Andy Scheer is an editor, writer, and, since 2011, an agent with Hartline Literary. He served for eight years as managing editor for the Christian Writers Guild and eighteen years as an editor with Moody magazine.
Andy often teaches at writers' conferences and has been a judge for national writing contests.
He is a journalism graduate of Colorado State University and also studied at Denver Seminary.
As an agent, Andy is looking for a select few outstanding projects that "grab me and won't let me go until I place them with a publisher."
For fiction, this means a memorable blend of characters, setting, and storyline—delivered with carefully crafted prose. For nonfiction, a unique way of addressing a real need with an authority readers will recognize. And for both, the individual's desire to grow in the craft of writing and to undertake the required discipline to promote his or her work for others' benefit.
At Write! Canada 2012, he'll be teaching two workshops—"Teaching with Your Story" and "Two Easy Articles for Fast Publications"—as well as doing critiques and taking appointments.
Andy, although you're new to the literary agent scene, you've been involved in Christian publishing industry for years. How has your past experience equipped you to better serve your clients?
In many ways, I've been working with much the same group of people for decades. While there's always change within the publishing community—people moving to new roles or companies—relationships with those people continue to have lasting value. Whenever I send out an author's book proposal, two-thirds of those recipients in publishing houses are people I already know. And the principles I apply in coaching my clients are ones I learned during decades of attending writers’ conferences and in teaching with the Christian Writers Guild.
You spent eight years as managing editor for the Christian Writers Guild. What trends did you notice in contemporary writing?
By definition, publishing trends come and go. A few years ago, no one was writing and selling “bonnet” fiction. In a few years, that will again be the case. Decades ago, inspired by the success of Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, supernatural fiction had its day. Now, with the success of Twilight, there's again a rush toward paranormal Christian fiction. Unfortunately, copycat writers seldom produce what's fresh and original.
What were the most common problems you saw?
Many people want to have been published. But few are willing to invest the years of labor necessary to learn and keep learning their craft. Those are the people whose half-baked submissions end up filling the submission piles of gatekeepers. So I find it refreshing, whether in a correspondence program or at a writers conference, to be able to work with people who see their own need to improve their writing and are willing to invest the needed time and energy.
As the newest member of the Hartline Agency, is it necessary for you to take a proactive approach to finding clients, or do you find that simply by hanging up your shingle, you already receive more queries than you can handle?
I appreciate the visibility I have by joining the ranks of a respected, established agency. The problem—in any form of acquisitions—is never related to a shortage of raw material. Rather, it's a shortage of material that stands out by merit of the quality of the concept and the writing. I find myself stretched between the demands of quickly rejecting the large amounts of unsuitable material so I can invest my time to coach high-potential clients to elevate their craft and their platform.
What do you look for in a winning query letter?
Ideally, a query excites the editor or agent about the proposed project. This means a short, polished letter that communicates not only the book or article's big idea and potential, but also its flavor.
What is the biggest error most people make when writing a query?
Too many queries haven't been well planned and well edited. They talk around the project and fail to get to the heart of the matter. Article writers (and more book writers) would do well to apply to their query letters the principle of the elevator speech.
If you were to give authors one piece of advice, what would it be?
A few decades ago, I'd have one piece of advice: Learn your craft. Today that's still essential, but so is this new dictum: Build your platform. More than ever, writers need to mount evidence before increasingly selective, skeptical publishers that they've earned the right to make it into print.
Let's play with that scenario; I wouldn't mind receiving an agent's share of mega-royalties. I encourage writers to propose not just a single book, but a series—either follow-up novels or related nonfiction books. If the first book takes off, the next ones already have the road paved for them. And with your online blogging book tour, you have few expenses, you get to sleep in your own bed, and you don't face the hassle of going through airport security.
Interview conducted by Jayne Self, Assistant Director of Write! Canada