What do literary agents want you to know? A talk with Hartline Agency’s Tessa Hall

17 May

Aspiring novelists dream of the moment.

A literary agent falls in love with their book idea, takes them on as a client, and then sells their book to a top publisher.

For those same aspiring novelists, though, the process through which this happens is a mystery.

In fact, the life and job of a literary agent is a bit of a mystery as well. (Writers just know they need them.)

To get some answers about literary agents, what they do, and what writers can do to avail themselves to a successful agent, I recently talked with Tessa Hall–and got some great answers.

Tessa is a junior literary agent with Hartline Agency (an agency that serves both the general and Christian market); the agency currently has over 200 author clients.

Tessa is also a novelist herself, so she understand the author side of the process. Her two novels are Unwritten Melody and Purple Moon (a 2014 Selah Award Finalist in Debut Novel and YA Fiction); and she is the founding editor of PursueMagazine.net.

She will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa on June 2-3, where she will present sessions on “How to Submit to an Agent.” (Learn more about the SCWC here.)

Here’s part of my conversation with Tessa:

Just what does a literary agent do?

As a Jr. Agent, I work directly with a handful of his clients, oversee the submission process to publishers, review submissions we receive, speed the communication process, and negotiate contracts. The responsibilities are pretty much the same as a senior agent; the main difference is that I work for and with a senior agent and his clients. (Tessa’s senior agent is Cyle Young.)

What misconceptions do writers have about agents?

One misconception I see often—and one that I, too, used to have about agents—is that agents should give their immediate and full attention to you, their client. While it’s true their first priority should be given to their clients, it’s impossible for them to devote 100% of their attention to each and every client 100% of the time. A literary agent is responsible for multiple tasks, and unread emails constantly beg for their attention in their inbox. While we do our best at giving each client the attention he/she deserves, the client also needs to have patience, respect the agent’s time, and have realistic expectations for the author/agent relationship.

What advice would you give to writers about working with agents?

other than respecting their agent’s time and having realistic expectations about the agent/author relationship, I’d recommend that writers work hard to build their career. Ultimately, when an agent submits your work to a publisher, they aren’t just trying to sell your book; they’re trying to sell you as an author. The publisher is going to take into consideration your online presence, established readership, credentials, and potential for developing future projects. Are you actively working to further your career, or are you remaining stagnant? For the most part, agents like to work with writers who have the promise of a long-term career.

What publishing trends do you see in your area right now?

In the YA market in general, there has been a lot of interest in fantasy, books that feature diversity, as well as speculative fiction—realistic fiction with a fantasy twist. In the CBA market, non-fiction titles are continuing to remain far more popular than fiction; in fact, a few CBA publishers have recently stopped publishing fiction altogether.

With the increasing crowded market, I’m finding it more and more vital for authors—especially fiction authors—to engage with their readers on social media if they hope to stand out and continue to sell books.

What will you be speaking about at the SCWC?

I’m going to give a presentation on how to sell your book to an agent—what to do and what not to do. In the workshop, I’ll discuss what the role of an author is, the various stages of submitting to an agent, the essential elements of a query letter, how to pitch to agents in person, etc. By the end of the workshop, writers will know secrets and tips that will increase their chances of catching the attention of a literary agent.

How did you become an agent in the first place?

As an author, I’ve attended several writing conferences over the years. It’s through the connections I’ve made at these conferences that led me to this position at an agency. Even though I love writing, I’ve always known that I’d like to someday become a literary agent and help other writers pursue their publication dreams. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

Tell me a little bit about your life outside of your work.

I live in The Upstate of South Carolina, where I spend far too much time in coffee shops or making lattes with my nine different coffee makers. =) Acting is another passion of mine. I grew up participating in theater productions and have recently worked on two Christian films, “Providence” (produced by Faith Flix Films) and “A Beautiful Life” (produced by A Grace Like Rain Entertainment).

When I’m not experimenting with new latte recipes, writing, acting, or working, I’m attempting to scratch books off of my never-ending “to read” list while cuddling with my teacup Shih-Tzu.

Learn more about Hartline Agency.

Follow Tessa on Facebook.

Check out her books on Amazon.

Learn more about the SCWC.

 

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Some recent publications

12 May

As a sports writer during the day, I find myself writing a lot about games, and scores, and stats, and events, and coaches, and players.

