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September 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

A Digital Love Story of Survivability

Kristin Nelson

The following would have been impossible even seven years ago:

This week I sold the film/tv rights for a memoir that a major publisher took out-of-print in 2013. But because of the indie-publishing revolution, the author had made her memoir available in the digital realm. Because of that, it was discoverable by a major Oscar-winning director and producer who not only took an interest, but also optioned the rights for television.

Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? Back in 2005, I met Kim Reid at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. Kim had made a pitch appointment, but she pitched me a novel that didn’t sound right for my list. However, in the course of our conversation, I learned about her extraordinary childhood as the daughter of one of the lead detectives who helped solve the Atlanta child murders, committed by Wayne Williams in the seventies and eighties.

I immediately told her, “You need to write that. I could definitely sell it!” So she did, and I signed her as a client. It took sixteen months of dogged determination, and Kim surviving a slew of rejections, but I finally sold No Place Safe in June 2006.

Kensington Publishing did a lovely job with it. Good packaging. Wonderful editing. And then the book was published, and bookstores shelved it, oddly, in African American Studies rather than in biography, where it truly belonged. I can honestly say that the shelving diminished the book’s discoverability, as well as its ability to sell.

Heartbreaking. By 2013, the work was out-of-print, and the rights reverted to Kim.

Luckily, the digital revolution happened. So Kim, in partnership with NLA Digital LLC, indie published the memoir to give it a second chance at life. Director/producer John Ridley found it. Bought a copy. Read and loved it so much that he convinced ABC Studios to buy it for him.

Suddenly, a memoir that would have dropped completely from sight was saved by publishing’s digital transformation. This title now has a ton of exciting new possibilities unfolding.

This is why I love agenting in the digital age. Authors have so many more options available now. And this particular terrific story happened to a very worthy book!

Pub Rants University

Recording only of The Nitty-Gritty: How Digital is Transforming the Publishing Landscape

Friday, December 01 at 12:00 pm

This is a recording of the Webinar held on June 25, 2014.

Agent Kristin has given this workshop at numerous writers’ conferences in 2014 and invariably, attendees tell her this workshop was worth the price of conference admission! For the first time, NLA Digital is making the recording available to writers for the low, affordable price of $19.99.

Agent Kristin explains how the world of publishing is rapidly changing and how this impacts writers at every stage of their careers. She explains digital changes making the headlines and tackles the confusing terminology peppering these news stories. (What is agency pricing exactly and why did the Department of Justice slap Apple’s hands? What role is Amazon playing in all these changes?) She also tackles contract terms that may restrict traditionally published authors from self publishing.

Key Topics:

  • Should an author digitally publish?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • Can an author who is traditionally published, digitally self-publish?
  • What are the potential contract hurdles?
  • Can an author partner with an agent to digitally publish?
  • How is the agent role changing as the industry changes?
  • What is metadata and why is it your friend?

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

Register Now

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Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Because Agents Are Human Too - Part 3


General Summary about the Article Series: Just as the title suggests, because agents are also human beings, they are going to embody both good and bad traits found in human nature. No one is perfect. And as some authors have discovered, some agents are more imperfect than others!

Your job as an author is to objectively recognize those human attributes or failings in your agent and decide whether they impact your career. Hopefully they don’t. To this end, Karen Dionne of Backspace and I have put together a whole list of topics to tackle for “Because Agents Are Human Too.”


This month’s topic is the hardest to quantify, because when an agent offers representation, it will be difficult for a writer to ascertain his or her financial viability. This is often knowledge that doesn’t become apparent until after a business partnership has been established.

Regardless, it’s still worth saying: Good Agents are financially stable as agency entities as well as in their personal lives.

First, let’s discuss why this is important. For those who are new to the publishing industry, keep in mind that money always flows to the author, not away. So, an agent earns her living by being paid a 15% commission (slightly different percentages for foreign and dramatic rights) on advances and royalties for projects sold. In other words, a book is sold to a publisher, the publisher sends a check to the agent, the agent takes her 15% commission based on the gross amount and then passes the other 85% through to the author.

