Ten years ago, literary agent Kristin Nelson took a risk and opened up shop in her hometown of Denver. Since then, the 43-year-old has proved that to be successful in the book industry, you don't have to live in New York City.
Nelson Literary Agency's client list includes such New York Times-bestselling authors as Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) and Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate series). Nelson's blog, Pub Rants (pubrants.blogspot.com), is popular because she tells it like it is about the industry, sharing her personal experiences as examples.
We of course talked with Nelson about one of her hottest clients right now, Marie Lu, but we also talked with the Pikes Peak Writers Conference faculty regular about the business of writing.
Indy: What advice would you give someone who has a manuscript tucked away in a drawer ... that they want to see published?
KN: I would really recommend that they approach the career part of writing with the same vigorous nature that they do their own writing. ... Become as educated as possible on how to do the professional side of things, and a great way to do that is by taking the workshops at conferences that teach aspiring writers to do that. You'd be amazed at how many aspiring writers don't bother, and so there's a real level of unprofessionalism there. You have to do this career as if you are already right in it. There's no half-measures. Conduct yourself in all ways like a professional writer from Day 1. Get as much information as you possibly can. ...
I mean, think about it: If you're writing your novel, oftentimes you'll do a lot of research for that, and for whatever reason, writers don't necessarily then apply that same principle to the business side of things. And there's so much information available. I mean, way, way more than there was even 15 years ago, that it's easily at writers' fingertips.
Yes, that can be overwhelming, but find that sweet spot where you get educated enough that you feel comfortable and strong in going forward, and you're not gonna go wrong.
Indy: Marie [Lu] was young when you signed her. Was that a plus for you? Did you have any concerns?
KN: I never think twice about age. The only time it's ever really a concern, is if somebody's under the age of 18 and their parent or guardian is going to have to co-sign on a contract. So it really doesn't matter to me. And it can go the other direction as well. They could be in their 60s or 70s, and I have no idea. For me, it's literally about the writing.
We do get a lot of queries and stuff from young people, and most of the time we can tell it's from young people. It's the young people who are not letting their age be a factor in their professionalism and their approach that makes a difference — and then we don't know until we're getting them on the phone.
Indy: On your blog you wrote something, actually in reference to Legend, about new writers and them having the capability to let go of previous manuscripts to work on other [material]. Can you talk about the importance of that ... ?
KN: I think it's so important for authors not to get caught up with just one thing. If you're a writer, there's going to be many stories in your life and your career, and oftentimes it's a question of timing, and the right story, and it really ends up being a perfect storm sometimes, and the stars aligning.
It just so happened that Marie was writing something that was starting to become a very hot genre, but it wasn't necessarily becoming that hot genre when she started writing it. It hadn't really hit yet, it was just happening. And so she ended up being on the cusp of something, but that's not why she went into that second book, with that assumption. She was watching Les Miserables and thinking, "Oh my gosh, this would be an interesting setup for a young adult novel. How can I make that work?"