Every one in a while, though, I get to delve a little deeper behind the scenes to write about things that are fun, or unique, or inspiring.

Here are a few of those recent stories:

Jesus Take the Wheel: Volunteers spread the Gospel at Talladega

Local college player vies for top hits in NCAA

Fun, new Airstream bar, restaurant coming downtown

Dancers and Drivers: Castroneves, Hinchliffe bring star power to Indy

How fast does new Baron Michael Kopech pitch? Get ready for some heat

What have you been writing lately?

I’d love to know!

 

 

What would your billboard SHOUT?!

5 May

Just yesterday I drove by the ballpark in my small community and saw that it had installed a brand new, blinky billboard. It lets passersby know of upcoming baseball games and other fun activities happening at the park.

And it also provided two admonitions to the drivers whizzing by.

And they were in capital letters, ending in exclamation points.

BUCKLE UP!

STAY HYDRATED!

They were very apropos messages.

Drivers driving by certainly need to buckle up. It’s the law, and if someone is kept safer (perhaps, alive) that’s a message that needs to be shared.

And since I live in Alabama, the second message was a good one as well. It’s just May, but has felt like in-the-middle-of-Summer lately.

The loud messages made me think:

We writers have something to say; it’s usually why we became writers in the first place; it’s why we put pen to paper, or fingers to computer…we want to get our message out into the world.

If you could pronounce your message on a big, blinky sign for all the passersby to see, what would that message be?

I asked this exact question on Facebook and got some good answers:

BE KIND

REMAIN CALM

CHECK YOUR SOURCES

EAT CAKE

DO SOMETHING

Wonderful ideas and  messages, each of them. (I’m especially in favor of the eating of cake.)

It’s certainly something to think about.

What message is your writing going to tell?

What are you communicating with your words, sentences, stories?

What are you SAYING?

 

Author, illustrator and blogger extraordinaire Joe McKeever: “Learn from everyone, imitate no one”

3 May

Joe McKeever will be a speaker at the upcoming Southern Christian Writers Conference on June 2-3 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has a lot to say to people of faith and aspiring writers.

Check out his wonderful blog, see some of his illustrations from his regular column, and check out all of his books on Amazon.

Joe recently talked with me about faith, grief, drawing, writing and encouraging others.

Question: Tell me a little bit about your blog. How did it start? What is its ‘philosophy’?

I’ve been writing all my adult life.  Did a cartoon article for SBC’s “Outreach” magazine in 1972 when I was 32.  And as a pastor, I wrote for various things.  One day in 1996, our minister of education installed a huge bulky computer in my office.  “You’re going to be needing this,” he said.  And he was right.  The funny thing is I used to be a secretary, through college and for two years following.  I type fast and loved to write, but as the pastor of some demanding churches in the 80s and 90s had quit typing anything. So, now, I would sit at the computer and type articles for our church website.  And the creative juices began to flow again.

We sent out a weekly fax with my inspirational thoughts.  And when I discovered sending out those articles over long distance was expensive, but email was cheap, we went to an email.  And from there to blogging.  And sometime around 2002, my son informed me, “I have reserved http://www.joemckeever.com for you.  You’ll need it one day.”  I hardly knew what that meant.  But in 2004, I left the pastorate to become director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans, and since their website was non-functioning, I began using my own.  In 2005, when Katrina flooded the city and devastated a lot of our churches, my website became a lifeline for displaced pastors and others.  Editors began taking my blog and running it in print editions.  (You can see everything I wrote during the Katrina episode Sept 1, 2005 and through the next two years, by scrolling down the page on my blog to the archives and finding those years/months.  Everything is still there.)  And since I was primarily writing for churches, church leaders, and particularly pastors, they became my primary audience.

Q: What other writing do you do, in addition to your blog?

In the decade of the 1990s, I kept a hand-written journal each night.  Eventually, it filled over 50 hard-bound volumes.  I wrote about pastor stuff–who came to see me, what the church staff was dealing with, whom I visited, what problems the deacons and I were wrestling with, and on Saturday evenings, I wrote out the sermons for the next day.  And for several years, while I had a two minute live radio thing called “phone call from the pastor,” I’d write out the gist of that program.  That’s why my postings on Facebook are often rich.  I’m mining those journals.  Oh, I also wrote about my grandchildren, you may have noticed.

