Thursday, April 30, 2009


Julie here, and I am absolutely THRILLED to introduce my agent and dear friend, Natasha Kern. Ranked 11th in the list of top 25 literary agencies for new writers by Writer’s Digest, Natasha has over 24 years of experience in the publishing industry as an editor and publicist for New York publishers (Simon & Schuster, Bantam and Ballantine) before founding her own agency in 1986. She has personally sold more than 900 books and represents several NY Times and USA Today best-selling authors, as well as winners of the Edgar Award, the RITA award, the Silver Dagger Award, the Christy Award, the Hurston/Wright Award, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She has taught workshops and been a speaker at dozens of writers conferences including Romance Writers of America National Conference, The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, Association of Christian Fiction Writers, as well as regularly attending Book Expo and ICRS and many others.

Without further ado, I give you one of the best agents in the business, Natasha Kern.

Dear Seekers,

I have received submissions from several of you and, of course, some of you are already clients of the Natasha Kern Agency. In considering what you might be most interested to have me discuss, I decided to focus on why some writers have been accepted as clients and others have not. Feel free to ask questions on any aspect of working with an agent or publishing in general.

One of the things that I have talked to several of you about is the issue of having a premise. One of the blessings of writing for the Christian market is that many writers realize that their novels must be “about” something. This is much harder for writers in the general market to grasp. However, even with CBA novels, writers often select a verse from the Bible and may even intend to write a book with that verse at the heart of it, but I commonly see submissions in which the story has nothing at all to do with that verse as a premise. A premise is the “aha” the reader gets from reading the book--what used to be called The Moral of the Story-- and it informs virtually ever aspect of a novel, every scene, every plot element, every character. Like pieces of music, dance performances, paintings or poetry, a novel is a work of art that is about ONE primary thing. It is a parable that illustrates that insight and the way it is presented and the kind of “aha” we receive depends on the viewpoint of the author. Think of books like Pilgrim’s Progress which has a classic structure, the works of Shakespeare, or novels by George Eliot and Jane Austin to see how they are informed by both premise and structure. Your life experiences, your understanding of faith and how God works through you, your background and family history and so many other things contribute to a unique worldview and therefore a unique voice, style and story which cannot be duplicated by someone else. Be true to that.

This is one reason why giving back the gifts God has given to us is so important. As Robin Lee Hatcher says, “God never wastes a hurt.” And, indeed, even our traumatic experiences provide material for artistic expression. Authorial authenticity is a crucial ingredient that brings a story to life, so it is not just another historical romance, another contemporary book about family problems, or another redemption story. This is unmistakable to agents and editors and results in a sense of uniqueness, an engaging quality, a voice that is not a derivative of another writer. When we see it, we sit up and take notice. It could be a light, comic touch like Mary Connealy’s. Or it could be a special insight about family life and how we share our values and also our troubles that Julie Lessman imparts. Or it could be the hard lessons of characters in a historical setting like Tamera Alexander writes. In her most recent novel The Inheritance, the hero prays, “break me until I am wholly thine.” Which of us does not admire that and which of us has the courage to pray for that? The impact is powerful and informs the entire novel as premise, voice, and authentic authorial expression.

Because this commitment to write what has been laid on your heart is so all important, it is one of the most important things I am looking for when reading a submission. I do not really have a list of types of books I am currently seeking. I was asked by ACFW to send such a list for their website preparatory for the upcoming conference in September. I wrote to them and said, “I am taking on new clients who are part of God’s plan for my life rather than my plan so I am open to submissions that are authentically from the heart and soul of the author. I haven’t received a prescribed list, so I can’t give one out. Recent new clients run the gamut from historical comedy and Biblical historical novel to gritty contemporary suspense, a mystery series set in the 1920s, an African-American inspirational novel and a nonfiction book about evolution. Did I know before I read their work that I would be working with new writers in these categories? Not!

Perhaps it would be easier to look for writers who fulfill prescribed niches, but I am unable to do that. Biblical fiction is certainly not a popular genre today—and yet, the novel I recently read as a submission about the life of Mary Magdalene swept me away and made me see her life differently. I called to sign that author immediately. Multicultural novels or those featuring Muslim characters can be problematic to place. But if I love a book so much I feel others will want to read it too and share it with everyone they know, I have a strong sense of championship for working with the author and helping her to build a career.

