Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Interview with Literary Agent Joyce Hart

Sandi Rog and Joyce Hart

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of publishing? Most big houses these days require an agent. This means, in order to get your manuscript onto a publisher’s desk, an agent has to see if first, and it’s the agent who (if they like your work or think it’s marketable) will send it on through those mighty publishing doors. 

So, what exactly does an agent do? 

Today, please welcome Joyce Hart from Hartline Literary Agency.

Joyce has been a literary agent since 1992. She was formerly the vice president of marketing of an inspirational publishing company, and, as the president of Hartline Marketing, has nearly thirty-five years of successful experience marketing and promoting books. Joyce has been a pioneer in selling high quality fiction to the inspirational market and has built an excellent rapport with leading inspirational publishers. A member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), Joyce is a graduate of Open Bible College, Des Moines, IA now merged with New Hope College in Eugene, Oregon. Joyce is based at Hartline Literary's Pittsburgh headquarters.

Joyce, we are honored to have you as our guest for an interview. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to share your knowledge with us.

Sandi: How do you define your job as an agent?

Joyce: We want to help our clients develop their careers. We hope when we sign with someone it’s for a long term relationship. One of my clients has been with me for 22 years and several have been with us for 10 or more years. I also see myself as an encourager. When the author gets discouraged about rejections, etc., I remind them of what a good writer they are. This is a tough business, especially in the last few years.

Sandi: How has the business gotten “tough” over the last few years? 

Joyce: There have been so many changes in the publishers. B & H closed their fiction line, now Harlequin has closed the Heartsong line, Harper Collins owns both Zondervan & Thomas Nelson, so their fiction is now Harper Collins Christian Fiction, thus there are less slots for fiction titles. Those are a few examples in the fiction market. In both fiction & non-fiction, platform is essential, good sales numbers for past titles are essential. With one publisher, they used to be happy with 5,000 in sales, now they want 20,000 in sales for each title. 

Sandi: Wow. You’re right. Getting published has gotten more difficult. You mentioned something about “platform.” Can you share with us what that is? 

Joyce: Platform used to mean you had to be out speaking and were well-known. Now platform also means you are on social media in addition to speaking, etc. Are you blogging, do you have a web site, are you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others as they become popular? You will be expected to do a blog tour once you get published. One publisher turned down one of our clients because she hadn’t been on her blog for 3 months. Interviews on other blogs are important too. Wherever you can get your name out there is important.

Sandi: Wow. When is the writer supposed to find time to write when they have to be involved with so much social media? You don’t have to answer that. There are a lot of expectations on writers these days. 

Can you share with us how you spend your day?

Joyce: Reading and answering-mails, sending out proposals, learning new things about this ever changing business, doing my best to keep up with trends. I usually do my reading evenings and weekends.

Sandi: How do you find new clients?

Joyce: We receive many queries via e-mail, most of which we reject. The best ways are either to meet an author at a conference or by referrals.

Sandi: What do you like to see in a cover letter?

Joyce: A short summary of the book, the author’s bio and publishing history, and how the author plans to market the book.

Sandi: What turns you off in cover letters? Any pet peeves? 

Joyce: The ones that say “this will be your next bestselling book” and the ones that tell us that God told them we would be their agent. I don’t mind people saying that, but for some reason they keep coming back to our agency. Maybe God has led them to us, and not always necessarily to be their agent, but to give them some solid advice.

Sandi: How savvy do you expect authors to be about publishing?

Joyce: It really helps if they know publishing. I prefer prospects to have been to writer’s conferences and to have taken online courses. If they write [Christian] fiction, it’s good for them to join ACFW [American Christian Fiction Writers] because of their many online resources. They need to know how to prepare a proposal.

Sandi: How flawless does a manuscript have to be before you will try to place it?

Joyce: It doesn’t have to be ready to go to the publisher. We’re willing to work with an author. We probably will suggest that they hire an editor. Most publishers want to see manuscripts that have been edited these days. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Sandi: What impresses you most about a piece of writing?

Joyce: Stellar writing, something that blows me away, whether non-fiction or fiction.

Sandi: What do you want from the writing itself?

Joyce: As in the previous question, something that blows me away. In fiction, something that touches me emotionally and keeps my interest. In non-fiction, I want writing that keeps me reading. Non-fiction needs to be accurate both with any kind of facts and theologically.

Sandi: Are first novels a hard sell?

