OCTOBER 2009 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
WG: Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. �
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
TB: I've been an agent for Hartline Literary for a little over three years and a client of the agency long before that. I have a BA from West Texas State and I'm a graduate of the Institute of Organization Management at Southern Methodist University. My wife Saundra and I live in Amarillo Texas and we have five children and ten grand children.
WG: Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an agent and what steps you took to get you where you are today?
TB: I was pretty aggressive as a client and kept getting deals located for my books and then contacting Joyce to wrap them up for me. I was helping some of my friends publish. I was a chamber of commerce manager for over 27 years representing businesses so Joyce finally decided to put that background to work for her.
WG: What genres/lines do you currently represent?
TB: A pretty wide variety, historical, historical romance, various nonfiction, mystery and suspense, mostly I'm looking for a well written story with a fresh voice and a unique slant. Then if I can see the market for such a story and feel like I have the right contacts to get it into that market we might be in business.
WG: Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?
TB: Very much so, particularly doing more work over in the mainstream market. Every agent has a little different set of contacts depending on who they have been able to establish a relationship with. I'm always looking to expand my contacts and thus expand the genres.
WG: Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?
TB: I don't do children's books nor does the agency in general work in the science fiction or fantasy market. We only work with domestic clients and do not represent anything with profanity or graphic content. Even when we are working to get into the secular market, we don't check our own beliefs at the door in order to do it.
WG: Do you represent any authors of non-fiction? If so, have you been successful in selling their projects? If not, is this a market that interests you?
TB: I do represent non-fiction. They key there is the platform of the individual and the expertise they have to speak on the subject. Again, having a fresh voice and a unique topic is very important.
WG: What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?
TB: These genres fluctuate all the time. Technically I work for the client, but initially it is much more like I am working for the editors. I try to find out what they are looking for and help them find it. Then when I broker a potential marriage between an editor and a client I strictly work for the client trying to negotiate the best deal that I can and trying to effectively represent them in the whole process.
WG: What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?
TB: Moody, Barbour, BJU, Revell, Baker, MountainView Press, Bridge-Logos, Abingdon, Whitaker House, Crossover, Kregel, Echelon, Oak/Tara, Marcher Lord Press.
WG: Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?
TB: I have 60 clients at present and 30 are published. If my math is right that's very close to 50%.
WG: Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?
TB: I'm listed as the third most successful agent on Publishers Marketplace for placing debut authors - they show 4 in the past twelve months but there are actually ten - some I marked as something other than debut books.
WG: Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
TB: I coverd this earlier - good writing, fresh voice and a unique story or idea.
WG: How would you describe your agenting style? What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning? Or is your relationship strictly the business side of contract negotiation and as author/editor interface?
TB: I have a few clients that are only contracted for a book or two but most of our contracts are for all book length work. We are very involved in developing the careers of our authors. I have all the clients in a little online group where they function like a writing group, sharing things, celebrating together and commiserating together if necessary, praying for one another.
WG: Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
TB: I like having an active interface with the clients.
WG: Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?
TB: I pretty much have to. It's hard to effectively represent something you don't believe in.
WG: How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?
TB: Any time something goes out for them they are copied. If I receive a response, they are copied. Besides talking with them individually when I have something directly for them, I send out a weekly update to keep them all up to speed on what everybody is doing.
WG: What is your process for submitting work to editors? Is this different if the editor is one you've had no prior contact with as opposed to one you've already built a working relationship with?
TB: Submitting something without knowing exactly who it is going to and why is no better than the author submitting themselves. I have three editorial assistants and we spend much of our time trying to find out who is buying what, who is interested in what, targeting the submission so it is specific and the editor knows why we think it is a fit for them.
WG: How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?
TB: Editors know agents are going to submit to more than one house unless a special arrangement has been made for an exclusive read. They also trust that we are not going to be mass mailing submissions. I like to keep a maximum of 3-4 submissions out on a single project replacing one immediately if a negative response is received. Of course when editors meet clients at conferences and request proposals then they are immediately sent whether that makes too many out in play or not.
WG: Once a work has been sold, do you provide any input to the author and/or editor in the area of marketing and promotion for the book?
TB: Most of what we do on marketing and promotion happens before the sale as we try to help an author come up with a proactive and very real marketing plan to show how they will help promote and market the project. Our writers group does work with ideas and help for the author once they are actually into the marketing but I don't get directly involved doing things that it is the publicists job to do.
WG: What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?
TB: Most agents come from a publishing background where I come from a writing background. I believe that makes me a stronger advocate for the author and more understanding of their problems and concerns but it did leave me ground to make up in editorial contacts that others had going in. I believe it is pretty well known that I have a pretty high moral and ethical base that generates an atmosphere of trust.
WG: Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?
TB: The conferences are excellent ways of getting to network with both writers and editors although often as in the conference we just attended, the clients have better access to the editors than I do because of scheduling. Since my client group and I work as a team we fan out and gather information and make contacts as a group, working not just for ourselves but for all the clients. It very much enhances our information that we target submissions on and helps keep us in the loop better.
WG: Have you ever been involved in the sale of movie rights? Foreign rights? If so, did you handle this yourself or did you work with someone more specialized in this field?
TB: I have had some work optioned but have never done a movie deal. Our agency at present would co-agent with a specialist to work in this area.
