Interview By Cindy HudsonLiterary agent Andrea Hurst has been around all sides of the publishing industry. She’s a published author, has worked as a freelance consultant for writers, and has spent some time in acquisitions and development for a publishing company before deciding to open an agency of her own six years ago. Located in Sacramento near the thriving publishing community of the San Francisco Bay Area, Andrea Hurst Literary Management represents authors in both fiction and nonfiction on a variety of subjects. Here’s her advice for writers seeking agent representation.
What do you look for in a writer when you’re deciding which projects you’d like to represent?
When I sign an author, I want a wonderful writer, a great manuscript, and if they’re writing nonfiction, a really good platform. But I also want someone I can work with, because we become a team. I love working with people who are motivated, open, flexible and who meet deadlines. I love giving authors ideas for changes to their proposals and having them come back with more. I love the brainstorming, the creativity and working with someone who will respect my opinion because agents are the bridge, and through experience we know what publishers are looking for.
What do you find the most challenging about working with authors?
Lack of professionalism. It’s so frustrating to get query letters and know that the writer didn’t even take the time to learn how to write a query letter. And it’s so easy to pick up The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, which is the best book I recommend for anyone getting started. It’s a crash course that can bring writers up to speed and put them above the slush pile immediately.
What challenges do you face once you sign a writer?
I would say 99 percent of the authors I’ve signed and worked with are wonderful. One of the biggest challenges comes when they realize I was telling the truth when I said publishers don’t market the book. Authors realize just how much they have to be involved and how hard it is.
You mentioned platform earlier. How important do you think platform is to helping you decide whether or not to represent an author?
For nonfiction, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most important, it’s 11. That’s mostly because I can sell a book to an editor, but the editor has to sell it to the marketing and sales people. That’s where platform comes in.
You also act as an agent for the Complete Idiot’s Guides is that correct?
I act as a packager agent for the Complete Idiot’s Guides and Everything Guides, which means I package a writer with an expert and then act as the agent. It’s a great way for writers to break in, and I’m always looking for both experts who can write and writers who don’t mind working with an expert.
How does a writer know if her idea might be good for a Complete Idiot’s Guide?
One of the first things is to go to the website, alphabooks.com, and make sure the subject or anything close to it hasn’t been done. The other thing is to think about whether it’s a large enough market for Idiot’s Guides to be interested. You also have to be able to follow a template very well. I have some writers who do one after the other after the other of these because they take to it.
What else should writers know about these guides?
They don’t give you a lot of lead-time; a writer usually has anywhere from three to six months to write the guide. The Idiot’s Guides pay a royalty as well as an advance. The Everything Guides just pay an advance. Again, it’s a great way for writers to break in, and it can be a good way to build a platform or a business.
Are there any specific topics in nonfiction you’re looking for now?
As long as someone has a good platform and a unique idea, I am interested in just about any area of nonfiction. One of the areas publishing seems to like right now is science meeting spirituality. I haven’t found anything I love in that yet, but I’d like to. Someone who has expertise in parenting along with a platform and a different slant would be great. Advice, relationships and health are very strong. I would love to find the next killer diet book.
Any other advice?
Go to conferences, meet agents and editors, learn your craft, go to the agents’ and publishers’ websites and study them. Christina Katz’s book Writer Mama talks about the importance of marketing and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. That’s what sells books. I have a tips section on writing a proposal on my agency website (andreahurst.com). I already mentioned The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, which is invaluable for finding agents. Serious writers should also join publishersmarketplace.com. Finally, don’t give up. Agents can’t work unless we sign good books.
Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her website and its companion blog, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.