Ether for Authors: Agent Kristin Nelson Signs Self-Publishing Star Barbara Freethy

In Discussion by Porter Anderson

16 July 2013 Ether iStock_000002554106XSmall photog cglow Texted Story Image

Table of Contents

  1. Agent Kristin Nel­son Signs Another Self-Publishing Star: Barbara Freethy
  2. Can Agenting Be Demystified?
  3. That Say­ing “No” Thing
  4. Bringing the DoJ’s Action Home
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: The Some­times Caus­tic Agent Orange

Agent Kristin Nel­son Signs Another Self-Publishing Star: Barbara Freethy

News on the Ether:

Author Barbara Freethy, left, and agent Kristin Nelson spoke in May at the "Indie Bestsellers" booth at BEA in New York. Photo: Porter Anderson

Author Barbara Freethy, left, and agent Kristin Nelson spoke in May at the “Indie Bestsellers” booth at BEA in New York. Photo: Porter Anderson

Author Barbara Freethy, with more than three million ebooks sold, has signed with Kristin Nelson of Colorado’s Nelson Literary Agency, LLC.

No, Nelson is not the agent-fatalle of our top image today. But she may have danced through more authors’ dreams this year than most of her colleagues, as the literary agent who achieved a print-only contract for Hugh Howey’s Wool from Simon & Schuster.

Nelson tells me that for Freethy, she plans to “support all her self-publishing efforts, to place her best-selling titles with foreign publishers, and to explore any interesting conversations with publishers that might arise.”

Freethy is a No. 1 New York Times best-seller, Nelson reminds us. Nine of her books have reached the Times’ lists since she started self-publishing in January 2011. Her Summer Secrets currently stands at No. 15 on the Times’ ebooks best-seller list.

She has just published her 34th book today, Falling for a Stranger. It’s the third in her series about the Callaways, an Irish family of San Francisco firefighters. The cover art makes me think those Callaways get up to more hot moments than just firefighting.

Falling for a Stranger by @BarbaraFreethyFreethy and I spoke in May as she joined up with five of her fellow major self-publishing sellers through Amazon to take an “Indie Bestsellers” booth together at BookExpo America (BEA).

The #Indie6, as I’ve hashed them on Twitter, shared book signings as well as poster space, drawing eager crowds to meet them.

And as we’ve covered in previous Ether installments, these independent authors’ initiative was especially impressive, because BEA had elected not to replicate the London Book Fair’s Author Lounge as a hub for writers.

By teaming up, as covered here in Publishing Perspectives’ Ether for Authors, these best-sellers created their own hub and a snagged a lot more attention than many bigger, more expensive booths did.

Publishers’ authors were signing in tightly controlled arms-length settings while these entrepreneurial authors–Kindle Million sellers visited on the BEA floor by Amazon KDP and CreateSpace Vice-President Nader Kabbani–were in the aisles, hugging readers, posing for photos, attracting camera crews.

There’s more about Freethy and her self-publishing colleagues here in Writing on the Ether: BEA Booth 966: The Indies Are Coming!

And we’ll be hearing more, I’m sure, about her and Nelson’s work together in this latest alliance for an agency that’s clearly becoming known as a leader in handling major breakout self-publishing success stories.

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Can Agenting Be Demystified?

Infographic by Goodreads

In this much talked-about infographic from Goodreads, some of the 19 million members of that book-sharing community offer interesting comment on why and when they tend to stop reading–or continue.

La Nelson’s good footwork notwithstanding, the dance of the literary agent is, to many, one of the most mysterious in all publishing.

And if anything, the news of Freethy’s new self-publishing relationship with Nelson Literary will open yet another round of big dreams and high hopes. Nothing wrong with either, of course, as long as they’re balanced by the realistic eye for the business that someone like Freethy brings to her work and someone like Nelson amplifies.

One of the problems inherent in the situation is the mystique that tends to surround literary agents and their work, in general.

