Interview with May speaker Terry Burns

Agent and author Terry Burns will be speaking in OKC on May 22 doing an AGENT Q&A. To whet your appetites for this event, I got Terry to share answers to some questions for us early. :)

OCFW: For our members who are new to writing and publishing, what does an agent do?

Terry Burns:
• Agents serve as the initial screen, filtering out inappropriate, inept and near-miss projects. Good agents match projects with prospective publishers, saving the editors from having to wade through worthy submissions that just aren’t right for their imprints.
• An agent will send your work to the right editor, help you choose the right publisher & editor, negotiate the terms of your contract and make sure the publisher keeps you informed on the book’s progress.
• Agents build relationships with editors. They get to know the acquisition editors and gain credibility with editors. They meet with editors at CBA and sometimes visit the publishing houses.
• An agent typically can get a larger advance and royalty rate for you. Signing the contract is only the beginning. You have to maintain the contract. The agent checks the royalty statement for accuracy. Also she/he can ask for the check from the publisher when it’s due. The agent can guide you through knowing what rights to release and what to hold back.
• Response time is much quicker for an agent.
• The right agent can help your career development by associating your talent with future deals.
• The agent can act as a sounding board for the author, give suggestions, and provide specific input to keep you selling. There is a lot of value in being able to discuss your manuscripts with a professional.
• Perhaps the best criteria for measuring agents is communication. You should feel your agent expresses an understanding of your work & your goals.
• Because the fiction field has become so competitive, and publishers are so busy, more and more are relying on agents. For publishers, agents act as “first readers”.
• It used to be that editors were allowed to develop authors. Now publishing
is so “Market Driven” the editors don’t have time for this anymore. It’s up the agents.

OCFW: How is an agent different than a publicist?

Terry Burns:
An agent is concerned with the publishing of the books - a publicist is in the business of assisting with promotion, visibility and book sales.

OCFW: How can a writer know they are ready for an agent?

Terry Burns:
I recommend that a new writer query both editors and agents. It can be easier to connect with a small house than to find a good agent, and a majority of writers publish before they get an agent. But the author should restrict their contacts to small houses that want to work with authors. The usual result from a larger house that says they accept submissions through agents is usually burning a bridge that later an agent could use to make a sale.

OCFW: You are both a writer and agent - how do you balance your two careers?

Terry Burns:
Being an agent cuts into my writing time significantly, but I still manage to get a book or two out each year. Just have to carve out the writing time and protect it, not unlike other people who have to balance a full time job with finding time for their writing. Most agents come out of publishing rather than out of writing which meant I had ground to make up in having contacts, but it also means that I am much closer to my authors. It is probably the reason that I generally rank toward the top of the Publisher's Marketplace list of agents who have sold the most debut authors. I like to do it.

OCFW: Can you tell us a little bit about your own books that are out right now?

Terry Burns:
My YA book "Beyond the Smoke" just won the Will Rogers Medallion as the best western themed youth book of the year. "Saint's Roost" is a delightful historical romance set in the Texas Panhandle where the history of the little town is as interesting as the story itself. Finally, "On The Road Home" is the first of a four book series from a small press that is publishing my "collected short works." Each book has poetry, short stories, and a novella in the back of each book. This book just came out.

Thanks, Terry, and we look forward to picking your brain on May 22!


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