Why would I need an agent in CBA?
June 9, 2013 | Written by Chip MacGregor
In light of the last couple posts, some wrote this: “For the uneducated among us, what exactly does a literary agent do in CBA, and why is one even necessary in Christian publishing?”
A good literary agent will help an author focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get it in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the author through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship the author and agent have, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career guidance officer, and sounding board to the author. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping the author map out the details of making a life in the arts.
Why is an agent necessary? Because most authors don’t necessarily know how to do all of those things, and need a specialist to assist them. And because a good agent brings access through his or her relationships in the industry. AND because publishers long ago realized the value of agents, and generally won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts, but ask that all proposals come through a legitimate agent. Think about selling your home — you can do it on your own (my wife and I have sold houses “by owner”), but it ain’t easy. You’ve got to educate yourself in order to make sure it’s all legal and that the deal is done appropriately and fairly. And if you own an expensive home, it’s awfully tough to sell it yourself — buyers want the professionalism that comes from having the assistance of a good realtor overseeing the sale. Similarly, when you sign a book contract, you’re agreeing to a series of legal clauses that will govern your book for as long as it’s in print. Having somebody help you through the process is always nice, and often necessary. Having someone assist you with the long-term view of a writing career is usually deemed important by most career authors.
I realize there’s an argument that “if we’re all nice Christians, we shouldn’t need an agent, but I haven’t found that to be true. Take a look at the guys who created the novel THE SHACK, then pushed it onto the bestseller lists. I know the authors made a big deal about three participants not having an agent, that they did the whole deal on a handshake, that they trusted each other and were all Christians and they didn’t need anyone digging into their business and taking a percentage. Sounded great… until the book went nuts, the authors were looking at splitting a huge pile of money, and they all started suing one another. It got ugly, the whole partnership dissolved, and I notice nobody is now talking about how brilliant they all were to just shake hands and be buddies. The fact is, a good agent would have had things in place, in writing, to cover things like author credit and royalty splits.
So now I can finally get to the person who wrote to ask, “How can you have a ‘Christian’ agency and still work in the general market?”
My faith doesn’t stop me from doing my job. I know plenty of good people who are agents and authors and editors, and who work in the general market. None of us find it incongruent to have faith and also work in the general market. (On the other hand, I think it’s very difficult for a non-religious agent to work with CBA publishers. They don’t have the contacts, they can’t speak the language, and the Christian publishers simply don’t trust them.) So I routinely get people asking, “Do you only work with religious books?” After answering the question a thousand times, I’m used to it. The answer? No. I work with religious books as well as books that have no religion in them. I’m a person of faith, I’m open about that, and that infuses the books I like best. It helps shape some of the choices I make with books, but it does NOT keep me from representing a book just because the characters aren’t all shiny, or the language is bad, or the climax doesn’t end with a salvation prayer. My faith is endemic to who I am, and it certainly influences who I represent and which books I shop. (For example, I don’t do porn, even though there’s money in it, because I believe, ultimately, porn is destructive and evil.) But I don’t believe everyone I represent has to have the same faith I do, or share every point of doctrine with me. Nor do I believe all the books I represent have to have a faith element, nor that they all need to be set in a Christian world and populated with Christian characters. (This is what sometimes gets me into trouble with evangelicals. Too many believe we can’t just share the faith — we need to share the EXACT faith, and not be “incorrect” in any doctrinal points, or they’ll question if that individual is really part of their exclusive club. It’s the thing that drives me crazy about the hard-right evangelical world, quite frankly.) The fact is, I believe in the value of words, and my faith is broad enough to allow others to differ with me. Working in the general market isn’t a capitulation or compromise, at least for me. I hope that helps.