Agency

How Do You Know It’s Something That Will Be Published?

A common question we agents get is “How to you know?” Or as Bob Hostetler put it, “When you know, how do you know?”

The answer is extremely subjective. And each agent, just like a consumer, will see an idea or read a book differently.

After thinking about this question, I believe it comes down to three things.

Instinct

For me it is an instinct that comes from reading voraciously for many years. After a while you start identifying the markers of which books were worth the time and which ones were not.

Instinct can be described as an innate impulse, something that cannot necessarily be taught but is something that can be learned.

Can I describe it? Not really. It is truly a gut feeling.

Am I right every time? How many LOLs would be too many to write? Ask any editor or agent about the “one they let get away.” But that’s part of the industry.

Once I sent a proposal I thought was marvelous to a variety of editors. One wrote back within an hour saying, “There is nothing new here. Pass.” An hour later a different editor from a different publisher wrote, “This fellow is the best writer I’ve read since Philip Yancey!” Guess which one contracted the book?

Experience

My experience, even that instinct, has been bred through many decades of working within the bookselling industry. Back in my bookstore days, it was that feeling when I held a new release in my hands and the title, cover, and description all shouted, “Bestseller.” The Beginner’s Bible was one. I was the national buyer for the chain at the time. I had only ordered a few copies for each store initially. But when I saw it? Wow! I immediately ordered hundreds of copies for the chain, enough to build a small endcap stack in each store. It quickly became the #1 bestselling children’s book in the industry.

After a while you begin to know, from experience, which topics, genres, titles, etc., have that special “snap” to them. The feeling, nay, the knowing, that this is the one.

Today that “feeling” happens at the proposal stage. It happens with clients all the time since they, too, have the experience and the instinct of what works, which is why they are published regularly. It also happens with the occasional unsolicited proposal.

In fiction it is a combination of brilliant writing (the kind where I don’t realize I’m reading anymore but am inside that world painted by the words of the author). This is a high threshold for the debut author. If the author is already established and coming to me for new or first-time representation, their sales history and network comes into the discussion.

In nonfiction I react like a consumer:
Does the title grab me? It’s that quick. Is the topic a salable one?
Does the author bring something special to the table?
At the same time, I’m thinking of our publishing partners, which ones would find this of interest?
Which marketing team and editorial team could get behind the project?

If all those cylinders are firing at once, then my interest is piqued.

I also look at whether this author is a one-book wonder (nothing wrong with that!) or if there is potential here for a long and successful career.

Blind Luck (or Providence, depending on your theology)

I don’t mean to be cavalier about God’s providence. I hope you understand the point. Sometimes a book is successful without people having anything to do with it.

There are cases inside our agency where I thought a proposal from another agent’s client was unlikely to find a home, only to be proven wrong by a tremendous new contract for that author’s project.

Or there have been times where I thought something might have a modest response in the market only to end up selling over 200,000 copies in less than a year.

Think of some of our industry’s bestselling books. Left Behind was thought to be an okay idea, but no one predicted 70 million in sales. The Shack was rejected by everyone, so was initially self-published. Who could have predicted that Jesus Calling would still be on the bestseller list over 10 years since it was released?

For that matter, did you buy Microsoft stock when it was trading for less than $20 a share in 2009?

This is an old saying: “Even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while.” I’m not sure whether I’m the squirrel or the nut. I’ll let you decide.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is to be right more often than not. And our agency’s longevity and successful authors have been humbling to watch. (That’s where God’s providence and provision are on display.)

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Three Questions About Agents

In meeting with writers on the cusp of their careers or flush with new success, we find that three big questions come to the forefront. Today, Tamela shares her answers:

How do I find a literary agent?

1)      First and foremost, visit the Agency web sites to see which ones are actively seeking the type of work you write.

2)      Talk to your agented friends to learn about their agents. Referrals are a big part of our business.

3)      If time and finances allow, attend a conference or meeting where your preferred agent will be appearing and meet the agent.

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How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

by Steve Laube

I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have over 150 clients on our roster.

Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

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Where Is My Money?

Before I became a literary agent I had no idea how much energy this profession spent being a “collections agent.” Recently someone asked us the following questions (use the green button to the right to ask your question!):

What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances on royalties on time as per their legal contract?

What if a publisher is consistently late (months) saying they have cash flow problems and will pay when they can? Shouldn’t authors be able to count on getting paid the amount and on the date stated in their contract?

Is this common and is there anything that can be done or said regarding what seems to be a breach of contract?

This is an excellent series of questions. The full non-answer is “It depends.” Generally publishers are very good about making the payments according to contracted schedules. The above situation is much more dire and is a good reason to have an agent who know who to talk to inside the publishing house. There are ways to approach the situation that gets results, just remember, “Don’t Burn a Bridge.”

However, there are a few possible reasons that authors should keep in mind before getting impatient with a tardy paycheck.

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A Year in Review: A Look at 2019

It’s that time of year to reflect on the past year, to learn from our experiences, and to count our blessings. Here are some thoughts on the last tumultuous twelve months. The Industry The publishing industry seems to survive the bad press that loves to find the negative in everything. …

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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ACFW 2019 Report

I just returned from the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) writers conference held in San Antonio and had a great time. Tamela was also there, along with 30 of our agency’s clients. We had a number of productive meetings with publishers, along with talking with each of our clients. Tamela …

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Agent-of-the-Year Finalists

I am so very proud of Tamela Hancock Murray and Bob Hostetler. They have both been named as finalists for the Agent-of-the-Year award given annually by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers – acfw.com/award_recipients). Tamela won this prestigious award in 2017 and is honored to be a finalist again. This is …

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Our Agency’s 15th Anniversary

Hard to believe that it was 15 years ago this week that The Steve Laube Agency was formed. Happy anniversary to us! Since those nervous beginnings, we have been blessed by so many wonderful clients and publishing relationships. Over the years we have secured about 1,000 new contracts for more …

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