The books I’m writing are offshoots of the blog. I did a book “Help! I’m a Deacon!” two years ago, and my bride of 3 months and I have one coming out next week called “Grief Recovery 101.” And at the moment, I have moved articles on prayer from the blog into a word document for the next book.  It’s far more than enough for a book, so I’m editing it down to maybe one-half of the present content.

I write a column called “My Favorite Deacon” for the quarterly “Deacon Magazine,” published by Lifeway.

Q: How dd you get started illustrating, and how often do you do it these days?

I’ve drawn cartoons since I was a child.  Did all the class posters in high school (Double Springs, AL) and college (Berry and Birmingham-Southern), and at church.  During seminary (1960s) our weekly newspaper in the bayou country of Louisiana would run my devotional each week alongside my cartoon.  That paper was actually giving me one-quarter of a page in every issue.  The publicity from it did my little church on Alligator Bayou a world of good, and brought in visitors every Sunday.  — I cannot even tell you how many books I’ve illustrated, but the number must be 20 or more.

And in the early 1980s, Baker Book House of Grand Rapids published “Instant Cartoons for Church Newsletters,” a series of 8 volumes eventually, containing religious cartoons from me and two other guys.  Before they ended the series, we had sold 300,000 copies.  The publisher I use these days is Parson’s Porch of Cleveland, TN.  They have done two books of cartoons, named “101 Cartoons” and “101 More Cartoons” (catchy, huh?), as well as the deacon and grief books.The Baptist Press posts a cartoon of mine each weekday.

As a rule, I draw in cracks of times, those moments when a good idea hits or when I’m reading the paper (the paper newspaper!!) and something in the comics sparks an idea.  Then, later, I’ll collect all these scraps and doodles and redraw them, then hand color them, and scan/email.

I also am a sketch artist.  People want to call these caricatures, but they’re not.  A caricature is an exaggeration, but few people want their nose to be the size of Montana. I’m trying to capture the essence of the person in a minute to two minutes.  I’m often invited to draw for festivals and conventions and such.  They pay well, although for charitable events and church things, I’m happy to donate my time.  I do a lot of school programs.

Here is Joe illustrating and talking with attendees at the 2012 SCWC,

Q: You’re a former pastor. How does your faith affect your writing?

I am all about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no part of me that isn’t.  Even when I’m drawing cartoons or sketching people, I pray to do it well and for His glory.  So, I pray for the website, for my writing, asking the Lord to lead me in what to write and how to do it.  And then, if someone praises the results, nothing inside me swells with pride. I just thank them, and send up a silent thank-you to the Father.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your personal life, and what the future holds with writing.

In October 2016, I sold my house in metro New Orleans (where I’d lived since 1990) and moved to the Jackson, MS area. Bought a lovely garden home in a gated community.  In January 2017, I married the widow of a seminary classmate.  Gary Fagan and I had known one another since the 1960s, but we did not know the other’s families.  So, Bertha and I met in February of 2016.  We knew that same week the Lord had put us together.

She contributed a chapter to our ‘grief” book, telling what she went through in May 2014 when Gary had an aneurysm after preaching twice that day, and died 10 days later.  She teaches English at a community college here, but had never done any writing until now.

Projects?  I’m always sketching people for events.  (Have four weddings in 3 states coming up in the next 6 weeks; I’ll sketch for the receptions.)  I’m always drawing cartoons for Baptist Press.  I write on the blog almost daily and post perhaps 5 articles per week.  Online magazines for church leaders pick up some of the articles and send them to their mailing lists of many thousands.

That’s the fun thing about blogging.  I have posted an article at 6 am (after working on it, off and on, for several days) and by 11 am, one of these magazines has picked it up and sent it out to 50,000 subscribers, and my mailbox is filling with notes from people all over the world.

I went to the Naples, Italy area for a weeklong retreat for pastors and spouses from all over Europe as a result of my blog.  I’m 77 years old.  I’m so grateful I lived long enough to hold a smart phone in my hand, and think of all the possibilities it contains.

Q: What will you talk about at the SCWC, and how do you hope to encourage aspiring writers?

