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Book Proposals I’d Love to See

by Tamela Hancock Murray

beautiful red rose flower on black background

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction.

My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be Here,” but here’s an update for you:

Do you still want to see Christian romance novels?
Indeed I do! I’m happy to say that this is one area of Christian fiction that continues to thrive and enjoy an enthusiastic readership.

I am still passionate about Christian romance novels. I respect and honor the fact that the editors of the romance lines are very specific about their needs and wants. They look for hardworking, dedicated, talented authors who are able to write a fresh story within the romance novel framework. Does this describe you? If so, I’d love to partner with you!

What about other genres of fiction?
As those following the industry are aware, the trade book fiction market has contracted in recent years, but I have never experienced an easy time for authors to break in to trade fiction. As with modeling and acting, more people want those jobs than there are jobs available. This is a perennial fact.

However, I am always seeking a tale well told that I believe deserves a place in CBA. My personal tastes will always veer to heavy romantic elements. To wit, if my husband has a movie on television and I don’t see any women (e.g., cowboys sitting around a fire or a bunch of guys on a boat), I find something else to do until the movie is over.

But as long as there is a heavy romantic element, I’m open to all sorts of stories.

Are you open to general market fiction?
Yes. But the story must be so clean you’d be willing to share it with your most devout friend or relative. Nothing that would dishonor God or disrespect the faith of the church, as defined by The Apostle’s Creed, is welcome here.

Are you still open to nonfiction submissions?
Yes, and I continue to be highly selective. The importance of author platform here is magnified a thousandfold in comparison with fiction. I need to see an author who’s already connecting with his or her audience so I can show publishers the author has gained respect and credibility with current readers and will be a great partner with the publisher in expanding reader base. Nonfiction readers are looking for insight, consolation, help, knowledge, and encouragement. An author needs to come from a position of authority when delivering a book to these readers.

Platform must be accompanied by a great idea told in dynamic writing. Tell me why you have an audience eager to read what you have to say on your topic, and why. I love books that  make me want to read them even when the topic doesn’t apply to me. Now that’s a well-written and engaging book.

And in today’s market, that’s what you need.

Do you have a lot of slots open for new authors?
God has seen fit to allow me a client list that is fantastic beyond my wildest dreams. However, I am humbled and honored by authors who take their valuable time to learn about me and afterwards feel led to submit their ideas to me, especially when CBA is blessed by so many talented literary agents.

Although we are not perfect in our level of response (meaning it’s OK to follow up if you don’t hear from us), my assistant and I do consider submissions from new authors. I am thrilled to work with promising new as well as established authors. You can send proposals via email to ewilson@stevelaube.com (please visit the guidelines for specifics).

Are you still happy to be here?
Why yes, I am!

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

measuresuccess

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

Rooting for the Bad Guy?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Man with mysterious eyes

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

Why I Read Romance Novels

by Karen Ball

Valentine’s Day is on its way, and that got me to thinking about that four-letter word we all use with impunity:

LOVE.

What a powerful word, one so full of meaning I could write a dozen blogs about it and still not exhaust the depth and breadth of all it entails. I’m grateful for love. For God’s love. For my hubby’s love. For my family’s love. For my doggies’ love. Love has blessed me more than I could ever deserve. But then, isn’t that the very nature of love—that it comes to us regardless of our so-called “worth.” And one area where I most enjoy the blessing of love is in writing. Whether poetry or novels, nonfiction or essays, I’m not afraid to admit that I love reading about love. And I especially enjoy–get ready for it–romance novels!

Wanted: More Choir Members

Dan Balow

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At some point in their writing career, many Christian authors express a desire to write a book that would reach the un-churched. That desire is a completely honorable and wonderful goal, just as any believer should desire to represent Christ in their lives in such a way that unbelievers would ask them questions about the hope that is in them. 

However, the inference by such statements as “preaching to the choir” is that writing to churchgoers is somehow less desirable.  I know the intent of those authors is to have their books used for pre-evangelism, but unfortunately, when most Christian authors use the term “cross-over” to describe their book, it is code for “leave out anything Christian”.  I am not sure this is a wise use of your time unless you are very gifted and unique writer.