Another problem that I frequently see in submissions and leads me to decline to represent them is that the writer has not yet learned what a novel is. This seems surprising since most writers have read many novels before they decide to write one. Unfortunately, attending concerts does not guarantee one can compose a symphony and living in a house does not make one an architect. This particular art form of the novel is often misperceived by those who are first starting to write one. Sometimes a writer’s gifts are so wonderful, that she can achieve publication without actually understanding what a premise is or even the elements of a novel. One of my clients published several novels with a major NY house before she figured this out. Her novels did not sell very well. She was asked to change her name to stay in print. Her career was going nowhere. But her writing was so beautiful, her insights so deep and interesting that her editor stuck with her as she learned the craft of writing a novel. And, then, she took off. That doesn’t happen very often!

A novel is a specific creation with very specific requirements. If the most basic requirements are not met, the writing is not a novel. No matter how fine the prose or powerful the themes or provoking the underlying truth, a work of writing must have a certain structure in the same way that a sonnet has a structure or a sonata does. There are other aspects of craft including prose style, voice, tone, point of view, brevity, flashbacks and reverie, artful beading in of backstory, dramatic tension, setting and all ways that protect what John Gardner calls “the fictive dream.” Without a foundation, walls and roof there is no house regardless of the kind of bathroom fixtures, the arrangement of rooms, the storage spaces and hallways, the artful decor and color palette. Structure and premise are that foundation upon which a novel can be built. It is not a formula, but a description of how a novel is put together.

A novel has overall structure/plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end: The beginning sets up the primary conflict of the novel, introduces the characters (including setting) and sets the plot in motion; it establishes the story situation and the protagonist's compelling motivation to save the planet, win the prize, (the protagonist has a problem that s/he cannot walk away from, that s/he cares deeply about, and about which s/he has to put himself or herself at risk).

The middle is a series of attempts by the protagonist to resolve the primary conflict, leading from one minor conflict and problem to another, the trouble growing greater, the risks expanding to the point it seems the hero cannot possibly succeed.

The end is the resolution of the original conflict and the protagonist's achievement of the brass ring through saving the planet from nuclear disaster, winning the guy of her dream or the case that saves his marriage and profession.

There are excellent models for structure/plot. Find the one that works for you. Keep looking until you have the ah-ha that lets you know the model will serve you in your work. A short list to try first: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler; A Story is a Promise by Robert Johnson; How to Write a Damned Good Novel by James Frey; and Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. If none of these work for you, find one that does. A model that works for you will shorten your learning curve. I also strongly recommend The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams to understand the premise that is at the heart of both fiction and film and how to use it successfully. I have taught workshops on this subject for years, so it was with great delight I discovered a writer who had developed the details of this all-important aspect of the novel.

The following is the best short definition of the structure of a commercial novel I have ever found. Consider it until it makes total sense to you. It was written by Dean Koontz.

(1) The author introduces a hero (or heroine) who has just been or is about to be plunged into terrible trouble. (2) The hero attempts to solve his problems, only slips into deeper trouble. (3) As the hero works to climb out of the hole he’s in, complications arise, each more terrible than the one before, until it seems as if his situation could not possibly be blacker or more hopeless than it is—and then one final unthinkable complication makes matters even worse. In most cases, these complications arise from mistakes or misjudgments the hero makes while struggling to solve his problems, mistakes and misjudgments which result from the interaction of faults and virtues that make him a unique character. (4) At last, deeply affected and changed by his awful experiences and by his intolerable circumstances, the hero learns something about himself or about the human condition in general, a Truth of which he was previously ignorant, and having learned this lesson, he understands what he must do to get out of the dangerous situation in which he has wound up. He takes the necessary actions and either succeeds or fails, through he succeeds more often than not, for readers tend to greatly prefer fiction that has an uplifting conclusion.

Notice that the book does not begin with backstory and explanation. It begins where there is conflict, action, tension. Backstory needs to be woven in bit by bit as the story itself progresses. Notice that the solutions to the problems faced by the protagonist(s)—both unsuccessful and successful—derive from the individual character, who s/he is and how s/he is motivated.

