Higher Life
Natasha Kern

Natasha Kern has sold more than nine hundred manuscripts and has a strong commitment to discover and develop new talent in inspirational fiction as well as developing writers’ careers. Her list includes mainstream women’s fiction, romantic suspense and romantic comedies; mysteries and thrillers; contemporary and historical novels; and multicultural fiction. Her clients include several New York Times best-selling authors, USA Today Best Sellers; and RITA winners. She represents Christy winners Robin Lee Hatcher, Tamera Alexander, and Michael Joens, as well as Christy finalists Angela Benson and Harry Kraus and other popular CBA authors. Natasha regards herself as a steward of ideas and stories that inspire hope, faith, insight, and transformation. Information about the agency is available at www.natashakern.com.

Joys Of Being A Literary  Agent

I must say that writing about the joys of being a literary agent is easy to do because I can’t actually imagine doing anything else. This is my true vocation. I enjoy the give-and-take process of teaching and learning from my clients and building a team to help them succeed. Being a midwife to the book babies writers create and finding a good home for them in the world is a gratifying experience.

Writers naturally assume that the most important thing an agent does is to get them a sale, especially a first sale. However, publishing is a business in which dozens of things can go wrong that can prevent a book from being a success or derail a writer’s career from initial sale to publication and beyond. An array of things must be considered in representing any work: whether the manuscript is sufficiently polished or needs editorial work prior to submission; proposal development and positioning; what houses or editors are most likely to want it on their list; whether to have an auction or narrow submission list; long-term planning and career strategies; publicity potential; subsidiary rights sales. All these and more are among the myriad things agents do every day to ensure the success of their clients’ books.

When I am working with new writers, it is important to teach them how to work with an agent, what to expect, when to call me about problems, how to know if they even have a problem, and so on. So the packet clients receive when signing with me is extensive. Since the writer is hiring the agent to work for her, I believe it is important she knows what she is paying the 15 percent of her income for and how that will be of direct benefit to her.

The issue of team-building is a critical one because it does indeed take a village to develop a writing career, and as all writers will attest, the support of family, friends, and critique group is critical. The agent is another crucial piece. It is important for the agent to have not only in-office staff to handle day-to-day requirements of submissions, checks, contracts, phone calls, etc., but also a consulting staff of attorneys, subagents, co-agents, scouts, contract experts, auditors, publicists, and many others who can be called upon when needed to help the writer. I have placed foreign rights, film rights, and even merchandising deals for my clients because I have had an excellent team in place for a number of years. They work with me as needed to ensure each writer’s work has all rights allocated or exploited to the extent possible.

Sometimes I check with foreign or film agents in advance of making a sale or sell some rights before U.S. publication rights. For example, for Leanna Ellis’s novel Elvis Takes a Back Seat, I asked my foreign agents whether they thought Elvis was still of interest in their countries. My Scandinavian agent wrote back immediately, “Elvis is King and always will be!” Leann told me Elvis said, “Jesus is King.” I am often inspired and learn something from my clients while working on their books. Another example is the novels of Sherry Jones, who wrote The Jewel of Medina. We just received an advance review from Germany for her second

novel that said, “This book achieves what Muslim fundamentalists will hardly ever achieve—it creates real interest in this religion and a vision for reconciling divergent beliefs.” How blessed I am to work with writers like this!

I wish I could include just a few of the heartfelt responses we have received for the many books that have touched and inspired readers. Suffice to say that clients like Robin Lee Hatcher, Nikki Arana, and Harry Kraus have given me a deeper faith along with the joy of working on their novels.

Another area where an agent is indispensable is in understanding and working with the house and author on a marketing vision for a book. The entire package has to help to gain the attention of readers and sell the book, so I work hard on cover designs, blurbs, press releases, and overall positioning for both books and clients. Of course, today that includes having an Internet presence and reaching out to readers. I do think writers can carry this too far and spend too much time blogging or reading other blogs and not do enough writing. I also think a writer should be cautious about working to have more followers on Twitter because the real goal, of course, is to use our talents in service of others following Jesus, not us. A moment of prayer might have more value than a moment of tweeting.

A primary role for an agent is to support a writer and advise her through career upheavals and changes that happen all too often, such as when her editor leaves, her book is postponed or cancelled, the writer has personal challenges and cannot meet her deadlines, or the writer wants to change genres and try something new. Being an author is definitely not a normal nine-to-five, regular paycheck kind of job! There are always changes in the marketplace or the publishing program or the author’s own creative vision. Every writer needs someone who believes in her, will be there in her corner, and knows what the options are and which are the best to pursue—someone she can turn to for advice when disaster happens.

This reminds me of a story about my mother. When my father was dying and I had come to be at his bedside, many friends and neighbors sent food to my parents’ home. My mother asked me to return some casserole dishes to a neighbor across the street.

When I knocked on her door, she invited me in and began telling me how much it had meant to her and her family to know my parents, who were very involved in helping others in their community. She finally concluded by saying, “You know, if it ever happened that Korea decided to use nuclear weapons and bomb the West Coast and death was raining down on us from the skies, we would all go over to your mom’s house and ask her, ‘What should we do now?’ and she would know and tell us—and we would all do that and be okay.” I laughed thinking she was so right about that! I hope to still grow up to be like my mom and provide exactly that sense of security, knowledge, calm in a crisis, and faith in action on behalf of my clients—to be that person they know they can count on no matter what happens.