Ask a Literary Agent: Nephele Tempest Answers Your Questions!

Posted by May 27th, 2015

Ask a Literary Agent: Nephele Tempest Answers Your Questions!We’re happy to have literary agent Nephele Tempest share her experience with the Book Country community! Nephele has been a member of The Knight Agency since 2005 and is based in Los Angeles. Nephele is currently seeking works in a wide variety of genres, including literary fiction, romance, and young adult.


If you feel that a novel from a first-time author is strong (style, voice, premise, etc.) — but, could use some changes (more than simple tweaking) — are you likely to say to the author: Make these changes and then send it back to me? – Val

I have definitely done this in the past, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. If I really love a story concept and think the writing is strong, I will occasionally make a few suggestions to the author with an offer to reread if they decide to follow up. Not everyone takes my suggestions, but I have seen revised manuscripts in this way. On one occasion, I did end up signing the author. We did a few more rounds of revisions once I had signed her on before I submitted the book to editors and sold it. The first round of edits she performed before I signed her on showed me that she was capable of following directions and that she was willing to work to get the book to a salable point. These are great qualities to see in a client.

As a member of the Book Country community of writers, I have a manuscript (Historical Fiction/Personage) that lately has been receiving five nib (star) reviews. The book is virtually finished, but I am in a quandary as to whether to seek an agent or self-publish. I have worked on this story for many years, and it is the advice from other writers that has helped me bring the novel to this point. – Rob Emery

Only you can decide whether you are interested in going the traditional publishing route or if you want to self-publish. Each route has its advantages and disadvantages. The traditional route can be time-consuming, but you end up with a group of people working for you to help get your book into the world — an agent, an editor, a marketing department and sales team, etc. If you self-publish, you still need those people and will need to find them and pay them for their work. I recommend you research both ways of doing things and pick the route that seems best for you. Either way, give the process time to work. Commit to the choice you make and really put in the time and effort to make your book a success. Too often I receive queries from authors who have self-published a few months ago and aren’t happy with the results, so they now want to try again the traditional way. I can’t really do anything for them because all they’ve done is create a poor sales history for their project that will make it hard for me to sell to a publishing house. So whatever route you choose, give it your all.

Do I have to seek out agents who only handle books on Christianity? Will any agent consider the job? If I have to seek out agents who specifically handle Christian literature, where do I find them? – Violet M.

Regardless of what you write, you need to research agents to make sure they represent your particular genre. Some agents represent only fiction or only nonfiction; others mix and match. But very few agents represent all types of books because it’s almost impossible to know all the editors you need to know and to keep up to date on what the trends are in all areas of publishing. Check out to see what agents represent what you write. Then, visit their agency websites to double check that they’re still seeking new material in that genre.

When some agents speak of wanting to build an author’s brand, they say they are looking specifically for authors who are in it for the long haul. In other words, agents seem to want writers with decades of available book writing ahead of them. All of this makes good business sense. No complaints; I’d be doing the same thing. So, any suggestions for those of us over 50 who plan on a mere 30 or so more years of writing? Is there age bias from agents and publishers, and if so, how can we mitigate it? Or does a great book trump a hand full of AARP cards? – D.J. Lutz

You can build an author brand at any age. Most agents want to work with authors who are serious about writing, as opposed to an author who has a single idea and no desire to write anything beyond that book. Careers are easier to build when you have follow-up books because readers who discover your second book can then go back and read your first. This is how a following develops. A single book can potentially sell and make money. But unless it’s a runaway bestseller, it’s hard to keep it going if the author never produces anything else.

Many writers don’t start until they’re slightly older, as a second career or even something picked up in retirement. The press makes a big fuss about “young writers” a lot of the time, but there are plenty of writers who start their careers at 40 or 50 or older.

How about an example of a compelling query letter that you would actually read? – jwcohen

I know some agents share their clients’ query letters, but I don’t. Most of the time I don’t even keep them once I’ve signed on the author. But you can find great examples of successful queries online. I know Writer’s Digest posts a series on them here.

I have a manuscript written as a single volume but could be split into two, possibly even three, smaller books (I’ve always envisioned it as the first in a series anyhow). Would it have a better chance of getting picked up if I pitch it as a single volume with series potential or as a series right from the get-go? As a follow-up, would your thoughts change upon learning that I’m a first-time author or that the manuscript is targeted for 10- to 14-year-old readers? – Eric Bratcher

Series are tough these days because so many publishers have signed them, and they’re a commitment to multiple books that fill up the publishing calendar for years. Of course, a successful series is a great thing, but less successful ones can be problematic. You can certainly still sell a series, but I think you’re better served if you can pitch a book as a stand-alone with series potential because it gives the publisher more options.

I’ve heard you can hire a literary agent before you have any money to put out. Once you get somewhere, you can pay the agent a percentage of what you make. Is this true? – writerlydosageofinspiration

A literary agent should never charge you money up front. The way the system works is a literary agent will read and love your work and offer to represent you. They then submit your work to the appropriate editors at different publishing houses to find a buyer. You do not pay the agent anything unless they sell your book. Once the book is sold, they keep a percentage of the money you earn from the publisher — your advance and later royalties — all of which will be spelled out in your contract with the agency. If an agent asks you to pay them to read or edit your manuscript ahead of time, you should walk away from them. (Some agents will suggest you work with an independent editor to polish your manuscript before sending it out to publishing houses. If you take that advice, you will need to pay that editor. This is not the same as paying your agent up front.) Agents only get paid for work they’ve done. If your book does not sell, the agent does not get paid.


About Nephele Tempest 

Nephele Tempest joined The Knight Agency in January 2005, opening the Los Angeles office. As an agent, she works with a number of talented writers, assisting them to hone their skills and build their careers. Nephele comes from a diverse publishing and finance background. She has worked in the editorial department at Simon and Schuster, as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, in the marketing and communications departments of several major New York investment firms, and as a freelance writer. Her experiences in sales, marketing, and writing provide her with insights into multiple aspects of the publishing industry.

Nephele belongs to the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She continues to actively build her client list, and is currently seeking works in the following genres: literary/commercial fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance, historical fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction. Connect with Nephele on her personal blog and on Twitter

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