The protagonist(s) of a novel must meet certain criteria in whatever conventional or odd ways is true to them. Each must:
be bigger than life in some way, have a special quality
be admirable in some or many ways
be likable and competent
be worthy of the reader's respect and interest
be emotionally engaging for the reader
be committed by necessity and character to achieving a goal
be unable to walk away from conflict, challenges and trials (motivation)
be the initiator of the action of the novel
have fewer allies than enemies; have a rough row to hoe from beginning to end
create change and be changed by the events of the novel in an emotionally charged and logical way through each plot turn and challenge
learn something that will provide an ‘aha’ for the reader

A novel must in every chapter and scene, on each page, engage the reader emotionally and keep the reader engaged, give him a reason to turn each page and reasons to laugh and cry, to fear and root for the protagonist. If the protagonist lacks emotional logic, has nothing to risk or gain, does not care about the issues and actions of the story, there will be no way for the reader to engage. If the plot doesn't have fresh and credible twists and turns that continually challenge the protagonist and surprise the reader and if the character is not at risk in some significant way, there is no tension, suspense or reason to keep turning the pages. Which brings me to another major criteria agents and editors use to determine whether to work with an author. Is this novel REALLY making us laugh, cry, turn the pages, get inspired? What is the "master effect?" When we set the novel aside, will we wipe the tears away, wish it wasn't over, long to read more about these people and wish we knew them or feel inspired? Every novel does not have to be transformational—perhaps it provides a humorous respite from the cares of daily life and an uplifting story.

If you can master these elements of storytelling: Writing authentically (What Hemingway meant when he said you sit at the typewriter and open a vein); producing a novel that has a clear premise (which may not be obvious in the first draft); adhering to the structural requirements of this art form; write about characters we care about; develop a plot in which the problems progressively worsen; and keep the reader emotionally engaged, then agents and editors who read your work will be WOWed and jump to call you to make sure they contact you first before anyone else can.



Katie said...

Thank you Ms. Kern! (I never know if I should call an agent by his/her first or last name... any advice on that?) That was a very helpful post, especially as I research agents for the ACFW conference. It will be my first conferene. I am very excited - but very nervous!

Tina M. Russo said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Natasha.

Coffee, tea and baklava are on your left.

Thank you for this beautiful and encouraging post.

Cathy Shouse said...


I've read a lot of posts on writing and this just may take the award for the most helpful. Wow!

Thanks so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to share this.

Julie Lessman said...

Good Morning, everyone ... I see Tina beat me to the punch (or should I say "coffee") with the pastries -- thanks, Tina! I was up until the wee hours of the morning (no, not with Mary!) and slept in.

But I wanted to welcome Natasha to Seekerville, as well as all our wonderful regulars like Katie and Cathy. Natasha, you're gonna LOVE the gals (and some guys) who drop in throughout the day ... and it goes without saying that they're gonna love you!

See you all later ... I'm going back to bed ...


Glynna Kaye said...

Welcome, Natasha! So glad you could join us in Seekerville today.

And everyone, she's giving us all some "spot on" insights here, so print out this post and put it in your keeper file to read again and again!

Barbara Larriva said...

Natasha, thank you for the great info you have given us. Also, I would like to thank you for suggesting I give names to the 7 Mamas in Child of the Sea (when you had the manuscript for consideration). I took your advice and sold the book to a small press. I have a completed manuscript, The Seed, about street kids in India. With the popularity of Slumdog Millionaire, do you have any suggestions for me?

Leanna said...

Thank you, Natasha, for sharing those wonderful insights. Definitely worth printing and studying more.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for sharing your special insights! Very interesting and helpful.

Leigh said...

I treated myself to the ACFW conference MP3s and really enjoyed your session on premise. It makes even more sense now when I see how it fits with the other pieces you shared.

And I love the definition from Dean Koontz - very easy to understand the big picture when it's boiled down that way.

Thanks for the peek inside what agents think as they read through our stories! I'll probably think of questions as soon as I click 'send,' so will be back later. :-)

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you so much, Natasha. I know you have a full schedule. I appreciate you taking time out to help authors along.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

First, Julie, thank you so much for sharing your agent with Seekerville! This is an amazing post!

Natasha, I seriously think you should produce a writing craft book. I'd definitely buy it and study, study, study it! Thanks for all the great tips in here, and for the recommended readings. I have a couple of those, but will take a look at the others as well. Thanks again for sharing so much. Your post is a gift to me, today, and I'm sure many others, too.

