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February 2019
A Message from Kristin Nelson

The Tough Task of Blurb Gathering

Kristin Nelson

Today a fellow agent reached out to request a blurb from one of my authors. It was a moment of joy when I was able to say, “Yes! My author will read your client’s book and provide a blurb, so please send along a copy!”

Being able to say Yes! happens so rarely. 

Gathering blurbs for a debut author is probably the most thankless task an agent does. With any debut, the author, agent, and editor will brainstorm a list of at least 15 authors to ask. If we get one blurb of the 15, it’s a miracle. I always ask my client to write a personal letter to each person we’re requesting a blurb from. The editor will also write a special note. As will I. It’s an involved process. 

Just recently I reached out to an agent friend who represents a well-known author. It was a long shot, but, hey, you’ll never get that Yes! if you don’t ask. Her response was glorious. Here’s a quote:

“My guys always consider and see if they can try. They remember what it was like! She is absolutely under a crunch but really wants to take a look if she can squeeze it in.”

I almost cried in gratitude because the majority of established, popular authors simply decline. After all, successful authors are bombarded with blurb requests. I know; I represent a few myself and have had to decline more times than I can count. But I am delighted that all my authors—even the biggest ones—are still often willing to consider. They’ll close to blurb requests for periods of time (they have to), but their doors are always open, even if it’s only a little crack. 

So I want to put this plea out there…

Established authors, I know you have crazy deadlines. I know you got five requests this week alone. But please don’t close the door completely. 

Maybe just once or twice a year, think about opening that door to a debut author and being willing to read with an eye toward offering a blurb. You will transform a debut author’s life. 

This will create excellent karma in your writing universe. Plus, you never know—that debut author might be the next big bestseller, and your name will be on that book riding toward continued success. 

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

What Goes Around

By Joanna MacKenzie

What’s old is new again. So it goes for flannel shirts (thank goodness, because I’ve always loved them), fanny packs (I’m sure they have a hip new name), leopard print (was it ever really out of style?), and manuscripts. Publishing is cyclical. For instance, romance and mystery subgenres ebb and flow in popularity—as evidenced by publishing houses opening and shuttering the lines that support them—and interest in various subject matter is always shifting (remember chick lit?). Here are a few things I’ve been seeing in my inbox that I’m excited about:

Friends. Who doesn’t love a good friendship story? I know all of Beaches by heart and am counting down the days to the third season of Friends from College (hurry up, Netflix). Stories about the messy side of friendships are having a moment, and it’s one I’m thoroughly enjoying. Whether it has a thriller twist (think A Simple Favor) or chronicles an epic relationship (My Brilliant Friend), these stories explore all sides of the dynamic relationship that is friendship. How do you stay friends after someone betrays you? Does shared history outweigh long-buried secrets? Can friends ever really bury the hatchet? Friendships are hard and messy and beautiful, and it’s not until they’ve really been tested by all things that adult life throws at you that most of us realize this. Thanks to social media, they can run even further amok because nothing fuels a friendship’s rough patch like jealousy or rumors (or perfectly styled Instagram pictures posted by long-lost friends that make you feel bad about yourself). Please keep the fish-out-of-water (new moms in new school districts), feuding (friends turned business rivals), and overcoming secrets (past mistakes revisited once and for all) stories coming. 

Middle Age. I’m seeing more and more projects about how hard adulting actually is, and I’m finding it really refreshing. From moms who try to lean in so far they’re falling flat on their faces, to newly divorced dads trying to navigate the dating scene, to reinvention stories about people finding their second or third acts amidst loss and adversity, I’ve been devouring this lovely—and timely—reaction to the “having it all” trend of the early oughts. I’m seeing stories about the dark side of keeping up with the Joneses; the truth about being middle-class in America; and the impossibility of work-life balance. It’s I Don’t Know How She Does It for a new age—messy houses, complicated relationships, kids with IEPs, and adults battling burn-out and mental illness, all raw and on the page.  

Thrillers with Shifty Protagonists. The unreliable narrator is tried and true by this point, but I’ve been seeing a lot of new twists on duplicitous leading characters. Whether it’s a play on timeline or memory, or simply the ability to endear readers to multiple perspectives before the big reveal, there have been some intriguing offerings coming across my desk. It’s great to see that there are new twists still to be had and dark underbellies still to be explored. 

Kristin's Book Club

The Difficult Topic of Aging Parents

Aging parents and death. There are definitely more pleasant topics to discuss. Which is why I rather appreciated New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir. It would be tempting for any writer tackling this tough subject to portray oneself in the saintly light, to present a rainbow-washed version of events rather than the hard realities. Ms. Chast never pulls the punches on herself, and I imagine that is why our book club’s reception of this graphic novel was quite mixed. 

Book-club members who hadn’t lost a parent were rather lukewarm, but the two of us who have moved through the experience were thoroughly engaged in this unflinching memoir. It was heartening to see someone else reflect so honestly on the very difficulties we had also faced. 

Where did we agree? In our appreciation of the photos Chast includes of the household items she found when cleaning out the Brooklyn home her parents had shared for 40 years. In those photos, we all recognized pieces of our own families.

You can decide for yourself if this is a pick that will speak to you. Next up, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

New Releases

The Deceivers

by Kristen Simmons

Kristen Simmons, the author of the Article 5 series and Metaltown, brings her remarkable imagination to this intrigue-filled contemporary drama where good kids are needed to do some very bad things in The Deceivers.

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials―because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark―a senator’s son―and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Buy It Here:

       

A Deadly Divide

by Ausma Zehanat Khan

From the critically acclaimed author Ausma Zehanat Khan, A Deadly Divide is the devastatingly powerful new thriller featuring beloved series detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, the local police apprehend Amadou Duchon―a young Muslim man at the scene helping the wounded―but release Etienne Roy, the local priest who was found with a weapon in his hands.

The shooting looks like a hate crime, but detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty sense there is more to the story. Sent to liaise with a community in the grip of fear, they find themselves in fraught new territory, fueled by the panic and suspicion exploited by a right-wing radio host.

As Rachel and Esa grapple to stop tensions shutting the case down entirely, all the time, someone is pointing Esa in another direction, a shadowy presence who anticipates his every move.

A Deadly Divide is a piercingly observed, gripping thriller that reveals the fractures that try to tear us all apart: from the once-tight partnership between detectives Esa and Rachel, to the truth about a deeply divided nation.

Buy It Here:

       

Unbury Carol

by Josh Malerman

Out in paperback this month.

Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.

Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.

And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.

The haunting story of a woman literally bringing herself back from the dead, Unbury Carol is a twisted take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

Buy It Here:

       

Competence

by Gail Carriger

Out in paperback this month.

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:

       
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