When a Writer is Ready for an Agent

Nick Harrison has inspired readers toward magnificent Christian living for over two decades through his devotional writings in Magnificent Prayer, Power in the Promises, His Victorious Indwelling, and Promises to Keep: Daily Devotions for Men of Integrity.

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His newest release One-Minute Prayers® for Dads will be released on April 1, 2017.

After guiding authors through their writing journeys as a senior editor at Harvest House for over 15 years, this accomplished writer and seasoned editor entered the industry as a Wordserve literary agent in November 2015.

As he builds his client list, Nick continues to invest in upcoming writers through his writing blog and by teaching at various writing conferences.

Please help me welcome Nick Harrison as he shares his wisdom and insight with writers who are considering seeking agent representation.

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Thanks for joining us, Nick. As you’re settling into the exciting world of agents, please share how a writer can recognize a good agent.

A good agent will take an interest not just in your work, but in your writing career and in you as a person. It may take a while to find the right agent, but it’s worth the search. You want someone who “gets” what you want to accomplish as a writer. Don’t settle for less.

 

What must novelists do before they are ready to seriously pursue an agent?

A few years ago I would have said to simply finish a truly great story in novel form. But now I’m finding that many fiction publishers are requiring the same “platform” they require for non-fiction authors.  Now you no longer must write the story, you must demonstrate you can help find the market for the book.

 

What should nonfiction writers do before they consider submitting their proposals to an agent?

See what other clients the agent represents. If the agent doesn’t represent other writers in your non-fiction genre, there must be a reason. Either they don’t care for that genre or they don’t believe they can sell that genre to a publisher.

Ask your author friends for recommendations. Above all, go to at least one writer’s conference a year and meet agents in person. Talk to them and find out what they represent.

Of course, too, a good non-fiction author will have his or her platform in place and thus be able to demonstrate how the book can reach the intended market through the author’s efforts.

 

What should writers consider when interviewing agents to determine if they are a good match?

Many good agents have blogs. Read their blogs, look at their client list, and meet them in person. It’s kind of like dating. Your first or second agent contact may not be the right one. Keep looking, prayerfully.

 

When would you recommend writers to seriously pursue an agent?

It depends. If the book truly has great potential, the author should contact a good agent as he or she begins the book. This is when the author has some very timely story with national exposure possible. For instance, an Olympic Gold Medalist who wants to write his or her story needs an agent right away.  Most writers, though, need to finish the book (fiction) or complete a strong book proposal with three sample chapters. I prefer the first three chapters.

 

When would you encourage a writer to hold off on seeking an agent?

Another good reason for attending a writer’s conference is to gauge the interest in the book you want to write. If you query editors and agents at a conference and get zero interest, you need to rethink your book and possibly drop the idea altogether. Fiction writers should finish the book or at least get well past the halfway mark before looking for an agent.

 

In what circumstances would a writer be better off without an agent?

Really, the only case I can think of is if the author plans to be a one-book author and has a publisher already eager to publish the book. Even then an agent can be helpful, though both publishers and agents are far more interested in authors who will continue to write than they are in one book authors. Of course, self-publishing authors may prefer not to use an agent.

 

When, if ever, would it be wise for a new author to accept a contract from a publisher without being represented by an agent?

I would advise an author who has an interested publisher, but does not want to sign on with an agent, to at least hire an agent for a one-time fee to look over the contract.  First authors are a risk for a publisher. Sometimes an agent can negotiate better terms, but not always.

 

When would it be appropriate for that author to seek an agent with future books?

When they’re ready to establish themselves as a career writer. An agent is extremely valuable in helping an author with career planning.

 

If there are more than one agents interested in representing a writer, what should the writer consider when making a decision on who to work with?

Ask which agent is a good fit. Not just which will get me the most money, but which agent cares about me as a writer and wants to see me succeed. As I said above, it’s kind of like dating.

 

What should writers look for as warning signs when researching agents or agencies?

No author should pay an agent for fees to read his or her work. A freelance editor does that. Ask around. Ask some of the agent’s clients about their working relationship.

 

What final word of encouragement would you like to offer writers who are considering seeking agent representation?

Keep looking for the right fit and stick with that agent as long as they continue to understand your goals.

 

Thanks for joining us and congratulations on your upcoming release, available for pre-order now, One-Minute Prayers® for Dads, Nick. 

 

ASK AN AGENT: Nick has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us in the comment section. Please ask general questions in a positive way and stick to the topic of writers seeking agents. This is NOT an opportunity to pitch book ideas to Nick.

About Xochitl E. Dixon 56 Articles

Xochitl (so-cheel) E. Dixon serves as a writer for Our Daily Bread Ministries. She encourages women and teens to embrace God’s grace and grow deeper in their personal relationships with Christ and others. She enjoys being a wife and mom, traveling, photography, and sharing God’s truth and love.

14 Comments

  1. Thank you for this interview, Xochitl. I had the privilege to meet Nick
    at my first Mount Hermon conference in 2015. He’s the real deal. I was wondering if he could share trends he sees in the Christian market right now. And how they compare with those in the general market. Thanks so much!

