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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