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February 2020
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Coronavirus Hits Publishing

Kristin Nelson

It rather cracks me up that according to USA Today, Google searches for Corona beer have surged recently. A good portion of Americans are searching “beer virus” to find information about the epidemic currently sweeping China and threatening to go global. For the record, the coronavirus (now renamed COVID-19) has nothing to do with the refreshing beer you can stick a lime in. And if you want more info on the origin of the name, wikipedia might be a good source. 

But it’s no laughing matter when something far across the Pacific impacts publishing right here on American shores. And once again, China is back in the spotlight. In September 2019’s newsletter, I talked about how the trade war between the US and China is impacting foreign-rights licensing. Now it’s a virus causing disruption. I fear it’s going to be a lean year for sales in that part of the world. 

NLA partners with a terrific foreign-rights co-agent in Asia—a partner who keeps us in the loop with detailed updates. Normally, we’d be catching up with him at the book fairs in Bologna and London, but, sadly, not this year. International travel is risky right now, so to be safe, they’ve canceled. I one-hundred percent support health over attending. 

Here’s how the epidemic is affecting publishing in China:

  • Chinese companies are having employees work remotely so as to minimize contact. In publishing, this will significantly impact contracts, royalties, and payments. I actually have a big deal happening in China. Luckily we received the on-signing payment back in September, but I have a sense that other payments will be a lot slower to come in. Luckily, most of our authors don’t rely on foreign advances when doing their annual financial planning. Still, it’s tough news.
  • In good news, publishers are still reading manuscripts. But unless a title is super hot, offers will not be as forthcoming.
  • The big rights fair of the year, The Beijing Book Fair, normally happens in September. That might be canceled. Lots of deals happen at that fair, so cancelation will be a blow.
  • Printers, physical bookstores, and banks remain closed. Yep, I’m sure you can extrapolate how that impacts so many things in this biz.

In this global publishing world, Asia’s problem is our problem. And all of it affects an author’s bottom line.

I won’t raise a beer to that. Or stick a lime in it. 

Recent News

Emilia Rhodes at HMH has acquired, at auction, the Prison Healer trilogy, a YA fantasy series by bestselling Australian author Lynette Noni.

SOLD!! TV rights to Jeff Seymour's NADYA SKYLUNG series, fantasy adventures set in an unforgettable world where orphans take on pirates and ships can fly, to Baby Octopus, by Danielle Burby, and attorney Wayne Alexander.

American Library Association names Slay as 2020 best title for young adult fiction

SLAY by Brittney Morris is listed on 2020 Rise: A Feminist Book Project List

Rosaria Munda’s FIREBORNE won the 2019 CYBILS Award for Speculative Fiction.

Think Like an Agent

Letting Your Theme Drive Your Revision

By Angie Hodapp

Theme is an aspect of storycraft that doesn’t come up much during the editorial process. There’s a lot of focus on character development, world building, plot, and pacing—and rightly so! But did you know all those things can fall into place if you identify your theme and let it drive your revisions? Here’s how:

What is theme? Theme is simply some insight about the human condition, or about how the world should or shouldn’t work, that’s rendered through a character’s experience. It’s what you want to Say with a capital S.

Theme is not subject. Subject is the broad topic or external thing your story is about, but theme is the truth you want to tell about that topic. You might want to write a coming-of-age story set in California in the 1960s (subject), but depending on the characters you develop and the plot you lay out before them, you might end up exploring one of any number of themes: discovery, pride, compassion, self-confidence, betrayal, compromise, sacrifice, abandonment, responsibility…the list goes on.

Theme is about change. As you develop your characters and guide/nudge/force them through the conflicts that will comprise your plot, your characters must change. So once you’ve identified the thing you want to Say with a capital S, then understand that you must also Say something about its opposite. This is Hodapp’s Law of Thematic Opposites. In our coming-of-age example above, if you realize you are Saying something about betrayal (let’s say the plot is leading up to a moment when one character must betray her best friend), then early scenes must give us plot moments that develop betrayal’s opposites: loyalty and trust. Once you understand how thematic opposites work, you can begin to plot or revise your novel with theme in mind, ensuring that Act I scenes establish loyalty and trust so that when the betrayal occurs (whether at the midpoint, end of Act II, or climax), it packs the greatest possible emotional punch for the reader. Furthermore, depending on where you place the betrayal scene, you might have a whole lot of novel left to write. You could make it a return to loyalty and trust story (A to B to A), or maybe the fallout of the betrayal will push your characters to shift their values regarding loyalty in different directions (A to B to C).