    • Colleen, I find that we in the Christian market often follow what’s happening in the general market. The exception might be Amish fiction which caught on in our industry, then spread to the general market. Currently all the rage seems to be adult coloring books, both in our market and the general trade. As for a future trend I hope grows and sticks around for a while, I’ll mention memoir. Having said that, I’m sure some unexpected trend will now rear up that none of us have expected.

  2. A writer has self-published a book and would like to market the book to a royalty publisher. When should the writer try to find an agent to market the book to a royalty publisher? Does the writer need to have a certain level of success in selling the self-published book?

  3. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Nick. You mentioned writers having their platform in place prior to seeking an agent.

    Would you please expand on what a “good platform” consists of for a nonfiction writer, including social media numbers, and how that differs from what would be considered a good platform for a novelist?

    What would you consider great social media numbers? Do you see those numbers reflecting better sales?

    • Let me say first that not ALL publishers require a platform. Most do, but your book many not need you to have a huge platform. I have very little in the way of a platform, but my bestselling book “365 WWJD: Daily Answers to ‘What Would Jesus Do?'” was in a way its own platform. This was twenty years ago when the WWJD bracelets were all the rage. As for numbers, I would think the publisher would want to be able to sell about 10,000 copies the first year. Again, that varies. Not all publishers feel that way. When you write your proposal, you need to convince them they can sell those copies. How often do you speak? Where do you speak? Who is your market? Are you able to do radio interviews? Fiction is less dependent on a platform, but increasingly necessary at some publishing houses.

      • Thanks for reminding us that every publisher is as different as every book, Nick. I also appreciate you affirming that authors play an important and active role in marketing and selling their books. Thanks again for taking time to share with us through your interview and in the comment section. I look forward to reading your blog, too.

  4. Great content, there are some really helpful pointers. However, I do have one concern. In the real world agents are not usually busting down the door of a new writer. This interview gives the distinct impression that a writer has endless choice in choosing an agent and that an agent is an easy thing to acquire.
    What I have found to be a more realistic view from attending quite a few writing conferences; at least 9 out of every 10 budding writers go home disappointed. They can not get even one agent interested. There is no opportunity to “date” a number of possible options and find that perfect match. It is more like the not-so-attractive girl at her high school prom standing like a wallflower and going home without one dance. The stark and cruel reality of life…publishers and agents truthfully only clamor for the best.
    I say this not to discourage but to prepare a writer. This information is readily shared by the writing conference committee when one registers. Why? Because they know that most writers go home sadly dejected and will need encouragement to keep on writing.
    So I leave you with these encouraging words…
    keep on writing, keep on honing your craft, keep on doing what God has inspired you to do.
    Don’t ever give up!

    • I understand and agree with your concern, Blossom. I’m sorry you felt that the interview gave that impression. That was not our intent. However, it’s important to remember that agents want clients, need clients, and are actively looking for clients all of the time. Their livelihood depends on clients being successful.

      In the Christian market, agents have a higher calling of good stewardship. It is the responsibility of an agent to partner with writers who are ready. Sadly, not all writers are ready for an agent when they think they are.

      I don’t have an agent, yet. Though I’ve been published in magazines and serve as a contracted writer through Our Daily Bread Ministries, I’m not ready for an agent. My book is not ready. My platform is not ready. But I’m making progress. Slow and steady, Sister. Confession: I started my writing journey in 2001.

      I trust God’s timing and agree with your advice which echoes Nick’s words: Write. Hone your craft. Keep listening to God’s leading. Don’t give up. I would add, in agreement with Nick: Be prayerful.

      When we’re pursuing God first, not publication, we will experience peace in the rejections (though they may sting a bit, and we may have to process our emotions). We’ll be more prepared for the acceptance, even if that acceptance doesn’t look like we thought or hoped it would.

      There are only so many books that publishers can publish each year. So publishing professionals, who desire to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them, are responsible for seeking out “the best.”

      Though we all want to believe that we’re ready, that our book is ready, and that God “wants” that book to be “published,” we may want to remember the Lord has equipped and is leading those industry professionals, too. They’re seeking to serve Him, too.

      I’m not ready for an agent. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready or if that is in God’s plan for me. But, I’m committed to using the gift of writing to serve God now, whether or not I have my name on a book cover.

      When we fully surrender our gifts and our writing journey to God, seeking Him first and above all, we will be able to trust Him and those He’s placed to serve as stewards through their roles within the publishing industry. It will be easier to remember we’re all on the same team. God’s team. And we will continue offering God our best, to use as He sees fit.

      It’s given me great peace to submit my dreams to the Lord and choose to write for His glory. I’ll keep honing my craft as I do what God has inspired me to do: Love God and His people, serving Him with all the gifts He’s given me.

      And I’ll continue to pray we encourage each other along the way, Sister.

      Thanks for your honesty and for your desire to inspire writers toward persevering faith.

    • I totally understand, Blossom. I’m a writer too and have the many rejections to prove it. I started small, with articles, and just grew as a writer, making contacts with editors at conferences and so on. I think the real take-away from what you’re saying is that writer’s who attend a conference or two and leave disappointed must change their expectations. They will not likely succeed right out of the box. Most successful writers have paid their dues. Also, if a writer meets with constant rejection, there has to be a reason (or reasons). They may not write well. They may be writing for a small market that publishers are unable to reach. They may not be seeking the appropriate editor or agent. I maintain that a good writer who writes what people want to read and who persists will find success.

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