A Top Literary Agent Shares Valuable Insights

"Jocund" (Artwork by Nina Fazzi)

“Jocund” by Nina Fazzi

I recently participated in an online discussion forum featuring a top literary agent, who shared her insights on a wide range of topics: from author’s platform to book contracts and more.

To mark the 10th anniversary of Backspace, an online writers organization, the group invited Kristin Nelson, whose eponymous literary agency represents a number of best-selling authors, to answer questions.

I joined Backspace in November 2012, after attending its agent-author seminar in New York. Backspace plans to invite an original member like Nelson every month this year to celebrate its anniversary.

Kristin Nelson’s Advice

Here are some of the highlights of Nelson’s answers to questions posted by Backspace members.

Importance of Author’s Platform: Nelson said that for a first-time novelist, a platform is not absolutely necessary, but it would certainly help. When she’s trying to sell a debut novel, she can leverage the author’s platform and use it to help the acquiring editor sell the manuscript in-house. 

For writers without the metrics (e.g., substantial number of blog subscribers or Twitter followers), their professional background might help. For example, one of Nelson’s clients, Marie Lu, a best-selling YA author, did not have a platform. But Lu was a former video game designer and animator at Disney Imagineering—a strong background that worked in her favor.

Finding New Authors: Most of Nelson’s new clients were recommended by other clients and industry colleagues. She said she also pays attention to Kindle and Barnes & Noble best-seller lists to identify up-and-coming self-published authors. Then, there’s the good old slush pile. Nelson said she’s always thrilled when she discovers a talent via the slush pile or a writers conference.

Big Publisher vs. Small Press: In deciding whether to accept an offer from a big publishing house versus a small publisher, Nelson said: “It is really going to be about what the house has to offer.” She said the amount of an advance is incidental. If she feels confident that the small publisher will do a strong job, then she’s open to trying it.

Negotiating a Contract: If you’re unagented and you receive an offer directly from a publisher, Nelson recommended consulting a publishing attorney. But hiring a lawyer can be expensive, and so she added that if you decide to go it alone, be sure to negotiate a finite term of license for one to three years. And also, make sure that when the contract ends, all rights should revert back to you. “A small publisher might actually give you a term of license if you ask for it,” said Nelson. “The Big Five? Not so much.”

I read Nelson’s blog regularly for her valuable insights about publishing. Check it out here. If you’re looking for an online writers community, I highly recommend Backspace. It boasts of 1,800 members in a dozen countries. One-third of the membership is agented and/or published.


“Jocund” by Nina Fazzi. Copyright © 2014 by Nina Fazzi. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: