Beyond the Smoke

Hartline Literary Agency represents fiction and non-fiction books to leading inspirational and mainline publishers. Over the years, we have built valuable working relationships with editors, which help us guide your work toward the most appropriate markets. We currently represent many award-winning authors, and we seek to add both published and promising new authors to our client list. If we recognize potential in your work we will do our best to give it the exposure and attention it deserves. Our core strength is representing inspirational fiction and non-fiction books for adults. We do not market children's books, short fiction, screenplays, scripts, poetry, or magazine articles. We represent most genres in inspirational or commercial fiction except science fiction and fantasy. Visit us at

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Answers From The Agents

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. We’d love to hear from you.

What do you look for when considering a new novelist?

Joyce HartJoyce:

The first thing I look for is stellar writing.

The second most important thing is a properly prepared proposal. It’s important for the new novelist to know how to prepare a proposal. We have guidelines on our Website for your convenience. If the author doesn’t take the time to learn how to do the proposal, then I don’t have time to look at what he/she sends me. The easier you make it for me to review your material, the sooner your proposal will get read.

Next, has the author had anything published? If you come to me with seven hundred published articles, I’m for sure going to take a look at your work. Tell me about yourself; why are you qualified to write this book? If you’re self-published, don’t tell me you are a published author. Self-publishing is fine, but we do not define it as being a published author. Our definition of being published is being published by a CBA or ABA house that sells into bookstores and distributes to other markets. If you have self-published a book or book, tell me how many books you’ve sold on your own. One of my clients sold a thousand books a month of his self-published book. I was impressed, took him as a client, and sold his book to the first publisher who looked at it. Now we’re working on his fourth book with that editor.

I look for an author who is flexible, willing to consider my suggestions, and work hard. Will you be open and honest with me? I’d like to know if you are willing to work with an editor before we send the proposal and/or the manuscript to a publisher. The competition is so fierce that we need to have a nearly perfect proposal and manuscript to submit.

My final note: If by working together you have a best-seller, don’t leave me for another agent. Remember to “dance with the one who brung you.” In another column we’ll deal with when it’s appropriate to change agents.

What will my contract with a literary agency entail?

Tamela Hancock MurrayTamela:

While I can’t say what every agency’s contract includes, I do know that Hartline’s follows industry standards. We ask for industry standard commission on any sales we make. We do not charge fees or ask for up-front costs. Our authors don’t pay us until they see payment for their work.

In the past, agencies routinely asked authors to help with expenses, such as telephone calls, postage, and travel. Now that most publishers accept electronic submissions and the cost of long distance telephone service has decreased, these costs aren’t as great for agents, so fewer ask for help with these expenses. Hartline agents do not ask authors to help pay postage, phone, or travel bills. We do not ask for reading or evaluation fees. These sort of fees are frowned upon in our industry. If your contract includes any provision where you may incur a fee of any kind, have an honest and open discussion with the agent so you can decide if and when incurring additional expenses may be appropriate.

A good agency contract includes provisions regarding what will happen if both parties decide to discontinue their professional relationship. It will also explain what the agent will do for the author.

Bottom line: A good agency contract protects both the agent and the author, and puts in writing an understanding as to what both can expect from each another. If you don’t understand a contract provision, ask the agent before signing. Mutual respect and understanding are keys to an excellent relationship.

There are so many changes now; where is publishing headed?

Terry Burns


Wow, my crystal ball is a bit fuzzy. If I could definitively answer this question, I could be the most successful agent ever. I’m sure different agents see it differently, so I can speak only for me.

I made a shift in how I was doing submissions over a year ago to include more small publishers in my efforts. It has resulted in helping a number of debut authors get their careers underway.

Having done that, I listened with great interest as the “Future of Publishing” panel at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference focused on the emergence of small publishers. Jeff Gerke was just featured on Chip MacGreaor’s blog talking about this. You can read it at

The panel said that the publishing world is transforming into a two-sided spectrum, big and little, with the mid-size house rapidly disappearing or morphing into one or the other. If this is true, two major differences exist between the two: sales and distribution, and the target market. The traditional publishers concentrate on and virtually own the brick-and-mortar channels, and have the distribution and the sales staff to get books into the marketplace. The small publishers concentrate on the online sales and distribution that is growing rapidly.

But the market they target may be the biggest difference. Large publishers have long rejected books for being “too much of a niche market.” Small publishers seek out and try to serve these niche markets with new publishing models that produce a larger-per-book profit margin.

What is the future of publishing? It’s changing, that’s for sure, and the authors and the smaller publishers are the ones that can make adjustments and turn on a dime to take advantage of changes. I believe there will be some strong opportunities for those who can find the opportunities and react to them. The role of the agent is being affected too as more and more having a finger on the pulse of publishing to guide clients is critical to reacting to market changes.

It’s an interesting time.

Why should I attend a writer’s conference? Is it worth the cost and my time?

Diana FlegalDiana:

I often recommend my authors attend a writer’s conference near them. There are many benefits to justify the expense. Owning a great set of resource books on writing is a good thing, but a conference where like-minded individual’s gather—well, there is nothing like it.

For serious writers who want to go somewhere with their writing, writer’s conferences offer workshops on specific subjects to aid them in honing their skills: Learn how to realistically advance the plot. Weave into the story believable characters. Learn what Not to Do as well as what Can Be Done. At a writer’s conference you will rub shoulders with others who are just as crazy about words as you are.

A writer’s conference is where you will lunch with newly published authors, share their joy, and hear their personal stories of twenty-three rejections and four years of nail biting, waiting till they “Got the call.” Stand in the cafeteria line and have a just-contracted, wet-behind-the-ears author hand you a bookmark and ask you to please read her book when it comes out; exchange names and later watch her career take off like a shot and be able to say, “I know her and she is the nicest person.” Or sit at dinner and hear the insecurities of an author writing her second book, wondering if she can do it again, and you note later as she proceeds to do it well many years on. Friendships born and kinships established. They all are just humans like you are, and if they can do it, well, maybe you will as well. Wonderful heady stuff!

Another important aspect of a writer’s conference are the Agent/Editor appointments. Keep in mind, they are just people who love words like you, and have traveled to a conference for your benefit. Meeting agents face-to-face is a good way to know if you would like to work with them, if they are a good fit for what you write. Read over the list of editors that are listed under faculty and choose to meet ones who acquire and publish your genre of books. Commit to the guidelines and go with a well prepared one-sheet and pitch. During your fifteen-minute appointment, you will receive advice, praise, and maybe a request to submit a full proposal.

You will leave the conference with new friends, new skills, and a much better chance of making it to your goal of being published.