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February 2018
A Message from Kristin Nelson

NYC Publishing Comes to Denver for ALA Midwinter

Kristin Nelson

In true Denver fashion, folks from the East Coast came just in time to enjoy some Colorado snow. Nice of winter to show up for the American Library Association’s Midwinter Committee meetings here in downtown.

It’s rare when the Big Apple comes to me, so I had coffee, chats, happy hour, and dinner, all in a span of eight hours, to connect with editors who were in town to feature their spring lists.

Your intrepid reporter has word from the street on editor #MSWL. The down-low:

  • YA fantasy remains hot—but how soon will this market be too crowded?


  • Stories featuring magical realism might be ramping up to be the next trend. Several contemporary realistic stories with a light magical element have sold big in the last six to twelve months, and editors are excited for these upcoming releases.


  • Editors are on the lookout for contemporary realistic novels that tackle politically and socially relevant topics in an interesting way, with timely hooks.


  • The search continues for unique #ownvoices projects and underrepresented stories.


  • YA SF is appearing tricky. Editors are still open to it, but it might be a harder push. Everyone is waiting for that big breakout book that will be the tide to raise all boats.


  • MG, MG, MG. And if you don’t know, the shorthand stands for “middle grade.” This is the holy grail right now. Editors don’t have enough MG on their lists, and they’re hungry to acquire. Especially hot is MG fantasy and MG boy adventure stories that could launch new series.

Regardless of what editors say they are currently looking for, one axiom holds true. There is no clear “trend” happening in children’s literature. In my mind, that means the universe is open to lots of great, unique stories. This is exciting indeed.

So what am I looking for from the list above? All. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t subscribe to a #MSWL necessarily. I never know what I’m going to fall in love with until I see it. I never want to close a door to a possible great story. But I do know I love stories that are high concept or have a big hook,  a strong focus on character, and that can also grip the reader at the emotional core.

How’s that for specific? Happy querying out there.

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Seven Pitch Tips from the Twin Cities

By Angie Hodapp

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 2018 Minnesota Writing Workshop in St. Paul to take pitches on behalf of NLA’s agent team. This one-day event drew attendees from multiple states (in addition to Minnesota, I met writers from Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska) and featured more than a dozen agents and editors, each actively seeking new talent. I think I took something like 36 pitches—and I’m being completely honest when I say the day passed in a happy blur of talking to authors about their books and the magic of writing.

However, that happy blur of a day did get me thinking about what makes some pitches more memorable than others. More to the point, how can writers make sure they’re making the most of those ten precious pitch minutes?

  1. Don’t memorize—informalize! Maybe it’s just me, but in a face-to-face situation, I find it extremely off-putting when a writer delivers a carefully memorized pitch as though they’re auditioning for a play. When they get to the end (cue awkward silence), I feel like I’m supposed to critique their delivery rather than their content. Instead, practice speaking informally about your project. It’s a lot more comfortable for both sides of the table. Plus it gives the agent a sense of who you are as a person and a potential client.
  2. Lead with genre and word count. Remember that some agents are there taking pitches for everything from epic fantasy to political thrillers to memoirs to picture books. Genre immediately sets the stage for your pitch, and word count immediately lets us know how ready your manuscript really is for the market.
  3. Come prepared with comps. Just do. When an agent asks you, “What are some comparable titles or authors?” have a couple ready to fire off. Preferably recent, bestselling ones. The wrong answer is, “There aren’t any because my work is so unique.” Why? Because an agent has to pitch your book to editors, and editors want comps. Comps are everybody’s friend. (Plus, your ability to list comps—current ones—tells us that you are reading your genre and are informed about where your book will fit in the market.) If your story truly is so unique that comps are difficult, then comp your writing style, themes, tone, or target audience.
  4. Let the agent talk too. I took several pitches in which the writer talked the whole time. Literally. The. Whole. Ten. Minutes. Even when I tried to eek in a question or two, some just talked louder and faster. And then they looked slightly bewildered when the timekeeper came in and kicked them out. This is partly a function of nerves—I get it. But it’s easily prevented with a stopwatch and a little pre-pitch practice. Remember, the goal of a pitch session is to have a conversation. And a conversation involves two people.
  5. Get to the plot. I listened to a few wonderfully descriptive pitches for fantasy worlds at war over the fate of all mankind. (BTW, this doesn’t distinguish your fantasy pitch from the ten fantasy pitches I took before lunch.) By the end of such pitches, I often find I have little idea who the characters were or why I should care about their plight. Conversely, I listened to other pitches that were too granular, pitches in which the author gave me a very specific blow-by-blow of one particular scene in the book. Your goal? Find the middle ground. Pitch your plot. (If you don’t know what that means, find out before you write your next book!)
  6. Don’t bring up TV or movie rights. Cart, meet horse. Horse goes first.
  7. Know who you’re pitching to. Because I was there scouting for four different agents, I asked each writer, “Which agent at NLA do you have your eye on?” Even if they named someone I knew wasn’t right for their project, I was looking to see that they could name someone, and that they had a rationale for their choice. It showed me they had done their research into our agency, and that’s important.
Kristin's Book Club

