criteria. The hard stuff. The real stuff.

Good/great agents offer the whole package. It’s important for you to know if yours qualifes.

It’s so important, in fact, that in 2015, I’m going to tackle each criteria in this series of monthly articles and explain how it relates to the job of agenting, all in hopes of giving writers the necessary business tools that can be applied to their careers.

Kristin's Book Club

Book club meets in two weeks, so I’d better get reading. I see my lovely chaise and a nice cup of tea in my near future. Although I have not dipped into the story yet, GOLD was an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick and has garnered many accolades. It’s the story of a woman who faces a tough choice—go for her one last shot at winning a gold medal in the Olympics (a lifelong dream) or let it go to make sure she is there for her daughter who is battling leukemia.

A choice I’m happy not to be facing!

We are also voting on our list for 2015. We tend to pick ten titles, evenly split between fiction and nonfiction. I’m always curious to hear how the other ladies in my club discover titles. A surprising title I’m rather glad folks outside this industry are hearing about? Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

I hope it makes the cut as it’s a 2015 Newbery Honor book and it also won the Coretta King Scott Award. We haven’t read a children’s selection for book club in two years. It’s time!

Guest Article

Probing Questions Writers Should Ask a Prospective Agent

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.

After seeing Kristin’s criteria list, perhaps you’re wondering, “How can I tell if an agent who has offered me representation meets her criteria when I haven’t worked with them yet?”

The answer is simple: Talk to their clients.

You might be reluctant to ask for references, thinking it’s too forward. Or after a long and oftentimes brutal agent search, you might be afraid to rock the boat.

But as Kristin points out, once an agent has asked to represent an author, whether or not they work together is now up to the author. As with all professionals, a good agent will be happy to provide a prospective client with references.

You might also be reluctant to talk to an agent’s clients before you sign, thinking the exercise is moot. Of course the author won’t say anything negative about their agent, so what’s the point? But if you frame your questions correctly, you should be able to get the answers you need. For instance, to find out if the agent is a good negotiator, you might ask, “How did your submission process go?”

Likely, you’ll get a detailed account (we authors do love to tell stories!)—how many publishers the project was sent to, how many rejections came in before they got an offer, who bought the rights to the project in the end, whether they bought North American or world rights, and so on. If the agent negotiated more favorable terms for the author, you can be sure they’ll mention it.

Example #1: A writer friend had two offers for his first novel. Publisher A offered a $40,000 advance, while Publisher B offered $75,000. My friend would have gladly accepted Publisher B’s offer, but his agent thought they could do better. She went back to Publisher B and told them they had another offer (though not how much), then added that her author would really like to work with Publisher B, but was hoping for an advance more in the area of $100,000. Publisher B agreed.

Example #2: When my first novel sold, my agent negotiated a considerably higher advance even though only one offer was on the table.

On the other hand, if the client tells you they accepted the publisher’s original offer without negotiation, perhaps indicating their agent told them it’s standard practice for first-time authors to accept the offer as-is because they don’t yet have sufficient clout to negotiate, watch out. It’s not. Contracts are always negotiable, even when an author approaches an agent with an offer from a publisher in hand, as Kristin will explain in future articles.

Kristin says a good agent isn’t afraid of conflict. A question you might ask to find out how the prospective agent handles conflict might be, “Did you like your cover?” Again, listen carefully to the answer. Did the agent talk the author into accepting a cover they didn’t like? Or did he or she advocate for changes? When my publisher sent over the PDF of the cover for my second novel, before I could even open the email to see what the cover looked like, I got an email from my agent saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix this.”

If the author says they loved their cover, then ask about something else. There are always problems. Try to find out what the agent did to resolve them. What you’re looking for are warning signs that this is a passive agent, a non-negotiator, someone who shies away from conflict rather than dealing with it in a mature and productive manner.

Most publishers won’t roll out the red carpet for a new author; it’s up to their agent to fight for things that an new author probably expects should be taken for granted. Signing with a timid agent or an agent who is naïve about the business can result in lower advances, less in-house publicity, no bookstore co-op, a lackluster cover, and a-less-than-favorable contract.

Remember: It’s your career. Talk to the prospective agent’s clients and find out all you can using the criteria in Kristin’s list. If your gut says the agent is not the right person to help you reach your publishing goals, keep looking.

Karen Dionne is represented by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management.

New Releases

Soulbound:The Darkest London Series Book 6

by Kristen Callihan

Once two souls are joined . . .
When Adam’s soul mate rejected him, there was more at stake than his heart. After seven hundred years of searching, his true match would have ended the curse that keeps his spirit in chains. But beautiful, stubborn Eliza May fled-and now Adam is doomed to an eternity of anguish, his only hope for salvation gone . . .

Their hearts will beat together forever
No matter how devilishly irresistible Adam was, Eliza couldn’t stand the thought of relinquishing her freedom forever. So she escaped. But she soon discovers she is being hunted-by someone far more dangerous. The only man who can help is the one man she vowed never to see again. Now Adam’s kindness is an unexpected refuge, and Eliza finds that some vows are made to be broken . . .

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A Wicked Thing

by Rhiannon Thomas

Rhiannon Thomas’s dazzling debut novel is a spellbinding reimagining of what happens after happily ever after. Vividly imagined scenes of action, romance, and political intrigue are seamlessly woven together to reveal a richly created world… and Sleeping Beauty as she’s never been seen before.
One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.
Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept.
As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

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