A Fly on an Agent’s wall

Do literary agents turn you into a perspiring, palm-sweating mess? Do you forget to breathe, or speak a mile a minute, or just read your notes when pitching to an agent? Do you wonder if they’re more god-like than human? I met agent Kristin Nelson at the Missouri Writer’s Guild conference in 2010 and she offered a peak into her very human life in Colorado.

Kristin starts her day in the office around nine a.m. “Most of my day is spent trouble shooting and managing my author’s careers,” Kristin said.

She negotiates author contracts with editors, reviews royalty statements, addresses book cover issues with publishers, speaks with her foreign-rights manager about international contracts, conferences with her marketing director, and works with her authors on their careers through brainstorming while nudging them about deadlines – all of this by three p.m. mountain time, at which time the ‘closing bell’ for New York sounds and switchboards at publishing houses shut down. Then, Kristin turns her focus to her ‘To Do’ list and wades through queries her assistant, Anita Mumm, has selected from the one hundred – one hundred fifty daily submissions. Kristin leaves the office about seven p.m. each night. She tackles most queries and submitted pages at night and on weekends.

You may wonder, what does trouble-shooting entail? “Publishers are always coming up with new wording for contracts or changing boiler-plate clauses,” Kristin says. Simple things like “What is a book?” are debated, defined and negotiated to identify in a writer’s contract whether or not “electronic” is part of the “book” definition. Or discuss publication of a book in a foreign language. Or she might have to address book cover issues- sometimes art departments make mistakes.

With such a demanding schedule, one that includes endless reading, how does Kristin select events that take her out of the office? “Conference must meet a criteria: 1) close to home town, 2) desirable location- such as Hawaii, 3) one of her authors is a major speaker at an event, or 4) a city where a close friends reside,” Kristin said. Missouri Writers’ Guild got lucky with the conference in Chesterfield, Missouri – Kristin is a hometown girl.

When Kristin needs a break from contracts, phone calls and other work demands, she takes a few minutes to blog at Pub Rants: http://pubrants.blogspot.com. She has a regular following. When she posts, it includes the music she’s listening to on her iPod. She writes to writers with tips and useful information. Her website also has a page filled with links to many writer resources. http://www.nelsonagency.com

Like other agents, Kristin always has a slush pile of pages to read. Often she can tell about the quality of writing within the first two pages. “Ninety-eight percent of what I read is not ready for an agent.”

What other activities occupy her time? Kristin presents workshops at writers’ conferences and judges writing contests. “Contests can be a good thing when they force a writer to complete a manuscript,” Kristin says. Yet, she advises writers not to be discouraged if a manuscript doesn’t win. “Contest critiques can provide insightful information. However, if a contest offers critique by multiple judges and the scores are polar opposite- for example one judge gives a 1 and two judges give a 10, then it’s probably not about the writing. The manuscript didn’t win because of the judges’ particular taste in writing.” Then, Kristin added, “Agents have their ‘cup of tea’ taste as well.”


About Linda Joyce

Writing is a curious journey. You don't pick it, it picks you. See my website at www.Linda-Joyce.com to learn more about me.
This entry was posted in Agents, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Fly on an Agent’s wall

  1. amyshojai says:

    Great post. Nice to know what’s really involved.

  2. Jan Morrill says:

    Great information here, Linda. I agree, it’d be great to shadow an agent for a day — I’m sure we-who-wait might be a little more patient. 🙂

  3. Linda Joyce says:

    I, too, would love to shadow an agent. Maybe I’ll put that on my “to do” list for 2012…Hmmm….

  4. Clara v says:

    Great information.

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