Literary Agent Kristin Nelson with a Side of Scones


What did I learn at a recent Skype chat my local chapter arranged with literary agent, Kristin Nelson? Read my notes below. ~ Jillian

Disclaimer:  Any resemblance to real comments, given or intended by Kristin Nelson, is purely fabulous. All comments are my recollections. They were discerned under the influence of sleep-deprivation courtesy of my new neighbors who partied until 3:00 a.m. and the delicious raisin amandine scones procured by our Special Events coordinator. No scones were unharmed during the making of this post.



  • The Nelson Literary Agency (NLA) offers a digital liaison support program with a full time software engineer who uses the same In Design layout as the Big 5 publishers. This program is for current clients who want to keep full control and rights to their work. NLA is also test piloting a similar program for guest authors who are referred by agency clients.
  • Why use a traditional publisher? If they are 100% behind a book, they have access to markets, which aren’t reachable by other means.
  • Growth is faster in adult markets than teen markets, because adults buy the majority of books.
  • The largest sales revenue comes from Amazon. Kobo outsells Apple depending on the genre. Google sales are improving. Sony’s are not.
  • Should you submit your self-pub books to traditional publishers? Publishers want to see sales in the 150,000 copies per 2 months range or more. If you’re already selling 150, 000 copies a month, the current publisher rate of  $250,000 per book advance may not be worth losing all rights to your book(s), especially if you can earn that much money on your own within 3 months.


  • Subscription services offered by publishers can affect backlists and percentages. Find out how they pay for content access. If your backlist has already reverted back, you don’t have to worry. If you’re a debut author in the next 12 months, you may have to agree to the publisher’s terms or walk away from the contract.
  • Non-compete clauses, which are narrow and specific, benefit authors. Try to restrict genre and limit time period to 6-9 mos. Check how terms affect print and digital. Sometimes these clauses are clearly labeled in the contract, but they can be hidden in the author warranties and indemnities section.
  • If you sign with a traditional publisher in the next 12 months, chances are the out of print clause will prevent you from ever getting your rights back. Avoid sales thresholds of 250-400 copies in 12 mos. for all editions. Try to narrow the clause to just trade, not special editions like audio, book club, etc. If terms are revenue based rather than copy based, check conversion amount needed. Best term is a finite time period, but few U.S. publishers want to agree. If your novel breaks out, they don’t want to renegotiate. You’ll have more clout.
  • Most publishers want world English rights rather than North American rights. Try to keep your world rights.
  • If you have a contract, fulfill it.

Career Longevity:

  • During this period of change explore and learn more about options for traditional, hybrid, and Indie paths. Decide what’s best for you and don’t feel guilty about not choosing another path.
  • Hope for more parity in author royalty rates from 25% net to a more equal partnership of 50% net for physical and print.

Current Trends:

Romance outsells other genres in digital markets. About 10 fantasy /sci-fi and 50 romance Indie authors are well known or have break out novels. Some mystery and thriller authors are successful, and a few Young Adult authors cross over into adult markets. There aren’t any successful authors in literary fiction or middle grade yet.

Historical romance is down a bit, but the readers are still there. Paranormal and magical realism are hard sells. Publishers want contemporary like Rachel Gibson or New Adult, which is chick lit repackaged. Instead of discovering identity through career and girlfriends with a bit of romance, New Adult puts more emphasis on the romance and identity elements. Most traditional publishers offer debut authors a digital contract first with little marketing support. If debut author does well, publisher may offer print and stronger marketing especially if an agent or the author pushes for support.


Kristin’s Submission Advice:

Kristin wants a voice and story she can’t put down. She hasn’t acquired a romance novel in 2 years and isn’t actively shopping for one. Her client list is full, but she can be convinced. Check the submissions page of The Nelson Agency website for what she and Sara Megibow are seeking. Her agency closes Dec. 20th-Jan. 6th. Queries received during that period will receive auto delete and resend notice. Wait until Jan. 7th to query.

Common problems with first 3 chapters:

  • Reader not physically anchored in scene. Too cryptic or obscure.
  • Opening with big action or traumatic scene. Can be simple everyday action as long as the author makes the scene powerful and creates tension.
  • Characters don’t have a purpose for their actions.
  • No escalating tension.
  • No plot or enough plot with stakes to move the story forward.
  • Witty dialogue without crucial information.
  • Taking reader away from the crucial focus in a scene to include the senses.

How can you fix common problems? Roadmap. Have a partner read your first 3 chapters. Then ask them to reread them listing the plot elements (only what happens) in each chapter. Process will reveal too many or too few plot elements in a chapter and why. Aim for balance of plot, dialogue, introspection, etc. Revise and continue the process throughout your manuscript. (The Nelson Agency will have 2014 webinars for writers including How To Think Like an Agent, which covers roadmapping in more detail.)

How do you break in and gain a contract? Make sure your manuscript is ready.  Debut authors have to earn their contracts. There are no new stories only new ways of telling stories. Even experienced writers will whiff or blow a story at some point forgetting everything they knew. Stay positive!


What do you think about Kristin’s take on publishing, contracts, career longevity, current trends, and submissions?


The Nelson Agency website

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: