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October 2020
A Message from Kristin Nelson

A Story Hidden in the Data

Kristin Nelson

On October 15, Publishers Lunch sent out their daily email blast. In it, they rounded up the pre-sales happening before the virtual Frankfurt Book Fair and included this chart, which spotlights the surge in debut-fiction sales. To quote from the article: “As this chart makes clear, the 59 reports in the measured period are almost twice the average number of debut fiction sales from recent years.”

In a nutshell, the number of book deals for debut authors is up in a big way. Sounds pretty fantastic. Publishers are buying more debut authors during Covid than they did in 2019 or 2018. Any news that publishers are buying lots more fiction is good news, in my opinion.

But there’s also another story hidden in this data, one that’s not all rainbows and sunshine for already published authors. When publishers are buying more of one thing, they’re buying less of something else. In this case, that “something else” is most likely option-material projects from current authors who find themselves firmly on what we agents call the mid-list.

A mid-list author is an author who has a book (or several books) published and has decent sales, but none of their books have become a breakout—that is, we wouldn’t call sales for any one of their books phenomenal. A mid-list author can have a long and terrific career, publishing multiple books and maintaining solid sales track records. Historically, publishers have continued to buy new work from mid-list authors; sometimes, a mid-list author can publish four or five books, and it’s number six that breaks and catapults them into superstar standing in their publisher’s eyes. And then there are a lot of mid-list authors who publish three books, maybe five books, don’t break out, and the publisher decides not to pick up the option for the author’s next work. Suddenly, that author is contract-less.

That’s the hidden story in this chart from Publishers Lunch. Debut buys might be up because mid-list option buys are down. Anecdotally, this is what I’m hearing from quite a few other agents, as we do all like to chat with each other. What does this mean for agents in 2021? We’ll potentially be doing a lot of client career strategizing for the next six to twelve months as we position anew our mid-list authors. And we might be signing more debut authors as well. So check out our submission guidelines and keep us in mind for your next project!

Note: Only Publishers Marketplace subscribers can potentially access the full news story. 

Recent News

Ahead of the upcoming PS5 video game Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Titan Books will publish a YA companion novel by bestselling author Brittney Morris.

After an exclusive submission, Gallery Books’ Ed Schlesinger preempted Richard Chizmar’s novel Chasing the Boogeyman for six figures.

Marie Lu's latest release SKYHUNTER hits the Young Adult Hardcover bestseller list.

Barker & Patterson's The Coast-to-Coast Murders hits #3 on the Hardcover bestseller list and #2 on the combined bestseller list.

Barker & Patterson's The Coast-to-Coast Murders is an instant USA Today Bestseller.

Just announced: Jordyn Taylor's Paper Girl of Paris among three amazing audiobook nominees for teens

Brittney Morris' SLAY won the 2020 Washington State Book Award (WSBA) for Young Adult Literature

Brittney Morris' SLAY and 25 other YA Science Fiction Books For All Types of Readers

Brittney Morris' The Cost of Knowing makes the roundup list “Bring On 2021 Because We're So Excited For These Young Adult Books That Come Out Next Year

Roseanne A. Brown joins an expert panel of fantasy authors as they discuss how romance can provide the driving force of a story.

Guest Article

Six Months of Online Writing Events: What's Working?

Angie Hodapp

Director of Literary Develoment

Last month, I asked for your comments on the ways in which writing events have adapted in response to the pandemic. Unfortunately, our e-newsletter system blocked the email address I included…which, I now know, is exactly what it’s supposed to do. In any case, if you intended to respond but couldn’t, my apologies. Next time we do an all-call, we’ll do better.

Luckily, I did receive some responses on the blog (thank you!). A few folks who know me personally reached out with some insights, and I solicited a few more from some of my writer friends. Here are the takeaways.

Networking has suffered. There are two kinds of conference-going writers: those who attend for the content, and those who attend for the networking. Virtual events have continued to satisfy (to varying degrees) the former, but the latter still feel largely in the cold. The consensus seems to be that there is simply no good virtual substitute for the in-person “bar-con” interactions conventions and conferences provide.

Small, live classes are best. The preference seems to be for smaller groups, a live, interactive instructor, and opportunities for participation, even if only to ask questions. Large groups can get messy and distracting, mostly due to unmuted mics, glitchy connections, and attendees who need on-the-spot tech support.

Prerecorded content is not awesome. I’m hearing that homemade videos are leaning toward flat and unengaging, and makeshift home studios mean that lighting, sound, and production quality are all over the board. Plus, writers don’t have the time or willingness to sit in front of their computers for hours and hours with their brains in passive-receptive mode. Several told me they’d rather be writing or participating in a live class.