Joyce: Extremely hard to sell these days. The publishers want an over-the-top platform.

Sandi: Are second novels a hard sell?

Joyce: It depends on how the sales of the first one were. It’s all about sales these days.

Sandi: Do you submit to an editor, or to a house? What’s the difference?

Joyce: For the most part we submit to an editor. This business works on relationships.

Sandi: How would the sale of a publishing house affect you as an agent? 

Joyce: It would depend. Sometimes they close out an entire line, such as the sale of Harlequin to Harper Collins and Heartsong was closed, and the editor lost her job. That’s tough, our agency had at least three authors who wrote for Heartsong.

Sandi: Finally, what do you enjoy most about being an agent?

Joyce: I enjoy the interaction with the authors and editors. Authors and editors both become good friends. I love books and I love reading our clients’ books. I love finding talented new authors and helping them develop their careers. I simply love what I do. When I started working for a Christian Publisher (Whitaker House) years ago, I found my niche in life. God is good, and I thank Him for leading me to work in Christian publishing.

Joyce again, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your knowledge and expertize with us. This is has been very helpful and enlightening. 

If you’d like to get to know Joyce better, and have a look at her submission guidelines, you can find her both on her BLOG and her WEBSITE

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bleeding on the Page

Sandy Tritt

Is writing an art or a craft? I've wavered on this, thinking one and then the other, but I believe the "truth" is that good writing must be both. A craft is something that can be learned, something that, with time and practice, can be improved upon. It is something that has basic rules and methods, such as using active voice, maintaining point of view, creating realistic characters, and writing sharp dialogue. It's what we give tip sheets to help explain; it's what we teach at writing workshops; it's what we comment on within the pages of your masterpiece. A good writer simply must have a good handle on the craft of writing.

But there is more to writing than craft. A perfectly crafted novel is not necessarily a good read. There is something more, something that oftentimes cannot be named but instead is felt, that separates a well-crafted book from an I-can't-put-it-down novel. In the 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Paul Gallico (author of The Poseidon Adventure) writes: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don't feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you're wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories."

That is what we do. We bleed on the page. We put our hearts and souls into creating not just a carefully crafted work, but a work of art. We don't create characters; we discover them. We get to know them. We don't decide what happens to them; we discover that, too. Whereas the craft of writing is a product of the brain, the art of writing is a product of the heart and the soul. The craft of writing gives structure to the end product while the art of writing is an exploration of The Truth and provokes emotion. Perhaps that is the greatest difference between craft and art—emotion. Just as viewing a great work of visual art can overwhelm us with emotion, reading a great work of literary art must also touch us deeply.

As editors, we love to nurture the artist in every writer. We love to highlight those passages that are exceptional and tell you how amazing they are—even if they need a little editing. We love to discover the great storyteller inside you and help give you confidence to continue to write and continue to hone your craft—so that you may, indeed, create a work of art.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Those Troublesome Words, Part 1: Lie, Lay, Raise, Rise, Sit, Set

Wilma Acree

There are two ways to distinguish between these words: (a) master their meanings and (b) learn which ones require direct objects (a noun or pronoun following the verb that receives the action of the verb). I use a combination of these methods.

            Lie (lie, lying, lay, (have) lain) means to recline or to remain in a fixed position. It needs no object. Examples:

                        Mrs. Jones lies down for a nap every morning. (She

                        She lay down late yesterday because she had a visitor.

                         Her book is lying on the nightstand. (It remains there).

            Lay (lay, laying, laid, (have) laid) means to put or place something down. It has an object. Examples:

                        Lay the dictionary on the desk. (Lay means put. Lay
                        what? Lay has an object, the dictionary.)

                        I laid the book there yesterday. (Laid means put. It has
                        an object, book.)

                        The workmen are laying carpet. (The men are putting
                        down carpet. Laying has an object, carpet.)

            What makes lay/lie even more confusing is that the past tense of lie is lay.

            Rise (rise, rising, rose, (have risen) means to arise; to get up; to go up. It does not require an object. Examples:

                        The sun has always risen in the east. (There is no object;
                        the sun does not have someone pushing it up)

                        Like the sun, stars rise in the east.

            Raise (raise, raising, raised, (have) raised) means to lift up, force up, put up, or to grow a crop. It must have an object. Examples:

                        Raise your hand if you have a question. (Raise means
                        put up. Raise what? Your hand. There is an object, so
                        raise is correct.) 

