Agent Advice: Steve Laube of The Steve Laube Agency

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Steve Laube of The Steve Laube 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 Steve Laube, founder of The Steve Laube Agency. Steve has been a bookseller for Berean Christian Stores, and an editor for Bethany House Publishers.

He is looking for
quality Christian fiction in all genres. For nonfiction, he is seeking fresh, new Christian ideas in all areas of material for adults. Please not do send any poetry, personal biographies, personal stories, end-times literature, or children’s picture books.


 

GLA: How did you become an agent?

SL: In January 2003 I was approached by Frank Weimann of The Literary Group to join his NY agency. His timing was impeccable as the publisher for whom I was an editorial director was being sold. I had been assured of an unchanged job under the new company, but when Frank’s offer came I saw it as an opportunity to try something new and exciting and I would not have to move. A little more than a year later, in 2004, I decided to branch out on my own and form my own literary agency.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

SL: Tough question since we are averaging a new contract every 10 business days. The most recent announced deals would include two nonfiction books by America’s Cheapest Family, Steve and Annette Economides, to Thomas Nelson. The first on saving money while grocery shopping and the other on teaching your kids about money.
The other major deal was the next two novels by Michael Phillips to FaithWords, a division of Hachette. Michael has over seven million books in print and is one of the icons of Christian fiction.

GLA: You have an extensive background with booksellers and the publishing industry and Christian books.  How does it all add to your style as an agent?

SL: I value that background in that it keeps me grounded by keeping the ultimate reader (the customer) in mind. I can still picture those people coming into the store asking for help with their book purchases. With that first in mind, it is further accentuated by having worked as an acquisitions editor and editorial director. It became evident at the publishing house that the marketing and sales directors are key to the success of a book. Therefore I always keep them in mind when creating a proposal for a client. First, will it ultimately work in the market?, and second, will it get past the marketing/sales team?

GLA: You seek Christian fiction in “all genres” except for kids.  What subgenres of Christian writing are relatively new/exciting and still have room to grow?

SL: A tough question because the market can shift rather suddenly. I think the entire general book industry was caught by surprise when chick-lit lost all momentum as a subgenre in a year’s time. A lot of publishers were caught holding and publishing books that no one wanted. Also the industry was surprised by surge in supernatural stories (i.e. vampires).

In the Christian market it was the acceleration of interest in Amish fiction that came, seemingly, out of nowhere. I have the privilege of working with Cindy Woodsmall (whose Amish stories have been on the NY Times bestseller list and she was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal last Fall). When we signed her, I was taken by the quality of her writing and the marvelous characters and settings she created. The “Amish” aspect made it unique, but at the time it wasn’t a “craze” yet. It is one of those times where we were ahead of the curve. And kudos to Waterbrook and editor Shannon Marchese for recognizing the value of the books and working hard to packaging them so perfectly.

GLA: On this subject, is Amish fiction considered Christian fiction?  Do they go together?

SL: Since the Amish fiction craze really started within the Christian market, yes, they go together. Bev Lewis wrote The Shunning back in 1997 and it was a huge bestseller. In many ways she pioneered the genre. Later Wanda Brunstetter became a force in the genre. Then in 2006 Cindy Woodsmall became part of this trio of top sellers and suddenly we had traction in the marketplace with three authors all selling significant numbers. Other publishers saw this have joined in the fray.

 

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GLA
:
A Christian agent once told me that Christian fiction does not have to be “over-the-top, hit-you-on-the-head” Christian writing, but can be a lot more subtle. Do you agree? 

SL: Your source is absolutely correct. In fact, it is a myth that Christian fiction is simply a sermon in story form. That may have been true 40 years ago but no more. There are some amazing writers whose literary acumen is as good as anything else found in the general market. I can easily recommend authors like Jamie Langston Turner (Some Wildflower in My Heart), Lisa Samson (Embrace Me), Tosca Lee (Demon: A Memoir), and Susan Meissner (The Shape of Mercy). I almost dare anyone to read these four books and then declare all Christian fiction weak and poorly written. Anyone who says that has not read the right books.

Few remember that Jan Karon’s Mitford series was originally published and distributed in the Christian market. The same with the incredible fantasy writer Stephen Lawhead. A more recent example would be Ted Dekker. His Spring release last year Boneman’s Daughter was on the NY Times list and that story is, in essence, a serial killer thriller.

GLA: Let’s talk nonfiction quickly.  It would seem that a subject like “restoring your faith” or “connecting with the Lord” has been done many different ways before. Is the key to getting your attention simply a fresh spin on an old topic?

SL: The nonfiction world is driven by the visibility (platform) of the author. There are exceptions of course, but today’s publishers are increasingly concerned with a built-in audience. For example, I had very little trouble selling Antony Flew’s There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. He was very well known in philosophical circles and his textbook God & Philosophy has been in print since 1968. In that case we had actually sold the manuscript before Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens created what Wired magazine called the New Atheism. So when Flew’s book hit the market in Fall 2007 it was perceived as a response when in actuality the book had been written before the topic was so popular.

An example of finding a niche without a prior platform would be Allison Bottke’s Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children (Harvest House). This book is selling more now than it did when it first came out two years ago. She found a topic that effects innumerable families: the “problem child” who is now an adult. Allison is a great marketer and created seminars, videos, and a S.A.N.I.T.Y. curriculum to go along with the book.

GLA: You say you don’t want any personal stories, but do you accept memoir?

SL: Good question. I’ve yet to see a memoir cross my desk that I think has the literary quality or the story to make it commercially viable. When I say “personal story,” I mean the “God saved me from Cancer” type of books which are legion. That isn’t to say that there are not quality memoirs in our market, that would be inaccurate. I’m only saying that I have not found one proposed to our agency.

I have a theory (and it is only a theory): In the Christian market, the memoir has struggled to find success. Why? I posit the reason is that everyone who has found vitality in their Christian faith is a miracle. I like to say that, in a group of Christians, if everyone were to tell their “story,” that group would end up have a worship service. The miracle of changed lives is extraordinarily compelling. But, why would you ever want to pay 15 bucks for my story? Who cares? The person on the pew next to me has a story that is just as compelling, if not more.

But in the general market, the memoir is usually a incredibly well-written story that dives into the depths of the angst of life and its sufferings. Unfortunately there is only a measure of redemption found … and if found, usually comes from within … some strength of character or circumstance that helps with their “redemption.” In many cases, this is very different from the journey of faith that a Christian would tell.
Like I said, this is a theory and if full of massive generalizations that are probably unfair. But I think you get the point I’m trying to make.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

SL: I will be the Writing for the Soul conference (Denver) in February 2010. The Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference (near Santa Cruz, CA) in March 2010. And the Desert Dreams Conference (Scottsdale, AZ) in April 2010.

GLA: How do you like to be contacted by writers seeking representation?

SL: Please review our guidelines on our website. I spell it all out in exhausting detail on the site.

GLA: What’s something writers would be surprised to learn about you personally?

SL: I lived the first 14 years of my life in Anchorage, Alaska (I was born there … before Alaska was a state). I experienced the famous Alaska earthquake (9.2 on the Richter scale) in 1963. Later we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where I went to high school. Then I moved to Phoenix to attend college and have never left. From the Arctic to the Tropic to the Desert. From the 49th to the 50th to the 48th state (New Mexico is #47 and I have no plans to relocate…).

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t covered?

SL: Become a student of the industry. It will help every writer to understand the process and make the entire experience more tolerable. Read my blog for occasional insight. Other greater and better blogs include those by Rachelle Gardner, Chip MacGregor, Victoria Strauss, etc.


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