Monday, July 19, 2010

Interview with Agent/Author Terry Burns

There isn't enough room in the post to list all of Terry's accomplishments. He has over forty published books not to mention magazine articles and anthology contributions. He received the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion for Beyond the Smoke, which was also nominated for the Western Writers Assn "Spur Award." His To Keep a Promise was nominated for the "Willa Award," bestowed by Women Writing the West (not for women only!) and was a finalist for the "Eppy," Epic's prestigious writing award for the e-book industry.

Being a fifth-generation Irish storyteller and a fourth-generation Texas teller of tall tales, it is no small wonder Terry is such a prolific writer.

He is also an agent with the Hartline Literary Agency, and was the agent for Jill Williamson, whose
By Darkness Hid was the recipient of the 2010 Christy Award for the visionary category.

Terry graciously accepted an invitation for an interview:

AC: You’ve worked for Hartline Literary Agency for four years. What made you decide to become an agent?

Terry: Joyce [Hart] was and still is my agent. But I was finding deals and bringing them to her to finish as well as helping some of my friends publish. She took note of that and asked me to join her and do it for the agency.

AC: Publisher’s Marketplace of Agents had you in the top five of agents who help debut authors get published. How many new writers have you helped to launch? How are they doing today?

Terry: I have helped over twenty debut authors get their start. All are doing well and most have published more than one book. One won a Christy, and two are bestsellers at their house.

AC: In your soon-to-be-released how-to guide, A Writer’s Survival Guide to Getting Published, you wear the hats of both writer and agent, so you understand the process from both sides of the table. What it the most common mistake you see among newbies seeking publication?

Terry: Not doing the necessary research to know who they are pitching to, what they want to see, and how they want to receive it. A bad submission has little chance of success, and generally just burns a bridge that a proper submission might have had success with.

AC: In the guide, you wrote of meeting Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. You learned a valuable lesson from this prominent New York agent. What was it?

Terry: Having an interview with him without knowing in advance that he did not represent what I was pitching. This led to me learning the comment I made above in “the most common newbie mistake.”

AC: I'm sure you get a lot of submissions. What are you looking for? What catches your eye and makes you want to represent someone?

Terry: I look for a good book, well written, where I can see the market for it and feel like I have the right contacts to get it into that market.

I get anywhere from 200-300 submissions a month and lots of them are good books. I can’t take that many, and other editors and agents are in the same boat. What that means is a good book just isn’t enough. It has to be an exceptional book. It has to be a unique subject that I’m not seeing a ton of books on, written in a unique voice, and it has to be written in such a way that it draws me in and keeps me in the story all the way through.

AC: What characteristics make up your “ideal” client?

Terry: One that is a team player, who is prepared to make necessary changes to their product, who has a realistic outlook of the time frame and realistic expectations, and one that is prepared to actively help market the book.

AC: What advice would you give a newbie about building a platform? About marketing? Do you have any encouraging words for newbies whose proposals are dismally bare?

Terry: Too many new writers feel like they don’t need a website or social marketing, or trying to build a name for themselves until they have a book to sell. The truth is if we wait until we have a book in hand we are woefully behind the curve. By the time we start getting all of those things up to speed and set to market, the book has run its season and the publisher is moving on to other things.

Eighty-five percent of all manuscripts will never be significantly published. The people just aren’t prepared to do what they need to do to publish or to sell. This means the serious author who is working to improve their craft, building a name for themselves, making needed changes, and who has the patience to stay the course are only up against the fifteen percent of authors who are similarly motivated. Much better odds than most people think they face.

AC: As a writer, what are you most proud of?

My book, Mysterious Ways, had an unusual ministry when it came out. I started receiving letter and emails from convicts who said they thought they were beyond redemption until they realized the truth of the character in the book that they identified with. They realized there was a chance for them and told me of the steps they had taken to turn their life around. Those few notes were terribly rewarding.

Thanks, Terry. We appreciate your taking the time to participate in this interview!

To obtain contact information for Terry as an agent, click Hartline Literary Agency or to find out more about him and his books, go to Cowboy Musing.

The Writer's Survivor Guide to Getting Published (Port Yonder Press, 2010), Terry covers topics such as: writing an eye-catching query letter, pitching effectively to an agent or editor, developing a broad platform, and preparing winning proposals and market plans. The information in this book is invaluable!

This book can be pre-ordered at Terry's "bookstore." While you're there, check out his other titles!
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