Indulge me for just another minute before you start writing a reply, hitting me with examples of Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, MacDonald, Bunyan, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc.

First, God Almighty can and does use whatever he wants to get people’s attention.  I hear God even used a talking donkey once. Second, it is a matter of fact that the books that God has used most frequently for evangelism have testified strongly to Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to change a life.  Consider these:

Bring the Books

Agency Library

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

The Moral Protagonist: A Key Difference

angry

This is entirely an opinion, but in my reading of general market fiction versus Christian fiction, I have noticed one key difference:

The protagonists don’t have to be moral.

In Christian fiction, the protagonists must be moral or have a great desire to be moral at their core, even though they may make mistakes.

Christian fiction offers a Christian world view.  The characters’ circumstances test their moral fiber. Readers want to see how the characters deal with their situations and trials, and the resulting consequences. Whether or not the characters experience a happy ending will depend a lot on the genre and story itself, but the characters should grow in and/or find sustenance in their faith.

In general market romance fiction, the characters can be of any faith or no faith. More likely than not, the issue of the characters’ faith won’t be visited at all or might be explained or dismissed in a phrase. Often, the characters are swept up in circumstances they must overcome, but they won’t draw upon religious faith to solve their problems. Their solutions may or may not reflect a moral choice. More likely they will reflect the necessary choice to their survival.

Embracing Change – Part Two

by Dan Balow

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Last week in my post “Embracing Change,” I outlined the six phases that characterize the acceptance of change in our lives and world.  Today, I want to focus on some specifics that you need to consider to adapt to the future.

First, a recap of the six phases when confronted with something new:

Phase One – Dismissed as a fad by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.

Phase Two – Attacked as dangerous by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.

Phase Three – Accepting of the new thing, but reminding everyone that this too will pass and we will most likely move on to something else eventually.

Phase Four – Accepting that the new thing is important and we need to adapt to it but only in a limited way because it will never replace the status quo.

Phase Five – Seriously looking at creative solutions to making changes, some which are difficult and unpopular with those who still love the status quo.

Phase Six – View the new thing as an opportunity, whatever that means.  Begin to change the way we do everything.

I suggested that if you are not already at Phase Five, you should take stock of yourself and see what you need to get there.

In the world of publishing, what areas should be re-thought? For authors and anyone in publishing, some of them are:

Embracing Change

by Dan Balow

Stockholm

On September 3, 1967 the world changed. It was a day remembered for chaos and disillusionment, despair and confusion.  No, it wasn’t because the last episode of “What’s My Line?” aired on U.S. television.

The above picture is what happened in Sweden the day the country switched from driving on the left to the right side of the road.  Their neighbors, Norway and Finland had already changed, but alas, Sweden held out until they could wait no longer.

Predictably, throughout history, big changes have been viewed first with skepticism and then as a threat to the groups that stand to lose the most or simply like the way things are.

In 1876 an internal memo at the Western Union Company, who were making a lot of money with telegrams stated, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently no value to us.”

I wonder how that turned out?

H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers was making a lot of money in the silent movie business, so it was no mystery why he commented in 1927, “Who wants to hear actors talk?” (Expletive deleted)

Steve Laube Buys Marcher Lord Press

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Below the following announcement is a question and answer session with Steve Laube.

 (January 1, 2014 – Phoenix, AZ) Steve Laube, president of The Steve Laube Agency, has agreed to purchase Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market. The sale was finalized on January 1, 2014.

Laube has long been a champion of the genre, going back to his days as an acquisition editor at Bethany House Publishers. Jeff Gerke, the founder of Marcher Lord Press, said “I could not have found a better person to buy the company I started in 2008.” Marcher Lord Press has a backlist of about 40 titles with many of them nominated or winning both Christy and Carol awards for being the best in their genre.

The new Marcher Lord Press will be run as a separate company from Steve Laube’s literary agency. The agency, founded in 2004, has four agents and over 150 active authors (www.stevelaube.com) with contracts for nearly 1,000 new books. Gerke will focus his efforts on his freelance editorial and publishing service business and his own writing.

