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 does an agent do?

Joyce HartJoyce:

Agents serve as the initial screen, filtering out inappropriate, inept, and near-miss projects. Good agents match projects with prospective publishers, saving the editors from having to wade through worthy submissions that aren’t right for their imprints.

An agent will send your work to the right editor, help you choose the right publisher and editor, negotiate the terms of your contract, and make sure the publisher keeps you informed on the book’s progress.

Agents build relationships with editors. They get to know the acquisition editors and gain credibility with editors. They meet with editors at CBA and sometimes visit the publishing houses.

An agent typically can get a larger advance and royalty rate for you. Signing the contract is only the beginning. You have to maintain the contract. The agent checks the royalty statement for accuracy. Also she/he can ask for the check from the publisher when it’s due. The agent can guide you through knowing which rights to release and which to hold back.

Response time is much quicker for an agent than for an individual author.

The right agent can help your career development by associating your talent with future deals.

The agent can act as a sounding board for the author, give suggestions, and provide specific input to keep you selling. There is great value in being able to discuss your manuscripts with a professional.

Perhaps the best criterion for measuring agents is communication. Your agent should express an understanding of your work and goals.

Because the fiction field has become so competitive and publishers are busy, more and more editors are relying on agents. For publishers, agents act as “first readers.”

It used to be that editors were allowed to develop authors. Now publishing is so “market driven,” the editors don’t have time for this anymore. It’s up the agents.

Why can’t I hire a lawyer instead of a literary agent to negotiate my contract?

Tamela Hancock MurrayTamela:

Authors have the right to hire lawyers to negotiate contracts; however, this is not the ideal situation for most career authors.

Recently I read a magazine article citing Washington D.C.’s top lawyers. One negotiated significant book contracts for two celebrities. I was annoyed that they hadn’t hired literary agents, because I want our profession to be respected and valued.

Then I considered that for celebrities a book is one piece of a large puzzle and serves as a promotional tool as well as another income stream. To my knowledge, most celebrities don’t write their own books. When others do most of the creative work and the book isn’t your passion, a lawyer is the way to go when it’s time to negotiate a contract. Speaking of contracts, household name celebrities will get plenty of those as soon as publishers find out they’re even thinking of putting their names on a book, so very little selling of the work is involved. The lawyer negotiates the contract and then moves on to the next project. The lawyer and celebrity may be friends, but it’s doubtful their bond will be over writing.

A literary agent works differently. Often an agent has to knock on the doors of many publishing houses before landing a contract. An agent offers career guidance and helps develop proposals, forming a long-term relationship. The writer and agent bond over their shared passion for books. In CBA, they are brothers and sisters in Christ, working together for the kingdom. And unlike lawyers, agents don’t charge writers for “billable” hours.

Bottom line: Celebrity authors not seeking relationships with literary agents may prefer lawyers. Authors seeking a friend and advocate in the industry, who shares their love for Christ, should sign with a CBA agent.

I don’t want to do a proposal. Isn’t that the agent’s job?

Terry Burns


An author refusing to comply with the submission guidelines has pretty much removed himself from consideration. A proposal is a tool that agents and editors use to evaluate a project. So those who want to only send an unsolicited manuscript and stop there are withholding the information needed to make that decision. In fact, a large number of rejections occur without reading the manuscript because the proposal clearly shows the fit is not there. Also, a person refusing to do the very first thing she has been asked to do doesn’t bode well for a good, cooperative working relationship.

When editors and agents read a proposal, they are looking at more than just the writing. Most are quite specific as to what they would like to see to make this evaluation. We ask for a little more in our submission guidelines than some, but our position is we would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

A professional proposal is a single MS Word or .rtf document (if the author doesn’t use Word) that is a quality presentation, yet preserves the proper formatting in the requested first three chapters to show how the actual work is formatted. The three chapters give us a feel for the writing and the rest of the proposal shows us the marketability of the project and the platform and promotion ability of the author. Check the guidelines to see how the particular agent or editor wants it submitted.

I will never know an author’s work as well as he does, so for me to do a good agency proposal, I need a good proposal from the author to build it on.

Does Hartline Literary Agency still look at unpublished authors?

Diana FlegalDiana:

Yes, we give serious consideration to proposals from unpublished authors. Hartline agents would love to be the ones to discover that next new voice. We do expect unpublished authors who approach us to be serious enough about their publishing goals to have a realistic view of the current publishing marketplace to know they must place on our desks their best efforts. Please do not send us your first draft. Ideally, send us your third or fourth draft that has been read by a critique group, tweaked, and rewritten to a level worthy of publication. Do the necessary homework it takes to hone your writing skills: through workshops, online courses, and perusal of the many excellent books that offer excellent advice to the beginning author. Then by all means, check out our Website, read over our submission guidelines, and check out each agent bio. Choose one of our agents to submit an electronic submission to per the requested manner.