Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Tagged science fiction

When It’s Not Hot, Passion Can Carry It

STATUS: Why does the phone ring only after I’ve stepped out of the office?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU SANG TO ME by Marc Anthony

Clarification: Adult SF is currently not hot. YA SF is doing just fine. Sorry about the confusion!

This week I went on submission with an adult SF novel. Ask any editor and they will tell you, adult SF is not hot. Fantasy is hot—particularly urban fantasy. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to blog readers if you track PW or NYT bestseller lists.

It’s not like I’m revealing some deep and hidden secret here.

And here’s where my passion for the project means everything. If I were smart, I wouldn’t take on an SF novel from a debut writer. Even if I do sell it, the money I’ll earn from it will barely pay the agency’s electric bill for three months.

Plain and simple. That’s the reality.

But I love SF. Grew up reading it. In my mind, some of the most important novels published in the last 20 years have been in this field so I did it anyway. Because I felt a passion for the story that I didn’t feel for the YA project I decided to pass on earlier this week (and will probably sell for more money than this SF novel will).

That’s the only way I can be in the game. I know writers hate hearing that agents or editors need to feel “the love” but folks, selling novels is not an easy biz. (Which, by the way, is why most agents don’t specialize in fiction but instead focus on nonfiction to build lucrative client lists).

We also want to take on authors for their whole careers. If we agents can connect with their writing at the passionate, visceral level, then chances are good we are a good fit for future work to come.

Last year I took on a YA author for a historical novel that I could not sell (and I still think editors were crazy not to buy it). But the writing… I still can read that unsold novel and fall in love with the author’s talent all over again. So we pushed on and got going on the next work. And it was that next project that sold. At auction.

Passion was the key—for me and for that author. And if I can’t sell this SF debut, then I already believe in the next work.


Kristin Goes Webinar

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM? by Joe Jackson

Should be interesting.

Sometimes I wonder how I get roped into these things! Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest has been bugging me for a while to come and teach a webinar for them.

I haven’t really been tempted until now. What changes is that I feel an overwhelming need to help out writers in the SF&F field. I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog but the SF&F community has wonderful Cons that cater to fans more than to the business side of publishing. In consequence, often the writers in the SF&F realm are a little at loose ends on how to do things like write good query letter pitch blurbs for their SF&F novels. Seriously, the queries we get for this genre tend to be the weakest we see.

This is a problem we NEVER have in the romance field as RWA probably goes the other extreme in terms of educating writers!

Next month is MileCon here in Denver and sure enough, we proposed some business-y stuff and not much came of it.

So then Chuck touched base and I thought, here’s an opportunity…. Taught by yours truly.

And folks, unlike my blog, this webinar is not free—as it’s through Writers Digest but if you are interested, here are the deets. Click here for more info and to sign up.

How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

This is an intensive workshop on the “how-to” business side of getting your science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) writing published, whether for teens or adults.

Description
We here at Nelson Literary Agency are actively looking to expand our roster of science fiction & fantasy (young adult and adult fiction) authors but frankly, the queries we receive in this genre could use some help. Our agency sees a ton of SF&F queries, for both YA and adult novels, and 90% of them sound completely generic. We can teach you how to make your novel stand out.

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.

About the Critique & How it works
After the session, all registrants can submit their revised pitch paragraph (no more than 12 sentences) for a quick critique by Kristin Nelson. Who knows, you might even get a request for sample pages out of it.

What you’ll learn:

• How to compose your query: The top 10 reasons why most SF&F query letters fail
• How NOT to start your story: The top 10 things that shouldn’t open an SF&F novel
• What agents and editors want: What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
• How to pitch: How to nail the story’s hook, and nail the elements of your world-building in the short pitch paragraph

Who should attend?

• SF&F fans who are interested in writing a novel.
• SF&F Writers who want to improve their pitches and hooks
• SF&F Writers who are actively querying agents and publishers with their science fiction or fantasy novel.


Talk About the Money

STATUS: If I read my latest Publishers Weekly magazine at the same time as getting a pedicure, does that qualify as working? Hey, it’s summer time.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I AND LOVE AND YOU by Avett Brothers

Last weekend I spoke at my local Lighthouse Writers Litfest. They wrapped up two weeks of celebrating literature and authors with an agent panel at the Tattered Cover in Lodo (which stands for Lower Downtown)—and to be honest, agents doesn’t sound overly celebratory to me but hey, they thought that was the way to do it. Didn’t you know that most of us are full of hot air?

One of the questions asked at the panel was how much of an advance can a writer expect for a debut novel.

Admit it. All of you just perked up your ears. Always, always, writers want to know about the dollars involved. The problem is that this question is really hard to answer. Depending on the novel, it literally could go for any amount of money.

When pressed, which happened of course, the audience wanted to know what was “typical.”

Once again, no such thing but if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll say this:

1. Most debut novels will have advances of under 25k per book. I’d say that’s typical.

2. What a debut novel will get for an advance will depend on genre.
a. Romance novels—5-15k per book
b. YA or MG—10-30k
c. Mysteries & thrillers—Uh, no idea. Don’t rep them. Janet Reid, my friend, can you chime in here? I think you are the Queen of repping this genre.
d. Literary fiction—10-30k
e. Women’s fic—10-30k (are you noticing a pattern here?)
f. SF&F—5-25k

Okay, fine. I told you the money—as long as you realize this list is meaningless, we’re fine.

Have I sold a debut romance author for six figures? Yes. Debut literary author for six figures? Yes. SF&F debut author for 6? Not yet (but I’ve gotten really close…).

Etc. It all depends on how many editors want your particularly debut novel. For my part, I often feel the most satisfaction for selling a debut that took forever to place (and the author was on the verge of giving up hope) and the novel I sold for peanuts that then exploded and just sold and sold.

Now that’s the kind of money I like to talk about.


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