Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Interview with Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Literary Agency

Steve Laube is a 28 year veteran of the bookselling industry. He began in the bookselling arena and his store in Phoenix was named the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) "Store of the Year" in 1989. He then spent 11 years with Bethany House Publishers rising to the position of an editorial director. In 2002 he was named the AWSA Golden Scroll Editor of the Year. The next year he became a literary agent and in 2004 formed The Steve Laube Agency.


Welcome to Seekerville Steve. From your background we can see that you have the experience to sense what Christian readers look for in their literature. What specifically are you looking for in a client?


Thank you for the invitation. I hope my words will be of help to your readers.

We are looking for that author who has the ability to communicate their stories or ideas on paper (a great writer). Someone who has a sense of the market and knows where they can fit best. A person who is passionate about their calling and who are in this for the long haul.

How many new authors do you take on each year? Are you interested in submissions from new authors? (click here to see guidelines for submission)

I won't say no unless I've seen it. But I say "No" about 99.99% of the time. Our office receives nearly 2,000 proposals, in the mail, each year. Every one of them gets read by an outside reader, then each passes over my desk for final judgment.

I cannot quantify the amount of new clients we sign. It varies from year to year. We have finite resources, but I'm still looking for the "next best." But I don't hide who we represent. A quick look at our web site (www.stevelaube.com) will show the amazing authors we are privileged to be working with.

How much impact does winning a contest have on your consideration of new authors? Should they mention this in their query letter?

It depends on the contest. I once placed third in a drawing contest in elementary school, but I'm definitely not an artist.

However, if the contest is of some substance where the competition has a wide reach, then, by all means, mention it.

Query letters are notoriously difficult to write succinctly. Adding one more thing to the barrage of information may only muddy your effectiveness....unless the award is of significance.

How much impact does meeting a new author at a conference have? Does this give them an edge when submitting into the slush pile?

The bottom line is whether or not you can write. There are those who can talk their way out of jail, but not many can write their way out of jail.... So while you may be extraordinary in person, if you cannot execute the idea on paper, the market won't get too enthused.

That said, I'm a firm believer in writer's conferences. It is one of the few places you can learn from the best and network with other writers who can become lifelong friends.

The conference is also a safe place to fail. Even fail spectacularly! That is one of the best ways to learn. I know of a writer who recently said to me, "Steve, I remember the first conference where you saw my first horrible manuscript. The for the next six years, at subsequent conferences, you saw every new idea I created. Then one magical afternoon you read my work, tapped its pages, and said, 'This is the one.' And that manuscript became my first published book."

Is it important to you to see that a prospective author/client has publicity contacts in place? What things are most helpful? Blogs, Myspace, Facebook, website, etc.

An aggressive self-promoter can be attractive. But only if it makes sense. Too often I find authors have spent more time on the "cool factor" of Twittering and Blogging and haven't spent enough time learning how to write their own book!

At the very least, have a web site (use your name as the URL if you can).

If a book you represent is contracted for a movie, do you handle that or do you sub-contract with a film agent?

So far I've handled this myself. But I have consulted with an entertainment attorney if I had any questions. This is such a rare occurrence in our business. Everyone thinks their novel would make a great movie. But so few are optioned by a producer and even fewer are actually produced. In the Christian market where I focus my efforts you will note that nearly every "major" film based on a book was a book written by a bestselling author. Popularity begets popularity.

You have been a bookseller, editor and now an agent. What are some of your favorite experiences in this business?

I love the world of ideas. I always have. To see an idea get planted and then grow into something special in book form is enormously gratifying. Off the cuff I can name some favorites...

To see a first time, never before published, author like Cindy Woodsmall hit the NY Times bestseller list with her novels.

To discover new talent like Dave Meurer, Tricia Rhodes, Rene Gutteridge, Rebecca Barlow Jordan, Donna Partow, and Laura Jensen Walker at a writers conference and see their careers flourish.

Listening to Randy Ingermanson and John Olson pitch their idea for a cool science fiction story about a manned mission to Mars. Then having that book win the Christy Award!

Pulling a manuscript out of the slush pile at Bethany House and publishing Ellie Kay. Now to see her on national media ("Nightline," etc.) helping people with their personal finances.

Publishing Karen Hancock's first novel and then watching her win the Christy Award for the best Fantasy novel four years in a row.

The privilege of editing, acquiring, or representing extraordinary and talented writers like Calvin Miller, Norm Geisler, H. Norman Wright, Bill Bright, David Gregory, Antony Flew, Martha Bolton, Larry Christenson, John Rosemond, William Backus, Michael Reagan, John Michael Talbot, dc Talk, Stephen Miller, Judith Pella, Gilbert Morris, Kathy Tyers, Cec Murphey, Tracey Bateman, Lisa Bergren, Allison Bottke, Leslie Vernick, Jack Cavanaugh, William Lane Craig, Karol Ladd, Susan May Warren, and so many others. I risk leaving out so many friends in this paragraph!

