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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Myth of Agents

When I started working as an editor just over a year ago, I began to learn about the strange world of publication. In this series, I'll be your inside man on books. I'll get you the hook-up, the scoop, the hush-hush, the low-down. This is part four of a series where you'll learn the real deal.

Did you know I have a manuscript? Several actually, but let's not count the ones I wrote in high school and college. But one manuscript in particular became my training ground. I rewrote it five or six times. Now it's pretty polished.


I hear this line from so many people. Authors with no contract think an agent will get them a contract. Authors who sell a few thousand books think an agent will help them sell a hundred thousand. Authors who sell a hundred thousand books think an agent will help them sell a million.

Agents are not fairy godmothers.

The pasture of publishing is not greener on the other side… where the agents are.

As Rick Christian says: Even with an agent "you're not guaranteed a hot date to the ball."

Speaking of Rick Christian, go read these two Christianity Today articles: No Longer Left Behind and the rebuttal No Secrets about Agents, Man.


Don't misunderstand. A good agent in a good match with a good author who has a good manuscript—this is a powerful formula for publishing success.

When Don Pape gets with Ragamuffin Diva, one book becomes a franchise. When Steve Green and Upwords help Max Lucado focus, a few inspirational books become the model for branding.

Any break down in the formula can lead to problems.

Obviously, avoid bad agents. This means upfront fees. An agent is not an editor and vice versa. Beware of "literary representatives" who are not agents. Also, be aware of the different kinds of agents. Some focus on more on contract law, others on marketing, others on fiction, others on nonfiction. I have researched good agents of all types. Take a close look at the books and authors they represent. Compare the client lists of Nunn Communications and Alive Communications. Clearly, these agents serve different kinds of authors.


And take a closer look at that formula. Here is what it is not:
Good Agent + Good Author + Good Manuscript = Good Match
No, no, no, no, no!

The "good match" is a necessary ingredient—not the end goal.

The end goal is publishing success. A publishing contract, good sales into the stores, and good sales out of the stores to readers.

Which raises a more specific question each writer must answer for himself or herself: How will you define success?

HillCountryWriter Category: Publishing
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I'm thinking about that today, what a coincidence. :) I think I will define success by being able to write my novels for a living, and provide a better lifestyle for my family, as well as really enjoy communicating with the readers. I really want my books to be treasured, and I want my kids to be able to say to themselves "Our mom did that--we can do anything!"
Great post. It's SOOO important for each of us to try to follow God's plan in defining our ideas of success. The dream of publication may not come true for everyone... and even if it does, the dream of high sales may not come. Yet, we can be a "success" if we're staying close to our Lord and His desires for us.
I define success by commiting my work to the Lord, and making sure my words reveal His love, grace, and mercy.
If a reader sees God through my writing, I have succeeded.
Sure, I'd love to actually sell a manuscript, to hold an actual book in my hand that has my name on it...but ultimately, if it does not honor God, I wouldn't want it published.

Plodding on and trusting Him.

Nice blog by the way!
Thanks for all of you who are reading. leslea, that's a big goal. You go for it!

rachel and cathy, thanks for your kind words.

I guess I should offer my definition of success to be fair. I still dream of publishing "The Great American Novel," but God has me writing for smaller audiences right now. In fact, I write to build relationships--that is why so much of what I do is for our church drama. (I need to quit blogging and write one tonight!)

I think of each piece as a gift, first to God, then to some specific person.

Two pieces on TheHighCalling.org address these ideas specifically. John Keats tackles the idea of delayed success. And Heavenly Light from a Stack of English Papers explains the gift writing idea.

Thanks for your post. I've written and co-written two technical books but hope to one day be able to write a different kind of book, perhaps for a Christian audience. For now, I'm a humble blogger.

Your thoughts are very helpful.

Success... that's a tough one...

but I sure know that failure would be this:

if I didn't learn anything in the process, if I alienated my loved-ones in the process, and if nobody grew even an itty-bitty-bit after reading my work.
Great website, Mark. Glad to hear of your work with High Calling, which I think covers a much-needed base. Thank you for your response a while back, and do give my best to Howard, Keith, Dave, and the entire Laity crew (does the HC crew cross paths with the Laity bunch?).
Thanks everyone for the comments.

Andre, technical writing is an unappreciated art. I used to teach technical writing for NorthWest Vista College--and honestly, I got so excited about showing the students their writing could have a practical purpose in people's lives.

l.l., good reminder to consider what is failure as well as what is success. Exactly that kind of thinking is what caused me to step back from working on longer projects. I had trouble justifying so much work and time away from my family when my work was not assured of an audience. Sure, God alone is enough, but he may be more happy with my offering of fatherhood than my offering of authorhood. It was a tough decision to reach. You can read more about that resolution here.

cfjohnson, thanks for the encouragement. TheHighCalling.org is becoming quite a passion for me. We are about to enter production on a complete redesign for the site that is going to be super cool. I can't wait for everyone to see it. I will pass on your message to Howard, Keith, and Dave. I am beginning to cross paths more with the Laity crew as I visit with and interview speakers. They are some sweet sweet folks. (I'm not sure who you are, though. Can you give me a clue about the response I sent you? Feel free to email me, if you don't want the info public.)

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