I’m so thankful for my wonderful agent, Terry Burns with Hartline Literary Agency. And I’m delighted he agreed to join me on Faith~Driven Fiction to talk about the changing climate of the publishing industry, what agents do for their clients during this time, and give hints about ways that un-agented writers can gain attention from agents.
Marji: There’s already been such a change in the world of publishing. What effect does the emergence of e-books have on writers trying to “break in” to publication?
Terry: It seduces a lot of writers into throwing away many months of writing effort. I have nothing against someone taking the easy route and self publishing or putting their book out there as an ebook as long as it is a business decision and not a knee jerk reaction to having difficulty in finding the market for their work. A small number of people have the skills and ability to successfully self-publish or epublish and people should insure that they have those skills and abilities before they decide to do it. Traditional publishers want the ebook rights in any publishing contract, so publishing by ebook pretty much guarantees they will not take the book for a print contract unless sales have been spectacular.
Marji: What genre of Christian fiction do you see as the hottest right now?
Terry: This changes so rapidly that the better question would be “what is hot TODAY?” At any given time a persons work might only fit at one place in the entire publishing industry and the challenge is finding that place while they are looking for it. Tomorrow that window might be closed and the one place is now somewhere else. I spend most of my time looking for windows that are open for my client’s work.
Marji: What types of books do you normally represent? Is there a particular genre you’re looking for right now?
Terry: It’s not about the genre with me except for some that I don’t handle. We don’t do Sci-Fi and fantasy (except I would look at them in YA). I don’t do children’s books younger than middle reader nor do I handle profanity or graphic sex or violence. I’m not working with devotionals or poetry. No, it’s more about the writing and whether I see a market for it and feel I have the right contacts to sell it into that market.
Marji: What can authors expect from great agents?
Terry: Per the above trying to track markets for work is a full time job and one that is terribly difficult for an unagented author to accomplish although it can be done. It is our job to find those markets and to insure that the proper submission is made. It’s our job to insure that the work is the best it can be, that the author is doing things to develop name identification and see that those things are conveyed to potential publishers, and to advise and assist them on developing their writing career.
Marji: What are some things that writers can do to make them stand out when seeking an agent?
Terry: Stellar writing is the main thing. Following guidelines and submitting a terrific proposal is also important. We use proposals to submit work so we pay as much attention to the proposal as we do to the writing itself. It is important because a high percentage of submissions are turned down without ever reading any of the writing. They are turned down because something in the proposal told that editor or agent that the project was not a good fit for them.
Marji: While everyone knows, or should know, that an agent seeks great books, what type of person is your ideal client?
Terry: I look for people who do great writing, are passionate about their work and people I think would be a great fit for my client group. Their platform and desire and ability to market and promote are important too.
Marji: What would your advice be to someone seeking publication?
Terry: In a perfect world it would all be about the writing. In the real world persistence is vital, continuing to develop craft is important, networking, and above all passion for the writing.
Marji: What is something special that you do for your authors?
Terry: I am probably best known for the way I work with my client group online. It is a closed online group and they have the ability to be in the side that only gets group messages from me, or the side that can talk to each other. Most choose the side that can interface with each other. That not only gives me daily contact with them, but they provide emotional and writing support for each other and have turned into an awesome group of prayer warriors.
Marji: Besides agenting, what do you spend your days doing and how does your agent work fit in?
Terry: When I need to step away from the computer a bit there is always something that needs doing around the house or yard. On a weekend that I am not committed to a conference somewhere we like to go camping or visit family.
Marji: How were you drawn into the position of becoming a literary agent? What talents/skills are needed for the job?
Terry: I was a client of Hartline for five years before I became an agent, but I was very proactive in placing my own projects and helping some of my friends publish that did not have an agent. Finally Joyce brought me in as an agent. For me, it is less about making money and more about trying to help launch the career of good writers, and to help them gets their words out there to serve the Lord. I work in the mainstream market too with work that doesn’t have to contain faith content, but I don’t park my own faith at the door to do it. It still has to be family friendly for me to attach my name to it.
Marji: What is your favorite part of doing what you do?
Terry: Seeing an author experience that thrill of first publication.
Marji: What is a special piece of advice that you were given as you published or moved into agenting?
Terry: Back in the day when I was a beginning writer I was the host for New York agent Donald Maass at a local conference. We weren’t supposed to pitch the people we were hosting but had to wait until we had a formal appointment. At one point he asked me if he represented what I write and I said that was what I was going to meet with him to find out. He smiled and said, “No, you should already know.” I did my due diligence that night and found out that he didn’t. That’s when I learned that submissions should NEVER be exploratory, we should only be submitting to people that we are pretty sure are a possible fit for us and we should tell them in the submission WHY we think they are a fit. I told Donald that the next day and he said he knew he didn’t represent my genre but it was important for me to learn how to find that out myself. We spent the appointment time talking about how to make a good pitch instead of doing one.
More about Terry:
Terry has been with the Hartline agency for over ten years, five years as an agent, and has a substantial list of clients, a growing list of credits, and a reputation for presenting to conferences all over the country. Consistently listed near the top on the Publisher’s Marketplace list of agents helping debut authors to publish. Terry comes from a writing background, has over 40 books of his own in print, is a graduate of West Texas State and did post graduate work at Southern Methodist University. He tries to run a paperless office so he doesn’t take hard copy submissions. Terry is a native Texan and is based at Hartline’s Amarillo Texas field office. Terry is a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives and a signatory to their rules and practices.