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Flashback Friday | Kristin Nelson

I’ve been so lucky in  my life to not only meet amazing people, but question them and learn from them. I’ve been able to amass a pretty large catalogue of interviews because of their generosity, and they have really helped me get my foot in many different doors.  So first, to all the people who have been gracious enough to give me their time and patience, thank you!

I’ve created the Flashback Friday series to show these interviews and reviews.  They’ve been locked away in my archives but now it’s time to share them.  I hope you enjoy this look back on the articles that got me started and introduced me to some of my best friends.  Enjoy!

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kristin_sized_160x240I have a list of blogs I go on to every single morning. I have ten blogs that I consistently read and the one that has been the most fun, consistent, and entertaining for me has got to be Kristin Nelson’s PubRants. Hers is the first I read the minute I get my computer fired up and logged onto the Internet. I feel oddly out of balance when I can’t check to read her daily musings; she’s just become a part of my routine.

It’s also funny to note that a lot of the authors I’ve interviewed have either come directly from her blog or have some sort of six-degrees-of-seperation thing going from her blog. I got extremely interested in both Hank Phillippi Ryan and Sherry Thomas after reading just their query on Kristin’s blog – and have since become big fans of them both. I first heard about agent Nathan Bransford from Kristin’s blog – whom I interviewed just a few weeks ago. I became aware of agent Rachel Vater’s blog which led me to Jeaniene Frost and Rachel Vincent, two other authors I have interviewed and adore.

Kristin is a lovely woman and probably won’t ever admit it, but her blog is an extremely powerful resource. It’s exceptionally clever and the tone with which she writes just makes you feel like you’re speaking to a friend.

And she knows her job! It’s so blazingly apparent that the only thing I’ll say about her amazing talent is this: the minute I get my novel done, she’s the first one I’m querying.

Associated Content listed you as one of the top ten blogs for writers. Reading your blog (pubrants.blogspot.com) it’s easy to see why. So let’s start there:

It’s an incredibly daunting task – especially when you have so many other tasks to get done in a day – to think up a good entry, write it, edit it, reread it, post it, and then moderate it. Yet you have a new post up every day. Where do you find the discipline?

I have to laugh because I imagine quite a few of my readers would raise an eyebrow over the “editing” part. I’m notorious for doing a blog in 15 minutes and posting. Sometimes the editing part doesn’t really happen until the next day when I reread a posted entry and see my “oops” on the page as clear as day. That’s part of why I can blog though. I literally will only spend 20 minutes on an entry and post. I do try and give it a quick reread and edit for coherency and grammar but I’m only human.

Your blog is incredibly successful. Your topics range of query letters to editors to marketing to your authors. Is there anything, however, you won’t talk about.

I won’t talk about projects in process—as in currently under submission awaiting editor response. I won’t talk about anything that is confidential to a client. When I post a submission letter or a client’s original email, it’s always with his or her permission. When I’m having an issue with an editor, I don’t talk about that. I keep my entries to more general things about publishing or issues that are universal.

We live in a strange and amazing time right now. There’s a lot of entertainment at our disposal – more than ever. But the number of people sitting down to read a book are, unfortunately, declining. So my first question, what’s your take on the current atmostphere of reading and books? And second, what do you think that we, as an industry, can do to promote more reading – especially from young people?

The trick is getting young people excited to read so you have to allow them to read what they want—even if it’s not on an “approved” list. If a young person wants to read a comic book or a graphic novel, let them do it. If a young person is falling behind in reading class, let him or her choose the book to read so reading can become exciting again. As parents, teachers, adults in young people’s lives, we need to be caught reading ourselves. The good majority of adults only read something like 2 or 4 books a year (or less I’ve heard). No wonder kids aren’t reading. They aren’t seeing it modeled.

People don’t go into publishing for the high income potential, but you’ve done amazingly well. What’s a splurge for you?

A nice vacation is a splurge! If a sale was particularly spectacular, my hubby and I do keep a nice bottle of champagne on hand so we can pop it open and toast the good sale. Sometimes I’ll do a nice dinner out to celebrate. For the most part, we are pretty sedate. The agency is growing and there are a lot of costs associated with growth so we tend to be rather cautious and budget conscious. The agency is still too young to let me loosen up too much.

