by Karen Ball
Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over: “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make. First, here’s the not so good news:
What I’m Not Looking For
Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.
Academic or Theological books: I love the Word, and I love talking abut God and faith, but I’m neither an academic nor a theologian. These books are out of my real of expertise.
Poetry, Screenplays, and Graphic Novels: Again, love to read ‘em, but I don’t represent ‘em.
Okay, on to the good news!
What I AM Looking For
Yes, Virginia, I am interested in nonfiction! Especially what I call lyrical nonfiction, the kind written with a storyteller’s narrative voice. Below you’ll find examples of this style of writing. (And just FYI, I didn’t choose these books so much because they’re bestsellers—though that’s always nice—but because the tone and voice captured me.)
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Beautiful, stunning prose that draws you in and leaves you changed.
Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. Honest and evocative writing that lets readers know they’re not alone in their struggles.
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I love the way this book begins. It sets the stage perfectly for what he has to say.
Something to note on nonfiction:
I love memoirs, books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. But if you’re going to write a memoir, you need to be sure you’re writing about universal truths as much as your own story.
Fiction is, ever and always, my first love. I’m all about story, especially well-crafted, powerful story that directs readers to God. Not “preachy” stories, but stories that are authentic and grounded in the reality of what it is to be a follower of Christ. Be they romances or suspense, thrillers or Amish, contemporary or historical, I’m always looking for stories that transport readers and touch their hearts.
That being said, there are a few types of fiction I don’t represent. Again, I’m not saying these aren’t worthwhile books, just that I don’t have a place for them right now:
- Stories set between the 1930s and contemporary time.
- Stories about childhood sexual abuse’
- Stories for children or middle grade readers
- Stories that don’t have a clear spiritual thread
A note about fantasy and spec fiction: while I do represent a few authors in these categories, and while I love these books as a reader, the craftsmanship bar is especially high for these books because there are so few publishers working with them.
With both fiction and non-fiction, I’m happy to consider proposals from new, unpublished authors, so long as you’ve done your homework (meaning you’ve been to writers’ conferences, had your work critiqued, done the work of revising and refining so that the craft is as good as you can get it, and been to our website to follow our guidelines for proposals).
So…comments and questions?