Mixing up Shades of Gray

Tapas, chips & guacamole, spinach spanakopita, homemade hummus, fresh fruit salad. We ladies know how to do a Super Bowl party right. We didn’t actually have the game on…but we did chat about Kate Andersen Brower’s FIRST WOMEN: THE GRACE AND POWER OF AMERICA’S MODERN FIRST LADIES.

First interesting factoid is that the role of First Lady is not actually an official position. So a President’s wife can define the role however she sees fit. We all knew that, but it’s something that’s easily forgotten as it is such a public role. Although it’s clear that the author has done her research and is an expert on this topic, most of us were a little flummoxed by the organizational strategy for this nonfiction work. The author chooses a thematic approach rather than chronological. Certainly a valid structure, but sometimes the over-arching theme wasn’t clear from the stories being presented. Still, a fascinating look at some new stories and the interesting dynamic and relationships with each other of the women who have filled this role.

Next up, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys. Here is something interesting: Ms Sepetys’s debut novel released in the same month as 50 SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James. In a rather hilarious, unforeseen turn of events, many people ordered this YA title by mistake looking for the other title, and Between Shades of Gray saw a huge sales boost. For the record, these two titles couldn’t be more different. Sepetys’s novel is a literary, emotionally wrenching WWII story, and James’s novel is adult erotica. But in good news, Sepetys debut did very well—all on its own after winning many notable awards.

New Releases

#Prettyboy Must Die

by Kimberly Reid

A CIA prodigy’s cover is blown when he accidentally becomes an internet sensation in #Prettyboy Must Die, Kimberly Reid’s fun, fast thriller inspired by the #Alexfromtarget story.

When Peter Smith’s classmate snaps a picture of him during a late night run at the track, Peter thinks he might be in trouble. When she posts that photo—along with the caption, “See the Pretty Boy Run,”—Peter knows he’s in trouble. But when hostiles drop through the ceiling of his 6th period Chem Class, Peter’s pretty sure his trouble just became a national emergency.

Because he’s not really Peter Smith. He’s Jake Morrow, former foster-kid turned CIA operative. After a massive screw-up on his first mission, he’s on a pity assignment, a dozen hit lists and now, social media, apparently. As #Prettyboy, of all freaking things.

His cover’s blown, his school’s under siege, and if he screws up now, #Prettyboy will become #Deadboy faster than you can say, ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ Trapped in a high school with rabid killers and rabid fans, he’ll need all his training and then some to save his job, his school and, oh yeah, his life.

Buy It Here:


A Dangerous Crossing

by Ausma Zehanat Khan

For Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty, the Syrian refugee crisis is about to become personal. Esa’s childhood friend, Nathan Clare, calls him in distress: his sister, Audrey, has vanished from a Greek island where the siblings run an NGO. Audrey had been working to fast-track refugees to Canada, but now, she is implicated in the double-murder of a French Interpol agent and a young man who had fled the devastation in Syria.

Esa and Rachel arrive in Greece to a shocking scene, witnessing for themselves the massive fallout of the Syrian war in the wretched refugee camps. Tracing Audrey’s last movements, they meet some of the volunteers and refugees―one of whom, Ali, is involved in a search of his own, for a girl whose disappearance may be connected to their investigation. The arrival of Sehr Ghilzai―a former prosecutor who now handles refugee claims for Audrey’s NGO―further complicates the matter for Esa, as his feelings towards her remain unresolved.

Working against time, with Interpol at their heels, Esa and Rachel follow a trail that takes them from the beaches of Greece, to the Turkish–Syrian border, and across Europe, reaching even the corridors of power in the Netherlands. Had Audrey been on the edge of a dangerous discovery, hidden at the heart of this darkest of crises―one which ultimately put a target on her own back?

Buy It Here:

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