Patty Wysong said...

Wow! What a post! Thank you! It made so much sense and I had light bulbs popping on all over the place. I've added it to my files to read over and study. :)

I've missed stopping in here--you're always full of wonderful information! Thanks!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Julie and Natasha, How wonderful to read all of your insights and advice. As Eileen said, you have a gift yourself to write in a clear manner what we all need to hear as writers of fiction.

Over the years and times we've met, I've always picked up more information from you and appreciate how you share your time with us.

Thanks and enjoy.

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Natasha. Thanks for being on Seekerville.
I really enjoyed the post. Lots to study here.

I just recently read The Moral Premise by Stanley Williams at Natasha's suggestion.

It's really helped me identify the premise of my story. I guess my books have always had a premise -- I never gave it much thought in those words -- but now I'm taking the time to define that premise right from the start and be more aware of it.

I make sure subplots and secondary characters are also operating from that same premise.

It's really helped me when I get to scene that I'm not sure exactly how I'll let it unfold.

Now, knowing my premise, it makes a difference in the choices I make and how I proceed.

My WIP has a premise of respect and self-respect. How do you ask for respect, how to you respect others who are not, in your opinion, deserving of it? How do you ask for respect for yourself when you don't respect others. It all ties back into that premise, of course well-coated in comedy and mayhem.

I always had respect as my premise. Even before I read the The Moral Premise. I didn't change it because of the book. But identifying it has helped my writing. I highly recommend the book.

Thank you for that advice, Natasha.

Cathy Shouse said...


For a mystery, can solving the murder become the premise? Or if it's a cozy with tips, can those also become the premise?

A lot of cozies seem to just have someone running a little business until they stumble onto a murder scene. Then solving the crime is the main action.

Speaking of cozies, I have heard mixed messages in the industry about these--are they currently dead or alive? :)

Myra Johnson said...

Wow, an entire writing conference in one blog post! Thanks so much for being our guest today, Natasha! (And thanks for inviting her, Julie!)

Everybody, PLEASE get yourselves a copy of The Moral Premise right away. Natasha recommended it to me a few weeks ago, and I devoured the book in two days, highlighting important points on every page.

Of course, now I look at every novel, TV show, and movie with an eye for the underlying moral premise. Sometimes it's obvious, other times not so much.

But between Natasha's explanation and Williams's book, it's like finally discovering the key to a fundamental principle of writing that I somehow always knew but forgot how to use.

Glynna Kaye said...

Natasha -- you stated that writers need to master "producing a novel that has a clear premise" and that, in fact, it may NOT be obvious in the first draft.

So how do those who sell on proposal define this "premise" if the deepest premise of the story may not come to light until 60-100K words? Any tips?


Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Natasha and welcome to Seekerville!

No matter how long we've been writing, how many requests we've received, how often we've finalled in contests, writers always need to be reminded of the essential aspects of crafting a great novel.

Thank you for including the Dean Koontz technique!

Julie! Thanks for sharing your awesome agent!

Julie Lessman said...

Myra, I am currently reading The Moral Premise at Natasha's suggestion as well, and on the first four or six pages, ideas how to improve my latest manuscript started popping up so fast that I was scribbling them down on napkins, church bulletins (I read it in the car while my husband drives). I cannot say enough about this book, and as Mary told me, it will change how you look at writing AND watching movies!


Ann said...

I'm a concrete kind of person, so telling me something is foundational works for me. I read your post with a mental checklist going at the same time, thinking about The Moral of The Story for my WIP.

Thanks for such a good overview.

PS -- Tina, virtual baklava is just what I needed today!

Mary Connealy said...

Cathy, I'm going to respond to this:
For a mystery, can solving the murder become the premise? Or if it's a cozy with tips, can those also become the premise?

I may not do it as well as Natasha but she can jump in and correct me or word it better.

Premise-well, when Natasha said 'the moral of the story' that's a pretty good description of it.

If you've read Petticoat Ranch, the premise of that story is Anger and Vengeance.
How to handle anger. How to conquer a desire for revenge. How does a Christian deal with very justified anger.