To be the editor behind the last two revisions of the classic Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin. The first revision with general editor Hank Hanegraaff. The second revision with Ravi Zacharias. And then as an agent working with the Walter Martin estate to create an incredible new reference book on the occult called The Kingdom of the Occult (published by Thomas Nelson).

In my bookselling days I remember the few who would come back a few weeks later and thank me for recommending a certain title. One young fellow said that the first book we sold him set him on a path which has him ministering as a pastor.

Thank you for that trip down memory lane! It is humbling to recite the list. The Lord has been overly generous.


Your website is packed full of useful information and advice for writers. He has links to writer’s conferences, schools, books, and an extensive description of the Christian bookseller industry. Is there anything else you might like to add for writers who are close to publication?

Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers talks of a common secret to success. Ten years or ten thousand hours. He noticed that so many "overnight" success stories were actually the result of working at something for ten years or ten thousand hours. Writing is much the same way. Some are born with the gift and snap off brilliant material for years. But most of us have a kernel of the gift that we can nourish and develop into something worthwhile. Having the perseverance to see that through is one of the secrets of success for a writer.

Thank you for joining us today in Seekerville. Mr. Laube won’t be blogging with us due to prior commitments, but if you ask questions, I will forward them to him this afternoon and post his answers on the blog this evening (Arizona time). Be sure and check out his website. There is an extensive interview that answers any question you can think of in this business.


Since Mr. Laube is a fellow Phoenician and its in the triple digits here, we're offering ice cold cappuccinos to give us a boost. I've also put out a spread of blueberry blintzes and a dish of tropical fruit-mangoes, papaya, berries and chunks of pineapple.


41 comments :

  1. Wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing! Especially useful since ACFW is having an online course about researching agents/editors. I always love when an agent does an interview.

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  2. Thank you for the interview! I met him at a conference and he looked at my first chapter. He really impressed me with how kind and helpful he was.
    I just finished reading Sinner by Sharon Carter Rogers. Great story!

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  3. Thanks Sandra. I always gobble up what the agents have to say. But hmmmm. . . I'm seeing a trend here.
    a little something called "writing a great book" and perseverance!

    I'll pass on the iced capp and get something hot to drink, but the fruit is TDF!

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  4. Thanks for letting us get to know Steve Laube a little more. He sure has lots of authors to be proud of. What a list!

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  5. Thanks, Steve and Sandra, for a great interview! Steve's had a fascinating career handling all facets of getting books into readers' hands.

    Sandra, thanks for the yummy breakfast!

    Janet

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  6. Good morning Katie, Since agents become partners, it is always a great idea to get to know agents before you sign with them. Take every opportunity to meet agents at conferences, workshops, anywhere they appear.

    They say having an agent is like a marriage. You wouldn't pick a husband out of a book or off a website. You would want to get to know them.

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  7. Jessica, Glad you were able to meet Steve. Take every opportunity.

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  8. Debra, There definitely is a trend. You'll hear the same trend from editors.

    Guess I better add some hot coffee. I have Fair Trade coffee I bought at church. Its yummy. But I'm sticking to the iced coffee.

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  9. Eileen, Did you check out his website? Really folks, you need to see his list of resources. I found some great stuff to use.

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  10. Thanks Jennifer and Janet for stopping by.

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  11. Thanks Sandra, and thanks to Mr. Laube for sharing his time and expertise. I am headed over to his site with iced coffee in hand.

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  12. Steve, welcome to Seekerville, and thank you SO much for the wonderful insight into the world of publication!

    I, too, am a firm believer in writer's conferences, especially ACFW, where aspiring authors can meet and mingle with agents and publishers and truly feel as if they are part of the writing community ... not to mention gleaning invaluable knowledge, networking opportunities and true inspiration.

    Thanks for your valuable insight!

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  13. Hey Tina is it warming up in the mile high city? I love iced coffee when its hot out.

    Thanks for joining us Julie. I'm loving your book A Passion Denied. What a terrific series.

    Don't forget if you have any questions for Steve, fire away.

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  14. Good morning Steve and Sandra. Welcome to Seekerville, Steve!

    Thank you for insightful information. I'm certain you are innundated with queries. You have tremendous expertise in this area!

    Thanks for sharing.

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  15. thanks for the interview, steve. i really like it when agents make themselves available to the public in this manner! it's such a great way for authors to know you more personally to see if they might be a good fit eventually. thanks again!

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  16. Mornin' everyone. It is still morning isn't it? I'm moving slow this morning.

    Great interview Sandra and Steve. I always love to hear (or read) what an insider has to say.

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  17. Your comment about seeing a writer 6 or 7 years in a row encouraged me. I wondered if an agent would be interested in seeing someone after previously rejecting their work.

    Thanks.

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  18. Thanks, Sandra, for sharing the great interview with Steve. I had the privilege of meeting him at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in March. He knows the business, cares about his clients and is, as Jessica said, kind and helpful.

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  19. I like the Ten Year or Ten Thousand Hours....that's me. I wrote for TEN YEARS before I got my first book published.

