Interview with an Agent, Kristin Nelson
Kristin Nelson is one of the first agent blogs that I started reading. Her Pub Rants blog is famous amongst aspiring writers for no nonsense and candid advice. As a reader, I find the peak behind the curtain posts illuminating. I admit that she is the inspiration for the series so I was doubly glad that she shared her thoughts with the Dear Author crowd on agenting.
Tell us about your background. What made you decide to become a literary agent? How did you get started in your career? What made you decide to agent on behalf of romance authors? Young adult authors?
Nelson: I have both an M.A. and a B.A. in English (from Purdue University and the University of Missouri–"Columbia respectively). I had always wanted a career in publishing but didn't want to move to New York to pursue it. When the opportunity arose to work for literary agent Jody Rein, I jumped at it. That's what got me started.
As for the genres I rep, I've always loved reading romance as well as other genres such as SF and Fantasy. Jody did mostly nonfiction, which is why I went out on my own in 2002.
What is the primary role of the agent?
Nelson: We are the author's advocate. We protect our clients' interests in terms of negotiations and contracts. We trouble-shoot when problems arise. We do career planning and guidance. We make sure that the author always has a stable person in their arena since editors often house hop.
I know that there has been some discussion about the decline of the slush pile at publishing houses with the move by almost every major publisher to accept only “agented” manuscripts. Is that automatically a good thing for agents?
Nelson: I think it's good and bad. It means we'll get inundated with even more submissions!
You changed your policies to accept only online submissions. Why is that?
Nelson: I hate opening envelopes and dealing with paper. All those paper cuts you know. Just kidding. We want to be global in the sense that it doesn't matter where we are in the world, we still have complete access to our computer desktops and our submissions. We can work effectively from anywhere. An office can't do that with paper submissions because the paper arrives at one location.
Do you print out and read your manuscripts or use an ereading device? If so, which one?
Nelson: Goodness no! I have a tablet PC and I read everything via my computer.
Since you are in Denver rather than New York, do you feel like there is a disadvantage to doing business or in this digital age, is it a more level playing field? What made you set up shop in Denver?
Nelson: Do you know what the cost of living is in New York City? That should answer your question about why I'm in Denver. Besides, I love it here. And ask any editor, it makes no difference if your agent lives outside of New York. Besides, all the agents I know who aren't in NYC travel there often. We see the editors a lot.
Do you accept submissions from authors overseas? And if so, are there any special arrangements you have to make with them?
Nelson: Certainly. I currently have an author who lives in Australia and an author who lives in London. Since we do everything electronically, it makes no difference in terms of sending material etc. We do, however, have to pay attention to tax treaties with their corresponding countries when making payments. That's a bit of a hassle but not really. We also do wire transfers for payments.
I’ve read some agents blogs that seem to indicate that they are part of the rewriting process. Do you get involved in that?
Nelson: Yes, but only to the extent that the client desires. Most of them tell me that my editorial advice is spot on and they are quite appreciative of the input before that initial submission to sell that first manuscript. After that first sale, it's really their editor's job to edit (and I don't want to step on the editor's toes!)
There is a tendency in internet discussions to compare the publisher-author relationship to an employer-employee relationship. Do you think that is a sound analogy? Why or why not?
Nelson: No. Because it's a strange biz. You can't hire me until I say so and then after you do come on board, then the client would actually then be the boss.
It doesn't make sense. I personally see the relationship as an equal partnership.
Do you feel that being a female in the publishing industry is an advantage/disadvantage or of no importance?
Nelson: Interesting question. I've never thought of it. It might be an advantage because 80% of the editors are also women. But probably it makes no difference.
What part do you involve yourself in regards to author promotions?
Nelson: I have a great network of publicists that I can put my authors in touch with. I often hound the publisher about what they'll be doing for the client but other than that, I'm an agent–"not a publicist.
What do you expect your authors to do, other than write the best book that they can?
Nelson: I expect my authors to be savvy about all the publicity open and available to them–"even if they don't want to spend a lot of money. There are a lot of ways to leverage the internet etc.
Can you explain how rights work? I.e., the difference between US and World rights; film rights; mass market v. Hardcover rights; subrights. (or is that really too involved?)
Nelson: This is pretty involved but let me see what I can do.
- North American only: means that the publisher has licensed the right to sell the work in the US, Canada, and the territories. They don't hold the right to sell the work to foreign publishers to be translated into other countries.
- World: This means the publisher has the right to sell the book in the world–"including sales to foreign publishers for translation.
- Film: this means as in Hollywood movies, TV, etc.
- Subrights: Audio, film, multi-media, calendar, merchandizing etc.
- Mass Market, Trade Paperback, and Hardcover are all print formats–"in terms of the size of the book.
What is your most interesting story of how you came to represent a client?
Nelson: This is a great story. I read about my client Paula Reed in the Denver Post. She had been a teacher at Columbine High School during the shootings. Needless to say, that changed her life. In her interview in the Post, she mentioned that she was on hiatus from teaching just to get centered and that she wanted happy endings in her life so she was writing romance novels. I contacted the journalist at the Post who then sent my info on to Paula. We hooked up and I sold her first three romance novels to Kensington.
What is the best part of being an agent?
Nelson: The fabulous books I get to read before the general public even knows about them.
What is the worst part of being an agent?
Nelson: Hum– there is no "worst–? but the most tedious is the hours spent on the contracts.
What do you think are the most important things an aspiring author can do to get the best representation?
Nelson: Write a terrific novel or work.
Do you think that the demise of print review sources is going to mean a downturn in overall sales of books? Can the internet make up for the loss?
Nelson: Too hard to say right now. I think the readership has declined significantly for print material and more people are reading online so I think it can transition. We'll see.
Do you read for pleasure and if so, what do you enjoy reading?
Nelson: Of course I read for pleasure. I read everything too. I just finished a young adult novel by Scott Westerfeld called UGLIES. For my book club, we just read a nonfiction work called STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS by Daniel Gilbert. And I'm reading a romance novel by my good friend Deidre Knight called PARALLEL SEDUCTION.
If you could change on thing in the publishing industry, what would it be?
Nelson: That publishers would embrace the electronic age more fully. There's no reason why things like copy-edits can't be done quickly and via track changes in Microsoft Word or something similar. With technology, why does it still take a year to publish a book? They really need to embrace the tech that can streamline this process rather than doing what they have always done in the past.
I’m most curious about agenting and the “multicultural” market. Do agents generally represent anything in that, say, “Romance Genre” category, or do they need to say if they represent “multicultural romance”?
I believe on Kristin’s submission page, she states that she represents all subgenres of romance, except inspirational. I know she had an author with a Latina heroine for the Bombshell line (cancelled before the book’s release, alas) and that later she sold the author’s YA story featuring a Latina teenage graffiti artist.
But I’ve also come across agent submission guidelines that specifically say “multicultural”.
Does an agent count as representing multicultural if she has a black memoirist on her roster?