All of my characters were angry. Sophie over the death of her husband. Clay over the death of his brother. Adam over the deaths of his ranching partners. The bad guys over their plans being thwarted.

Each of these characters wanted pay back, revenge, they wanted to get even with the one who had done them wrong. And the good guys knew the hatred they felt was a sin. But how do you get past it?

I pictured the premise of that book (again I didn't have that word in mind when I wrote it) as being this arc. One side pure killing mad hatred...the other forgiveness and letting go of the anger.

Then I put Sophie, Clay and Adam at a different place on that arc.

I actually created the character of Adam about half way through the book because I just had Sophie further along in dealing with her anger and Clay, who had just found out men had killed his brother, at the beginning, furiously angry.

I didn't like what his rage did to him as a character. It wasn't heroic. So I invented Adam to be that angry.

OF course the bad guy is angry, too, but he has none of the goodness of heart to try and deal wisely with it. So he just hates. He plots. He wreaks vengeance on people who have done him no wrong but who have thwarted him.

Okay, talked too long. Not even sure I made sense.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Natasha and Seekerville, sounds like I should hunt down a copy of The Moral Premise, eh?

Excellent info on the blogpost. I've copied and pasted it into my doc file for future use since I know I'll be going back to it repeatedly.

A question for Natasha - you say you don't have a list of genres, but I couldn't tell from the post if you represent into the CBA market only.

Julie, thanks for letting us get to know Natasha.

Rose said...


Thanks for the great post and book recommendations.

Can you give us an insight on a typical work day for an agent?


Tina M. Russo said...

Good question, Rose.

I'd like to know the inside scoop on how big the slush pile or email slush file REALLY is.

Carrie Turansky said...

Excellent advice! Thank you, Natasha for sharing with us!

Julie Lessman said...

Hey Everyone, I forgot to mention that not only is Natasha on Pacific time, but she told me that her relatives are in and she would do her best to stop in a couple of times to answer questions, etc., so hang in there, okay?


Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica said...

What an incredible post!! I have to say that I haven't thought too deeply about this before. Thank you so much! I think this will help me a bunch with my wip.

Natasha Kern said...

Hi everyone! Katie, for me first name is fine! I'm a pretty casual person.

As Mary says, The Premise isn't everything but it is at the heart of a story. When you understand what your book is really about, it makes it much easier to avoid false trails, have subplots that dovetail with the primary plot and ensure readers come away with a feeling of emotional connection, inspiration and satisfaction. Mary's explanation of how premise works in her books is excellent because these seem to be light hearted stories that aren't all that profound but more entertaining-- but, in fact, are deeply inspirational because of her use of premise and it is one reason readers, including me, find her writing to be irresistible.

PatriciaW said...

Fabulous. I agree with everyone else. Probably the best piece I've ever read on why agents accept some manuscripts and not others while also being a novel writing primer.

Adding The Moral Premise to my TBR list.

About the name thing, I wonder too, Katie but I assume the formal with someone I might engage in a business relationship with until told otherwise.

Ms. Kern, do you tend to take on more seasoned, perhaps previously published writers, which I might understand based on your post, or are you as open to new writers? Do most of your clients come by way of referral, conferences, or query?

Natasha Kern said...

Hi everyone! Katie, for me first name is fine! I'm a pretty casual person.

As Mary says, The Premise isn't everything but it is at the heart of a story. When you understand what your book is really about, it makes it much easier to avoid false trails, have subplots that dovetail with the primary plot and ensure readers come away with a feeling of emotional connection, inspiration and satisfaction. Mary's explanation of how premise works in her books is excellent because these seem to be light hearted stories that don't seem all that profound-- but in fact are deeply inspirational because of her use of premise and it is one reason readers, including me, find her writing to be irresistible.

Laura in Texas said...

How generous of you to take the time to write such a thorough explanation. Thank you.

Natashakern said...

Cathy's question is a very good one. It is true that genre fiction seems to not be based on premise the way mainstream is. Or that all novels in a particular genre have the same premise. Like category romance being about "Love triumphs over all." And they are about that but the reason there are so many lines that come and go with Harlequin is that each has a different premise and therefore a different appeal. Romantic suspense is about overcoming the bad guys and saving the maiden or someone else to live happily ever after. Nocturnes are about confronting evil to end up together. Steeple Hill is about creating a relationship in which the partners can live a God-centered life and so on. And each story has a variation on that theme. Similarly in the mystery genre, yes they ARE all about solving a crime so the premise will be tied to "justice triumphs over all in the end" but each series or story will have a different way of demonstrating that in ways that satisfy readers and they vary with the sub-genre from police procedurals to cozies. Sub-genres exist because premises exist at the heart of each story.