As simple as it might seem (not in execution but in concept), the role of this somewhat exotic broker, a go-between by definition, has alternately enthralled, infuriated, and confounded authors—and probably more than a few publishers—for decades.

Today’s news from Denver’s Nelson Literary couldn’t be more timely here at Publishing Perspectives, where we’re running several days of special coverage focused primarily on the latest digitally driven question to loom over literary agents’ fabled choreography: the issue of “agent-assisted publishing.”

The company line—meaning the view from the most traditional elements of the industry! the industry!—is that the vast majority of authors still want Big Five contracts and most agents are doing just fine in come-hithering the majors and ferrying over those manuscripts, thanks very much, jingle, jingle, see you later, baby.

Others, however, see widening vistas opening up as digital tools and global electronic distribution led by generates new ways to guide, stage, and produce author-clients’ work without so much as a publisher’s business card in sight.

The catch is that almost all of these potential new venues to digitally arrayed success seem to be dependent on loosening up one or more of the principals formerly held as near-gospel. We may need to see some more veils drop.

Such as? “Thou shalt be paid only by commission.” Jingle, jingle, hm, well…nowadays, a growing number of smart observers aren’t so sure about that. Nor “Thou shalt never charge a fee to a client for a service.”

In a land of tradition being rocked by fundamental change, some say experimentation becomes almost a responsibility. Clinging to commandments suitable for needlepoint—”just because that’s the way we do it”—makes less sense by the day.

“Truth be told”—I’m quoting a certain agent who loves to use that phrase in rejection notes regularly roasted at—publishing was an agents’ market for many years. The more “abdication” we saw by publishers to agents of the role of talent scout and groomer, the higher became the gates kept by those agents. Agents were the stars to dance with. Any author unable or unwilling to sway their way, honestly, had little hope of getting close to a good contract.

The digital dervishes of today’s most accomplished entrepreneurial authors, of course, can spin rings around some of our strongest agents.

But in some cases, Kristin Nelson clearly among them, agents are learning what such independent professionals need in order to move into higher gear.


In the most cherished present-day lore, agents are said to be lining up to offer their services to the sharpest self-publishers, such as  Bella Andre,Stephanie BondTina Folsom,Freethy, Howey, and CJ Lyons.

And as we’ve all learned somewhere between Hocking and Howey—no belly dancing, but I’ve seen him try a little ballet—the blockbuster successes are alluring but truly hard to replicate.

Today, in keeping with our focus of the week on agents, the Ether highlights a couple more interesting agents whose own writings help demystify the veiled business, Rachelle Gardner and, in our Last Gas, the self-disguised Agent Orange.

Check back in with us during the week for more on agents in these digital days. And join us here in comments: Do you think literary agenting can ever fully be demystified? Is that, finally, a requirement for genuinely entrepreneurial authors to work well with them? Or is the romance that surrounds this role in the business simply a fact of life?–will there always be a veil or two?

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That Say­ing “No” Thing


When an agent or editor requests your partial or full manuscript, it’s nerve wracking to wait and wonder, day after day, if they’re reading it and whether they like it. If they finally decide not to offer representation, it hurts and you just want to know… why?


Rachelle Gardner

Rachelle Gardner

Rachelle Gardner, like Jonny Geller no stranger to Ether regulars, is one of the most diligent literary agents we have in terms of trying to help authors get behind the agency process and understand a bit better why it tends, even here in the Post-Gatekeeping Era to look like one big, fat closed door so much.

Before I try to analyze exactly what’s going on with a manuscript, I try to experience it as a reader would. I pay attention to my my gut as I’m reading.

These quotes are from her latest post, Why Didn’t I Say “Yes” to Your Submission? And in this piece, as in so many, she’s not an apologist for herself or other agents, but she is a straightforward, honest voice from inside that collective office, willing to tell her blog readership more than many agents do.

Most agents try to offer some kind of explanation if they’re saying no to a requested manuscript. But giving this kind of feedback is sometimes more difficult than you might think.