“The plan is to continue with what Jeff started and release between 4-8 new titles in 2014,” Laube said. “I have long believed that this genre has been underserved in our industry despite its inherent ability to tell ‘Fantastic’ stories of philosophical and theological depth.”

______

Q & A with Steve Laube

Why Marcher Lord Press?

I have had a passion for Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy ever since my days as an editor for Bethany House Publishers in the 90s. I first fell in love with science fiction as a kid reading Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and the Pellucidar books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Fiction can portray the power of the Gospel through great stories of redemption, hope, and grace. Science Fiction is a unique genre that attempts to answer the philosophical and theological questions of “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?” In most Fantasy novels there is an implicit story of good versus evil where good triumphs. In addition the whole genre has the opportunity to build worlds never before explored (to quote the famous line: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”). The boundaries for creativity in  storytelling are limitless. No other genre can do that quite the same way.

Aren’t you competing with the same publishers to whom you sell your client’s proposals?

Technically the answer is “yes,” but practically the answer is “no.” Few publishers in the Christian market publish the science fiction or fantasy genres. And yet we continue to sell our clients to those who do well with these books. Patrick Carr, for example, just agreed to a new contract with Bethany House. Lisa Bergren’s YA titles are published by both David C. Cook and the Blink imprint of Zonderkidz. Chuck Black has a new adventure series releasing this Spring from Waterbrook/Multnomah and Evangeline Denmark has just signed with Blink.

In addition, Marcher Lord Press (MLP) releases only 4-8 titles per year. The readership of the genre are enthusiastic and voracious. Thus I don’t see MLP being competition in the larger sense of the word.

One publisher talked with me last Friday and applauded the move saying “We need champions of great fiction in our market.”

Isn’t this a conflict of interest with other agents?

I don’t see that as a problem. The agent community is a small one and we tend to know each other and respect each other’s abilities. I look forward to helping authors find their place and their voice in a niche genre. Our own agency’s agents will have the chance to sell to the imprint because it is set up as a company separate from The Steve Laube Agency. Amanda Luedeke with MacGregor Literary addressed this in her blog last Thursday.

Isn’t this a conflict of interest with authors? Are you only going to publish your agency’s authors?

The goal is to publish the best. Nothing changes in that regard. There are some tremendous writers already in the MLP catalog and I hope to continue those relationships. We will also be looking for new voices as well as those that are already established.

We will consider both agented and unagented submissions. The submission guidelines are found on the Marcher Lord Press website.

What about books published under the Hinterlands imprint of Marcher Lord Press and the recently released Amish Vampires in Space?

These are actually two different issues and should be treated separately. I chose not to purchase those assets and agreed to have those publication rights sold elsewhere or revert to their respective authors.

Hinterlands was created in 2012 as an imprint of MLP to publish science-fiction and fantasy stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated language, sexuality, and violence). That imprint and all those titles have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear under a new publishing name in the near future.

Amish Vampires in Space was not part of Hinterlands and is a well written book (no surprise considering Kerry Neitz is the author). Jeff Gerke, Kerry Neitz, and I discussed this prior to my purchasing MLP. While we have differing opinions on its publication, ultimately it would not have been a book I would have published had I been the publisher. The title has reverted to Kerry and the book is still available for sale in most major online outlets.

What is your vision for the new Marcher Lord Press?

A “Marcher Lord” was a noble warrior who served as guardian of the borderlands. That definition is a perfect metaphor for the Science Fiction and Fantasy stories published by MLP. We will continue to build the company on its existing foundation and through the power of great stories explore the boundaries of imagination. It is there where heroic adventures, sacrificial living, and redemptive characters are found.

Initially it will be business as usual. The people and resources already in place will remain unchanged. There are plans for a number of new releases in 2014 including the debut novel by Nadine Brandes called A Time to Die (which you must read) as well as the continuation of other ongoing series by John Otte, Morgan Busse, and Stuart Stockton. MLP has been and will continue to be the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market.

A Thank You

I would like to thank Jeff Gerke for the hard work, actually his blood, sweat, and tears, that he put into founding and building Marcher Lord Press into the company it is today.

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