Suzanne wrote to ask, “How do agents feel about being ‘talked about’ by their clients? I rarely see published authors mention their agents in conversations, or hear them say, ‘My agent told me…’ Is there a protocol for mentioning your agent?”
I think you should feel free to say, "Sandra Bishop is my agent” or “I’m represented by Amanda Luedeke.” Most agents don't mind at all being talked about by their authors. We might get nervous if you were giving it out to everyone at a conference ("Call my agent Chip with this idea – here’s his home number"), but aside from that, there's no problem with talking about your agent to people. However, if it makes you feel nervous, you can just pass around a note in gym class ("I like Chip – check X for 'yes' or Y for 'no'").
Joni wrote and noted, “In a recent column, you said that agents prefer ‘proven authors.’ But then you went on to talk about how tough it is to get published without an agent. How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I’m not published? How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I don’t have an agent?”
You know, on its face that might seem logically inconsistent… but it's not. At least, not in my view. What I mean by a "proven writer’ is someone who has proven themselves, whether by books, articles, a blog, e-zines, curricula, or what have you. Someone who has done enough writing to prove himself or herself to me. If you haven't proven you can write, then you're going to have a hard time finding an agent. That's what I meant. Not just proven by doing books, but proven as in "she has proved to everyone she can write, and she knows it."
Writing fiction has its own set of issues, and it's very hard to prove yourself apart from doing some books. Joining a writing group and doing well with them is a nice step. I don't know if there's a way to prove yourself apart from that with fiction – maybe by doing short stories in literary journals.
This is the classic author/agent question. You can’t get published unless you have an agent; but you can't have an agent unless you're published. A conundrum, to be sure. It is fair? Of course not. (Show me the Bible verse where God promises "life is going to be fair.") It's just one of those frustrating difficulties we live with.
Jim wrote this: “I’m just starting out and really want to get my Christian book published. What sort of advice do you have for me?”
To begin, you may find it helpful to begin connecting with other writers via an online web group. Try visiting the Yahoo group The Writers View, a Christian discussion group of more than a thousand writers who explore topics and questions each week. That's a nice place to start, and it's free. (If you’re not writing religious fiction, there are a bunch of other online groups you can locate.) You could also consider attending a writers' conference — check out something like the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference, or the Write to Publish Conference at Wheaton College. There are many others, but those are two excellent conferences. (If you’re writing a novel, you should definitely check out the American Christian Fiction Writers organization. They’re great, and their conference is happening in Indianapolis later this month.) A conference like that will give you a chance to meet other writers face to face, take some excellent writing workshops, and introduce yourself to editors and agents. And, of course, you can always choose to take a live or online writing class, just to improve your craft. You may want to check out a proven writing journal such as Writers Digest, which offers a TON of writing advice for very little money. There are a bunch of excellent writing books on the market, of course, and they can really help you hone your skill. If you need some suggestions – well, check the sidebar of this blog. And if you've got a writing group in your community, it's nice to be able to show our work to others and let them critique it once per month. That should get you started. Blessings on your writing journey.
By the way, literary agent and friend Janet Grant wrote about agents and authors today on her blog. I love what she had to say (and you’ll find all sorts of useful stuff on her blog anyway). Check it out at: http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/
And, while I'm thinking about it, novelist Ted Dekker often has interesting stuff to discuss on his Facebook blog. Today he's talking about "how much sex to insert into a novel," noting that his publisher in Holland just dropped his latest book for being "too sensual." He's got an interesting discussion going — as he often does on his Facebook wall. Check it out at: http://www.facebook.com/notes/ted-dekker/the-final-taboo-why-holland-has-banned-my-novel-immanuels-veins/431675774854
Finally, in case you can’t get enough Chip, Nicole Petrino-Salter interviewed me on her blog yesterday. It turns out I’m charming and acerbic. You can read the whole schlamozzle at : http://hopeofglory.typepad.com/into_the_fire/