I previously reviewed Terry’s excellent book, Book Proposals That $ell. Today, I’m delighted to post part 1 of an interview with Terry about the non-fiction book publishing process. We’ll conclude this interview next week.
How did you get your start in the publishing world, and how long have you been in the industry?
I began publishing stories when I was in high school in my student newspaper. I also interned on the local newspaper in my small Indiana town and wrote stories. Then I majored in journalism at one of the top schools in the U.S. (Indiana University). Graduating from college, I left my writing for ten years when I was in linguistics and Bible translation with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I returned to my writing and began to write for many different magazines. It’s a course that I recommend to other writers: practice your craft in the print magazine world and gain exposure and experience. Many writers don’t understand you can gain many more readers in the print world of magazines than in books. My first book was published in 1992. It was a little children’s book called When I Grow Up, I Can Go Anywhere for Jesus (David C. Cook). Since then I’ve written more than 60 books for many different publishers and my work has appeared in more than 50 publications. You can see more of the details here. I’ve been in publishing over 25 years.
It seems that literary agents are becoming more common in the Christian marketplace. Would you agree, and if so, why is this the case?
I agree literary agents are much more common in the Christian marketplace than even 10 or 15 years ago. You would be surprised at some of the bestselling authors who do not have agents. They are rare but still out there. Today most of these bestselling authors have agents represent their work.
As agents have become more common, these professionals have become the first gatekeepers to the publishing world—and something aspiring authors need to know about. The agents are the manuscript and proposal screeners for the acquisitions editors. Some people estimate there are over a million proposals, queries and manuscripts in circulation in various agencies and publishers. I’ve seen these “slush piles” and it is incredible what writers try and pitch as a publishable work. As a current acquisitions editor, I understand agents become trusted colleagues. You quickly learn that some agents work harder on their proposals and pitches than others. It makes sense because the agent does not make money unless they sell the project to a publisher. These professionals understand you only have one chance to make a good first impression. They pour lots of energy into making their proposals and pitches inviting and on target (to the right publisher). The editors will read and process submissions from agents quicker than ones that arrive from an author.
Can you identify any resources for aspiring authors seeking an agent? What should an author look for in an agent?
Before I give you some resources, here’s a big mistake that many aspiring authors consistently make. They focus exclusively on the book idea (nonfiction or fiction) without building any experience in the marketplace. Every author needs to consistently be working on their own presence in the market (online and in print). Some people call this area of presence, platform building. I have a free e-book for authors called Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. Often I meet writers who have never been published yet they are trying to attract an agent. Writers need to make themselves attractive to an agent. The best way to gain this “attraction factor” is to be practicing their writing craft on shorter published works (magazine articles, blog posts, Internet newsletters, etc.) instead of their singular focus on their book project. Those publishing credits will prove invaluable for the aspiring author to get a literary agent’s interest.
(To be continued…)