As the world turns and 2022 gives way to 2023, I have been a literary agent with The Steve Laube Agency for five-and-a-half years. In many ways, 2022 was my most surprising and successful year yet as an agent. My clients made me look good, and my boss so far hasn’t made me look for a new job; so I’ve got those things going for me. With all that in mind, let me offer an updated answer to the frequent question I field from aspiring, developing, accomplished, and skilled writers: “What are you looking for?”
Aspiring writers often imagine, “Once I have a book published, people will listen to me.” That’s exactly backwards. I’m looking for people who are already having an impact, people whose influence is expanding, people who aren’t waiting to reach people with their message. Like every publisher and editor I know, I’m looking for people who understand today’s publishing realities and have a track record that says they can effectively partner with publishers in getting their message out. They’re writing blog posts and email newsletters that a lot of people read, share, and subscribe to. They’re connecting and engaging with large numbers of people on social media. They’re speaking at events large and small, far and wide. They are not waiting for readers, listeners, and followers to come to them; they are already engaging with people about their genre and topic.
My primary expertise as a writer and speaker has been the Christian market. So, as an agent, I focus my efforts in representing books—both fiction and nonfiction—for the Christian market (though when a proposal has broad appeal for the general market, the resources are available to me to take it there). In particular, I am interested in:
Fiction: women’s contemporary, historical, timeslip, romance, suspense, thriller.
Nonfiction: Christian living, women’s nonfiction, gift books, devotionals, humor, marriage and family, parenting, prayer, spiritual growth, teens/young adult.
As a rule, I will not be looking at:
Fiction: fantasy, science fiction, time travel, horror, middle grade, young adult (YA).
Nonfiction: academic, autobiography/biography, Bible studies, cookbooks, doctrinal issues, memoir, pastoral helps, poetry, sermons, theology.
I’m not interested in “one-and-done” authors. If you have only one book in you, then I wish you well; but I’m not the right person to help you get it published. I’m looking for writers who have already begun investing in the lifelong task of writing what matters and finding fresh and innovative ways to convey an idea and reach an audience. I’m looking for writers who are teachable, who study their craft, and are willing to accept criticism and correction. I’m looking for writers who love words, phrases, and sentences. I’m looking for writers who are reading widely in their genre (at least), who invite thorough critique, and will never use the awareness and appreciation of their strengths as an excuse not to work on their weaknesses. I’m looking for writers who are attending writers conferences to educate themselves, network with others, and get better and better at proposals and pitches.
You thought I was going to insert another “I” word here, right? Tough. Because I’m not looking for predictability. I’m not looking for “cute.” I’m also not looking for the next C. S. Lewis, Max Lucado, Priscilla Shirer, or Francine Rivers. They’re all wonderful writers, but I’m looking for ideas and writing so fresh it could never be confused with another writer. I want to see book proposals that surprise and delight me. I want to represent writers who can flat write. Who can transport me. Who make it impossible for me to stop reading. And who will do it again and again.
Please see the Guidelines link above, and follow that information meticulously before submitting a proposal to Bob Hostetler.
Sharon, I tried finding your blog but couldn’t. Is it breaking rules to ask you to share a link to it? I’d love to read your work.
Thanks, Janine. I tried to use Bluehost, and my antique tech skills crashed. I am transferring my domain name to WordPress. They said yesterday, it will take about 72 hours. So hopefully by this weekend you can find me at sharoncowen.com. Don’t give up, Janine. And don’t discount the influence you are having on your four young children. What better use of time?
Fantastic, Janine. Keep working on those kids, that’s a tough nut to crack. Not that your kids are nuts. Maybe I should just say “thanks for the comment.”
Your comment is cracking me up, I can relate to Janine. Raising my nuts, I mean kids (now teens) has taken it’s toll on my writing time, while at the same time offering lots of inspiration for the bible studies I have written.
