“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kristina Holmes of The Holmes Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.
This installment features Kristina Holmes of The Holmes Agency. She began her literary career at Ebeling & Associates, and after six years left to start her own venture. Fueled by a passion to bring meaningful books to the world, on January 2012, her agency was born. From her home base in Boulder, Colorado, she`s been positively impacting authors ever since. Find her on Twitter.
She is seeking: practical and literary nonfiction: health & wellness, business, spirituality, relationships, sex, nature, environmental issues, science, cookbooks, gift books, creative nonfiction and memoir.
(Find more cookbook literary agents.)
GLA: How and why did you become a literary agent?
KH: I had been interested in book publishing for some time, and a fortuitous opportunity to join a literary agency presented itself in late 2005. I came to love working as an agent and discovered that I am really good at it, too!
GLA: Why did you decide to launch your own agency in January 2012?
KH: I wanted to have full creative freedom in the authors I work with. Launching my own agency was also an opportunity for me to further express the purpose of my work: to partner with authors who are doing authentic, inspiring, revolutionary, and grounded work in the world, and to be personally of service by helping to publish books that can positively transform readers’ inner and outer lives.
GLA: Tell us about some notable books you’ve sold recently.
KH: Recently, I sold a beautiful book called Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles by writer Rivvy Neshama to Divine Arts Publishing. It’s a book of creative non-fiction — weaving short, true stories of everyday encounters that reveal the hidden presence and beauty of the sacred in our lives.
Another recent book is a gift book by popular blogger Alexandra Franzen called 50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome, which will be published by Sourcebooks in the fall of 2013. The book is a lot of fun and a total surprise for readers.
Coming out a couple of months from now, in May 2013, through Skyhorse Publishing, is bestselling author Crissy Trask’s second book, Go Green, Spend Less, Live Better: The Ultimate Guide to Saving the Planet, Saving Money, and Protecting Your Health. Crissy’s book explores how to save money — a minimum of $10,000 each year for the average family, and as much as $30,000 annually — through an eco-friendly lifestyle. Her book is very well-researched, with the exact money savings potential clearly outlined for each lifestyle option.
Another project I am really in love with is The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: His Reflections on Humanity and the Universe, by editors Walt Martin and Magda Ott. The book pairs some of Einstein’s rarest philosophical writings with staggeringly beautiful photographs of the cosmos, and will be published by Sterling later this year.
Finally, in the business realm, I recently sold a book called Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Assistants to Create More Time, Increase Your Productivity, and Build Your Dream Business by Chris Ducker, a popular blogger and owner of the largest virtual assistant company in the Philippines. His book is a guide for entrepreneurs on how to how to hire, train, and work with virtual assistants, and will be published by BenBella Books. I feel honored and excited to be able to work with such a diverse group of dedicated, inspiring authors who are so fully sharing their gifts with the world.
GLA: Besides “good writing” and “voice,” what are you currently looking for and not receiving? What’s on your wish list and why?
KH: Many people want to become published, but finding writers who explore profound subjects, or explore their topic in a deep and highly considered way, is less common. I’d love to represent more books that explore healing, perhaps of a sort that isn’t always comfortable or popular to talk about — whether around psycho-spiritual health, sexuality, death and dying, or grief. I also would like to find more books that explore counter-intuitive or common sense approaches to business, as well as books on creativity, either as interesting, illustrated gift books or literary nonfiction.
GLA: On your website, you mention “each book embodies a certain magic that the world needs.” How do you know you’ve discovered the “magic”?
KH: For me, it’s the signals that pop into my heart that I pay the most attention to. With every book I’ve represented and helped to publish, I’ve felt a certain intuition about them — not only that this is a book I could find a great publisher for, but is a book that readers would be truly interested in and inspired by. With each book I choose to represent, how I come to that decision is part science and part magic. On the one hand, there are the experience-based, “left-brain” factors involving the strength and originality of the book concept, and the author’s background, and how I think publishers and readers will react to the book. On the other, there’s the simple feeling I have in my heart about the book. Am I inspired by it? Does it move me?
GLA: Your agency specializes in inspiring and insightful practical and literary non-fiction. For new non-fiction writers submitting query letters, what do they need to impress you?
KH: When I receive a new query, I’m hoping to discover that you: 1) have a deep mastery and understanding of your topic, 2) have a long-burn passion for what you are sharing, 3) have clearly and concisely expressed your book concept, and 4) have developed an authentic and original writing style. I also hope to see that, whatever you’re doing in your career — whether you’re a writer by profession, or you work in another profession, of which this book is an extension and an expression — you’re doing it out of a deep rooted vision and inspiration. Practically speaking, I appreciate queries that are no longer than 3 to 4 paragraphs and highlight your professional training and platform.
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GLA: Is there a set number of Twitter followers, personal website hits and/or media exposure one must have in order for you to give a writer’s book a chance?
KH: No, not really. I do tend to focus on authors with a developed platform, often with a diversified platform (meaning they might be speakers who also have a popular blog, and/or are regularly featured in the media). However, when it comes to platform, it’s my feeling that “the numbers” are only one aspect of the conversation. The depth and quality of connection the author is making with their audience is often as important as the size of their audience. I would suggest that one of the most important things to consider when it comes to platform is what your work is about at the deeper, foundational levels, and who your primary audiences are. Understanding the relevance of your work to your readers and learning how to communicate that understanding is critical.