I love to attend any event that sparks my creative energy, and want to accomplish that for those attending my conferences.  The result should be people going out to do their own thing, express what’s going on in their lives, using the talents and gifts they have.  I have no desire to just pass along information or teach someone how to do what I’m doing.  How boring.  Outside the window as I type, there are flowers everywhere, the result of a gracious Heavenly Father and an amazing wife who loves to make spaces glorious.  Flowers come in so many different varieties and colors and forms. No two are alike.  And that’s the goal of SCWC, I happen to know–to encourage God’s highest creations to bloom where they are planted, and to find brighter and more glorious ways and venues to shine forth.

My two conferences are WRITING INSPIRATIONAL AND EFFECTIVE BLOGS and WRITING ABOUT PERSONAL EXPERIENCES.  Under the first one, we’ll talk about blogging.  The second will deal with, among other things, my writing about my wife’s death in 2015 and then dealing with the grief that followed.

In either, or in both, I will encourage people to find their voice in writing (and the only way to do that is to write and write and write until they find the street on which they live and to travel it every day), to be themselves, but to be their best selves, and not to ape anyone else, no matter how much they admire someone.  Learn from everyone; imitate no one.

(Meet Joe and the other speakers at the SCWC by attending this year’s worskshop. Visit the SCWC website for more information.)

Books Coming to a Theatre Near You

27 Apr

I’ve just started watching Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and, as a lover of the book by Margaret Atwood, I’m pleased so far with the adaptation.

Sure there are some changes made to it, but they totally work so far. (I’ve only watched the first episode so far, but hope to get back to it tonight.)

Which made me think…

What other books are going to make it to the big (or small) screen soon?

Consider some of these books-to-movies coming out in 2017.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Circle by Dave Eggars

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (one of my VERY favorite books in the last couple of years; it’s really for middle school readers, but don’t let that stop you from reading; it’s a powerful book about compassion)

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

The Dark Tower by Stephen King (this is a massive series; can’t wait to see what they do with it)

It by Stephen King (I’m still recovering from the adaptation in the early 90s)

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read)

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (yes, please!)

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

The Dinner by Herman Koch

(Here’s a good list from Buzzfeed, with descriptions.)

Are you looking forward to any of these in particular? Do you have a special fondness for any of these books? And how do you feeling, in general, about books being made into movies?

 

Meet novelist and blogger Chandra Sparks Splond

24 Apr

Chandra Sparks Splond is one productive writer.

She’s a novelist, power blogger and regular conference speaker–and she’s here to spread some wisdom with all of you fellow writers.

Chandra is the author of inspirational fiction for young adults and middle grade readers, and has her first novel for adults coming out this summer. Spin It Like That was chosen as a 2009 Popular Paperback for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and The Pledge was a 2010 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. (Check out all of her books on Amazon.) She’s also the host of the popular blog, Book of Splond, which provides wonderful information and inspiration. (Check out her blog here.) She’s also going to be a speaker at the upcoming SCWC writing workshop this June. (Check out the conference website here.)

I recently got the chance to talk to Chandra about all aspects of her life (writing and otherwise), and found her to be very inspiring.

Enjoy her insights!

Question: How did you get started in writing?

Writing books is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was fourteen years old, but I didn’t actually sit down to write one until after I had my daughter in 2004. Up until that point, I had worked in various aspects of publishing. After my daughter was born though, I realized I couldn’t tell her to pursue her dreams if I hadn’t pursued mine, so I challenged myself to write a book before she turned a year old. I finished my first manuscript a month after her first birthday.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My main advice for aspiring novelists is to write. As an editor and as an author, I encounter so many people who talk about wanting to write a book, but they never take the time to actually write it. If writing is what you really want to do, then sit down and write.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your blog, and what it’s purpose is.

My blog, Book of Splond, helps women balance faith, family and fiction. I offer inspiring interviews with authors and business owners, as well as posts about issues with which we all struggle such as jealousy and fear.

Q: Give us a little peek into your personal life.

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I attended the University of Alabama, and right after college, I moved to New York, where I worked in various aspects of publishing for about thirteen years. I moved back to Birmingham in 2006, around the time I landed my first book deal. I love being back in Birmingham because most of my extended family lives here. I am married, and we have one daughter. We are members of Forty-fifth Street Baptist Church, where my big brother, Andra D. Sparks, serves as pastor.  I’m also currently pursuing my master’s degree in instructional design and technology, and in my free time, I love hanging out with my family, reading, watching TV and party planning.

Q: What will you be speaking about at the SCWC this year?