The beauty of it all is that, even if I don’t have my work sell a million copies, at least I have left some footprints in the sand from my walks with Jesus through this season. And it is so precious to look back and see my little ones footprints dancing all around the strong, steady tracks He is making with my life. It’s the true joy of writing. Our words get to become our stones of remembrance, reminding us of ALL He has done and giving us all we need to keep going forward with Him.
Sharon, anyone who has taught eighth graders knows how to command attention and should be a whiz at building an audience. As for me, I think I and my fellow seventh- or eighth-grade friends caused the loss of three Sunday school teachers in a year.
Thanks for the encouraging words, Bob. Were you the young boy who bowled marbles down the church aisle during the middle of the offertory or sermon?
Wasn’t me. Honest. Though I have been known to crawl under the pews and tie shoestrings together. But if you quote me, I’ll deny that, too.
This says a lot about you…
With you as an agent, life will always be full of the unexpected.
I think your “brother from another mother” lives next door. 🙂
Thanks Bob… the reason I need a literary agent is to help with those things you say are prerequisites.
Thank you for the comment, Bryan. I’m looking for writers who “get it,” who are learning and growing and gaining influence themselves rather than waiting for someone else to do that for them. It needn’t be “established” as much as “growing” and “resonating.”
So many reasons, Donna. In today’s publishing world, writer and agent can form a team that strategizes and molds and improves a writer’s skills, exposure, and influence exponentially and allows a writer to focus his or her efforts in areas where they’re strongest while others see to areas that might otherwise be distractions–or, worse, minefields. These are just some of the reasons why even the famous and bestselling authors and speakers have agents.
You’re too quick, Bob! Beat me to the punch.
Well, yes, but to your reply I can say only, “What he said.”
Oh, Jackie, you want to scroll back through this blog to last week’s post. It was a tough interview with me. I’m still reeling from it.
Karen, yes, yes, yes! I wanted to BE Sam! I still do. And that book made me a lifetime Jean George fan.
To negotiate contracts, mediate relationships, garner greater support for projects, have a wider range of publishers to pitch to, give advice on career direction, help juggle multiple projects + proposals to give the writer more margin to market and write. Wouldn’t you rather have someone praising your project to publishers and editors, then to have to do it yourself? There’s an enormous amount of work that goes into publication that tends to seem quite ambiguous and hard to quantify.
I have a traditionally published novel that released last year, nearly 2,000 email subscribers, have been featured on The 700 Club, and have received endorsements from NYT bestselling authors, and I’ve never felt like I needed an agent more. I’ve also had quite a hard time finding an agent, even with a great editor who’s dedicated to working on my projects (I negotiated the first deal with the publisher on my own because I have a business degree and experience with contracts–and I learned that it’s better to have someone else do that). Publishing is just a tough journey. And it doesn’t get any easier.
I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, because I thought the same as you until I felt the pressure of all the work that’s demanded when you’re actively publishing. Agents are worth it. Doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, or how “successful” you seem. And this is coming from someone who’s perfectly comfortable with independent publishing. It’s difficult to go it alone.
What he said.
Brennan or Bob,
What are the best resources/ideas for building your platform? I’ve considered self-publishing my first book to try to gain readers and build my platform. I always see people who offer free ebooks for subscribing to their sites. Any suggestions are appreciated!
Janine, there are good reasons to self-publish but that ain’t one. I recommend Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform, as a good starting point. And if you haven’t started strategically attending writers conferences, I strongly urge you to do that.
I’m attending ACFW in September for the first time. I asked for meetings with Tamela and Steve, although I don’t know what I’ll get. Will you be offering meeting times there?
Janine, alas and alack, I won’t be at ACFW this year, but Tamela and Steve are the best.
What Bob said!
Also, free books don’t work like they used to. To build a group of people who are actively consuming what you’re offering, you have to figure out what you want to offer on a consistent basis. Is that a blog? Professional speaking? What’s your expertise or primary interest, and why are you qualified to talk about it? Whatever you decide, do start somewhere, because many times we have to start walking to figure out where we want to go.
