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October 2017
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Gone Hollywood

Kristin Nelson

I used to dream about about this town (Supertramp anyone?), but now I just wish I could have a month free from tackling a film or TV contract. And yes, I realize I’m whining about a good problem to have.

This summer I did seven book-to-film deals. (I’d like to clarify here that NLA does not represent screenplays or screenwriters. We only sell the film/TV rights to projects for which we have also sold the print/digital rights to a publishing house. I definitely do not want a stream of screenplay queries after this article goes live.)

Film/TV contracts tend to be 40 to 50 pages long and often require many rounds of negotiation before the contract is final and ready to sign. Studios hate to give in on requests because the biggest issue in Hollywood is that every contract sets precedent for the next—and neither side wants to get stuck with a deal term that will later come back to haunt.

So film/TV deals are quite sexy (for the author), but the time investment for the literary agent is significant. Most literary agents work with a film co-agent to shop and place film/TV rights, but I’ve negotiated and closed deals sans co-agent in conjunction with my entertainment attorney.

All this to say that even if a film co-agent is on board, it is actually the literary agent’s job to negotiate the heck out of the author’s reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. Who better understands the publishing agreement than the original agent who brokered the publishing deal? I speak from experience: there are lots of changes that can be made in a Hollywood contract, and if your agent is not getting significant changes, author beware. You might want to engage an experienced entertainment attorney to act on your behalf during the contract negotiation.

The Anatomy of a Reserved-Rights Clause in a Film/TV Contract

Now let’s chat about the anatomy of a reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. (There’s no way to tackle every aspect of a Hollywood deal in one article, so I see a series in my future!) The first thing that should be included in this clause (which, by the way, spells out which rights the author gets to keep, i.e., which rights are not being granted to the studio upon signing of the contract) is, rather hilariously, a hot-button topic during negotiations. I’m talking about novelization rights.

Think about it. The novel already exists because this is a book-to-film or book-to-TV deal! Yet the studios always try to get the right of novelization to the movie. As we all know, whether we like it or not, a film can vary greatly from the original novel on which it was based.

So just how can a studio novelize a film when the novel already exists, and they, in fact, based their production on that novel?

The answer is simple. They can’t. Novelization must be a right reserved to the author. Some studios literally won’t allow that, so we have to do an odd workaround—we have to “freeze” novelization rights so neither the author nor the studio can pursue. (Side note: this does not impact the original novel the author wrote, as that is already in existence.)

Yep. If you are thinking that is pretty ludicrous, I’m in total agreement with you. But that’s Hollywood.

Next month, I’ll chat about reserving all publishing rights in this important clause and the one publishing right we’ll actually allow as it’s good for the author and the studio.

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Adult Fiction with Child Protagonists: Does It Work?

By Angie Hodapp

Last month, when all our agents were out here in Denver for a week of training and teambuilding, we inevitably found ourselves koffeeklatching about the types of submissions we’re seeing lately—via queries, pitches, conference workshops, webinars, etc. One recent trend we’ve noticed is manuscripts written for the adult market but featuring child protagonists. Does this work?

Well, sure it does…sometimes. If we’re talking To Kill a Mockingbird or The Secret Life of Bees or Room, then yes, it definitely works. But when doesn’t it work, and—if this sounds like your manuscript—how can you make it work?

No matter what audience you write for (MG, YA, adult), if your protagonist is a child or teen, then here are three questions to ask yourself.

1. How much time does your child/teen protagonist spend observing, thinking about, or trying to make sense of the conflict happening among the adults in your story? If it’s more than they spend working on achieving their own goals, then this might not actually be their story. In other words, if all the juiciest conflict and highest dramatic tension in your story is happening with your adult characters, then you’re probably better off choosing one of those adults to be your protagonist. In the commercial space (as opposed to the literary space), stories are inherently more interesting when told from the middle of the conflict, not from the outside looking in.

2. Why is your child/teen protagonist the best lens through which to tell this story? Answering with “because she is coming of age during a tumultuous time in history” or “because he is coming of age in a volatile situation” isn’t enough. Why not? Because coming of age is not plot. Let me say that again. Coming of age is not plot.

Plot happens when a protagonist—in this case, a child or teen protagonist—has:

  • Personal goals, both internal and external
  • Compelling reasons to want those goals (motivation)
  • Obstacles standing in her way (conflict)
  • The agency to make decisions and take actions related to her goals
  • To risk something meaningful with every choice she makes (stakes)

She may have these things in addition to some necessary preoccupation with the goings on of the adults in her life. And, in fact, her observations of the adults in her life may inform her internal and/or external journey toward her coming of age moment. But these plotsy-like things bullet-pointed above should be front and center for the reader because if this is actually the child’s story, then these are the things that should be driving the story’s main narrative arc.

3. If you are writing a child/teen protagonist for the adult market, have you successfully juxtaposed the relative innocence of his voice and point of view with your story’s larger, more complex and thematic issues? How do you reveal story information to your readers while withholding it from your not-yet-experienced-enough-to-understand-what-he’s-observing child protagonist? Is your writing artful, layered, and nuanced enough to stimulate the intellects and imaginations of adult readers? These are tough questions…but writing a child protagonist for the adult market is a tough prospect. Tougher than you might think!

