Beyond the Smoke
Terry Burns

Terry Burns hs been with Hartline Literary for over ten years, five years as an agent, and has a substantial list of clients, a growing list of credits, and a reputation for presenting to conferences all over the country. He is consistently listed near the top on the Publisher's Marketplace list of agents helping debut authors to publish. Terry comes from a writing background, has over 40 books of his own in print, most recently adapting a Christian movie script to print for the movie “Footprints,” a Young Adult entitled Beyond the Smoke which won the Will Rogers Medallion and a book on the skills needed to get published entitled A Writer’s Survival Guide to Publication that was developed out of the month long course he held for ACFW. A bookstore of his available works as well as a periodic blog can be found at As an agent Terry says "I'm looking for a good book, well written in a unique voice, aimed at a market that looks promising, and where I feel I have the contacts appropriate to be able to sell the book in that market. I’m pretty open as to genre but I don’t do picture books, sci fi or fantasy. He’s a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR).

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To Post...or Not To Post...That Is The Question?

My client group is discussing the ins and outs of putting the first chapter (or more) of their work in progress online. Work that is put online for a critique group, such as our own “crit room” or any restricted access forum, is not considered published, but any work that is put online and is accessible by the general public is considered published. Some of these sites have a major number of followers, maybe even more than a printed version would sell to.

Why would an author want to do this with an unpublished work? The usual justification is hoping an agent or editor would run across it, like it, and contact him or her, asking for more. This has happened, but it is very rare. For the most part, agents and editors have enough to wade through without going online searching for more. A majority of agents and editors won’t even go online searching when someone gives them links to material instead of providing it in a proposal as requested, but that’s a different topic. I believe the potential of ruling a work out by publishing it online outweighs accidentally interesting an agent or editor in the work.

As to the weight any particular publisher would give to material that has been published online, that varies from paying no attention to it to having it rule out the project for them. It would probably depend on how much of the work had been put up. For some publishers if any has been put up, they don’t much like it.

My own opinion is that I don’t like to put any work online until it is contracted for publishing, and even then only after consulting the publisher. Some would not want it to be done at all unless they do it themselves; others have rules about how it can be done. I believe they feel there is no point in courting a potential problem when they have plenty of submissions by people who have not made their work public. Most, if not all, who wouldn’t mind posting work online restrict it to a maximum of one chapter.

It can make a difference if a work is entered in contests. In contests the judges are sent the contest material without the author’s name attached. If the work has been published online with the author’s name attached, it can contaminate the judges pool. In this situation, many contests will not accept the piece. In some cases there has been a problem with simply having the first page posted publicly for evaluation. We’ve done first-page evaluations on our Website and it has been a problem in a couple of contests.

How about blogs or social media? Publishers used to pay little attention to them, but that isn’t the case anymore. Audiences for these can be in the thousands, and most publishers consider them a significant marketing tool. The number one sales tool for a book is name identification or “buzz,” and having a strong online presence is a major way of creating that, hopefully beginning long before there is a book to promote.

Let’s talk about nonfiction. It used to be that nonfiction books were much easier to sell to a publisher than fiction. Not so much these days, and I believe the reason is because of the amount of free online material. If someone pitches me a project and I know all of their research was done online, I know that all of the material in their book is available for free. It may still have value to a potential buyer, since that research has been combined and assembled in a logical order . . . or it may not. There is no telling which way a publisher would come down on that question.

Is an author who has a regular blog now considered “published”? Actually, yes, and the degree of the publishing credit would depend on the number of regular followers. We can look at it like this, a blog with a couple of hundred followers would be like having a writing credit of writing something like a church newsletter. One of my clients has a Twitter account with over 40,000 followers. That is the equivalent of being a regular columnist in a small magazine.

The bottom line is that online publishing has changed or evolved in the past few years and many aspects of it are looked upon in quite a different manner than it once was. But then that’s the only constant in the publishing industry . . . change.


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