Then, figure out how you’re going to get people to commit to listening to you long-term. Whether that’s by liking a FB page, subscribing to email notifications (I recommend MailChimp, which is free for the first 2000 subs), or something else. Build a way to consistently reach out TO the people you’ve engaged with. Make sure to keep them engaged long-term.
I got Michael Hyatt’s Platform in the mail today. You should get commission. Although, I’ll let you have a percentage of the sales from my first book if you play your cards right. (See what I did there?)
Thank you, Michele! I’m living the dream.
Carol, “#1 for treating Roman indigestion.” What a hoot! Those Romans are lucky to have you. And safe bets are still a gamble…
Andrew, your keen sense of humor shines through in your comment. Thanks for the honesty and humor, both.
Oh, Kristi. You don’t want to know what runs through this agent’s mind. But I love your comment. You sound like my kind of person. And your teens like my kids.
Robin E. Mason
as opposed to what runs through an author’s mind??? talk about a black hole! bwahahahahah
I’ve written historaical fistion about New Testment people in the style of autobiography. I call it filling in the blanks. Example: the wise men gave Mary and Joseph a fortune. What happened to it?
Robin, there is a link at the top of this page: “Guidelines.” Thanks for asking.
Robin E. Mason
super! thanks so much!
Damon J. Gray
Okay, that’s just funny right there.
I agree with Damon.
Congratulations, Melissa. That is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Mary, you are exactly right! It is a mistake to see a byline or a book as the goal! It’s what happens in ourselves and in our readers, whether it is growth in patience or joy in obscurity or the thrill of writing the just-so word or the tear-inducing scene, all of which can be had with or without an agent or a book contract. And readers who span the globe and say that my devotion touched them or my blog comment meant something? Wow. We do God, ourselves, our work, and our readers a disservice when we think it doesn’t matter unless it’s a book or a bestseller. I bless you for that reminder.
Great! Thank you so much.
Tracy, I’m not looking at middle grade historical fiction proposals. I’m sorry.
Thank you for your reply, Bob!
Yes, that’s me. Mea culpa. Thanks for reading!
Thanks, Caroline. I’ll reply to your email.
Check out my recent posts. I wrote a whole post in answer to that question maybe four or five weeks ago.
Found it. Thank you.
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Memoir is a tough sell but if it’s the best thing I’ve read all year, I’ll be glad to give it a look.
Thanks for bookmarking, Jaqueline!
It depends, Janis. If parts of your platform will be useful in spreading the word about your new concept, then those may still apply. And if you’ve demonstrated aptitude in speaking, blogging, etc., on any subject, that could also translate for a new project. It just depends on the specificity and adaptability of the platform you’ve already built.
I can’t express it as a ratio. Maybe if your platform is 10/10 you can write a “meh” book; I imagine we’ve all come across celebrity/politician books that could fit that category. But otherwise not.
An amazing idea wonderfully written can still be published even with a modest platform. But very often a writer’s platform is an indication of his or her professionalism and understanding of readers, markets, etc., so they more commonly go hand-in-hand.
And there’s plenty of hope for introverts. Introversion doesn’t preclude a growing, strong platform, any more than extroversion guarantees it. There are ways to extend your reach as an introvert.
I hope that helps.
It does help – and thank you for such a quick response!
Haha, a pink snowflake avatar?
Something about that feels poetic. So much for my platform 😉
You obviously have good taste. That’s a great start. 🙂
There’s huge value in what you describe. The general market is wide open to books featuring faith elements, realistically presented.
Nothing “disqualifies” a “Christian” novel from being PITCHED to the general market, per se. But things such as preachiness and “Christianese” (jargon) will make an offer highly unlikely. All in all, the general market isn’t averse to references to church, God, or scripture, when they’re handled well.
Also, you’re right that the general market is much larger than the Christian market.
Ah. That makes sense. And good to know. Thank you.
