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Why Christian SpecFic writers should skip the agent hunt

Conventional wisdom says writers “must” find an agent first. Since I covered the stock market for several years, you’d think I would have learned that conventional wisdom is often untrustworthy. Nevertheless, I spent several years hunting for an agent for my grownup Christian fantasy series.

Figuring if I were going to start, I might as well start with the top of the list, I sent my proposal to some of the biggest names in the business. It was only then, early on, that was I told–by two of the top names in the field–that my writing wasn’t quite good enough. Almost, but no. Still, a rejection with feedback is a gift, and I not only took it to heart, I took it to my manuscript, and then took my manuscript to my critique partners.

After that, every rejection pretty much amounted to some variation on “there’s just no market for that.”

The story is for grownups, and the only fantasy that sells is for teens. (But what about Brandon Sanderson and Karen Hancock and, like, half the authors at Marcher Lord Press and Splashdown Books?)

The heroine is a prophet, which is too inaccessible. (Someone forgot to tell Keven Newsome and R.J. Larson.)

The heroine is a clergywoman, and many Christians disapprove of that. (Erm…OK, you got me there. That’s me being contrarian.)

I persisted until we heard Janalyn Voigt’s story. She got agent representation after her book was accepted for publication. Prior to that, she had heard, as so many of us have, “There’s no market for that.”

Yet we know there’s a market for Christian SpecFic. We are in the market for Christian SpecFic. We see our Fellowship comrades and others publishing Christian SpecFic. Speculative Faith has a whole library full of Christian SpecFic.

So don’t tell me there’s “no market for that.”

But thanks to some inside information (from one of those top-of-the-list agents), I learned that titles in this market often sell in the hundreds, not in the thousands like some other genres. Our own Diane M. Graham confirmed that by bravely sharing her sales figures.

So when agents say “there’s no market for that,” what they mean is “the market for that is too small to be worth my time.” Which is fine. They are businesspeople just like the rest of us and have to make the decision that’s best for their business.

And we have to make the decisions that are best for us. Increasingly, that seems to mean forgoing the agent and going straight to editors who are open to submissions from unagented authors.

At least, that’s what worked for me. How about you? What are you hearing from agents you query or pitch?

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About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

5 comments on “Why Christian SpecFic writers should skip the agent hunt

  1. Kristen,

    I had an agent at one time…but she never sold my book. Whether or not she might have if things had fallen out otherwise, I don’t know.

    I’m self published now, and–if give-aways count, I’ve “sold” hundreds of my books. I’m working on selling hundreds more. We’ll see if I ever figure out how to make money off selling though! LOL

  2. […] week I said that instead of trying to find an agent, new Christian writers of speculative fiction are better off going straight to small presses that don’t require agent […]

  3. Hi, Kristen. Sorry I missed this when you posted it. I’m glad you’ve found your way into publication. I feel I should caution writers that we’re all on different paths, so what worked for me might not translate into success for someone else. You are correct that fantasy titles sell less quickly than books in more popular genres, however building a loyal readership who ‘gets’ and values your writing is a reward all on its own.

    Having said that, authors published by small presses or imprints are usually at a disadvantage compared to self-published authors and those published by larger houses when it comes to becoming known. There are marketing avenues, stats, and pricing controls available to indie authors that traditionally-published authors often can’t touch. And authors with larger houses can leverage their publisher’s platforms and klout. This is all something to take into consideration when deciding where to focus your efforts to become published in speculative fiction.

    My best advice is to pray and walk, one step at a time, in the direction you are pointed.

  4. […] The other criterion for inclusion here is that the publisher accepts unagented submissions. That’s because it’s so difficult for a new writer to get an agent in this genre. […]

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