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November 2015
A Message from Kristin Nelson

Three Tips for NaNoWriMo Success: An Agent's Perspective

Kristin Nelson

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the TwitterVerse and Blogosphere are alive with advice from writers helping other writers knock it out of the park. There isn’t much I can add there, but I can offer some advice from an agent’s perspective that I think writers will find enormously helpful. So here are three tips that may change how you tackle NaNoWriMo:

Tip #1: Write the jacket copy before you write the novel.

Why? So many writers focus on stories that don’t have a concept big enough to merit a novel. Knowing how your jacket copy could read before you jump in and write an entire novel forces you to boil your story down to its essence to see if your idea is solid. Then share your jacket copy with other writers. Ask, “Would you read this novel?” So much of success in this business depends on luck and timing. You have to have the right story at the right time for the market.

If you are indie publishing, don’t worry about this too much, but do ask your fans whether this a story they’d want to read. They won’t be shy about telling you!

Tip #2: Even if you don’t hit the NaNoWriMo goal (to write approximately 1,700 words a day, or 50,000 words in 30 days), consider yourself a success. Finish the manuscript, and then revise it!

Once you finish your manuscript (whether on November 30 or later), do tackle the next step, which is revision. We get a lot of queries every year on December 1, and for most writers, the first draft isn’t quite golden enough to snag an agent’s attention. Resist the urge to submit until you’ve made your novel the best it can possibly be.

Tip #3: Not everything you write needs to be shared with an agent or the general public. 

If you keep this I’m mind, it can set your writer-self free. Sometimes the largest block to writing is the fear of writing terrible stuff. I’ll let you in on a secret. Every author writes crap sometimes. Repeat after me: Even bestselling authors write crap sometimes. It’s a fact of the writing life.

Give yourself permission to write badly. That is what revision is for! Sometimes there is a gem of an idea that will turn into “the one” and jumpstart your career. But you can only find that if you write.

And my final tip? Have a blast writing. If you aren’t having fun, it’s not worth doing.

Pub Rants University

Recording only of Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop

Friday, December 01 at 12:00 pm

This is a recording of the Webinar held on July 30, 2015.

Chances are, your agent is not auditing your royalty statements. And chances are, accounting mistakes are being made. So if you’re not auditing your royalty statements, you could be missing out on significant income!

In this Webinar, Nelson Literary Agency’s contracts and royalties manager, Angie Hodapp, will walk you through the basics of royalties reporting and teach you how to read and audit your own royalty statements. Using statements from several big and mid-sized publishers as examples, Angie will explain how various publishers express returns, reserves, royalty-rate escalators, subrights income, bonus income, and more, and illustrate how everything adds up to affect your bottom line.

Finally, Angie will walk you through how to set up an Excel spreadsheet you can use each reporting period to track cumulative units sold and total earnings for each book you’ve had published. This valuable tool will also help you track your payments and find accounting errors!

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

Register Now

eSpecial Price


Free Permanently

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Recent News

Congratulations to Marie Lu as THE ROSE SOCIETY is a #1 New York Times bestseller!

SOLD!!! Emily Easton at Crown Books for Young Readers has won, at auction for mid-six figure deal, Scott Reintgen’s debut science fiction young adult trilogy beginning with THE BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS. Publication in 2017.

Jana DeLeon's HURRICANE FORCE, the seventh book in her Miss Fortune Series, hits the New York Times list at #13 and the USA Today bestseller list at #41.

Stacey Lee's UNDER A PAINTED SKY is a 2015 ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) Nominee.

Jasinda Wilder's MADAME X earns a starred review from Publishers Weekly: "Wilder pulls out all the stops for this spellbinding novel of identity, passion, and fear. Once readers fall into X’s story, they’ll be desperate for the next installments."

Amazon picks Gail Carriger's MANNERS & MUTINY as a 2015 Fall Science Fiction & Fantasy  "most anticipated" release!

Think Like an Agent

What Kind of Agent Do You Want Your Agent To Be?


This past August, I participated in an agent panel at the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators National Conference in Los Angeles. During the panel, Lin Oliver asked, “What kind of agent are you? How would you characterize your working style?”

No surprise, each agent had a different answer. And of course, two days later, I finally had the perfect answer that I wish I had shared during the panel. Isn’t that always the case?

Here is what I wish I had said:

If you want an agent who is touchy-feely, who will be on the phone all the time with you, and who will hold your hand through the whole process, then I’m going to bluntly say that I’m not the agent for you. However, if you want a nice person whom editors call “a bulldog of an agent,” who is extremely contract savvy and will fight for what is best for you as an author and your writing career, then I’m your gal.

Here is a true story that best exemplifies who I am as an agent. Thank you, Simone Elkeles, for giving me permission to share this amazing and inspirational story.

Two years ago, Simone’s personal life imploded. It was a crippling time for her, and even though she was on deadline and had a contract to fulfill, writing just wasn’t possible. The draft simply wouldn’t come together, regardless of how hard she tried. As her agent, I worked with Simone on numerous drafts. Her editor was hugely supportive and understanding and also worked hard on these drafts. New deadlines were set, but the book remained elusive. It stubbornly refused to come together.

The book contract was eventually canceled. As hard as it was, Simone and I understood. Publishing is a business, and with this book, we just couldn’t hold up our end of the bargain.

Once the worst was over, Simone’s life slowly began to mend. We created a new plan. Because the book was a sequel to an already-published first book in a planned series, we knew other houses weren’t going to be interested. Publishers generally want a clean slate, a first book that will launch something new.