Pretty simple. So why is it important for an agent to be financially stable in both her business life and her personal life? Because you don’t want your agent making fast, split-second decisions about your career, what deals you should accept or not accept, based on the fact that she might really need her 15% commission that month to pay her bills—either for personal debt or for the agency. Same is true when the contract comes in. You don’t really want an agent who will “rush” through a deal-points negotiation or a contract just to get it signed so that she can receive her commission faster.

That’s never going to be in your best interest.

Is it possible to identify the financial stability of an individual agent? In the initial stages of forming a representation partnership, probably not. But here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

*  Does an established agent, in the business for five years or more, still take on a lot of clients? That can be a sign that her current client list does not generate enough money to support her or her agency.

An established, good agent with solid financial stability takes on only select clients in any given year. Agents who need the money often take on a lot of clients so there is more front-end money (advances) coming in rather than back-end monies (revenue generated through royalties). Evaluate an agent’s sales track record and assess how likely the money generated by those sales creates financial viability for the agent.

Are all the deals for small or no advances? Do larger deals that have sold at auction for six figures balance out the smaller deals? Have enough clients on the agent’s list been successful enough to potentially earn back-end royalties to support the agent or agency?

Even when NLA was in its infancy and the budget was tight and small, I was very selective in offering representation. I had a five-year business plan and a business loan to make sure agency expenses were covered as I slowly built up my client list. Good agents don’t jump into agenting on a wing and a prayer. Good agents are savvy entrepreneurs with a plan.

* Does an agent close a deal quickly and then process the contract equally as fast? See my previous Fearless Negotiation article on this topic, as this might be a red flag.

* Does the agent talk about money in oblique or negative ways? There are certain expenses that are just part of being in business as an agent (i.e., paying for one’s own health insurance if an independent contractor under a larger agency umbrella). Does the agent kvetch or consider it a “hardship” to cover these types of expenses? Often that will come out in casual conversation and could be a sign of financial instability.

* Is the agent an independent contractor affiliated with the agency? If so, then that agent has to cover all their own expenses outside of the agency umbrella. Does that agent attend major events like Book Expo or Book Fairs, even when they have to foot the bill themselves? Or does that agent only attend conferences that reimburse travel, hotel, and meal expenses?

* Does the agent balk at footing extra, necessary costs—such as a consultation with an attorney for special situations or issues?

* Does an agent talk with a long-term perspective? Agenting is hard, and lots of new agents come to the business with wide-eyed optimism and then don’t last beyond two or three years. If an agent is committed to the career regardless of the finances associated with it, that will come through in casual conversation.

Keep in mind, this is not a get-rich-quick career. An agent needs to be in for the long haul to make it a success.

Kristin's Book Club

WWII Setting - A Literary Rite Of Passage

When I opened the first page of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, I must admit, I balked. “Not another WWII story!” I thought. I have a theory that every literary writer has to tackle this time period at some point in his/her career. It’s like a rite of passage—a solidification of the one’s literary chops.

And I can hardly kvetch, having represented Jamie Ford. But over the past seventeen-plus years of book club, we’ve read a lot of WWII books.

Yes, WWII is indeed what this novel is about. But this story unfolds through the eyes (pun intended) of a blind French girl and a German boy who finds himself fighting for the Nazis.

And it all revolves around a cursed diamond called the Star of Flames.

Although feeling some fatigue about the Greatest War setting, I’ll tell you right now that this novel is one to be savored along with some fine wine. All my fellow book clubbers heartily agreed. We found ourselves immersed in the gorgeous writing that in and of itself drives the novel more than any big plot reveals (although there are several of those as well). These are characters a reader would love to meet in person.

Doerr is a master of crafting a novel in which every word counts. If you are a fan of literary fiction, this is a don’t-miss. The quality of the storytelling explains why this novel has been sitting on the New York Times bestseller list for months.

Next up, a memoir, which we haven’t tackled in two years. Suzi Kim’s WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US.

Description: A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign: Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it.