People from all over the globe can attend. I heard from several sources that this has been an unexpected boon. For event organizers, the fact that geography has been canceled has boosted attendance numbers originally projected to be low. For writers, this has meant connecting with other writers around the world and attending events they wouldn’t dream of attending in person under normal circumstances due to cost and distance.

Pricing is a problem. Events with very similar content (both in quality and quantity) are being offered for everything from free to hundreds of dollars. An online conference should not cost nearly as much as an in-person one. With no expenses for venues, meals, travel and lodging for speakers and instructors, swag, hotel or conference-center audio-visual equipment and support, and so on, event organizers have no business charging the same for their online event as they do for their in-person one. That said, what should they charge? Well, according to basic economics, they should charge a price that falls within the range of what writers are willing to pay for what’s being offered. That range will likely become clearer as we move into another six months or year (or more—who knows?) of virtual events.

Screen-time burnout is real. The initial push last spring to entertain people in their homes resulted in a glut of online content and learning opportunities. But now that people have settled into new routines, they’re becoming choosier about what they spend their time and money on. And, in general, people are seeking free-time activities they can do away from their computers.

The best events have competent facilitators in every session. Just as with in-person events, someone who can keep things moving by watching the clock and fielding questions, who can hit record and stop recording, and who can diagnose and solve tech questions quickly and clearly so the instructor doesn’t have to, is a must. One respondent called a facilitator’s duties “a real juggling act.” Without that role filled—and filled by an appropriately competent person—the attendees’ impression of the event regardless of the quality of the instructor’s content or delivery will suffer.

Again, a huge thanks to those who took the time to respond with your thoughts. We will have more survey-our-readers topics in the future, so watch this space.

New Releases


by Marie Lu

A broken world.
An overwhelming evil.
A team of warriors ready to strike back.

#1 New York Times-bestselling author Marie Lu is back with an adrenaline-laced novel about the lengths one warrior will go to fight for freedom and those she loves.

Talin is a Striker, a member of an elite fighting force that stands as the last defense for the only free nation in the world: Mara.

A refugee, Talin knows firsthand the horrors of the Federation, a world-dominating war machine responsible for destroying nation after nation with its terrifying army of mutant beasts known only as Ghosts.

But when a mysterious prisoner is brought from the front to Mara’s capital, Talin senses there’s more to him than meets the eye. Is he a spy from the Federation? What secrets is he hiding?

Only one thing is clear: Talin is ready to fight to the death alongside her fellow Strikers for the only homeland she has left . . . with or without the boy who might just be the weapon to save—or destroy—them all.

Loyalty is life.

Buy It Here:


Murder on Cold Street

by Sherry Thomas

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, investigates a puzzling new murder case that implicates Scotland Yard inspector Robert Treadles in the USA Today bestselling series set in Victorian England.

Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.

Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?

Buy It Here:


The Bladebone

by Ausma Zehanat Khan

A powerful band of women warriors must face off against an oppressive enemy in one final showdown that will determine their survival and the fate of their world in this concluding volume in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s powerful fantasy series—an epic of magic, bravery, adventure, and the fight for freedom that lies “somewhere between N. K. Jemisin and George R. R. Martin” (Saladin Ahmed).

Armed with the powerful sorcery of the Bloodprint and supported by the Talisman, the oppressive One-Eyed Preacher is on the verge of conquering Ashfall, the Black Khan’s capital in the west. Yet not all is lost for Arian, Sinnia and the Council of Hira. If these brave female warriors can uncover the secrets of an ancient magic weapon known as the Bladebone, they can defeat the Preacher and crush his cruel regime.

Neither Arian and Sinnia, nor their allies, the Mages of Khorasan, know the Bladebone’s whereabouts, and not all may survive the search to uncover it. Pursued by a nefarious enemy aligned with the Preacher, they become separated, each following a different path. Then, in their darkest hour, unexpected help appears. But is the Khanum of Black Aura a friend or foe? Arian may discover the answer too late.

When the secret of the Bladebone is finally revealed, the knowledge comes at a devastating price for Arian. As the capital falls, only Hira, home of the Companions, stands in the way of the Preacher’s victory. While the Companions rise to defend their Citadel from enemies outside and within, Arian must face off in a cataclysmic battle with the Preacher that pits the powers of the Bloodprint against the Sana Codex.

For those who survive, Khorasan will never be the same.

Buy It Here:


The Silo Saga Physical Box Set: Wool, Shift, Dust

by Hugh Howey

For the first time ever, The Silo Saga boxed set brings together all of the work in Hugh Howey’s ground-breaking, best-selling, acclaimed series, including the individual novels Wool, Shift, and Dust, as well as original essays by the author, and a bonus chapbook of short fiction, Sil0 Stories.

Buy It Here:

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