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October 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Fixing These Three Mistakes Could Transform Your Manuscript

Kristin Nelson

With the fall leaves, I finally wrap up four months of travel and two wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrator (SCBWI) conferences. I’m delighted to be spending the rest of the year right here in Denver.

As a participating agent at the two SCBWI events, I enjoyed doing several read-and-critique sessions. I read participants’ opening sample chapters, then sat down with each writer for a one-one-one discussion.

While doing these critiques, I made a big discovery: I repeatedly wrote the same three comments in the margins. Three beginning-writer mistakes that if resolved could significantly improve the writing.

Here they are:

  • Less is always more. Why say “a grin wiggled and danced across her face” if “she grinned” would suffice?
  • Beginning writers often try too hard with language. If you are always trying to include a perfect turn of phrase in every paragraph, then when you really need one, it won’t stand out. Here’s an example:

The breeze danced across my face, brushing my skin like the gentle tap of a woman’s fingertip, caressing my skin like a kiss.

It’s too much, and it’s all clumped together in one sentence. Even if the writer split it into several sentences, it would still be overkill for a scene moment in which all the reader needs to know is that there’s a breeze.

  • Anchor the reader in the physical space of the scene setting. I see lots of dialogue coming from a disembodied voice floating around in the ether of scenes that lack physical descriptions to solidify who is speaking and from where.

That’s it! Three easily solved craft issues that can make you a significantly stronger writer.

Happy writing!

Pub Rants University

Recording only of Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop

Friday, December 01 at 12:00 pm

This is a recording of the Webinar held on July 30, 2015.

Chances are, your agent is not auditing your royalty statements. And chances are, accounting mistakes are being made. So if you’re not auditing your royalty statements, you could be missing out on significant income!

In this Webinar, Nelson Literary Agency’s contracts and royalties manager, Angie Hodapp, will walk you through the basics of royalties reporting and teach you how to read and audit your own royalty statements. Using statements from several big and mid-sized publishers as examples, Angie will explain how various publishers express returns, reserves, royalty-rate escalators, subrights income, bonus income, and more, and illustrate how everything adds up to affect your bottom line.

Finally, Angie will walk you through how to set up an Excel spreadsheet you can use each reporting period to track cumulative units sold and total earnings for each book you’ve had published. This valuable tool will also help you track your payments and find accounting errors!

You can buy access to this Webinar recording until December 1, 2017.

Register Now
Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Final Article: Good Agents Know When To Say Goodbye


Of all the articles in this series, this is by far the hardest to write. What agent, including me, wants to highlight failure? We are only human after all. But I do think this is an important topic worth tackling, so I’m going to “agent-up” and say:

Good Agents know when to say goodbye if they are hindering more than helping a client’s career.

Put simply, sometimes and agent and an author outgrow each other. They stop seeing eye-to-eye on future projects, strategy, or even how the author envisions the next phase of her career. It might actually be more helpful if the agent sets the author free. And agents need to be big enough to acknowledge that and act.

Just this summer, a long-time client and I decided to do just that. This was a client I personally really liked and had always admired her professionalism and marketing savvy. The decision to end representation was mutual, amicable, and, heck, a bit tearful for both of us. We were ending the relationship even though we got along well and had strong communication and mutual respect. We ended it because we were no longer aligned on the direction of her writing career, her next writing project, or her place in the market.

That is when an agent can hinder more than help the author.

Good agents should recognize this moment, be gracious, and assist the author in her next step—which is often finding a new agent. Trust me, it’s a tough moment. It can feel like failure even when it’s not. And it has happened to all agents at least once in their careers.

I wouldn’t trust any agent who claims otherwise.

Thank you so much following along with this What Makes A Good Agent article series. If you are currently doing the agent hunt, happy searching, and I hope you find the perfect agent partner for your writing and your career.


The genesis: In January 2015, Backspace co-founder Karen Dionne and I had a conversation in which she mentioned that writers sometimes want representation so badly they are willing to sign with an average or even a below-average agent. Trust me she said, not all agents are equal. I replied, “Well, writers don’t know what they don’t know.”

In that moment, a lightbulb went on 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. And at long last, after 10 months, we are finally bringing this series to a wonderful close. 

Kristin's Book Club

Back in the Memoir Saddle Again

The memoir for our October book-club meeting has a list of accolades a mile long. I have a feeling we are in for a unique and compelling read. I just have to decide: Audiobook or iBooks for my reading medium? Jumping in to listen to a sample of Janet Song’s audio narration.

“Suki Kim’s compelling reports for Harper’sThe New York Review of Books, and others have expanded and deepened our understanding both of life in the North, and the West’s profound misapprehensions about it.…[This book is] a fascinating, if deeply fraught document about the education of the North Korean elite…Kim’s access to the boys constitutes the unique nature of her book [and] illuminates just how sheltered they are.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books

“Enthralling…Reveals the perplexing innocence and ignorance of one of the world’s most secretive countries.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine

“[An] extraordinary and troubling portrait of life under severe repression…[Kim’s] account is both perplexing and deeply stirring.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A rare and nuanced look at North Korean culture, and an uncommon addition to the ‘inspirational-teacher’ genre.”
Booklist, starred review

Guest Article

“Divorcing” Your Agent: When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

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.

For many authors, the thought of voluntarily ending their relationship with their literary agent can be heartbreaking—especially if their agent search was long and difficult, or if they genuinely like their agent. But like a marriage, sometimes what initially looked like an ideal pairing turns out otherwise.

Perhaps you’ve read Kristin’s “What Makes a Good Agent” article series in this newsletter and decided your agent doesn’t measure up. Or possibly you’ve known for some time that the relationship wasn’t working and have concluded it’s time to move on.

Assuming you’ve done everything you can to address the issues with your agent, what’s the next step?

How to Leave Your Agent

First, review your agency agreement. Most contracts specify that the relationship can be terminated by either party with 30 days’ notice.

Unless your agency agreement says otherwise, terminating your relationship by email is fine as long as the agent confirms receipt. If you choose to send your agent a letter via certified mail, it’s a good idea to email him or her in advance to let them know the letter is on the way.

If your agent has submitted your book to publishers, you’ll need to ask for a list of every publishing house he or she submitted your book to. Your agent owes you this information, as well as the status of each of those submissions if any are still pending. Understand that according to most agency agreements, your previous agent will be entitled to receive compensation for sales they made while you were under contract with them, even though you are no longer working together.

As with any professional relationship, take the high road. Feelings and emotions are involved, but don’t get caught up in the emotional aspects of the situation. You may have legitimate grievances. Your agent may be understandably upset. It’s important to stay calm and professional. Be polite and amicable. Thank your agent for all the hard work they did reading and submitting your work without compensation, and move on.

When to Start Looking for a New Agent

Most agents advise terminating your current relationship before looking for another agent. Some authors are understandably nervous about breaking up with their agent before they have another. However, keep in mind that publishing is a small world. If you decide to send out feelers before ending your relationship with your agent, odds are good your current agent will find out.

True story: Agent X and Agent Y, who worked at a different agency, were friends and often referred potential clients to one another. One day, an author looking for a new agent wrote to Agent X. Agent X read the pitch letter and went online to learn more about the author’s book deals—which is how Agent X learned that Agent Y was the author’s agent.

Assuming Agent Y had referred the client, Agent X wrote a quick note to thank him for the referral. Half an hour later, Agent X got an angry email from the author saying he hadn’t yet spoken to Agent Y, and now that agent had fired him. Naturally Agent X was no longer interested in working with this author either.

Once you and your agent have parted ways, your next objective is to find an agent who will be a better fit. It helps to write down what you feel you need in an agent. One you have a list of prospective agents, try to talk to some of their clients if at all possible to ask about the agent’s management and communication style as well as your other concerns. There’s no point in leaving one agent only to fall into the same kind of relationship with the next.

Above all, don’t feel guilty for ending a partnership that isn’t working. This may be difficult if you and your agent are on good terms, but remember: In the publishing world, enthusiasm is incredibly important. Authors need an agent who loves their work, and who believes the author might be the next big thing. If this isn’t the case for you, leaving your agent might be the best decision you ever make.


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

Insider Tips from NLA

Three Ways to Cut Your Word Count (One of Which We Don't Recommend)

Angie Hodapp

Contracts and Royalties Manager Angie Hodapp teaches writing-craft and query-letter workshops both online and through various writing organizations.

Agent Kristin has said it before, but it bears repeating: Your word count matters.

Daily, we get tons of query letters for manuscripts that are just too dang long from authors who are convinced (and pre-emptively argue) that every word is crucial. Not surprisingly, these query letters tend to be pretty wordy themselves, which doesn’t bode well. Behind a wordy query letter lurks a wordy manuscript.

If your query letter mentions a word count that’s too high or too low for your genre, or for a novel in general—or if you don’t mention your word count at all—you’re likely to get a quick form rejection.

You might be thinking, “Why? What’s the big deal? There are plenty of wordy writers out there who are selling lots of big books just fine, thank you very much.”

And if that’s what you’re thinking, well, you’re right! However, most of those hefty-tome authors have been in the game awhile; they’re not trying to break into the current market with a wordy (and, dare I say, often undisciplined) manuscript. So as an aspiring debut, your best chance at catching an agent’s eye includes, among other things, demonstrating that you can stick to your genre’s word-count guidelines.

Sticking to word-count guidelines proves two things:

(1) That you understand your genre, and the reader and industry expectations that come with it.

(2) That you are a disciplined storyteller and crafter of prose who can get ‘er done, start to finish, within the confines of a prescribed word count.

To that end, here are three ways you can cut your word count (only two of which we actually recommend):

The Scene-by-Scene Approach

When Agent Kristin is editing a client’s manuscript, she writes up what she calls the novel’s road map. It’s a bulleted list of everything that’s actually happening on the page in each scene, from start to finish. (By the way, she occasionally offers “Creating the Road Map for Your Novel” as a webinar. Next time she offers it, sign up.)