At this year’s conference, I will be talking about Writing a Novel. Readers will be given insight into what it takes to get their book from an idea to a completed manuscript.

Q: What upcoming projects do you have in the works?

By the time the conference is held, prayerfully, my ninth book, It’s Like That, will be released. I’m excited about this book for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s my first book for adults and 2) It catches up with Jasmine Richardson, the main character of my very first published book, Spin It Like That.

 

 

Guest Blogger Stephanie Rodda gives us “10 Reasons You Should Attend a Writing Conference”

11 Apr
(Welcome Stephanie Rodda as a guest blogger for today! She shares with us the joys and benefits of attending a writing conference, and gives us some excellent tips for getting the most out of these workshops that so many of us are preparing for in the next months.
Stephanie is an awesome blogger, freelance writer, and book author. Her two fiction novels, Unplanned Twists and How Then Shall We Live?) are both available on her Amazon page.)
10 Reasons You Should Attend a Writing Conference

Less than four years ago, I attended my first writing conference.  I had no inkling as to what to expect. I was nervous, excited, anxious, and delighted all at the same time. I’ve mentioned before that I felt much like Harry Potter as he first walked into Diagon Alley after discovering he was a wizard.

I was both amazed and overwhelmed. I was surrounded by hundreds of people who had similar dreams and aspirations. I had to choose which workshops to attend and that was difficult because I honestly did not know. In retrospect, I think I thought, at that first conference, I’d meet some fabulous person who would discover me and declare that they recognized my outstanding talents and offer me a contract. That didn’t happen, as a matter of fact, I doubt that it ever has.

Don’t be discouraged however, because although what I expected did not happen, things I didn’t expect DID happen. These unexpected things led to a very different life, a life I’d dreamed of for a long time. I like to call it #writerslife after a popular Twitter hashtag. So, why should you attend a writing conference.?

  1. Whether you have yet to write a single word of the story in your head or have a finished manuscript, there will be workshops that direct you to the next step, whatever that may be in your particular case. Among the very first things I learned was the importance of having a blog as a writer, for instance.
  2. You will network with people.  You will meet writers still learning what it is all about like myself, editors, literary agents, publishers, traditionally published authors, independently published authors, industry legends and probably make a few new friends. They may not “discover you” but you will discover them. They will encourage you, challenge you and inspire you. After all, they’ve been down this same path before.
  3. By taking the time and spending the money to attend, you are declaring, “I am taking my writing and myself seriously.” I once heard that if you want to know what is important to a person, look at their calendar and their bank statement. Find a conference you can afford and start there. I’ve even attended a workshop for free when scholarships were offered.
  4. You will learn so much. Already have a book published? Well, great, but don’t let that stop you from growing, learning, fine tuning, and developing your skill. I have just published my second novel, written a dozen freelance articles, blogged for several years now and I still have so much to learn.
  5. You will discover new venues for your writing. I had never contemplated writing magazine articles, but through a connection made at a conference, it has become one of my most lucrative and consistent writing assignments.
  6. You will discover that there is no one magical way to success. As a matter of fact, you may hear conflicting information and it will be up to you to chew up the meat and toss out the bones. In other words, take in what you can digest and leave the rest to gnaw on later.
  7. You will come to understand that there is no substitute for hard work and determination. You’re going to have to pay your dues, face disappointments, perhaps experience unfair criticism and rejection. Then you get to decide whether you will use those experiences as stepping stones to the next level, or allow them to be stumbling blocks.
  8. You may discover that your journey is worth enjoying on the way to where you’re going. It may become apparent that some of the best things in life can not be rushed. After all, timing IS everything and your day is coming.
  9. How you measure success may be adjusted. This was a huge one for me. I didn’t think I could call myself a real writer until I had been published and paid for my work. I didn’t think I could call myself a successful author until my books were traditionally published and sold in high numbers. I now have a different measure of success. I simply want to know that I’ve made a difference in the lives of those who have read my written words.
  10. Finally, you will find that your focus has changed. Your dream of writing no longer lives in your peripheral vision. Instead, this thing known as word-weaving has taken a prominent place in your life and will resist being boxed up and put away for another day.

(Learn more about Stephanie and her writing on her blog (Stephanie Rodda – Pondering Faith and Family) at
https://stephanierodda.wordpress.com/

And read her devotional writings on her Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/StephanieRoddaWritings/posts/1252663158185948:0 )