GLA: What are your platform building tips for new authors?
KH: I suggest reading and researching about platform building, author branding, and book marketing on a regular basis — not just when you’re getting started, but as you continue to develop your platform. There is so much information available online … take some time getting familiar with what’s possible.
Talk to published authors about what they’ve done and what has and hasn’t worked for them. Successfully published authors are the true sages when it comes to effective platform building and book marketing.
I suggest, as a first starting point, that you build a simple, user friendly, attractive website — whether or not you intend to do online marketing. Your website serves several purposes, but from my perspective, it’s an essential part of building a platform as an author.
Know that you’re probably not going to be able to do “everything” when it comes to your platform. Meaning, you likely won’t have the time or motivation to run 14 different social media accounts, and pitch the media regularly, and scout guest blogging opportunities daily, and build your email subscriber list, and fly across the country frequently to give talks. While some in publishing might disagree, I feel you’re much better off focusing on a few ways to develop your platform that feel inspiring and do-able, and concentrate your efforts there. It will not only be more manageable, but will allow you to build strength in those areas, which you can always grow and develop in further ways.
Finally, on a related note — don’t do anything that feels icky. If you’re trying to build your platform in a certain way, and it feels fundamentally wrong for you — don’t do it! You’ll never be great at it and it will feel horrible the whole way through.
GLA: In your opinion, what are the five top things a new author requires to survive in today’s publishing world?
KH: Take the time to create a really great book. Don’t rush the process. Create a truly original book — one only you can write based on your own unique experiences and background. And find a great editor to help you.
Tune out negative messages — whether online from bitter authors or journalists celebrating the “demise” of book publishing, or friends and family who aren’t supportive of your dreams. While it’s essential to understand the potential challenges you may encounter on the path to publishing, I suggest focusing on advice and feedback that is fundamentally positive and solution-focused.
Increasingly, effective book promotion is moving online, so I suggest getting familiar with digital technology, web promotion, blogging, email marketing, and other opportunities for building your platform and promoting your book on the Internet.
At the same time, try to not get overwhelmed by the pressure to develop your platform. You know down deep to what degree you want to develop your platform, and whatever you want is okay. You don’t necessarily need to do what everyone else is trying to do, or what you’ve heard you need to do to publish your book. Believing in yourself, and your own path, is key.
Create your publishing dream team. This would be a group of people who can help support you in various ways, including creative brainstorming, feedback, and accountability. Preferably, this would be comprised of individuals who work in book publishing, the media, online publishing, editing, or some other communications related field.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
KH: I’m currently not scheduled to attend any upcoming conferences.
GLA: Is there something personal about you that writers would be surprised to discover?
KH: My father developed Alzheimer’s when I was in my late teens, and I spent the next decade in process with him until his death. Experiencing this disease through him — someone I dearly loved, and still do — changed me forever. I learned so many things through his courageous journey — about life, death, loss, grief, love, compassion, service. Most of all, I learned that, while most everything in life eventually falls away, love is one thing that never dies.
GLA: Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
KH: When you’re just starting out as an author, there can be a tendency to rush the process and try to find the quickest path to getting your book published. While that’s an understandable impulse, it is important to take your time.
When you’re just starting out, there are three things I recommend:
1) Become highly informed about book publishing
2) Define your intentions and vision as an author
3) Fully commit to your vision and to the publishing process
Particularly if you want to publish with a well-known publisher, and hope to sell a lot of books, it’s important to become as informed as possible about what is involved. Even after years as an agent, I am surprised by how many authors query me with misinformed ideas about book publishing. Being misinformed — or uninformed — is, in my opinion, a recipe for disappointment. Agents and publishers simply don’t have the time to educate authors about publishing, and it’s not our role or purpose. Most of us truly care about our books and authors, but we’re also engaged in our work to earn a living. Expecting an agent to educate or coach you on the fundamentals of your writing, book concept, platform, or marketing plans, is unrealistic. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to do your research and talk to people that are in some way involved in book publishing, and do as much homework as you can before reaching out to an agent. You may be eager to publish, but if you skip this step of becoming highly informed and prepared for what lies ahead, you may encounter unnecessary frustration and disappointment.
The second step I recommend is to think carefully about what your intentions are as an author. What do you want to achieve, and what are you able to and enthusiastic about giving to the process? Notice, I didn’t say “willing” to give to the process — you need to be truly enthusiastic! There are many questions to consider as an aspiring author. The time to define and answer those questions is at the beginning. Your intentions can, and likely will, change down the road. But at least you’ve thought things through and have created a vision that will guide your decisions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, commit to the vision you set. In my experience, publishing requires a sort of fierce devotion. Before you ever begin querying agents, have an honest conversation with yourself about how truly passionate you are about your book. Can you devote yourself to the publishing process — perhaps several years worth of time, effort, sacrifice, and risk? Make that conscious decision to give it your all. As an agent, I can tell when an author has fully committed — when they’re “all in.” It shines through in the quality of their book concept, writing, and platform, and their clear thoughtfulness, professionalism, and brilliance.
Working through those three points is a strong and grounded start to beginning the book publishing process, and provides a foundation for real success as an author.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writing About Grief in Your Story or Novel? Here is Some Writing Advice.
- NEW Agent Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron Assoc. Seeks Clients Now.
- How to Help the Book Release of a Friend.
- How Training For a Marathon is Like Writing a Novel.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- “The Book Chooses the Writer.”
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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