Not many writers road-map their books, so this process is often super eye-opening, even for seasoned authors. It provides a quick way to identify soft spots in your pacing—saggy scenes in which not much is happening.

No matter how cool these scenes are, or how artfully written, or how much fun you had writing them, you have to drop the ax. If a scene doesn’t (a) drive the story forward, (b) develop character, or (c) both (hopefully both), it’s dead weight. Cut it.

The Line-by-Line Approach

A friend of mine was told by her editor at a major New York publishing house that she needed to cut 20,000 words from her already-under-contract manuscript. Ouch.

She did the road-map thing, but her storytelling and scene craft were pretty tight. She found only a couple scenes that weren’t necessary to her plot or character development—about 5,000 words.

With another 15,000 to go, she pulled out her red pen and got to work. Going line by line through her manuscript, she slashed-and-burned every unnecessary word, phrase, and sentence…and in the process discovered for herself what her editor was too shy to tell her: that she was a wordy, wordy, wordy writer.

This arduous exercise paid off. It made her a better writer, able to tell a great story and craft disciplined prose. Win-win, especially for her readers!

The Lop-Off-the-End Approach

OK, this is the approach we don’t recommend. I only mention it here because I was recently working with an aspiring writer who was struggling with his manuscript’s super-high word count. Despite my cautions, he was pretty sure he needed All The Words.

To his credit, he did spend a month or two revising the manuscript. But even after slicing 25,000 words, he was still running high. Then one day he emailed me, very excited because he had come up with the perfect solution: cut the last several chapters and make them the first chapters of a sequel!


Have you ever been to a movie, and three-quarters of the way through, the power goes out? And you don’t know how the movie ends? And the manager stands at the back of the theater, handing out free passes and inviting you to come back later when things are working? Frustrating and unsatisfying, right? Don’t do that to your novel. Don’t do that to your readers.

A well-told story is like an arc. Beginning. Middle. End. You’ve got to draw that complete arc so that “end” falls somewhere between 60,000 and 120,000 words—depending on your genre, of course. No matter how you get there, your ability to tell a complete story within a particular number of words is an essential skill, especially for a debut author. Show your manuscript no mercy and cut, cut, cut.

New Releases

Madame X

by Jasinda Wilder

Madame X invites you to test the limits of desire in this provocative new
novel from New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder.

My name is Madame X.
I’m the best at what I do…

Hired to transform the uncultured, inept sons of the wealthy and powerful into decisive, confident men, Madame X wields culture and wit like a knife. But behind her sophisticated facade X is a woman adrift, trapped between a dangerous past she can’t remember and the protection of a seductive man who claims her body—and her soul.

Undone time and again by his exquisite dominance, X craves and fears his desire in equal measure. And while she longs for the safety of her tower penthouse, she also yearns to escape. But X has never known anything or anyone else—until he came along…

Buy It Here:


The Rose Society

by Marie Lu

From New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu comes the second book in the exhilarating Young Elites series

Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.

Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she and her sister flee Kenettra to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good, when her very existence depends on darkness?

Buy It Here:


The Immortal Heights

by Sherry Thomas

Iolanthe and Titus’s mission comes to its thrilling end in the third book in the Elemental Trilogy—perfect for fans of Cinda Williams Chima and Kristin Cashore—which Publishers Weekly called “a wonderfully satisfying magical saga” in a starred review and Kirkus Reviews said “bids fair to be the next big epic fantasy success.”

In a pursuit that spans continents, Iolanthe, Titus, and their friends have always managed to remain one step ahead of the forces of Atlantis. But now the Bane, the monstrous tyrant who bestrides the entire mage world, has issued his ultimatum: Titus must hand over Iolanthe, or watch as his entire realm is destroyed in a deadly rampage. Running out of time and options, Iolanthe and Titus decide to act now and deliver a final blow to the Bane that will end his reign of terror for good.

But getting to the Bane means accomplishing the impossible: finding a way to infiltrate his crypt in the deepest recesses of the most ferociously guarded fortress in Atlantis. And everything is only made more difficult when new prophecies come to light, foretelling a doomed effort. . . .

Iolanthe and Titus will put their love and their lives on the line. But will it be enough

Buy It Here:


Gold Throne in Shadow

by M.C. Planck

The continuing adventures of Christopher Sinclair, mechanical engineer turned priest of war.

Christopher, raised from the dead and promoted to a moderate rank, takes command of the army regiment he trained and equipped. Sent south to an allegedly easy posting, he finds himself in the way of several thousand rabid dog-men. Guns and fortifications turn back the horde, but Christopher has other problems that cannot be solved with mere firepower: a wicked assassin; hostile clergymen; dubious allies including a bard, Lalania, with a connection to a mysterious group of scholars; and worst of all his own impolitic tongue. But all of these pale into mere distractions once he discovers the true enemy: an invisible, mind-eating horror who plays the kingdom like a puppet-master’s stage. Lalania claims she can help–but will it be enough?

Buy It Here:

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