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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What Does The Publisher Expect?

What does a publisher expect an author to sell to consider their book a success? That depends on the publisher. Some small presses that do print runs as opposed to POD may only do two or three thousand books and are going to be tickled if they sell quickly and they have to reprint. For one of the big six presses they are going to consider a book that doesn’t sell over 25,000 as not being a success. Everybody else falls somewhere on a scale in between.

Books that get advances, that advance is an indicator of what the publisher is expecting the book to do. People who sell through their advance in a reasonable time and start earning royalties are exceeding the publisher’s expectations. POD (print on demand) presses are set up on models that allow them to start earning money as soon as the modest set up charges are recouped. Some don’t start paying royalties until that charge is recouped causing that to happen faster while others pay royalties from the very first book.

But let’s talk about what it means to “be credibly published.” We tend to judge how successful an author is by the size of the publishing house that they have published with. That is generally a pretty reliable factor, but I don’t believe the type of publishing or the size of the publisher is what makes an author “credibly published.” It is about sales.

You could go with one of the big six houses and not sell any books and be a major failure. “The Shack” started out as self published but sold a ton of books and was a success even before a bigger house picked it up. The difference between the success of these two is sales, that’s how we keep score.

I have a friend who has a half dozen self-pubbed books. They have a very high price tag on them, but for years he has made a living off their sales. He sells ONLY LOCALLY at various tourist locations but his main gig is at the outdoor drama “Texas.” He makes a significant income, has done so for years, and I think would have to be considered credibly published by anybody’s standards.

In my opinion, someone who does not sell more than a few hundred books is selling to family and friends and maybe selling a few at book signings. Regardless of the size publisher they are published with, they are not impressing anybody. Beyond that

threshold, publishers do have different expectations and our goal needs to be to exceed those expectations, whatever they are. But the bottom line is “does an author’s sales reach a level that will cause industry professionals to consider them as ‘credibly published.’

So in light of these comments, how do we know how successful our efforts are? A successful author sells well up in the thousands, no matter what their situation is, but what we really want is for industry professionals to be able to look at our publishing credits and at the very least feel they are adequate.

Who am I kidding? What we really want is to end up on the New York Times bestseller list. There is no question then whatsoever then.


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