Beyond the Smoke
Terry Burns

Terry Burns is an agent with Hartline Literary as well as writing inspirational fiction. As a writer he has over 40 books in print including 10 novels. He has a new 4 book series from Port Yonder Press entitled “The Sagebrush Collection” of his collected short works and the first released March 2010 entitled “On the Road Home.” A Young Adult entitled Beyond the Smoke won the Will Rogers Medallion and a new book “A Writer’s Survival Guide to Publication” also from Port Yonder Press was developed out of the month long course he held for ACFW. A popular speaker at workshops across the country, a bookstore of his available works as well as a regular 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 children’s, sci fi or fantasy. He’s a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR).

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Answers From The Agent

Getting and Working with an Agent

The most popular sessions at conferences are agent and editor panels where people get to ask specific questions. 

This column is going to respond to such direct questions, plus questions that come from the Hartline blog and 

other sources. I’d love to hear from you.

Finding and working with an agent is a lot like dating. From what I remember about that process, a successful relationship is more than hooking up with somebody who looks good, has a great personality, and is a lot of fun. It’s about having common interests, liking and wanting the same things, just plain getting along. And I won’t go off into falling in love—there isn’t enough space in this whole magazine to do justice to that one.

But as in dating, just because someone is an awesome agent doesn’t mean they are right for you. During pitch sessions at conferences, I like to point to a wall and say, “The publishing industry is like that wall, but I can’t work that entire wall, so maybe I work where that window is.” Maybe some other agents work the window next to it. Maybe they overlap a lot, but chances are they are different.

You see, agents don’t generally sell to publishing houses; they sell to editors with whom they have an established relationship. And they stand a better chance of selling a manuscript if they genuinely understand what the editor is looking for. It is easier for me to connect with editors who share similar tastes in the manuscripts that appeal to me. I have to work at understanding what other editors want in a manuscript, and there are other editors I have no relationship with at all. You could say that they are working a different window.

That means an author could present to me an awesome manuscript, but if I’m not working with an editor who would be interested in it, chances are I don’t have the right contacts for it. For me, that’s part of the dating process. I don’t like to hold up a manuscript if I don’t see a good place to take it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a good place for it; it just doesn’t fit in my window.

My client group is tight. We’re friends, and that is part of the dating process, as well. Do we get along? Do we like each other? All of my clients are Christians. That doesn’t mean I don’t handle secular books or work in the mainstream market, but I require that all clients be on an online list so I have the ability to talk to all of them at once if I want. I do weekly updates, but often I just do group messages. About half of that group is on priority only messages. The other half talk together, a lot, and they pray for one another’s problems, projects, and opportunities. They celebrate over one another’s successes and console on near misses. If they aren’t publishing, they take heart from hearing about the ones who are. I suspect a non-Christian would be uncomfortable in the group.

We become such good friends that it is hard to part company, but on occasion I determine that I have used up the contact points I have for a client and release them to find an agent who has a different set of contacts. Sometimes they come to that conclusion themselves and ask to be released. In either case, I believe all of the partings have been amicable. Breaking up is part of dating, too.

Dating is best accomplished face-to-face or when someone is introduced to a particular partner by a friend. I think that holds true for the agent relationship as well. Most of my clients I initially met at a conference or were sent to me by an author, editor, or even another agent. That doesn’t guarantee a thing, but it does ensure a very close look if the person is not only making the introduction but championing the work.

I could give more comparisons, but I think this makes the point. However, the one big difference is successful dating ends up with a match to a single partner, but I get to hook up with a whole group of them. Is that cool or what?


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