Find a list of adult fiction with child protagonists here. Read more on this topic here and here.

Kristin's Book Club

Writers Take Heart

Every famous author has a story of rejection. Every single one. So if you are feeling the publishing-path doldrums, Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry might cheer you up because it was a bumpy road to success for this author.

“A delectable homage to the power of stories to comfort and heal, Backman’s tender tale of the touching relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter is a tribute to the everlasting bonds of deep family ties.” Booklist, starred review

Late last year, the New York Times published an article on Backman and his improbable success. Why improbable? Because, in general, Americans don’t tend to gravitate toward novels-in-translation. But when they do…

According to NYT, Backman received many a rejection from Swedish publishers for his first novel, A Man Called Ove. The publisher response was, “We like your novel, we think your writing has potential, but we see no commercial potential.” Sound familiar?

Famous last words, as A Man Called Ove went on to send over 2.8 million copies worldwide, and his second has enjoyed equal success.

This underdog author is worth a read.

New Releases

Dare Mighty Things

by Heather Kaczynski

The Selection meets The 5th Wave in this heart-racing debut duology about a girl competing for a spot on a mysterious mission to the outer reaches of space.

THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: You must be gifted. You must be younger than twenty-five. You must be willing to accept the dangers that you will face if you win.

Eighteen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she is to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.

As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down…even if it costs her everything.

Buy It Here:


The Bloodprint

by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A dark power called the Talisman, born of ignorance and persecution, has risen in the land. Led by a man known only as the One-Eyed Preacher, it is a cruel and terrifying movement bent on world domination—a superstitious patriarchy that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women. And it is growing.

But there are those who fight the Talisman’s spread, including the Companions of Hira, a diverse group of influential women whose power derives from the Claim—the magic inherent in the words of a sacred scripture. Foremost among them is Arian and her fellow warrior, Sinnia, skilled fighters who are knowledgeable in the Claim. This daring pair have long stalked Talisman slave-chains, searching for clues and weapons to help them battle their enemy’s oppressive ways. Now they may have discovered a miraculous symbol of hope that can destroy the One-Eyed Preacher and his fervid followers: the Bloodprint, a dangerous text the Talisman has tried to erase from the world.

Finding the Bloodprint promises to be their most perilous undertaking yet, an arduous journey that will lead them deep into Talisman territory. Though they will be helped by allies—a loyal boy they freed from slavery and a man that used to be both Arian’s confidant and sword master—Arian and Sinnia know that this mission may well be their last.

Buy It Here:


Machine Learning

by Hugh Howey

A new collection of stories, including some that have never before been seen, from the New York Times best-selling author of the Silo trilogy

Hugh Howey is known for crafting riveting and immersive page-turners of boundless imagination, spawning millions of fans worldwide, first with his best-selling novel Wool, and then with other enthralling works such as Sand and Beacon 23.

Now comes Machine Learning, an impressive collection of Howey’s science fiction and fantasy short fiction, including three stories set in the world of Wool, two never-before-published tales written exclusively for this volume, and fifteen additional stories collected here for the first time. These stories explore everything from artificial intelligence to parallel universes to video games, and each story is accompanied by an author’s note exploring the background and genesis of each story.

Buy It Here:


The Midnight Star

by Marie Lu

The thrilling finale to the New York Times bestselling Young Elites series from “hit factory” Marie Lu

#1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu concludes Adelina’s story with this haunting and hypnotizing final installment to the Young Elites series.

Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.  When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Buy It Here:



by Josh Malerman

Novella Collection

From the celebrated author of Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel, a very special 13th book in Earthling’s annual Halloween Series…

A MAN IN SLICES A young man wants to prove to his long-distance girlfriend that they have “legendary love,” better than Vincent van Gogh, so he sends her more than just his ear.

KAMP A man horrified of encountering a ghost sets up a series of “ghost traps” all over his apartment, desperate to catch one before it can sneak up on him.

PRESTO In the pages of Presto magazine, a young boy reads that his favorite magician, Roman Emperor, is coming to town. Problem is, Pete doesn’t know that Emperor’s magic is real, and his latest trick involves audience participation… from a little boy volunteer.

Welcome to the town of Goblin. May your night there be wet with rain, breathless with adventure, and filled with fright…

See It Here

Buy It Here:

Third Son's a Charm

by Shana Galen

Ewan Mostyn thinks a job as a duke’s daughter’s bodyguard will be easy―but Lady Lorraine has a few tricks up her sleeve that spark an undeniable passion

Fiercely loyal to his friends and comrades, Ewan Mostyn is the toughest in a group of younger sons of nobility who met as soldiers and are now trying desperately to settle back into peaceful Society. Ewan trusts his brawn more than his brains, but when he’s offered a job watching the Duke of Ridlington’s stubbornly independent daughter, he finds both are challenged.

Lady Lorraine wants none of her father’s high-handed ways, and she’ll do everything in her power to avoid her distressingly attractive bodyguard―until she lands herself in real trouble. Lorraine begins to see Ewan’s protectiveness in a new light, and she can only hope that her stoic guardian will do for her what he’s always done―fight for what he wants.

Buy It Here:

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