Marie Lu, featuring literary agent Kristin Nelson
I first met my literary agent Kristin Nelson at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference, back when I was still a wide-eyed college student. We stood right next to each other in the buffet line, and I remember us having a nice chat. Once I arrived home, I sent her the sample chapters of my high fantasy manuscript, which she (rightfully) rejected. Five years later, I sent a new manuscript to her. Eureka! She took me on, and we’ve been a team ever since. Kristin is not only an agent who will stick by you through times good and bad, but she’s also a sharp editor in her own right. And with a client roster that includes powerhouses like Ally Carter, Hugh Howey, and Jamie Ford, she’s good at what she does! We’re super excited to have her on PubCrawl today to answer some questions about her agenting style and what she sees for publishing as a whole!
Our PubCrawl group is pretty heavily skewed in favor of young adult lit! What is it about children’s literature (both middle grade and young adult) that intrigues you?
The teen years are just so painful to live through. Ask most adults and they will shake their heads in terror at the idea of having to go through it again. Yet, it’s also the time when anything is possible. Teens aren’t jaded by experience. They are discovering who they are, their place in the world, and how they can make a difference. That’s so powerful and so teen stories are gripping because of that.
That and the power of first love –which most YA tackles in some form or another. *grin* It’s irresistible! Not to mention, every adult I know has entertained the fantasy of being a teen knowing what they know now that they didn’t know then.
For Middle Grade, it’s all about seeing the possibility in the world and in people that is impossible to see once a person steps over the threshold into adulthood. There is a wiseness latent in the innocence. A good MG story will capture that.
So true! That coming of age is so fascinating and so challenging to capture correctly in a story. On that note, tell us about a YA project you’ve recently sold that you’re really excited about.
Yes please! I’m super excited about Mari Mancusi’s new young adult series that will begin with SCORCHED. I just sold it but Sourcebooks is going to publish in the fall of 2013 (so they are moving quickly!) Think Terminator but with dragons.
Terminator. WITH DRAGONS. Holy crap, that sounds like a win! Do any particular subjects or topics draw you to a story? Is there anything you have a specific soft spot for?
If I say I love a dog as a main character companion, I’ll get dozens of them…
Haha. I love dog stories too, although I usually can’t get through them without sobbing. Do you have any pet peeves (no pun intended) when it comes to manuscripts sent your way?
In YA, it’s writers jumping on board the latest hot trend and it’s obvious from the story that they are writing to a trend and not to what they are actually passionate about. It shows. I want to remind aspiring authors to write to their strengths. It’s harder when it’s not the “hot thing,” but doing so will lead them to their best work.
Wise words of advice for aspiring writers. Some agents are minimalistic (i.e. their concern is selling their clients’ projects and not much more), while others are extremely hands-on (i.e. editors in their own right). I know how awesome you are, of course–but tell our PubCrawl audience about your agenting style!
When an author is a debut, I’m pretty hands-on, especially in the realm of editorial as I’m committed to editors only seeing the very best my client has to offer. In my experience, it often gets my authors bigger deals. Win-win for everyone.
Once established with a great editor/house, I tend to step back unless needed. Otherwise there might be too many editor cooks in the kitchen so to speak.
Also, as any of my clients can attest to, I’m a pretty good communicator. I’m responsive and feel terrible if more than a day goes by without a reply from me. My clients are great though. Most are very understanding and thankfully don’t abuse it by bombarding my inbox.
I can definitely attest to your editorial and lightning fast communication skills! Is there any specific anecdote you can share with us about working with your clients and/or a publisher? (You can leave names out, of course!)
I think I’m going to plead the fifth here! The best stories really can’t be shared. This story is fun though. When my husband’s older brother got married in Hawaii, we flew out there to attend a very intimate wedding with only 14 people invited. When we got to the rehearsal dinner luau, there were two empty seats. My future sister-in-law mentioned in passing the couple who had to cancel unexpectedly. I was stunned. It was an editor I had just sold a book to, and I had no idea there was any connection.
After the wedding, the editor touched base about something about the author and I casually sent her a pic of why I hadn’t been available the week prior. Needless to say, a minute later my phone rang and it was the editor exclaiming “no way.”
Just imagine if the editor had been able to make the wedding and I had showed up at the luau!
Dude, what a small world! That’s a really fun story. Your agency is at the forefront of technology when it comes to adapting to the shifting publishing climate. What are some of the things you’re doing with the NLA in order to stay in-step with all the digital changes we’re seeing?
An agent’s role is rapidly shifting. Our job is to help our authors reach their audience–in whatever way that is possible. Maybe it’s traditional publishing. Maybe it’s helping them digitally publish through our supportive environment. Maybe it’s respecting their decision to self-publish completely on their own. Maybe it’s a hybrid of all of the above.
If an agent isn’t already thinking along these lines and preparing a digital supportive environment for clients, he or she is way behind. That’s why we launched the NLA Digital Liaison Platform in 2011. To be clear, NLA Digital is not a publishing house (as I see that as a conflict of interest as authors wouldn’t maintain full control of their rights if they grant rights to an agent-run publishing entity). Our clients are self-publishing but doing so through a supportive environment instead of having to do it all on their own.
No one should underestimate the importance of a supportive environment, especially when self-publishing! Love this. And now! Out of curiosity, what was your favorite read of 2012, and why?
My favorite read was THE NIGHT CIRCUS. Not young adult but I just loved the world Ms. Morgenstern created. I worry that if I name a fav read in the children’s realm, folks might read too much into it.
I loved THE NIGHT CIRCUS. What a fantastically unique concept, with such beautiful imagery! I wish I could go to that circus. And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t take a “NO” personally. You can’t be rejected if you don’t put your work out there and EVERY successful author has his/her share of rejections and a great rejection story. It just means you are in the game!
So true! Almost everyone I know has gotten their fair share of rejections. The key is to learn from one’s mistakes and keep at it. Thank you so much, Kristin, for taking the time to talk with us today!