Guest Article

Character Development: The Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life (Part II)

Angie Hodapp

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

Last month, we looked at why putting your character in pursuit of a “normal” life can be problematic in contemporary middle-grade or young-adult fiction. Now let’s take a look at characters in speculative MG/YA—characters like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Tris Prior in Divergent.

Teens in Dystopias and Post-Apocalyptic Worlds

Let’s face it. These gals have it rough. Meager living conditions. Limited existence carved out under the oppressive thumbs of their respective governments. No chance of rising above their circumstances without risking their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, to foment revolution that will inevitably lead to war.

Surely it’s OK to put characters like these in pursuit of a “normal” life. Isn’t it?

Again, I have to say no. “Normal” is generic and vague. “Normal” tells me nothing. But a different life? Absolutely. So be specific in your query letter (as well as in your manuscript!) about what your character’s current life is like (her “ordinary world,” if you’re a disciple of the hero’s journey), what kind of life she’s after, and what’s at stake if she fails to attain it.

So what is Katniss after? Survival. After all, all dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit is based on stripping away the bottom tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—food, shelter, safety—and seeing how characters cope. Will they overcome their lack of basic needs and achieve self-actualization anyway? Katniss did. She wants to survive, yes, but not at any cost. Despite horrific hardships, her moral compass stays true, and she is willing to sacrifice herself (twice) for what is right. Though she’s not in pursuit of an extraordinary life, she has an extraordinary life thrust upon her, and she proves worthy of it. Them’s the bones of the story.

Tris, on the other hand, is in pursuit of an extraordinary life right off the bat. She chooses Duantless over Abnegation (her ordinary world), which is the inciting incident that sets the rest of the series in motion. Had she not made that choice, she wouldn’t have been in the correct position to discover, and then fight, the sinister rulers of her society.

Teens with Special Powers

We at NLA receive countless queries for MG/YA stories in which teenage characters wake up with or otherwise attain special powers (often on a particular birthday). Their initial reactions to these powers range from mild annoyance to downright terror. They just want to be normal.

I’m going to give in a little on this one…but only up to a point. Obtaining a special power is, in plot terms, a call to action. What will the character do with this power? How will his wielding of it affect himself, his family, society, the world? These are the basic story questions of a “special powers” plot.

In hero’s-journey terms, what follows the call to action is the refusal of the call—your character’s reluctance to accept new roles or responsibilities. In the “special powers” plot, he wants to stay in his ordinary world—his “normal.” However, your character has to move past that reluctance tout de suite so that your plot can happen.

My caution here is this: Don’t confuse your character’s refusal of the call with the desire for a normal life. The former is a fairly minor plot point; the latter, if leaned on too heavily in a query letter, makes me worry that your character is going to spend the whole book refusing the call. That sends up a red flag that both your character development and plot pacing might need some work.

Readers love watching extraordinary characters attain extraordinary goals. So ditch “normal” and think extraordinary!

New Releases

Smoked (Scorched Series)

by Mari Mancusi

Once upon a time the world burned.
Until a girl and her dragon smothered the flame.
But the spark that ignited the apocalypse never went out.
And the scorch is about to begin…

When Team Dragon rescues Emmy from the government lab, they think the future is finally safe. But they soon discover that Emmy has a secret-a secret so dangerous it could trigger the very apocalypse Connor and Caleb were sent back in time to prevent.
As a dragon hunter, Connor has committed his life to saving the world. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to complete his mission…even if it meant betraying his brother and losing Trinity’s heart. Even if it meant doing the unthinkable.
But a desperate choice meant to prevent The Scorch, may be the spark that sets the world aflame once more.
The epic conclusion to the genre-bending Scorched series, which Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times bestselling author of the Blue Bloods series, called “A heart-pounding, twisty, time-travel fantasy.”

Buy It Here:


The Young Elites

by Marie Lu

Now in paperback.  An explosive new series from New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy, Marie Lu.

The Rose Society, book two in the series, releases in October 2015.

By permitting her characters some grand failures, she raises the stakes in the best way possible There is clearly more to know, and I look forward to it. This is a world worth revisiting- The New York Times Book Review
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a “malfetto,” an abomination, ruining their family s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Buy It Here:

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