Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Work Behind the Scenes by Terry Burns

There are a lot of things about being an agent that I really like. First and foremost is probably helping writers get their work out in front of readers, particularly Christian writers. I don’t mind making a little money in the process but that’s not why I do it. I like helping debut authors get started and often rank high on the list of agents placing debut authors. I probably do too much of that if I want to make any money at it, but again money is not why I do this.

I like presenting to conferences and workshops. Way back when I took a test to see what my special gifts are and one of them was the gift of encouragement. When I work these events I’m always looking for a good project to represent, but more than that I’m doing it to encourage writers.

I look at lots of submissions, several hundred a month, and this is a two edged sword. I like seeing what people have to offer, marvel at the creativity I get to see. But I hate having to tell them I can’t represent them. I get quite a bit that is really not ready to go, but I also get a lot of writing that is good and I wish I could do something with it. But it is either something I just am not working in a market for it right now, or even though it is good, it isn’t good enough to compete with other projects that are being submitted at the same time. That’s a shame but it is how the business works.

I’m also sorry that I can’t give them an in-depth response on why and on what they could do to better it. I’d love to be able to do that, but I just don’t have time to critique hundreds of submissions. It just isn’t possible.

I’m not crazy about doing the business part, and neither are authors. My clients depend on me to do a lot of things they want to do, but some things they have to do for themselves. Fortunately there is an awesome lady in the central office, Elizabeth, that does a bunch of it for me and I greatly appreciate it.

Another hard part I don’t think many people realize or appreciate. The simple task of keeping track of all the balls that are up in the air. Now you have to understand that my degree (and the graduate work that I did) is in business with a minor in accounting. My personal books are a full set of double-entry books that I have kept since the 60’s. I have good records.

I carry that over into being an agent. The central office helps me keep track of the money as it all goes through them. But the double-entry bookkeeping has carried over into tracking projects. I keep two databases: one is alphabetical by client where I track all of the submissions that I have out for them and the other is by editor/publisher where I track all of the submissions made to them. That gives me a check that hopefully keeps me from dropping the ball on something that has been submitted. Unfortunately something still falls through the crack now and then and I really, really hate it when that happens.

I do the same thing with incoming submissions. I do respond to all submissions so if somebody hasn’t heard from me in 90 days they should follow up because I usually respond much sooner than that. Again, that log is to help me keep from dropping the ball, but again it happens now and then.

I don’t want to do all this record keeping but even more so I want to keep these dropped balls at a minimum. Just thought you might like to know a little more about what’s happening behind the scenes.


Diana Flegal said...

It really is a juggling act! I add my thanks to yours for Elizabeth in the main office :-) she is such a huge help! I too hate those dropped balls. :-(

Terri Tiffany said...

Thanks Terry, this helps to understand how busy agents are and I appreciate the hard work. A long time ago I submitted to you and you were very kind and helpful to me.

Linda Glaz said...

I have to WORK at organization. And fighting the computer all day. SIGH!

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

I love seeing not just the hard work and skills that agents need, but also the heart. Thank you Terry for showing both.