Book Broker – an interview with Jim Hart

Book Broker—an interview with literary agent Jim Hart of Hartline Literary Agency


Agent: Jim Hart


Preferred genres: Nonfiction—narrative nonfiction, inspirational self-help, leadership/business, social issues, biography, accessible theology; fiction—literary, sci-fi/fantasy, suspense/thrillers, historical, romance/women’s fiction.

Bio: Hartline Literary began as a family business and I joined seven years ago. We specialize in the Inspirational/Christian market, but also represent projects in the general market as well. You can usually find me at a half-dozen conferences a year.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

A project that is described succinctly and accurately. You can usually tell when the writer has spent an appropriate amount of time crafting their submission. Remember—we love words and we love to read words that are assembled into wonderful sentences (but don’t overdo it). If I’m enjoying the query or cover letter there’s a good chance I’ll stay engaged throughout the whole submission. I also take a serious look at platform and any other writing experience.

2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?

If it is too verbose! If it contains glaring grammatical mistakes and formatting issues. Unfortunately, many times I don’t make it past the first paragraph. Often it’s apparent that the author’s voice is not yet defined and stylistically they are covering too much ground (intentional or not).

3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?

Don’t compare your writing and your writing journey to other writers. Manage your expectations. Be patient—publishing can move at the speed of a glacier. Be thorough in your research and make sure you are submitting your proposal to the appropriate agency, and make sure you follow their submission guidelines. If it’s your first manuscript, try to work with a freelance editor or writing mentor.

4) What are the three most overused openings that you encounter in submissions?

Any scene where the character can feel bile rising up in their throat.

5) Approximately how many query letters do you receive per year? Of those, how many will you respond to with a request for a full manuscript? And of those, how many are likely to receive an offer of representation?

I receive close to 1,200 queries or proposals every year, including proposals generated from writer’s conferences. I only follow up on 20-30, and only extend an offer of representation to around six of those.

6) What is the average length of time it takes to place a manuscript with a publisher, and what is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?

It can take a few weeks to six months to place a manuscript, sometimes longer. We examine the rejection letters and try to find a pattern. Often we’ll shelve that particular manuscript and focus on the writer’s next manuscript. Sometimes it’s the second manuscript that ends up being sold. Sometimes, especially with nonfiction, the writer just needs to continue growing their platform.

7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas). Beyond being just a biography, it contained a healthy amount of theology and detailed pre-WWII history. I had to work up my nerve to dig into this book—it’s the longest book I’ve read in a while.

8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez, by Buck Storm

Buck Storm just released his third novel, The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez. It’s quirky, leans towards literary, and is full of heart. The characters are lightly flawed, appropriately eccentric, and portray a strong sense of support and community. They are people that I would like to know living in a town that I would like live in.


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