How Do I Decide - first book by Rachelle GardnerOne of the most striking developments this year for Gardner has been her own publication of a book, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. To many authors’ surprise, she self-published it, learning what independent authors deal with in the process and making herself smarter about a side of the business many agents don’t see up close. In her new post about agents’ reactions to submissions, she makes it clear that her responses can well be very much like those of any reader:

Each manuscript usually has some good points, and some not-so-good. Often we agonize over our decision. It’s good, but is it good enough? I like it, but will others like it? Are the positives enough to overcome the negatives?

Which finally puts this agent’s rationale in her response to manuscripts right where it’s going to be for readers:

I can usually identify why the manuscript isn’t keeping my attention. Maybe it’s just plain boring or the writing isn’t good enough. Maybe it starts out strong but then falls apart. Maybe the characters aren’t well-developed. Or the dialogue isn’t working. Or it didn’t feel original. Or any number of other problems. But for me, the yes or no starts in my gut. It’s not scientific, but it’s what I’ve got.

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tumblr_mptu9xmkCP1rmbkfqo1_1280 by Stuart Greenhouse

Bringing the DoJ’s Action Home

In the summer of 2013, we can safely say that Amazon’s  control over the e-book market has eroded to somewhere around 60  percent. That number is a rough estimate given Barnes & Noble’s claims to 25 to 27% of the market, Google, Sony, Kobo, and Apple’s claims. The most difficult problem is ascertaining whether  natural market conditions would have resulted in a more robust e-tailer market without agency pricing.

Jane Litte

Jane Litte

A useful post from Jane Litte at Dear Author, Did agency pricing help publishers and if so will they return to it when the ban is lifted? looks at the aftermath of the Cote court action, reminding us that “In the beginning of  2010 it was estimated that Amazon enjoyed a 90% market share of digital books.”

The frankness of Litte’s analysis is helpful, especially in a section in which she offers her view–which, of course, won’t jibe with everyone’s–about Amazon’s 70/30 royalty split in the KDP program:

Self publishing came of age in 2011 and continues to place untold pressures on publishers, not only about price, but the ever present (and almost too difficult to answer question) of what can you, the publisher, really do for me, the author.  The author has more power and more choices than ever and it is self publishing that is placing the crowbar of pressure on publishing more than Amazon.  Amazon just created the crowbar and handed it to authors.

Litte’s post, with her detailed estimations of actions and reactions that have brought us to our present situation, is worth a read. It brings her to this conclusion:

What will continue to drive promotional pricing by publishers…is the ability to use deep discounting to drive up awareness of a title and hope that the book is good enough to catch on.  Just as it was used in the past, pre-Agency.




If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.  Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion.

July 14-19 New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Magazine & Digital Publishing: “The Yale Publishing Course is designed for mid- to senior-level professionals from all over the world. Our mission is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be more effective leaders and advance their careers.” List of speakers and topics.

July 21-26  New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing: “The program provides a mixture of overviews of the current and future state of the industry and in-depth explorations of specific topics in editorial content, design, marketing, circulation, advertising, finance, and management. The carefully-selected industry experts and distinguished faculty from the Yale School of Management present real-world business models and case studies from both large and small publishers.” List of speakers and topics (including Publishing Perspectives’ Ed Nawotka, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah, and Craig Mod).

July 25-28 Seattle: Pacific Northwest Writers Association: “This annual summer conference is an opportunity for writers of all levels to meet other writers, attend sessions focused on different aspects of the craft, and pitch your ideas to agents and editors. Sessions led by industry experts are crafted to address many aspects of the publishing industry. From keeping track of your expenses to crafting the perfect pitch, sessions give you a chance to interact with experts and ask questions in a friendly and open environment.” Speakers include Donald Maass, Debbie Macomber.

