We've had a bunch of "get to know you" questions lately, so I thought I'd group several of them together…
Andrew wrote to say, "You used to be a publisher with Time-Warner — why did you go back to agenting?"
I love agenting. I enjoy working closely with authors, doing book development, planning careers, and spending time talking over projects. Actually, I never really got comfortable in my role as publisher – I always felt like a “suit.” Much happier being back on the agenting side of the desk.
Janice asked this: "It seems like you and Sandra have had a lot of success in a short time — to what do you owe your success?"
Most likely it’s my good looks and Scottish heritage. But aside from that, I have a pretty good eye for writing. And let’s face it – an agent is only as good as the authors he or she represents. If I’ve had good success, it’s because I’ve had the privilege of representing really good writers. Go to my web site, select any author, and read a novel… all of them can write. That’s the main reason I’ve been successful.
Jim wants to know, "What types of projects do you get excited about?"
I always tell authors at writers’ conferences that I’m looking for “books that change me.” It’s true. I get excited about reading a book that will leave me changed, since I know it will have the potential to significantly impact readers. I also look for a strong voice – your book shouldn’t sound like everyone else’s book. If there’s great writing, a strong voice, and a message that has the potential to change me as a reader, I know I’ve got a winner.
Dana asked, "Are there stories that you know right away you're going to be tired of?"
Sure – The tough-guy hero opens his eyes, squints, stares at the ceiling fan, looks out the window, stares at himself in the mirror, and reflects on life. The Christian novel that starts with a rape scene. A novelist who feels a need to describe every piece of furniture in the room, or every article of clothing the smart-but-rambunctious heroine is wearing. ANY novel that wants to re-create Left Behind or The Shack, or correct perceived theological errors in Left Behind or The Shack. And, of course, the romance novel that has a first page filled with adjectives. Yeesh.
Nathan asked me, "How would you describe your ideal author?"
Great writer. Creative. Listens. Low maintenance. Good sense of humor. Strong writing voice. Wants to change the world. Loves God and other people. Preferably Scottish, I suppose… but I'll give grace to those who aren't.
Denise asked, "What is one thing you'd like to suggest to writers today?"
Read books on writing, and read classic literature. I love words and books, so I’m always reading books that offer tips on improving writing. That makes me a better agent.
Jana asked, "Be serious for a moment — why do you think it's so important to blog?"
Um, I don’t know if it is important. But I enjoy having a place to vent, it keeps me close to people and offers me instant feedback. I suppose the best thing for readers is that it gives them a bit of a peek behind the curtain into what an agent is thinking, and the best thing for me is that my blog has proven fairly popular and has given good exposure to my agency. I don't get that many chances to write, so this is my big chance these days. I do it to give back, because I believe in mentoring, but I also do it because I enjoy writing and this is my best venue right now.
David sent this: "How do you view publicity, and what role does an agent play in the publicity process?"
This is the single biggest change in the years I’ve been an agent. We’ve always done editing, and talked through book ideas with authors, and kept healthy relationships so that we could effectively sell manuscripts for authors. But nowadays it’s imperative an agent become involved in the marketing of the books he or she represents. Since “platform” is now king, an agent has to help his or her authors strengthen platform, make an effort to work on publicity, and maximize the marketing done by the publisher. Frequently that means helping the author fill in the gaps in the marketing plan. Most agents probably don’t enjoy the publicity angle a lot (it’s usually the “word” side that got them involved in the business in the first place), but it’s absolutely necessary. So I’ve become more of a marketing strategist than I ever planned to be. I think most successful agents see it this way.
Sandi wants to know: "Why do you and Sandra attend writing conferences? It seems like many agents are staying away from conferences, but you seem to thrive in that setting."
It’s true – going to writing conferences probably isn’t significantly boosting our agency business. I do get to spend time with editors who are on faculty, and I occasionally see an author with a great voice and platform, but for the most part it’s just a way of giving back. I’ve had several people question why I have spent time at conferences over the years, and the simply response is probably, “Because I enjoy it.” I like speaking to people about the industry and helping newbies navigate their way. Some of us were made with a built-in desire to mentor, so I find it hard to stay away from conferences. Next week I'm going to be at the Southwest Christian Writers Studio in New Mexico — a boutique conference limited to just 100 writers (and I hear they still have slots available, if you're interested). To me, that's a lot of fun.
And Barbara asked, "What is the one thing that will surprise those of us who have read you but have never met you?"
Um… I have a soft voice. You can sit at a table with me in a cafeteria and not hear me. People read my blog and assume I’m a loud guy – but that’s only in print. I’m much bigger in print than I am in real life.