                        I raised the window yesterday to air out the house.
                        (Raise means put up. It has an object, window.)

            Sit (sit, sitting, sat, (have) sat) means to take a seat or to rest. It does not have an object. Examples:

                        I always sit in that chair. (I always rest my body there.
                       Sit what? There is no object.)

                        I sat by the window for hours. (I kept my body there. Sat
                        has no object.)

            Set (set, set, setting, (have) sat) means to place, to put, or to decide upon something. It requires an object. Examples:

                        Joan set the vase on the table. (She put the vase on the
                        table. Set what? The vase. Set has an object.)

                        Tom set the toolbox on the shelf. (Set means put; there
                        is an object—the toolbox).

             Lay, raise, and set require objects to receive their action. If a noun immediately follows the verb and receives its action, these are the correct choice. In addition, they each involve someone or something putting something. If you remember this, these troublesome words will be problems no longer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Stacy Tritt

It’s that time of year again. The scent of pumpkin spice and cinnamon apples permeate the air, the first frost of the season killed my chrysanthemums for good last night, daylight savings time changing gave me one more precious hour of sleep, and, most importantly, it’s noshavenovember National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! So grab your keyboards, it’s time to hunch over our laptops with some hot apple cider and quit finding excuses to not write!

Okay, so maybe you aren’t so gung-ho about dedicating yourself to writing 50,000 words before the end of the month. Well, that doesn’t mean you’re a complete party pooper. There are still ways to get inspired, get motivated, and get encouragement from fellow writers without having to participate in NaNoWriMo, at least on the surface. Because this blog is all about using the resources from NaNoWriMo to your advantage, whether you are actively trying to write a new 50,000 word novel in one month, or not.

There are so many wonderful resources the NaNoWriMo organization offers to the writing community. Here’s my take on the best they have to offer:

When you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you select which region you’re from, so no matter if you are in Paw Paw, West Virginia or in New York, New York, you can find some writers nearby with whom you can network, and with whom you can exchange encouragement. The best part about these local groups? Write-ins! I can’t explain how wonderful it is to sit around a table at the local library or coffee shop with a bunch of strangers while you all type away—different worlds being created behind each screen. The creative energy that flows forth at such a gathering is something I have never experienced in any other setting. Write-ins can have many different nuances depending on who plans it, and who attends. Fun caveats are often added, like everyone puts a dollar on the table, and the first person to write 500 words gets the money, or everyone is banned from getting up from the table until everyone has written 300 words. These types of activities not only encourage you to get more words on paper, but they encourage you to utilize the writers around you, and allow them to utilize you. By encouraging and supporting each other, we all become better, more effective, and efficient writers.

NaNoWriMo offers various other inspirational resources. The NaNoWriMo organization gets professional writers from all over the country to send out encouraging messages to the participants of NaNoWriMo each week, as well as sending out new ideas on how to refresh your drive to write. If that isn’t enough, there are virtual write-ins for those in areas where there are fewer writers, or for those who are afraid of meeting strangers in coffee shops to participate in write-ins.

Word sprints are also great tools NaNoWriMo participants use to get words on paper, because, let’s face it, without getting the words out on paper, it is impossible to ever edit it up to be a best-seller. Word sprints can be done individually, or in groups in person or online. The idea of a word sprint is to write a set number of words in a designated period of time. Only have a half hour to write today? Make that half hour count by challenging yourself to write 500 words in that time. Seem crazy, impossible maybe? Try it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can prove yourself wrong.

Some of you are probably wondering why these resources can’t be used by writers who don’t write long prose, or during months when everyone isn’t jumping on a writing marathon bandwagon. Here’s the best part: they can be! These resources can be personalized to any writer. If you’re a songwriter, great! Go sit around a table at a coffee shop with a bunch of other writers, and get the words to a new song down on paper before you leave. When January rolls around and you get snowed in, utilize writing sprints to get entire scenes written between hot cocoa breaks. The important thing is to forge friendships with fellow local writers now so that you can plan write-ins throughout the year. It is important to learn new techniques, to take advantage of new (and free!) writing opportunities, and, most importantly, to get yourself started on a regimen where you make time to write. NaNoWriMo isn’t just a trend, it is a resource for all writers, one which you should take advantage of while it’s available.

So, once you’re done reading this blog, head on over to, start meeting new writers, start learning new techniques, open up that fresh, new word document, and start writing! Your novel is waiting.