Member blog post: Tips from literary agent Bonnie Nadell

jaws_bonnie_nadellStory by Connie K. Ho, JAWS Member | Photo by Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, JAWS Member

JAWS Southern California recently hosted an event with literary agent Bonnie Nadell of the Hill Nadell Literary Agency. The agency represents current affairs, literary and commercial fiction, memoirs and narrative non-fiction. Here are some key points from the talk.

  • What an agent does is work with you as an advocate for your work; they should help you figure out what is a long magazine article and what can become a book, what has the breadth and depth for something long, how to frame the story and focus on the larger issues at hand.
  • For Nadell, selling the book proposal sometimes can seem like the easiest part because writing a book proposal can take a very long time; sometime it’s a six-month process, sometimes it’s a yearlong process and it’s the exception not the rule to submit a book proposal to a publishing house.
  • The length of the proposal depends on the book; there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
  • For Nadell, one of the pleasures of being an agent is building a career, helping authors not only to publish a book but also to help them figure out the trajectory of their career.
  • Writing a book doesn’t change your life, it doesn’t solve life’s problems; it can change your life but it can also not. You can’t go into writing a book thinking, “This is going to make me money, get me a house, do everything that I need it to do.”
  • Word of caution: Start writing about something you really love because there will be a moment in the writing process when you will hate it.
  • When looking for a book agent, the most important thing is to find someone who respects what you’re doing, who’s not going to avoid your phone calls and going to answer your email.
  • Nadell’s advice is to pick a book agent who is going to stretch you instead of someone who is going to tell you how great you are – your friends can tell you how great you are.
  • When looking for a book doctor, Nadell recommends finding someone who has worked in a publishing house and has a list of books they’ve worked on in the past.
  • From Nadell’s perspective, self-publishing seems to work well for genres like fantasy, romance and erotica but not other areas.
  • According to Nadell, self-publishing is very price-driven, $1.99 or $.99 or $2.99 are the usual prices for an eBook.
  • Advances are whatever the market will bear – the more that people want a book, the more you will get someone to pay for it.
  • Digital reading is attractive for an older audience.
  • Young readers like reading on paper – they may spend their life on their phones but they enjoy reading on paper; they’re on a screen all day long, so when they want to read they want to read on paper. Young readers want the physical, tangible thing of reading on paper.
  • Agents are like bank robbers, they go where the money goes; when they have a book to pitch, they usually go to the big publishing houses. Nadell will sell to smaller houses but tends to not sell to university presses because they’re going for a smaller scope.
  • Let the book sell itself. If you like using Twitter or blogging and do it on a normal basis, that’s great for selling the book; if you are someone who hates that and is just doing it for the promotion of the book, it usually doesn’t work – it has to be an organic process.