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May 2019
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Why an Evolved Query System Is a Good Thing

Kristin Nelson

Back in 2004, NLA was one of the first agencies to go entirely electronic by accepting query letters solely by email. I remember chatting with some agent friends about it, and you would have thought the sky was falling. They were passionately certain they would never go that route because sending an email was way too easy. Agents would be inundated. Only aspiring writers who took the time to compose a letter, print it out, put in in an envelope, address it, affix postage, and then walk or drive it to a post office could be considered serious enough about the biz.

Well, my agent friends weren’t wrong. Email definitely allowed far more query letters—many less than professional—to make it to my desk. But my reasoning at the time was that email was faster and easier, and it would allow me as an agent to get a jump on hot projects. As a new, unknown agent, any edge I could create was worth the risk. 

As an agency, we accepted email queries for 13 years, and in January 2019, we decided to shift to a rather amazing service called QueryManager. 

If the number of emails we’ve received from outraged writers is any indication, then once again, you’d think the sky was falling. How dare we create even more hoops for a writer to jump through?

For the record, I understand the frustration. The query process is not easy, and sending emails is a lot simpler than filling out and submitting an online form. The good news is, QueryTracker exists! Developed by the same folks who gave us QueryManager, QueryTracker can be used by writers to greatly simplify their submissions process, so give it a look.

For us at NLA, it came down to this: QueryManager is not meant to be a hoop for writers to jump through; it’s meant to be a simplification, for agents and for writers. We are an agency that responds to each and every query letter we receive. That is the kind of agent I want to be because responding is respectful, and I will never post on our site that “no response means we’re not interested,” which feels cold. But with four agents at the agency, it quickly became clear that we needed a better system for handling the sheer volume of queries we were receiving. Not to mention, we were getting a lot of emails from writers saying they never received a response from us, even though a response had been sent, and a lot of phone calls from writers whose queries had bounced back to them. It was taking our office staff a lot of time to troubleshoot with these authors.

Enter QueryManager—a robust tool that has hugely simplified the lives of our office staff and agents. Sorting and filtering queries—by genre, by word count, by several other parameters—is a breeze. Responding promptly is a snap. Our screeners are more efficient. In the end, that means our turn-around time is pretty darn good—something writers greatly appreciate. I personally like logging in and checking my response stats. This actually encourages me to stay on top of my query inbox and feels like personal goals achieved, and who doesn’t like a visual representation of a job well done?

By switching, I truly believe we are providing better service to writers. If a writer’s project doesn’t fit what we’re currently accepting, then there’s no need to send the query. Just diminishing the volume of non-fits has simplified the query influx for us as well. 

(Now, if I can just get queriers to stop trying to circumvent the system by selecting a genre that their work clearly doesn’t fit but that is on the list of what we accept, then system would be perfect!)

Good luck out there! Feel free to check out our guidelines and read more about what we’re looking for. Even if NLA ends up passing on your query, hopefully we sent that response in a timely fashion and you are moving on to other great agent possibilities. 

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

So You Want To Use That Song Lyric in Your Novel

By Joanna MacKenzie

I have a confession to make: up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know a lot about permissions. Sure, I could explain the clause in a publishing contract where it states that the author is responsible for securing permissions from third parties for use of third-party material in the author’s books. But I kind of assumed (or hoped) that if it ever came to it, the publisher would walk the author through the actual process. Not so. So when one of my authors wanted to secure permissions for some song lyrics she wanted to include in her upcoming release, we ventured down the winding road together. Here is what I learned:

  • What do you need permission for? You need legal permission any time you want to quote or excerpt someone else’s work in your own. That can apply to anything from poetry to song lyrics and every magazine article or blog entry in between.
  • The concept of “fair use” is murky. Isn’t there a law that states that you can use a percentage of someone else’s work for free? Not really. As Jane Friedman so smartly points out in her post A Writer’s Guide to Permissions and Fair Use, there is no defining rule about how much of someone else work is “OK” to use without permission.  So your best bet is always to ask.
  • Your publisher really isn’t going to help you. Publishing contracts specify that the author is responsible for securing all necessary permissions, and they mean it. It is the author’s job to figure out who to reach out to regarding securing permissions. Don’t expect your publisher to have a list of record executives’ email addresses or standard forms to fill out for such an occasion. This part of the process can require quite a bit of leg work in terms of tracking down the right individuals. Side note: agents won’t necessity be able to help either. While I’m always happy to advocate for my clients, I do not have the necessary connections to move this process along.
  • There is a cost and it can be steep. Most of the people my author reached out wanted to know certain information such as print run and territory of distribution before calculating permission fees. They then based their fees accordingly, and they were notable. One of the terms I learned during this process was “favored nations,” which basically means that one party cannot be paid more than another. As it pertains to permissions, don’t think you’ll be able to strike a deal with a record company because you’re only using a few lines, for example, or that another company will give you a break because they like the premise of your story. The people you’re reaching out to are, in turn, advocating for their clients. They want to make sure that the content their clients made is respected in the marketplace, and that means fiscal compensation. And they pretty much have a going rate. The other thing to consider is that you have to pay regardless of how much money you’re making or if you’ve been paid your full advance or not.
  • Permissions live with your work. If your book takes off, know that permissions requests will follow you. So far, from what I’ve seen, costs are associated with the publisher’s proposed print run and are limited to the territories requested. That means that if your book sells over whatever your publisher initially projected, you will have to pay permissions fees again. Same goes for every foreign license (and there are some caveats depending on whether or not a foreign publisher intends to keep the lyrics in English). In sum, this is not a one-and-done thing.

So what can you do? Think about how important any excerpts are to your writing. Can you write around them? Mention them in passing? For example, reference a well-known chorus that readers will be sure to get, if we’re talking about music? Your other option is to search public-domain offerings that will fit the bill. Works in the public domain can be used without permission.   

Kristin's Book Club

Little Sparks

Jodi Picoult read LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE “in a single, breathless sitting.” As you know, I didn’t do the same, as I listened to the audio edition. One sitting would be 15+ hours, but I have to agree that this is a novel that tackles some uncomfortable questions of race versus the comfort of upper-middle-class privilege. It’s a searing yet sympathetic look at motherhood from a variety of perspectives. That’s what I admire most about Ng’s novel. Even if when it’s clear where her thoughts and loyalties lie, she treats every character with warmth, insight, and respect. 

About the story: “When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.”

For me, it was an unforgettable look at mothers and daughters and how often we can hurt those we love with our blind spots. For the rest of my book club, the verdict was mixed. Several members floundered in the opening hundred pages and didn’t finish the story. As mentioned previously, Ng is carefully crafting a slow build, and her writing is gorgeous. That will either work for you or it won’t.

Next up has not been decided yet. It’s voting season for our book club. But we are very excited to move to the Book Club app by Book Movement as a way of simplifying the management of the club. So far I’m pleased with the tool, so it might be worth checking out.

New Releases

Nadya Skylung and the Masked Kidnapper

by Jeff Seymour

In this middle-grade sequel to Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue, author Jeff Seymour and bestselling illustrator Brett Helquist deliver another breathtaking fantasy adventure.

Nadya Skylung paid a high price when she defeated the pirates on the cloudship Remora: She lost her leg. But has she lost her nerve too?

When Nadya and the rest of the crew of the cloudship Orion reach the port of Far Agondy, they have a lot to do, including a visit to Machinist Gossner’s workshop to have a prosthetic made for Nadya.

But though the pirates are far away across the Cloud Sea, Nadya and her friends are still not safe. A gang leader called Silvermask is kidnapping skylung and cloudling children in Far Agondy.

When Nadya’s friend Aaron is abducted, Nayda will stop at nothing to save him and the other missing kids, and put a stop to Silvermask once and for all.

 

 

Buy It Here:

       

This is Home (Paperback)

by Lisa Duffy

Sixteen-year-old Libby Winters lives in Paradise, a seaside town north of Boston that rarely lives up to its name. After the death of her mother, she lives with her father, Bent, in the middle apartment of their triple decker home—Bent’s two sisters, Lucy and Desiree, live on the top floor. A former soldier turned policeman, Bent often works nights, leaving Libby under her aunts’ care. Shuffling back and forth between apartments—and the wildly different natures of her family—has Libby wishing for nothing more than a home of her very own.

Quinn Ellis is at a crossroads. When her husband John, who has served two tours in Iraq, goes missing back at home, suffering from PTSD he refuses to address, Quinn finds herself living in the first-floor apartment of the Winters house. Bent had served as her husband’s former platoon leader, a man John refers to as his brother, and despite Bent’s efforts to make her feel welcome, Quinn has yet to unpack a single box.

For Libby, the new tenant downstairs is an unwelcome guest, another body filling up her already crowded house. But soon enough, an unlikely friendship begins to blossom, when Libby and Quinn stretch and redefine their definition of family and home.

Buy It Here:

       

A Love Like Yours

by Robin Huber

In this compelling, fiercely emotional debut, childhood sweethearts have a second chance at true love–but can they overcome the past that tore them apart?

I’ve been a fighter all my life, even before I made it my career. As a kid in the foster system, I didn’t have any other choice. But I’ve never fought for something–for someone–as hard as I fought for Lucy. I was her protector, her hero–and she was my everything. From the day we met, she made our grim days in Atlanta’s notorious Brighton Park fade away–leaving only us.

But we broke each other’s hearts, and we did a damn good job of it. A decade has passed since I last saw her, but not a day goes by that I don’t think of her clear blue eyes or easy smile.

So when I see her at one of my matches–and find out that she’s engaged–I need to understand why she turned her back on me all those years ago. Because no matter what I do, no matter how many guys I knock out in the boxing ring, I can’t forget her.

So I’m not giving up on her. I’m not walking away. I’m going to fight for Lucy one last time.

Buy It Here:

       

A Story Like Ours

by Robin Huber

In the riveting, powerful conclusion to the Love Story duet, Sam and Lucy discover that sometimes it’s not about finding love, it’s about saving it.

Even when we were kids, the connection between us was overwhelming. I knew Sam and I were soulmates, destined to be together. Breaking that love would mean breaking us. And for a little while, that happened. I lost the man who had always been my other half.

After too much heartache and too many years apart, we’ve finally found our way back to each other. But Sam’s professional boxing career is getting in the way of our happy ending. I don’t know how much longer I can watch him take another crushing punch, knowing each one knocks him closer to danger. He’s killing himself. For me. For us. And for one tiny other…

Then the blow comes. It’s not the one I thought it would be–fist in glove–but the result is the same. We’re on the verge of losing everything we fought for. Everything we sacrificed for.

We thought we paid the price. We thought we had it all. But what if my love isn’t enough to bring Sam back to me?

Buy It Here:

     
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