Check out the link below. I read it and believe it might help you with your inquiry.
Hello, I am writing my first non-fiction. I am a recovering drug addict, who found Christ, and my story has already impacted millions. I went viral on social media for my recovery story and photos. I have posted 2 chapters on my social media to attract attention and a following. It has received amazing responses. I am looking to send you a cover letter and 3 chapters, I am worried that it may not be for this agency because I am writing it as the drug addict and homeless woman. So there is profanity, and excessive drug use. Up until I have an otherworldly experience with Christ. I want to write a 3 part series on my journey. I hope you will take a minute to read what i have created. And at the very least point me in the right direction. Thank you!
Another ‘My Side of the Mountain’ fan here. As a children’s librarian for many years I saw that title ‘f’ly’ off the shelves. That book and ‘Hatchet’, Gary Paulsen’s wonderful read needs to be repeated in our manuscripts today, with just a bit of Godly emphasis.
Hoping I can provide some of the action in my time travel novels.
Hello Bob, please forgive me for butting in, but I’d like to encourage Mary a bit. Mary, your name just rolls off the tongue. Sounds like a famous person/writer to me.
At age 70, here’s a lesson I’ve learned both thru church and the Twelve Step programs. I had my last drink of alcohol on August 12, 1987 in Clovis, New Mexico where I was working as a small city newspaper reporter.
Before the Covid-19 Shutdowns in the Spring and Summer of 2020, I got to share at the San Jose Alano Club as the meeting as the main speaker. I don’t remember the date or the name of the meeting secretary; but I do remember saying, “Friends, every day I have to make a choice. Today. Will I be a Victim or a Victor? Some days unfortunately I forget to read God’s Word or worse my prayer life is on “I’m too busy, but God understands!” mode.
Mary, you wrote this post about three years ago. Hopefully, you’re a published author by now. But in case you’re still struggling, may I advise you a bit?
STOP listening to people’s opinions. Follow your Heart. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants the best for his adopted children.
Next self-publish or use an online publisher like Amazon.
But, I think you may be in need of a Ghost Writer. You write the story skeleton and they flesh in the details.
Never give up on yourself. William Eugene McBride.
Thank You for sharing. It was very helpful. Cynthia Christmas
So glad, Cynthia.
I have nowt to offer you;
I have no tale to tell,
but there’s one thing I can do,
and that is wish you well
in adding depth unto your stable,
with writers who are eager, able
to tell a crcking story
or inspire those who doubt
to lean into God’s grace;
that’s what writing’s all about,
and though this is not my place,
with no strengths to build upon,
nonetheless, I’ll cheer you on.
That writer would have been made by another agent or editor. Thanks anyway for the piece.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oh, Bob. I could totally write something that would surprise you!!! I just finished a revision of a story written entirely from the POV of a beloved pet chicken! A chicken intent on saving her boy from kidnappers, eating some yummy bugs, and perhaps riding a bear into battle if the opportunity presents itself. Sadly, as you may have guessed, this is middle grade which I see you are not interested in. Although, it does have a romance. She rescues a handsome rooster from the folks in a homeless encampment who are preparing to enjoy a nice chicken stew cooked in an old hand-crank washer machine! You are really missing out here my friend. Nonetheless, I wish you the best with all those boring non-chicken stories that are not nearly as surprising.
Chicken stories do surprise me.
Hi Bob. What do you think of writers, who are not writing because they are necessarily in tune with the current social agenda of today, but are writing because they feel that they are driven to do so, on specific social subjects? That certain aspects of this current social agenda, do not appeal to these writers? That these writers may not be Internet social butterflies, who always seem to have something socially appealing or smart to say, whether it has any real value or not! Sometimes these writers need to say, whatever he/she feels really needs to be said. The problem for such writers in trying to do this, while hiding their real intentions of having a real impact in the life of the reader, is how to present the subject in an interesting, and attention grabbing fashion. As might be said, presentation is everything!
