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September 2018
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Agents Behaving Very Badly in 2018

Kristin Nelson

In 2018, two literary agents have done a spectacular job of tarnishing the reputation of the profession.

We have Agent Danielle Smith of Lupine Grove Literary accused of fraud. Here is another article where her former clients speak out about what they experienced.  To read the full article, readers must subscribe to Publishers Marketplace, but here’s a little snippet so you can get the gist:

Children’s book literary agent and packager Danielle Smith, founder of Lupine Grove Creative, has reportedly been accused of fraudulent deals with her clients and she has closed her agency. In a post to a private Facebook group (also then shared on Twitter) author Heidi Heilig wrote that “it was discovered a couple of days ago that [Smith] forged offer letters to her clients (and counselled her clients not to take them) (i do not know what the end goal was).”

Then just a couple of weeks ago, another story broke about Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group (a well-known, long established agency) resigning from the Association of Authors Representatives following an Ethics Committee review and possible disciplinary action. Here’s a little snippet from Publishers Marketplace so you can get the gist:

The committee was looking at a complaint in May from author Lois Leveen. While the report does not detail the full complaint, among the allegations was difficulty in obtaining a submission list and other materials sent to editors. Her claim was supported by an email and a voice mail message, submitted to the committee. The email indicated that Gottlieb wrote, “I will gladly furnish you with the submission list and materials sent to the editors/publishers” only “after you retract” the email complaint to the AAR. The voice mail indicated, “I just simply plan to delete the client folder—all of the contents of the submissions and materials and move on from this on my own.”

The second major issue raised by Leveen, but not addressed in the committee report, is her allegation that Gottlieb submitted her manuscript to publishers prior to any agreement for representation. (The AAR declined to answer any of our follow-up questions, saying via their attorney Ken Norwick that “the Committee’s internal activities are kept confidential” and the organization “does not publicly discuss the internal deliberations.” He did note that the AAR recently set up the email address [email protected] “to facilitate the submission” of any complaints against an AAR member.)

Sheesh, we agents already tend not to be popular with writers, but hey, at least we know unpopularity is part of the job description. No one ever likes to receive a rejection. But having to say no is not anywhere near behaviors that verge on the criminal. I’ve spent a lot of time on my blog Pub Rants talking about what makes a good agent (see article series in right side bar). In fact, I’ve written many posts that, if the ethical behavior of literary agents is of interest to you, might be worth your exploring. Arm yourselves with knowledge, Writers!

I also want to remind writers of resources that can help them protect themselves from unethical behavior. Become familiar with the following:

The Association of Authors’ Representatives

The Authors Guild

Follow Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware

Absolute Write Water Cooler

And if you have a concern, don’t stay silent. Talk with other writers and reach out to these resources.

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

Letting Backstory Drive Your Plot

By Angie Hodapp

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of backstory because I’ve read a few manuscripts lately in which the protagonist’s backstory is arbitrary. Plucked out of a hat. Irrelevant to the novel’s plot or story events. Here’s how I imagine that happens during a writer’s creative process:

“Let’s see…my protagonist, Nanette, is a bank executive who lives in Manhattan with her stay-at-home husband and their three children, and my novel is going to be about what happens to her family when her youngest child is diagnosed with leukemia. I have to give Nanette an interesting backstory because that’s the rule, so…hmm…I got it! Nanette used to be a competitive figure skater, and she used to help her three older brothers build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Boom!”

These backstory elements are interesting, for sure, but in a well-crafted story, they must do more than be interesting. They must do more than get mentioned in your novel once in a while. They must be more than something Nanette thinks about from time to time. In a well-crafted story, backstory elements act on the protagonist as she’s navigating your novel’s story problem. Indeed, backstory elements drive the plot.