Tell me how Nelson Literary Agency first began.

I worked for another agent before heading out on my own. At my first agency, we did almost nothing but nonfiction and I knew I wanted to handle fiction—genre stuff to boot! When I brought that up with the agent I was working for, she didn’t get the appeal of romance, SF&F, and children’s etc. It just simply wasn’t her cup of tea and she really didn’t want her agency to grow in that direction. I can certainly understand that so I went out on my own after attending the Denver Publishing Institute in 2002. I highly recommend that program by the way.

And you’re not only a graduate of that institute, but you also graduated from the University of Missouri in Columbia. Did you have ambitions to become a novelist yourself?

I also have my Masters from Purdue University where I studied creative writing under National Book Award nominee Patricia Henley. So I guess I did when I started but I just love the business side of it so much. I’m not saying that I’ll never dabble again on the creative side of things and write a novel but I don’t see it happening at this moment in time.

Would you ever consider writing a nonfiction book? Perhaps something like Janet Evanovich did with her How I Write book. Yours could be How I Agent.

Interesting question but nonfiction isn’t my passion so right now I don’t see it happening. I know enough to never say never though!

As an agent, you deal with contracts, lots of contracts. What prepared you for that?

Every day I thank goodness for my contracts manager Paula Breen. She’s the former director of contracts at Random House and that lovely lady has taught me everything I know. She’d laugh though because oddly enough, I’ve taught her a thing or two as well. When she tells me that one of my requests is unlikely to get fulfilled (and that it’s not “normal” for a contract), I just ask “why not?” Funny enough, those questions have led us to have interesting discussions with various publishers and we have gotten some unique and special things in our contracts.

To switch gears a moment, let’s talk about writers. You deal with them while they’re aspiring, while they’re querying, while they’re editing, while they’re published, while they’re marketing. You see a writer at her worst and best. To you, what is the most fundemental thing a person can possess to become a published writer?

Perseverance and talent. Perseverance because talent isn’t always recognized right off. But also the good sense to move on when a project isn’t happening and to focus on the next one because that project might be the one to open up all the doors. I just see writers beating that dead horse to death again—if you know what I mean. If project 1 doesn’t land you an agent, write project two. You are only going to grow as a writer.

Is there anything you wish people would stop doing in query letters addressed to you?

It’s not about what I would wish them to stop doing. It’s more a question of what I wish they were doing! Just recently I did a whole series of pitch paragraph workshops on my blog. If more writers could learn how to nail that pitch, it would make a huge difference for me and for them. So my advice? Read back cover copy of the books in your genre to get a sense of the rhythm. Then discover your plot catalyst that moves your story forward. This catalyst almost ALWAYS happens within the first 30 pages of any given novel. Nail that in your pitch. No need to summarize that rest of the novel. The pitch is just meant to be a teaser to encourage an agent to ask for sample pages.

Writing a book is a thrilling time, but being the one to discover that precious gem in the slush pile can be just as amazing. What has been a particularly touching time for you in your career thus far?

The big sales are always fantastic and exciting but it’s the projects I love but then take forever to sell but then finally do that give me the most pleasure! Another is being proven right. For example, I shopped an author a couple of years ago and just about every publisher passed with some excuse or another. And now she’s building into a big success. Aha! I was right, and I love that feeling.

Finally, Kristin, though the question is cliche, I’m asking it because I know your answer won’t be. What advice would you like to give all the authors out there who want to and are about to query you?

Nail that pitch paragraph in your query letter. It’s not that hard to grab my attention if your story is cool and original enough and only that pitch paragraph will tell me how it is so. That and check our website for our submission guidelines but that’s a given. Good luck to all the writers out there! May you find speedy representation.

3 Comments »

  1. “So my advice? Read back cover copy of the books in your genre to get a sense of the rhythm. Then discover your plot catalyst that moves your story forward. This catalyst almost ALWAYS happens within the first 30 pages of any given novel.”

    This is probably one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve seen from Kristen, and a select few other agents. I’ve seen too many example pitches that either don’t sound terribly interesting, or are poorly structured.

    Thanks for sharing the interview, Ms. Hensel.

    • Thanks Dante! Yeah, that was great advice from Kristin. She’s awesome. And no problem, I love sharing interviews. Thanks for reading!

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