Bill, I’m not sure I understand the question completely, but on the one hand, I don’t consider social media to be the be-all and end-all of a writer’s platform, but none at all makes agents and editors wonder if the writer is even trying. But social media or no, I don’t know anyone who would advocate writers hiding their intentions. Sounds like a bait-and-switch. The key for any of us is finding the intersection of readers’ and book buyers’ needs and interests with our message. In that respect, yes, presentation is paramount. Hope that makes sense and I didn’t miss the point too much. 🙂
Hello Bob, I’m a bit late but to add to Bill’s question, I am an aspiring fiction author, I do belong to writer associations’ social platforms, I have a website and I subscribe to websites like yours. Currently though, my website is inactive as I have the backwards view you mentioned. does it apply to fiction writers as well, and if so, what will you suggest I put there?
I have in the past, and will again submit proposals to your agency and will it count against me without a website, and how will it count for me with a limited following for that is what I think I’ll have as an unpublished writer?
Generally speaking, Stephan, platform is a bit less of an issue for novelists, but it’s still important to show yourself to be a professional…which usually includes a strong website. And other engagement with readers, such as email newsletter subscribers, etc. But it’s all good, because we all WANT to build a loyal, engaged readership, right? So there’s absolutely no reason to wait to do so until after a book is published.
I wish one day your agency will consider representing middle grade and YA fiction as well. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find clean literature for kids. As a parent, I worry about the kind of pop culture and occult my impressionable children are ingesting from books, movies, and social media. As a writer, I also find it hard to seek literary agents who welcome Christian themes in novels. There are more requests for witchcraft and vampires, LGTBQ stories, and erotica than inspirational and Christ-centered manuscripts. Agents prefer demon slayers, dragons, and morally gray protagonists but shy away from fiction with angels. It’s really tough for Christian writers like me to break into the industry unless we mask our writing and make them sound less Christian, which to me is a cop out. I wonder what the future generations of leaders will look like given the kinds of literature they’re consuming today.
Bob, Do you consider Linked In as a solid social media platform? Thank you.
Sure. If it engages with the readers, why not?
A hippie chick, hair dyed chartreuse,
sang of seasons spinnin’
looked like she stepped from Dr. Seuss,
but wait! I looked again and found
that ‘chanteuse’ was what you said,
and I guess it’s what you mean,
that she sang in clubs, instead,
and had not hair of yellow-green.
Such a pity, don’t you think,
for chartreuse hair would be quite bold,
or maybe ’twas chartreuse she’d drink
to cope with sore throat from the cold
she caught while tryin’ to catch the sound
of the mad world spinnin’ round.
And the Bard is spinnin’ ’round in his grave at the fractured rhyme scheme.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thanks for the update, Bob! It’s good to know that you are on the search for great books and to hold up my own attempts to see how they compare to your ideal. They are not in your genres, but at least it gives me an idea. Thank you!
Not a problem, Bob. I hear archeologists in Rome discovered a an angry note on a bank wall, from 10 AD of a man who complained he still wrote BC on his checks. Walk in His beauty
Thank you for keeping your wants (and don’t-wants) up to date. Your one of my go-to agents to recommend!
Perhaps I’ll write the story
that’s been lurking through my head
of a pagan singer who found glory
when he stopped to break some bread
with a old Nebraska minister
when the touring bus broke down,
and discovered something sinister
in an erstwhile friendly town,
a gateway for the Nephilim
from the distant Bible days
to tempt again the world to sin
in new pernicious ways
that featured his big latest song,
and he thus chose Christ, to right that wrong.
Andrew, I always love to see your responses to blogs. Your words always make me smile or ponder and encourage me. I’m thankful to “know” you as I read what you share. Thank you.
Susan, thank YOU.
Your words brought light to a day of loss, pain, and sorrow. I’m so grateful.
Your message hasn’t changed in the five years that I’ve known you. Thanks for being consistent.