Mysteries are doing well in ABA but are a really tough sell in CBA and no one knows why. It would seem that stories about life, death, crime etc would lend themselves to a Christian pov. But they do not sell well and why is a mystery.

Natasha Kern said...

Rose, this is a general overview of what agents do for their clients. My workday is one of constant interrupts and virtually never is a matter of doing what is on my TODO list! Today for example, an offer I am happy about accompanied by a contract I'm not so happy about; a client whose editor has not provided her with long overdue revisions and an approaching due date; another who wanted feedback on a partial she is turning in; a new client who needs to know more about working with me; two new covers that need some tweaking. . . it will be some combination of the following:
initial manuscript editing and polishing
developing a pitch to editors
Presentation, proposal and package development
Developing a marketing/submission plan

multiple books
International negotiations
writing foreign contracts
Negotiate film contracts
Update foreign agents with announcements and info

proposal to finished books monitoring each step of the way with editors and authors

marketing coordination with house and author
reviewing and contributing to marketing plans
Cover design development and approval
Jacket blurbs – write them, revise them, get them changed
Quotes from other writers
Review copies
Press Releases revising or writing
Reviewing author websites and self-promotion plans - tours
Coordinate house PR staff and private publicists

changing publishers
Changing editors
Changing genres
long-term planning and career strategies
Choosing what to write next of several ideas
Publisher cancels book or contract, is sold, goes bankrupt
Managing client estates and transitions
Positioning and Name Branding planning

Develop and maintain a good team to support the client
Work with good co-agents and subagents
Maintain a strong legal support team for problem situations in New York and Los Angeles
Work with the Author’s Guild and in-house attorneys
Stay in touch with foreign scouts and update property lists for them regularly
Manage subsidiary rights sales from audio to foreign rights
Allocate film rights to co-agent, contact producers and pursue sales
Supervise accounting team including 1099s and audits of publishers

Collecting payments of advances
Supervising agency staff and foreign agents on international tax forms for each country
Getting checks to clients immediately
Reviewing royalty statements, interpreting them, collecting $ due
Auditing the publisher

Attending conferences
Developing presentations
Updating website
Online interviews, blogs, etc.
Responding to about 100 emails every day
Supervising office staff – making sure spreadsheets are updated, office supplies, subscriptions, travel plans, meetings, etc
Tracking changes as editors move or acquisitions change or publishing changes
Communicate with and work with other agents

I. After doing all of the things needed for current clients
Read Queries and review submissions from potential new clients

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Natasha, welcome to Seekerville and thank you for a forthright, illuminating post. We really appreciate it.

And if you need to use us as an excuse to avoid certain relatives today, naming no names, we won't breathe a word of it. Honest!


Natasha Kern said...

Hi Glynna, lovely to encounter you again! Even though it may not be obvious in the first draft, in fact there almost always is a premise-- the author is just writing unconsciously, a seat-of-the-pants writer and doesn't know what it is. When God lays a story on your heart, there IS a point to it just as there is an "aha" in all parables and Bible stories. This doesn't mean there is only one way to read them or interpret them, but that the reader has an understanding that depends on her own life and insights and perhaps how much she has dealt with this issue or needed this "aha" insight. That is why so many books can be written with varying interpretations of the parables. But the meaning is intrinsically there on several levels. This is more a "listening" issue than it is a "mastering" issue. Not so much hard work as paying attention. What is it about these characters that draw you to write about them? Why does this situation matter? Where is this story going (you must have some idea to write a synopsis)