    I did have twenty books done when I got that first contract, so it's not like I was tweaking one book all those years.

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  20. I liked getting the inside look at how Laube Literary works! I had no idea that Steve uses outside readers to preview his submissions. That's encouraging. But at the same time it appears that the chance of getting noticed through the query slush pile is pretty nill, at least through the Laube agency! Conferences seem to be a better way to make progress. Thanks for a great interview!

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  21. Not so sure, Jody. Mr. Laube said the outside reader goes first but then "each passes over my desk for final judgment". I found that encouraging.

    I guess my questions would be (1) whether he truly looks at all 2,000 submissions and (2) does he find that he and the outside reader have differing opinions? How is this handled?

    I appreciate the insights, especially the 10 years, 10,000 hours. I might be joining Mary, but I've learned so much along the way.

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  22. Drat. I soooo had planned that if I were every in jail I'd write my way out of it.

    Who says agents don't destroy our hopes and dreams and well crafted plans?

    :-)

    Since steve mentioned Malcolm Gladwell, let me recommend Gladwell's book BLINK. Read it and you'll never look at the first page of a book/manuscript the same again.

    Why is my word verification fluff? Is supposed to be some snarky compliment?

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  23. Ten years or ten thousand hours?

    H'mm. Puts it in perspective.

    That's a key take-away point.

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  24. Hi Audra, Jeannie and Mary, Glad you enjoyed the interview. It is interesting to hear the other perspectives in the business.

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  25. Hi Susan, I was interested in that comment also. I always thought once rejected, don't bother me again. But according to Steve, he likes to see an author's growth. I'll ask him about that this afternoon.

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  26. I'm glad you were able to meet him Keli. It makes a difference and if you hear them talk, you get a feel for what they are looking for.

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  27. Patricia, I'll fire those questions off for you. He said he would take his Blackberry with him and try to answer.

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  28. Steve, welcome to Seekerville!

    Nice to have you here and I'm loving the well-thought advice and the ice cold cappuccinos.

    Mine is topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle of course. So girly.

    Thanks for the insight and Sandra, thanks so much for inviting Steve to visit with us! It's always nice to have a boy in the house.

    ;)

    Ruthy

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  29. Gina, Ted Dekker wrote a novel entitled BLINK. How funny that they both had the same title. But then again, titles are generic.

    Warner published one of my novels that I had titled, Where the Eagle Flies, but they changed it to Dream Song because that month other publishers published Moon Song, Night Song, etc. Marketing I guess.



    Ann, Robin and Jodi, Thanks for joining us.

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  30. Hi Ruthy, I knew you'd jump on the cappucino. Starbucks has them in really sharp looking bottles that you can load into a cooler filled with ice.

    Whipped cream!!! Girlie is right.

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  31. Thanks. Great interview. Nice to meet you.

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  32. Great interview! I met with Steve at my last conference, and wow, he was so nice and sweet with a girl who really had NO Idea what she was doing and fumbled over pretty much every word! He gave me a few great pointers and asked good, thought-provoking questions. His clients are some VERY blessed individuals!!

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  33. Okay folks, We have answers to the questions.

    Susan commented on the fact he saw the same person again after a rejection. I asked him what his thoughts were about that and here is his response:


    I did not take that person as a client. The author only mentioned that I helped identify when she was ready.
    Note that this writer did not keep trying to improve the same story. Each piece I saw was different from the past.

    I had a situation where an author approached our agency a few times over a two year period. Always with something new. She met me at a conference as well. I ended up representing her work but was unable to sell it (the genre was no longer viable in the market).

    So what I think your reader is asking, "Does a previous rejection color your opinion of future submissions?" No it does not. As long as I see growth, creativity, and a willingness to take direction. What agents do NOT like is someone who has nine finished manuscripts and just keeps sending a new one after they receive a rejection letter. In nearly every case it means the author has written nine bad novels and is wasting the agent's time. ONLY send your very best. This isn't like throwing pasta at a wall and seeing if something will stick.


    Does that help Susan?

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  34. Patricia, here are the answers to your two questions:

    1) Everything passes by me for final review. Everything.

    2) Sometimes the reviewer and I disagree on a particular project. Sometimes the reviewer likes it and I don't. Sometimes the reviewer is critical and I'm not. But I do trust the review process. Having worked together for a number of years the reviewer knows what I'm looking for. But since I'm the boss, my opinion is the one that triumphs….

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  35. Thanks for joining us Krista and Shiela.

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  36. Hey, great interview. I'm from Phoenix too, and YEAH, it's hot, hot, hot here.

    Thanks for the honest answers. They were helpful.

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  37. HI Lynn, Can you believe these triple digit days. yikes
    Glad you enjoyed the interview.


    Be sure and check out Steve Laube's website too. Lots of great info about the publishing business.

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  38. Sandra, thanks for a great interview, and for passing on my questions.

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  39. Great interview! Very informative, and that "99.99" percent puts things in perspective!

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