Literary agent Janet Kobobel
Grant founded the Books
Literary Agency in 1996 and represents several best-selling
winners of the Gold Medallion, Christy Award, and RITA. Previously she
was a book editor for more than 12 years, an imprint editor at
Zondervan, managing book editor at Focus on the Family, collaborator on
17 books, and writer of two books. As a result, Janet knows the
publishing world from the perspective of a writer, an editor, and an
I’m about as ancient as dirt in Christian-agent time (of course, that would never be said of me in real time). I’ve been an agent for twelve years, which in the Christian realm means I came to this game early on. I decided to pursue being an agent after Focus on the Family divorced me. . . . Okay, really, we parted company because Focus was moving to Colorado Springs from Southern California, and that was a move I didn’t want to make.
When you find yourself standing at professional crossroads, you examine what your strengths and weaknesses are. As I thought about mine, I realized that, as an editor at Focus on the Family and Zondervan before that, what gave me the greatest joy was discovering writing voices others didn’t know about. I had heard Patsy Clairmont on a Focus on the Family broadcast and laughed my head off—and heard a speaker who carefully chose every word that came from her mouth. A natural-born writer if ever I heard one. But Patsy had never gathered the confidence to tap out a book. We teamed up and—voila!—God Uses Cracked Pots, her first book, was born. Robin Jones Gunn’s Christy Miller Series was lurking in my slush pile just waiting to be unleashed on teen readers.
As I assessed my publishing experience and my inclinations, I realized this new-to-Christian publishing venue of agenting might be the right gig for me. And so it has been. I founded Books & Such Literary Agency that year, and since then I have had the privilege of representing such stellar authors as Joanna Weaver, author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, which has sold 500,000 copies and has remained on the Top 100 Sellers List for six years; W. Dale Cramer, who has won two Christy Awards for his contemporary novels and received several starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for his fine writing; RITA and Holt Medallion winner Gayle Roper . . . the list goes on.
Three years ago I expanded the agency by adding Wendy Lawton as an agent. Wendy represents Debbie Macomber’s nonfiction; Karen Young, who also has won a RITA; and many other fine authors. Then last year Etta Wilson, well-known agent for children’s book authors, joined our agency; Rachel Zurakowski, a former summer intern of ours, became an associate agent; and we added to the group Kathleen Y’Barbo as a publicist. Kathleen offers her services at an excellent rate to our clients and works with only Books & Such authors. All in all, our agency represents more than 150 clients.
We describe ourselves as a boutique agency because I never plan to grow to such a level that we become a “machine” that slips authors into publishing slots like clogs in a wheel. Our concentration is on long-term career planning. It isn’t our goal just to place an author’s next work with a publishing house, but rather to find a publishing home for our clients and to think strategically about career growth. Our slogan is “Discerning
Literature.” We strive to represent clients who write a notch above the average author, and we work to encourage our clients to create the best they can.
Another element that distinguishes us from most agencies is that we like to bring our clients together in ways that enable them to support, encourage, mentor, team with, and pray for one another. We have a special e-mail loop through which our clients discuss professional issues and share insights; we maintain an e-mail prayer loop; each year at the International Christian Retailers Show, we arrange a brunch for all our clients; and this October the agency is hosting a retreat in Wine Country.
We’re always on the lookout for stellar writing, authors who are smart about creating platforms, and individuals who have worked to make themselves the “go-to” person on a specific topic. These three elements make it pretty compelling for us to decide to represent someone.
Speaking of being represented . . . For those who are looking for an agent, I offer some advice based on my observations of typical mistakes writers are prone to make when selecting who should represent them. These writers respond to flattery or fear.
All creative people are, at their core, insecure. So when an agent slips into your life, puts an arm around you, and coos, “I love your writing.” Authors tend to swoon. But “melting” is the wrong response. Instead think about what’s behind that agent’s charming smile and compliments? Is this an agent who is going to work well and hard for you? As the father asks of the would-be suitor, so should you ask, “What are your intentions?”
Writers sometimes choose an agent based on fear: What if no one else will represent me?
Well, what if it happens? I believe that a bad agent is worse than having no agent. A bad agent can sit on your work and never show it to an editor; show it to the wrong editor who isn’t looking for that type of writing; negotiate a bad contract for you; or become an embarrassment to have your name associated with because his or her reputation in the industry isn’t exactly lustrous.
Anyone can be an agent. All one needs to do is print up business cards, and hang out the proverbial shingle. But you want an agent who will move your career forward, be your protector when needed, and speak truth to you when it’s needed. You want someone who understands the industry and is well connected. And you want someone you can trust.
Yes, being older than dirt in Christian-agent time has taught me these things.