WG: Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
TB: We promise 90 days but usually it is less than 30. Most of the time my assistants do the first reading, get a full if necessary, sometimes even ask for changes to be made before they are willing to give me a recommendation. They are very good. They do not either accept or reject, however, simply make a recommendation and based on their recommendation I read proposals and manuscripts they have culled out for me. Each is a specialist in their area which helps me find strong writing and strong projects. We are not willing to take a project unless we can see some definite places to go with it.
WG: Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?
TB: No advantage at all in the Christian market since most of them are not located there. In the mainstream market they have a decided advantage being able to get face-to-face with New York editors easier. However since so much of the work today is done by computer it is not quite as big of an advantage as it once was. This computer that I'm using can be sitting almost anywhere. There's also the fact that the New York lifestyle is such that they probably don't get the chance to sit down with those editors much more than those of us coming in for that purpose or meeting them at conferences and events.
WG: What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent's role is?
TB: The most common one is probably confusing the job of an agent with the job of a publicist. The second one is an unrealistic expectation about the length of time it takes to get a project accepted by a substantial publishing house. Usually this time is not under the control of the agent but rather working with the constraints and the levels involved at the house itself.
WG: In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?
TB: I encourage writers to query both agents and editors since a large majority of writers publish before they attract a good agent. However, I also encourage them to confine their publishing queries to small houses that prefer to work with authors. It is possible for an author to get into a large house without an agent but the odds are not good. Chances are they will just manage to get rejected and burn a bridge that an agent might could use to get them published.
WG: What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering approaching you (or any agent) for representation?
TB: Whether submitting to an agent or editor, read the submission guidelines and send them what they want exactly in the manner they ask to receive it. Authors who do not bother to find this out or who do not comply are signaling that they don't follow directions and may be hard to work with. Not how we would want to start the process. 85% of all manuscripts will not be substantially published but for the most part they are not being rejected, the authors are failing to do the things they need to do in order to be successful. Then they get discouraged and quit trying. That means an author working to improve their craft and making every effort to do all they need to do are only up against 15% of those submitting.
WG: Do you think contest credits help authors further their career before and/or after making that first sale? Have you ever acquired a client that you discovered via a writing contest?
TB: Like a kid applying for a first job a writer has to have a resume. A contest can help fill out a resume until stronger publishing credits are available to replace them. However, it should be a known contest of significance. There are some small contests that are simply a small group of writers trading honors. These will work against you instead of for you. Editors and agents are not fooled by them.
WG: Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering working with? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
TB: I don't go hunting information. I have all I can do to wade through what I've asked them to send me. When an author says "instead of putting this in a proposal as you asked you can go to my website and look" I confine myself to what he or she sent which will probably be inadequate. What I want to see is a single proposal just like what needs to be sent to represent the work to an editor so I can see how strong it is. I don't want to go hunting it myself and make a proposal out of thin air, nor do I want to have to dig through a bunch of individual files hunting what I want.
WG: How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? Is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
TB: It used to be that platform was really only important in non-fiction. But I've been getting negative responses back that said, "This is a good story but the writer just doesn't have enough platform" even on fiction. In today's marketplace an author needs to be ready to help promote and market and needs to have a good written plan for how they are going to do it. Chances are the person on the other end will decide how saleable the author is BEFORE they get down to looking at how good the writing itself is. A majority of rejections are made without ever reading any of the writing.
JUST FOR FUN
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?
TB: Publishing is not a selection process - it is a survival process.
WG: What do you do to relax and have fun?
TB: It's all about family.
WG: Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
TB: I don't get to ready nearly as much as I would like but I love westerns (wish the market would let me represent some). I also like a good mystery or suspense.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
TB: Movies, particularly old movies. I need something that is going to be on long enough that I will commit to it and turn the machinery off, otherwise I end up sitting here working with the TV on. We don't get to the movies in the theater much.
WG: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
TB: Max Lucado's "In the eye of the story" because it came along when I needed it and helped me through a very low spot. Beyond that the writing of a western writer by the name of Dan Parkinson. I loved Dan's tongue-in-cheek humor in his westerns and he was a good friend as well. Dan got me started writing. He's gone now, but I still promote his books so if you can find one online or in a used bookstore do yourself a favor and get it.
WG: I know in addition to being an agent you are also very active as an author yourself. Do you think this has impacted your work/effectiveness as an agent, either positively or negatively? Please explain.
TB: Both of them affect the time available to do the other. Particularly I am left with little time to write, and when I do have a writing deadline then it impacts the time I have for my clients. That doesn't happen often. It does help keep me very aware of the problems and needs of the authors I represent.
WG: Why don't you tell us a bit about your current projects as an author.
TB: My young adult book "Beyond the Smoke" just won the Will Rogers Medallion and is being nominated for the Spur Award. Those can't hurt its popularity. My new one, "Saint's Roost" is just now out from Sundowner (Mountainview Press) and both are either shelved or available for order in your favorite bookstore or online. All of my books are available autographed in the bookstore at my website www.terryburns.net
WG: Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the publisher?
TB: Our agency has had a stellar reputation in the Christian market for nearly 20 years thanks to the experience and the contacts of the owner and founder, Joyce Hart, and more and more is reaching out into the mainstream marketplace.
WG: Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your publishing house?
WG: And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!