If you don't know by the time you have written a proposal, I think it is a good thing to pray about. The deeper premises almost always have something to do with our lives and thus the stories we have been given. Many writers write all of their works with the same premise although the illustration of that "aha" may be quite different or may change dramatically like, say, Anne Rice's has. It was a lightbulb to me to realize that stories seem to arrive with us-- something we are destined to experience and/or write about and often there are clues in the early stories of childhood that we asked mom and dad to read over and over to us. Children's stories also have a premise-- and the ones that draw us are often those that contain meanings we can interpret in ways no one else can. It is through premise that God works through us and understanding why we are drawn to some more than others is a learning about our own path as well as a gift from the writer to reader. My own story like this was Robin Hood -- I lived in England as a young child and saved my money to purchase an edition with full color plates I longed for when I was four (see! that early affinity for books!). It was interesting to realize how much my profession of championing writers had to do with a)working for those who were striving to be accepted in a world in which annointed kings, queens and the titled seemed to have left no room b) making sure no one has to feel like an outcast and live in the woods when they can be helped to prevail and move into the castle. . . and so on --grin Have you ever noticed there are some lessons you seem to need to learn repeatedly? Then this is one of your gifts.

Natasha Kern said...

Anita, I wanted to confirm again that I do work in both CBA and ABA and with writers who cross from one to the other in both directions.

Thanks for the Baklava-- I lived in Greece for several years so it remains a favorite!

Natasha Kern said...

Patricia, most of my clients do come from referrals-- I'm followng the learning curve of several Seekers for example who I am confident will succeed even though they are not quite at a publishable level or mastering the craft.

I absolutely do take on new unpublished writers (who haven't even finalled in contests). I signed two new writers in the past months because I was WILD about their writing. One novel isn't quite ready for submission so she is working with a private editor to kick it up a notch and the other I am submitting in the next few days.

So writers connect with through a personal contact, at conferences, and also through the queries sent to the website-- we really do read them all and receive 500-700/month.

We look at queries much like you look at jacket copy when browsing in a bookstore. Is the concept intriguing? Is there a fresh voice? And is the writing compelling? If so, we ask to see more and it goes into my reading schedule.

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Natasha! I'm just blown away by your post. Everything a writer needs to do and know is there in a nutshell. Thank you for your willingness to give your valuable time to teach and improve our craft.

God bless,

Myra Johnson said...

Natasha said: "Have you ever noticed there are some lessons you seem to need to learn repeatedly?"

That is definitely true with me! And I can see how those subjects show up in my writing over and over again. Forgiveness. Self-confidence (or lack thereof). Trust issues. Strengthening family ties.

What I've been reminded of with the Moral Premise is that I shouldn't be working ALL of these themes into the same book, but instead focus on one central premise and let everything in the story reflect and expand upon it.

BTW, thanks for such a thorough explanation of an agent's work!

pat jeanne said...

Thank you so much, Ms. Kern, for taking your time to explain what a novel is and what you look for in a submission. It has been very helpful and very enlightening. Thanks to Julie, too. Pat

Pam Hillman said...

After a busy day at work, I'm dropping by very quickly to say Welcome to Seekerville, Natasha!

I'm out the door (again) to pay my respects to a dear departed friend, but later tonight, I'll sit down and enjoy the entire blog and all the comments.


Leigh said...

Wow, what great questions and comments -- this is as good as the original post! Your day's rundown is a real eye-opener. Makes me wonder if you ever eat or sleep! :-)

I have one more question if it's not too late. You mentioned the ACFW conference, but are there others you try to go to each year (or at least on a regular basis) so people have the chance to meet you?

Thanks again for all your time. The Seekers found a lot of treasure today!

Glynna Kaye said...

Natasha -- Just got back home from the day job, but want to thank you again for you juicy post and helpful, detailed comments. So very nice to know there's a Robin Hood-ette agent in the world looking out for us!

Krista Phillips said...

Wow! I skimmed through the comments and was awed by the wealth of information! Natasha, thanks so much for sharing all this insight!

SOMEDAY I'm actually going to get up early enough to have coffee (or hot chocolate for me) and pastries with y'all!

Natasha Kern said...

Leigh, I do attend RWA every year and very often the Faith, Hope and Love chapter meeting there and recently Mt. Hermon as well as industry events like Book Expo or ICRS. I am invited to a lot of conferences each year around the country and attend different ones rather than the same ones repeatedly. I hope I will be seeing some of you at ACFW in September.

Tina M. Russo said...

Saturday is sleep in Weekend Edition, Krista. You can come in your jammies.

Natasha, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing. It really was eye opening to hear an agent's POV.

Shelli said...

great interview!