But we didn’t want to give up on this book. Finally on track, Simone hired a freelance editor. In partnership with NLA Digital, we got the cover designed, hired a copyeditor, and prepared the book for publication. Together, NLA Digital and Simone set a new release date; Simone was going to indie publish WILD CRUSH, the second book in the series.

On September 22, 2015, the book was published. Simone had triumphed over the biggest hurdle in her career. She now gets to close the door on a tough two years and get back to the joy of writing.

How does this exemplify my working style as an agent?

In a recent phone conversation, Simone even asked me why, as her agent, I was still here. I simply replied, “Because I still believe in you as an author. That hasn’t changed.”

Sure, there were times Simone called me in tears, and I, as her agent, talked her down off the ledge. My primary role wasn’t to help her rebuild her personal life, but you can bet darn well that she is back to writing. As an agent, I’ll do everything in my bulldog power to get a writer’s career back on top.

So when your offer of representation finally happens and you are deciding whether to hire an agent—or better yet, which agent to hire—know for yourself before going in what kind of agent you need and ask the question: “How would you characterize your working style?”

Kristin's Book Club

Window Into a World

To my surprise, my book club gave Suzi Kim’s memoir WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US a lukewarm reception. The general consensus? That the material felt thin for a complete memoir—that the story was better as a series of essays.

I personally enjoyed it, as I love any window into a world I know very little about. Anita agreed, sharing her experiences as an ESL teacher in India and China. For us, the most heartbreaking, memorable part was the personal story of the fall of Seoul during Korea’s civil war. Kim’s grandmother, against all odds and alone, herds her five children onto a truck headed south, but her seventeen-year-old son gives up his seat. It’s the last time he’s ever seen.

The book sparked a lot of conversation about the following:

* The feeling of claustrophobia that comes with being a teacher who is always watched.

* Students at a “science and technology” school who don’t have access to the Internet and don’t seem to be studying science or technology.

* Students who were elite and yet had spotty electricity, “gardening duty” (hard labor), no visits with family, and poor nutrition.

* That the biggest controversy was whether the students should be allowed to watch a Harry Potter movie.

Next up, Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prizewinning novel THE LUMINARIES (864 pages!).

Guest Article

What “Start with Action” Really Means

Angie Hodapp

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

Writers are often advised to start their stories in medias res, or in the middle of action. This is pretty good advice—if you know what it means and how to make it work in your story!

First, though, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean. Some writers hear this advice and take action to mean an action scene. They might start chapter one with something like this:

Bullets zinged through the air. Bob dove behind a rusty old car parked outside the bank and jammed a new clip into his 9mm. “Run!” he yelled at Sam. “I’ll cover you!”

The problem with starting your story in the middle of an action scene is that you risk disorienting your reader—and readers, generally speaking, don’t like to be disoriented. Right off the bat, this opening introduces a lot of questions. Who’s shooting at Bob and why? How many shooters are there? A bank is mentioned, so is this shootout related to a robbery? And if so, are Bob and Sam the robbers or are they the cops? Who am I supposed to care about in this scene and why?

Other writers discard this advice altogether because their stories aren’t action stories—no shootouts, no high-speed car chases, no sprinting heroes, standoffs, shiny guns, or ticking bombs. They can’t possibly be expected to start with action if they’re not telling an action story, right?

The truth is, starting with action is something every writer can do, no matter what kind of story they’re writing. The trick is to understand that “start with action” really means “start in scene.”

Starting in scene means that from the very first word of your manuscript, you’re introducing us to a character in a setting and something is happening that hints at tension or conflict. Think of your novel as a play. When the curtain goes up, what do you want your reader see? A setting. A character or two. Movement of some kind that signals that something is happening.

When I’m reading sample pages, I often come across first lines that hold zero-tension and that project nothing but flickering white light on my mental movie screen. The author has not started in scene. Instead, they’ve started with narrative, exposition, or backstory:

When I was a child…
It all started when…
It is often said that…
Long before my troubles began…
My grandmother once told me…
If only I knew then what I know now…
Summertime always made Jane sad…

Some of these narrative intros go on for a few sentences before the author actually gets to his or her opening scene. Others go on for a few paragraphs or even pages. Still others become those dreaded prologues that many agents and editors—and readers!—simply skip because they want the curtain to go up. They want the story to start!

Look at your first line. Do you open in scene, with someone somewhere doing something? Or do you open with narrative, and then transition into scene later? If you opened with narrative, why? How long does it go on, and how does it serve your story or improve a reader’s experience of it? Put your finger on the line of text where your first scene actually starts. Can you chop everything that comes before that? If not, can you weave it in later, after you’ve established your opening scene?

Starting with action means that your opening scene should be external, something visible to your readers. To that end, remember that d oing something does not mean your character is sitting alone and thinking. No cheating! If you’re opening with a character’s internalizations (thoughts, memories, ruminations), you’re really opening with disguised exposition or backstory.

Evaluate your opening scene and remember: A strong opening, written in scene, is one of the best ways to keep an agent turning the pages of your manuscript.

New Releases

Manners & Mutiny

by Gail Carriger

What will become of our proper young heroine when she puts her years of training to the test? Find out in this highly anticipated and thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Finishing School series!

If one must flirt…flirt with danger.

Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster–in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.

Buy It Here:

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The Rose Society

by Marie Lu

From New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu comes the second book in the exhilarating Young Elites series

Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.

Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she and her sister flee Kenettra to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good, when her very existence depends on darkness?

Buy It Here:

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