William wrote and asked, “Can you tell us why you became an agent?”
Okay…I got into agenting by accident. I was making my living as a freelance writer, collaborating on books with some great Christian speakers (David Jeremiah, Bruce Wilkinson, Howard Hendricks, Joe Stowell, etc). I had worked as an editor, and knew about writing books, so I felt confident about the "word" side. But something had always stuck in my craw—the fact that when I did my first book
deal, I simply didn't know what I was doing. The editor called me on the phone, made me an offer, and…I was stumped. I had no context for deciding. Was this a good deal? A bad deal? Normal? Incredible? No idea. So I said yes, wrote the book, and started doing my research on the "business" side.
Over the next couple of years, I got a great education. I learned about printing and publishing. I studied contracts and read up on intellectual property rights. I did my doctoral work in Organizational Development, so I'm fairly well organized, and good at seeing the big picture. I began doing talks at writer conferences about "how to make a living writing" and "how to get your writer's business going." Pretty soon writers were asking me things like, "Would you take a look at this contract?" and "How would you handle this publishing situation?" In essence, I became an agent without realizing that's what I was doing. (And I was doing it for free!)
The thing is, I have always had a heart for mentoring/discipleship. It's sort of been my ministry, and since I've spent my life as a words guy, I was naturally drawn to helping writers with things like career decisions, contracts, and proposals. And I suppose if I have a strength (a topic that could be debated), it would be simply that I get along with people. So pretty soon I was putting people together, assisting
authors and editor friends.
About that time Harvest House Publishers offered me the job of Senior Editor. I took it, not really knowing what that meant. Loved the company, generally enjoyed the role, but realized after a couple of years that what I really wanted to do was represent authors. (And I had three kids who were in school at the time – meaning, "How am I going to pay for my kids to attend college when I'm working for a
Christian publisher?") So Patti and I began talking about what I should do, and voila! The folks at Alive Communications came to Eugene and took me to lunch. They asked the question, "Have you ever though about becoming an agent?" and I was quick to say, "Where do I sign up?" I just knew it was the right thing, and I felt "prepared" to do the job.
Spent several years at Alive, then made the mistake of leaving agenting in order to go be a publisher for Time-Warner. (Don't ask. It's a great company with good people — but in many ways I wasn't a fit for it.) Now I'm happy being back at agenting, and I can't really see myself doing anything else. Started my own agency four years ago, and it's gone incredibly well. I love the mentoring side. LOVE working with authors. Love talking trends and "what sells/what doesn't." Love helping craft proposals. Love making friendships with editors and doing deals with them. Love mapping out author careers. (Folks have sometimes complained that I don't work with enough people, but I enjoy doing what I do, and feel called to it, and don't feel I could give my best to a huge group of folks.) I had the chance this past year to go work for a couple other publishers, but really felt my calling was to go back to working with authors full time. In my view, the best agents (and there are some really good agents) view their work as a calling, not a part-time career choice.