So how will Nanette’s past as a figure skater help her deal with keeping her family together while facing her child’s devastating illness? How will the skills that she, a bank executive and her family’s sole breadwinner, gained building houses for Habitat for Humanity be useful, germane, or meaningful to her in her current role, in her current crisis? Let’s brainstorm:

Maybe Nannette’s daughter—Jenny, the one with leukemia—is also a figure skater, and both mother and daughter were coached by the same woman. Maybe the coach will become a sort of mentor figure for Nanette now. Or maybe the coach has been more of a mother to Jenny than Nannette has, which breeds jealousy in Nanette and resentment in Jenny. (Conflict! Yay!) Furthermore, competitive athletes tend to cultivate mental toughness as well as physical. Maybe back in the day Nannette lost her spot on the Olympic team because she crumbled under the mental stress. Now, as a high-powered executive, she overcompensates for her past failure on the ice, prizing her mental toughness above all else and constantly pounding into Jenny the importance of metal strength…but it’s watching her daughter fight leukemia, not compete on the ice, that makes Nanette realize Jenny is far tougher than she herself ever was or could ever be.

What about her experience with Habitat for Humanity? What drove Nanette to volunteer? Maybe back then she was very close to her brothers, but maybe she was the only girl born into a family of builders and she believed that participating in the Habitat builds was the only way to earn her father’s approval and love. That could certainly affect how Nanette views her relationship with her husband and sons as well as traditional gender roles now, in the scope of the novel. Or maybe she committed some crime, some misdemeanor, the night after she lost her spot on the Olympic team, and volunteering for Habitat was part of her court-ordered community service. Ooh! What can of worms could you open for Nanette now if you gave her a criminal past that no one—not even her husband and especially not her children—knows about? And how could you connect that to her current crisis?

Whatever backstory elements you have created for your protagonist, make sure they are germane to her current story. Tie threads between your protagonist’s beliefs, actions, decisions, or behaviors before page one and your protagonist’s beliefs, actions, decisions, or behaviors after page one. Then pull those threads tight so readers feel the tension vibrating between your protagonist’s then and now.

Kristin's Book Club

20 Years & Going Strong

Voila! The Ladies of Book Club. For the first time ever, here are the faces behind the years of newsletter book-review posts. We actually do exist.

In August 2018, we celebrated our twenty-year anniversary. We launched our inaugural discussion in August 1998. I still remember our first book club read: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There are four founding members still in the group today—the four in the center of the picture. You can spot me easily, the lady to my right, and the two ladies right behind us.

Since then, we have read hundreds of books. In fact, we read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone back in the day because we wanted to know what all the fuss regarding witches and wizards was about. We read NLA books like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, No Place Safe, and Under a Painted Sky.

We’ve read books that made us cry. We’ve read books that made us raise an eyebrow. We’ve read books that had us scratching our heads trying to figure out the popularity. We’ve agreed and vocally (and vehemnetly) disagreed on titles.

We’ve seen each other through life’s highs and lows. We’ve consumed many bottles of wine. Here’s to the next twenty years of great reads!

Next up: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I highly recommend the audio version as Trevor himself narrates. It’s terrific, an intimate conversation with this clever and open guy.

New Releases

The Deepest Roots

by Miranda Asebedo

Morgan Matson meets Maggie Stiefvater in a story that will make you believe in friendship, miracles, and maybe even magic.

Cottonwood Hollow, Kansas, is a strange place. For the past century, every girl has been born with a special talent, like the ability to Fix any object, Heal any wound, or Find what is missing.

To best friends Rome, Lux, and Mercy, their abilities often feel more like a curse. Rome may be able to Fix anything she touches, but that won’t help her mom pay rent. Lux’s ability to attract any man with a smile has always meant danger. And although Mercy can make Enough of whatever is needed, even that won’t help when her friendship with Rome and Lux is tested.

Follow three best friends in this enchanting debut novel as they discover that friendship is stronger than curses, that trust is worth the risk, and sometimes, what you’ve been looking for has been under your feet the whole time.

Buy It Here:



by Marie Lu

Return to the immersive, action-packed world of Warcross in this thrilling sequel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu.

Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

Buy It Here:



by Gail Carriger

Special edition.

A delightful illustrated edition of Soulless, the first novel in the New York Times bestselling Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking. Featuring illustrations by Jensine Eckwall.

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Buy It Here:



by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here…

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents’ Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen—a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen—and that the nightmare they’ve thought long ended is only beginning.

A riveting novel of gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only Dracula’s true origin, but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

Buy It Here:

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