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

Hartline Literary
Visit our blog From The Heart

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’s it going to take for me to quit my day job? Answered by Joyce Hart

Joyce Hart

For one thing, it’s going to take making enough money from writing to live on and that will depend partly on your family situation. If your husband or parents are able to support you, then you can probably write full time. However, for families, this is not possible. One of my clients wrote ten books before she could quit her day job. This took probably ten years. She got up at 4:00 AM every day to write before she went to her day job.

Whenever I give workshops at writer’s conferences, I always emphasize, “Don’t quit your day job.” I estimate that many authors make between $5,000 and $10,000 a year, some maybe $20,000. In all sales, 20 percent of the writers make 80 percent of the money. This is a fact of life: 20 percent of the members in most congregations do 80 percent of the work. Not all the members of a football team make millions, just the ones we hear about. Many members of the team we never see on the field, but they are an important part of the team. In publishing, we hear about the few making the big advances. The other 80 percent make modest amounts.

If you want the ability to quit your day job, work hard. Write something every day. Write articles or write for publications on the Web. Write some things for free, just to help someone. Learn your craft by attending writer’s conferences and getting involved in a critique group. If you write fiction, join ACFW. This association is the best support you can get anywhere. For nonfiction there are other groups to join for support.

My advice is to work hard, be consistent about writing daily, take every opportunity to learn how to do your job better, and learn how to write a great proposal. Writers tell me that writing the proposal is harder than writing the book, but it’s a necessary part of the process. You will know when it’s time for you to write full time. Maybe you’ll have to wait until your kids get older, or until your husband gets that promotion. In the meantime, enjoy whatever season of life you are in and wait on God for the answer to this question.

Should I enter a contest? Answered by Tamela Hancock Murray.

Tamela Hancock Murray

Yes. A win or final will give your work a chance to be recognized for excellence.

Most contests charge an entry fee, and costs add up over several contests. Published authors should consider the cost of postage to mail multiple copies of their books, although it’s likely you can deduct these expenses from your tax return. This is one place where free copies from the publisher can be put to good use. Unpublished authors entering manuscripts will have to prove to the IRS that they are seriously pursuing publication before they can write off entrance fees. Of course, entering contests is a great way to prove this. Your tax adviser can address your specific situation.

When considering which contests to enter, look at past winners and enter those favoring the type of book you write. For example, your inspirational book is likely to stand a better chance in the RWA Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest than in a general RWA contest because judges accustomed to secular romance novels may not be familiar with Christian works. Larger contests such as ACFW’s Carol contest are prestigious and attract top authors. Lesser-known contests won’t offer as much prestige but will still afford a chance to win recognition. In essence, the more contests you enter, the better. For a list of contests, one source is The Christian Writers’ Market Guide. Chapter 14 of the 2010 edition lists eight contest categories.

I wish you God’s best as you enter!

I’m waiting until I have a book to promote to have a Website and get involved in social networks. Answered by Terry Burns

Terry Burns

The problem with this is that it can take years to build strong name identification and market presence. When a new book comes out, the book launch and first few months are critical to its success, and if it isn’t selling, its shelf life is over at many bookstores. But if our promotion efforts are just cranking up, this critical period can end before we are even in the game. It is vital to do all we can do to build our names long before we have a product that needs it.

In addition, platform, the industry name for having these marketing contacts, used to be important only in trying to submit nonfiction. This has been changing and now many publishers are interested in platform even for fiction submissions. They are looking to the author for more and more of the marketing efforts and a proposal that shows the author has a platform and has a good personal marketing plan can be very competitive up against other proposals that do not have them.

What does it mean to “sell through” an advance? Answered by Diana Flegal

Diana Flegal

When a contract is offered an author, the contract stipulates what the advance will be. The full advance amount is what they are offering you to buy the “rights” negotiated in the contract and your book. You no longer own what you have written and have been paid for the work of writing it. At the signing of most contracts, the author is given the first half of the total advance. Hopefully your agent has gotten you the best deal this house is offering right now, and you celebrate, do the happy dance, call your friends, throw a party, and then settle in and get the manuscript honed, per the editor’s edits, and turned in on time. When the author turns in his or her manuscript and it is approved, the second or remaining amount of the advance is then paid. (Some publishing houses break down the advance into many small advances, but for sake of brevity here we will use the simplest format.)

Figure one year from the contract offer to the book’s placement on the bookstore shelf, and then six months until the first royalty statement is received. Most publishers calculate the royalties twice yearly, with the statement coming to you thirty to forty-five days after the ending date. The statement will show the number of books you have sold up to the ending date of the stipulated period.

The statement lists the total number of your books sold at the varying costs of distribution, with many books being sold at discounts to bookstores such as Sam’s Club, Costco, etc. The amount earned is then subtracted from the advance given you. Once the total profits exceed the advance already paid, you have earned out your advance and will see a plus in your column and a check for that amount should accompany the royalty statement.

I found it interesting to note that most books printed never earn out their advance.