Willamette Writers ConferenceAugust 1-4 Portland Oregon: Willamette Writers Conference: “You cope all year with the creative isolation that’s part of the writer’s journey. Our annual conference is an opportunity for you to meet and exchange ideas with hundreds of other writers, to hone your craft, find expert advice, sell your work and get your creative juices flowing, and to pitch your ideas to literary agents, film managers, and editors. Inspiration is what it’s all about.” Faculty includes Larry Brooks, Ray Rhamey, Cynthia Whitcomb.

September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. ThePublishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin). Early Bird pricing offers $50 off through July 19.

September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers include: Jon Fine, Nina Amir, Philip Athans, James Scott Bell, Lisa Cron, Eric DelaBarre, and more. The program this year includes boot camp sessions, a one-day self-publishing conference, and the regular conference with agent pitch slam. (Hashtag: #WDCW13) Early Bird pricing offers $50 off through July 19.

Screenwriters World West 2013 - #SWCW13September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest’s Screenwriters World Conference West: “Scribes from around the world unite at Screenwriters World, the annual destination for both professional and aspiring screenwriters to come together to discuss the craft, share ideas, and network with fellow creatives.” Speakers include Erik Bork, Ruth Atkinson, Josie Brown, Karl Iglesias, Jeanne V. Bowerman, and more. The schedule this year includes optional boot camp sessions.  (Hashtag: #SWCW13Early Bird pricing offers $50 off through July 19.

CONTEC Frankfurt 2013October 8 Frankfurt Book Fair: CONTEC Conference: “A new, highly-engaging event experience created by the Frankfurt Academy to address the complexity of the needs of today’s publishing business. CONTEC gathers stakeholders from across the publishing ecosystem – from STM and trade publishers to service providers and tech startups – in one arena to redefine and redesign the experience of publishing.” Registration details. 

October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.

Books in Browsers 2012 2October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial  and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time this year by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and, of course, Craig Mod.

November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available.

February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops.  An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents.  And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”

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Last Gas: The Some­times Caus­tic Agent Orange

In ye olde days it was simple. Publishers were the marketplace, their only competition was themselves and agents were the conduits through which authors reached publishers. It was the agents’ job to enrich the feed before publishers selected the final elements to refine and use. It was all reassuringly linear and straightforward.

Agent OrangeIt would be interesting to know, whether in “ye olde days,” it was also harder or easier for a literary agent to criticize the industry by name. Agent Orange is the nom-de-blog of a UK-based agent who writes opinion pieces on occasion at The FutureBook. Being the irritating journalist I am, I declined to quote or otherwise use his work until I’d had some direct contact with him and could assure my readers that (a) I know who is behind this particular veil and that (b) he is, indeed, a literary agent. Having made those verifications, I’m still reluctant to use his frequently good material because veiled identities are not the stuff of good information in a free society.

However, the man who is Agent Orange, says that he fears that his often-critical writings could anger some in the publishing community who might, then, retaliate by not working with his clients. In short, the appeal is for the protection of his authors. That being the case, while I still don’t like a faux identity, I can at least assure you that this is a viable, professional member of the agent corps and respect his desire not to be named.

In his recent post, If agents are selling publishers to authors, does that mean publishers should pay agents commission? Orange shows the kind of impish but quite serious purview he has on an industry in deeper disruption than some like to admit.

[Some publishers’] mindset that they are still really the only game in town and that all authors, no matter how successfully they self publish, secretly yearn for a publishing nanny so they don’t have to worry their fluffy little heads about anything other than their writing is still massively pervasive.

Well, it just isn’t true. Not only are there plenty of authors who are confident, successful people who love having an active role in the business of their books, but self publishing gets easier and easier. There are more and better services to authors. The added value publishers represent isn’t static, it is being eroded daily.

It’s an interesting read that pictures the agent as someone having to work daily to convince his own author-clients that traditional publishers are worth the freight.

And Agent Orange’s posts are ones to watch for.

The willingness or ability [of publishers] to put their own case with passion and conviction is, for whatever reasons, all too often absent. I for one am getting very tired of putting it for them.

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Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at, and he is a regular contributor to His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at

Main image / iStockphoto: CGlow

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.