Theme is about values. Once you know what your thematic opposites are, write down a value statement for your character—something your character believes to be true and lives their life by, whether or not you or anyone else would agree. Value statements often include the phrase “it is good to” or “it is right to.” Then know that your plot exists to guide/nudge/force your character to a place where they have to act contrary to that statement. For instance, if your character starts out believing “it is good to conform when one’s life is at stake” (thematic opposites: conformity vs. nonconformity), then two things need to happen. First, make sure you’ve written a scene in Act I that establishes this belief. No, they can’t just say it to another character in dialogue—show them reacting to some situation in line with their value statement so that we see how their belief directs their actions. Second, around Act III (most likely at the climax), the plot must have pushed them into some inevitable situation where their life is at stake and yet they did not conform. Voilà. Change. Want to level-up? Give secondary characters different value statements about your thematic opposites, which will plant dramatic opportunities for interpersonal conflict. And to add stakes, build your story’s society (whether world, nation, city, village, work environment, circle of friends, or family unit) around strict rules, laws, norms, or regulations related to your theme.

Don’t worry about theme until after you’ve written your book. A lot of writers aren’t even aware their novel has a theme until they’re done writing their first draft. And that’s OK. Better, even. You might not even realize what your theme is until a critique partner or beta reader says, “I really love what you had to say about [fill in the blank: motherhood, accountability, greed, complacency, oppression, etc.] in this novel.” Two different beta readers might identify two different themes, one or both of which might surprise you. That’s OK, too. In this way, theme is a slippery fish—reel it in, but don’t hold on too tight. Each reader will bring their own experiences, values, and viewpoints to your work, and each will walk away with a different impression. Listen to your CPs and beta readers and decide whether their early thematic takeaways are something you can use to enhance your next draft.

Kristin's Book Club

I swear it will happen. Sadly, for one of our book clubbers, there was a death in the family, so January’s meeting had to be canceled last minute. But we are still jazzed to come together and chat about Andrew Sean Greer’s LESS. One of my favorite reads of 2019 and one I heartily recommend. 

If you are looking to get a jump on our next read, check out INHERITANCE: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro.

From the jacket: In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father was not her biological father. Over the course of a single day, her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her. 

Inheritance is a book about secrets. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years.

New Releases

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor

by Ally Carter

New York Times best-selling author Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is full of mystery, mayhem, and friendship, and it will keep you guessing until the very end.

April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them.

After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever know is lost to them forever.

Buy It Here:


Dear Universe

by Florence Gonsalves

A wildly witty and deeply profound chronicle of teenage anxiety and yearning, perfect for fans of Jesse Andrews and Robyn Schneider.

It’s senior year, and Chamomile Myles has whiplash from traveling between her two universes: school (the relentless countdown to prom, torturous college applications, and the mindless march toward an uncertain future) and home, where she wrestles a slow, bitter battle with her friend’s terminal illness, Enter Brendan, a man-bun-and tutu-wearing hospital volunteer with a penchant for absurdity, who strides boldly between her worlds–and helps her open up a new road between them.

Dear Universe is the dazzling follow-up to Florence Gonsalves’ debut, Love and other Carnivorous Plants, hailed by School Library Journal as “a must-have sharp, powerful, and witty immersion into the complexities of…mental health.”

Buy It Here:


The Kingdom of Back

by Marie Lu

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart. 

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish: to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be.

She is a young woman in eighteenth-century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrical story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.

Buy It Here:


Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

by Kathleen West

When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle back from certain social ruin.

Isobel Johnson has spent her career in Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family.

Brought together by the sting of public humiliation, Isobel and Julia learn firsthand how entitlement and competition can go too far, thanks to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances. The Liston Heights High student body will need more than a strong sense of school spirit to move past these campus dramas in an engrossing debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up, even against their own families.

Buy It Here:

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