LitChat Interview: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

by Tee Tate

Patricia Nelson joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2014. She represents adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction, and is actively Patricia-Nelson-296x300building her list.

In general, Patricia looks for stories that hook her with a unique plot, fantastic writing and complex characters that jump off the page. On the adult side, she is seeking women’s fiction both upmarket and commercial, historical fiction set in the 20th century, and compelling plot-driven literary fiction. She’s also looking for sexy, smart adult contemporary and historical single title romance. For YA and MG, Patricia is open to a wide range of genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic, magical realism, mystery, science fiction and fantasy. She is interested in seeing diverse stories and characters, including LGBTQ, in all genres that she represents.

A few of Patricia’s recent sales include Kristi Wientge’s middle grade debut KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE (Simon & Schuster Children’s); Mary McCoy’s YA mystery CAMP SO AND SO (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner); Susan Bishop Crispell’s debut magical realist women’s fiction THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press); Loretta Nyhan’s quirky contemporary women’s fiction ALL THE GOOD PARTS (Lake Union Publishing); Kelly J. Ford’s debut literary suspense COTTONMOUTHS (Skyhorse); and KC Bateman’s historical romance TO STEAL A HEART (Loveswept/Random House).

Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.


LS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re honored you’re here. Has publishing always been in your career game plan? What led you into agenting?

I always knew that I wanted to have a job that somehow involved books, and as a teen dreamed of someday being a book editor — but growing up in the suburbs in the Midwest, I didn’t know anyone who actually worked in a creative industry. I imagined those jobs were impossible to actually get! Instead, after graduating college I thought I would be an English professor, and headed to many, many years of graduate school before realizing that while there were things I loved about teaching, I wasn’t ready to give up on the publishing dream after all. That career change was the best choice I’ve ever made!

LS: What in your childhood informed your love of reading and what was your favorite book growing up?

I come from a family where reading was always valued and encouraged, and had a book in hand as early as I can remember. I used to go to the library in the summer and check out stacks of as many books as they would let me — then come home and settle in to start working my way through the pile as fast as possible. I read my way through the children’s/YA section at my local library (all the way from the books with the shiny awards stickers to every Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High Book available at the time), and then moved right on to the adult sci-fi/fantasy shelves. It’s impossible to pick a favorite — in fact, I have a whole shelf’s worth of dog-eared childhood/teenage favorites that I’ve hung onto to this day.

LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, are you ever able to read a book for pleasure without editing it?

That’s how I know it’s a great book! It takes a lot more to grab my attention and fully absorb me than it used to, but if a novel I’m reading for fun can completely sweep me away, you can bet it’s one that I’ll be recommending it to everyone who’ll listen.

LS: What makes a query you pick up stand out? What makes you take a second glance?

The best queries stand out because of the originality of the story, not because they’re trying to be clever or “different.” Keep is mind that this is first and foremost a business letter, and one that reveals you to be a personable, professional writer who has a basic familiarity with publishing as an industry. The queries that grab me are generally, as a baseline: tightly written, concise, friendly (but not uncomfortably or unprofessionally so), with intriguing comparable titles and genre-appropriate word counts. And they introduce me to a character and a conflict that I want to know more about.

LS:  Traditional publishing models are changing, particularly how books are distributed, (Self-publishing and the e-book). What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?

This is a fantastic and exciting moment for publishing — authors have more options than ever before in deciding how they want to get their book out into the world. I think we’re seeing right now that in the long run there is room for both traditional and self-publishing, and in my view it’s only a positive change that authors are now able to decide which of the two paths they want to pursue for each individual book.

LS: What’s the one thing you wish writers knew before they begin the query process?

Do your research first. There’s a great deal of information out there on the internet about most agents and agencies, as well as about how to write a query letter and the query process in general… but you might be surprised at how many queries I get that suggest the writer hasn’t ever googled me and the genres I represent, or even read up on the basic format of a query. The resources are readily accessible — use them! You’ll have the best luck if you’re targeting the right agents with a polished query. (If you’re reading this interview, you’re already on the right track! QueryTracker and the Query Shark archives are some other great resources for those just starting the process.)

LS: What do you look for in a book as a reader that makes you take a second glance? Is this the same for all the genres you represent?

The books that I choose to represent have a combination of fantastic writing, an engaging and unique voice, compelling characters, a page-turning plot, and a richly-developed world that I want to explore (whether that setting is fantastical or realistic). For me, all these qualities are absolute necessities no matter the genre, but of course the kinds of plots, world, characters, and voices that draw me are different depending on the kind of story being told.

LS: What are you not seeing enough of in terms of genres and what would you love to see in your Inbox?

The bulk of the queries I receive are for YA and literary fiction — I’m absolutely interested in these genres, but I wish I heard from more authors writing in the other genres I represent as well. So, I’m definitely eager to see more queries for women’s fiction, romance, and middle grade, across the board! I’m also very committed to the push for greater diversity in publishing, and would always love to see more queries from diverse voices.


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