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Agent Advice: Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency

This installment features Kristin Nelson with Nelson Literary Agency, LLC. She has her B.A. from the University of Missouri at Columbia and is a graduate of the nationally respected University of Denver Publishing Institute. As for her previous work history, Kristin has been a college English teacher, a freelance writer, and a corporate trainer for business communication topics before embracing her true passion of agenting. She is looking for: literary and commercial fiction for adults; young adult and middle grade books for kids. Concerning nonfiction, she is only interested in memoir.

Agent Interview by

contributor Kerrie Flanagan

“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Kristin Nelson with Nelson Literary Agency, LLC. Kristin writes one of the most popular and well-respected agent blogs around: PubRants. She has her B.A. from the University of Missouri at Columbia and is a graduate of the nationally respected University of Denver Publishing Institute. As for her previous work history, Kristin has been a college English teacher, a freelance writer, and a corporate trainer for business communication topics before embracing her true passion of agenting.

She is looking for: literary and commercial fiction for adults; young adult and middle grade books for kids. Concerning nonfiction, she is only interested in memoir.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

KN: The simple story is that I worked for another agent by the name of Jody Rein before starting my own agency in 2002. I actually opened my own company because the previous agency did nonfiction almost exclusively and I wanted to do fiction—all kinds, including genre stuff like romance and SF&F. That definitely would not have fit at that agency. Most agents would say that selling fiction is more difficult than nonfiction so to make it work, you really have to love a broad range of genres. For me, I’m not a reading snob. I love a good sexy romance as much as I love a beautifully written and complex literary novel. Luckily I can do both at Nelson Literary Agency. I do have to say that finding strong literary fiction is tough. More commercial fiction pays most of the bills.

GLA: What misperceptions do people have about agents who don’t live in New York?

KN: Ah, good question. I think the greatest misperception writers hold about New York Agents is that they are always going to lunch or popping by the Publisher’s office to be “in touch and in the know.” That you have to be there to throw your weight around. The reality is that I network with editors almost about the same amount of time as any NYC agent, and any New York Editor will tell you that an agent’s location matters less than his/her reputation in terms of how serious a project is considered, how fast a project is read, how much money will be negotiated for it.

There are some wonderful powerhouse agents in New York and there are some wonderful powerhouse agents outside of the city. In general, I’d weigh an agent’s rep over location any day. That’s what the editors do.

GLA: What do you do to stay in contact with editors/publishers when you are back home in Colorado?

KN: I use the telephone. Grin. Sorry, that was probably sarcastic and guess what? Most NYC agents use the telephone to stay in contact and they all live in the same city.

GLA: Are there any advantages from not living in New York?

KN: Absolutely. My clients are not paying for the high overhead it would take to have an office location in the priciest city in the United States. We can spend our money on having such things like our marketing director Lindsay Mergens—who by the way is based in New York.

GLA: Do you have any exciting news to share about current clients?

KN: How much room do you have in your article? Big grin here. We’ve had a ton of good news as of late. Earlier this year, Ally Carter hit the New York Times Series bestseller list (along with Twilight and Diary of A Wimpy Kid) with her wonderful Gallagher Girls series. Jamie Ford hit the NYT bestseller list twice. For nine weeks with the hardcover of Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet and now for the trade paperback edition of this novel. He’s been on for four weeks, hitting as high as #13 and I have hopes for staying on for a while and breaking the top ten.

Then Gail Carriger’s debut steampunk fantasy Soulless was named one of the top 100 books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. So exciting and unexpected. This is the second time an NLA book has been chosen by PW for a top book pick of the year. In 2008 it was Sherry Thomas’s debut historical romance Private Arrangements. We’ve been incredibly blessed.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?

KN: I’d love to see more literary fiction with that strong commercial bent—like Jamie Ford. Great storytelling, lovely writing, and a dynamic plot to really drive the story.

I see a lot of literary fiction with superb writing but there’s no solid plot to keep the pace strong. I certainly see the value in beautifully written and introspective literary fiction such as Prague—but it’s not right for me.
I want literary fiction with a genre plot—if that makes any sense.

GLA: What are you tired of seeing?

KN: Paranormal - elements. We are still looking at titles in the adult or young adult realm with paranormal elements, but it’s crowded. It would really have to be extraordinary for us to take it on. Although, I’d love something literary that has that touch—kind of like The Thirteenth Tale, which I loved. I would represent a book like that in a heartbeat.

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GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where people can meet and pitch you?

KN: Sadly I’ve been limiting my appearances at writers conferences. As much as I enjoy them, it’s a lot of travel to be at the London Book Fair, BEA in New York, RWA, Worldcon or World Fantasy, ALA, and also in Bologna for the Children’s Book Fair. My associate Sara Megibow is planning to attend quite a few next year. Readers can find out about her on Publishers Marketplace page.

I do plan to be at the Missouri’s Writers Guild conference in St. Louis in the spring. I still have family in the area so it’s a good excuse to visit.

GLA: What is something about yourself writers would be surprised to know?

KN: That I’m in my forties and I still play Ultimate Frisbee for fun. My husband and I met while playing the sport years ago. It’s a great, caring community so we still like to play. I’m so the old lady on my team now. If I get matched up against a twenty-something, I know I can’t keep up so I have to play smarter. Sometimes that works. Lots of time that doesn’t. It’s still fun though. I imagine that if I get one more major injury, I’ll hang up my cleats.

GLA: When writers first contact you, what do you want them to send and how?

KN: We make it easy; all our submission guidelines are clearly outlined on our website. In short, send us a query letter by e-mail first. If we want to see sample pages, we’ll request them and have you upload to our electronic database. We do everything electronically and have done so since the start of my agency in 2002. Save the trees!

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This agent interview by Kerrie Flanagan,
director of Northern Colorado Writers. Register
now for the 5th annual Northern Colorado
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