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An Agent’s Perspective: Steve Laube

This interview was originally posted on Ronie Kendig’s blog: Craving the Supernatural. It was so good, I decided we had to have it here, too. So get ready for a look at the industry from agent Steve Laube’s perspective.

—-Hey, y’all! Welcome back to Craving the Supernatural. Right now, we’re hosting my awesome and incredible agent, Steve Laube, and getting his thoughts on the ACFW Conference and conference preparedness. (This is revised from the interview Steve Laube gave us last year.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Lived the first 14 years of my life in Anchorage, Alaska (survived the famous ’64 earthquake) then went to high school in Honolulu (Hawaii Baptist Academy). My parents felt called to move to Hawaii after 25 years in Alaska. Went to college at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona where I still live and work.

I have three daughters ages, 26, 23, and 20 and have been married for 27 years. I teach an adult Bible class every Sunday (around 30 attend regularly). We are currently working our way through the chronological history of Israel from King David through the rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah. Just finished the life of Saul.

I’m a voracious reader and a enduring sports fan (Go Suns! Go Diamondbacks!). Someone asked what I did for a living. I replied, “I read.” They followed with, “Then what do you do for fun?” My answer? “I read.” We have nearly 5,000 books in our home.

Starting in May I began re-reading the Dune series originated by Frank Herbert. I’m into book seven of the twelve right now. Interspersed with those I’ve read a Clive Cussler novel I somehow missed, the new Lee Child novel, Tim Challies’ The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, and am currently working through a fascinating book on economics called Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies by Richard McKenzie.

Music is a hobby as well. I have over 15,000 songs on my computer of all genres. Everything from hard rock (I recommend the groups Red, Flyleaf, and Creed) to meditative vocals or instrumentals (I recommend Vienna Teng, Liz Story, and Natalie Merchant) to classical (I recommend Steven Sharp Nelson’s Sacred Cello and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). All together I could play music for 38 days (24 hours a day) without repeating a single song.

Our family is very selective when it comes to movies. Of course “Star Wars” is the classic (My youngest has insisted that we watch all six films this Summer while she is home from college…two down, four to go). But I never tire of sports movies like “Remember the Titans,” “Rudy,” “We are Marshall,” or “Radio.” My wife cannot understand why I like “Galaxy Quest” so much, but I confess, it makes me laugh (she says I have to watch that one by myself). Together we have howled at multiple viewing of “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Monsters, Inc.” We don’t keep a TV plugged in inside the home, but one Christmas I gave the family the entire DVD collection of “The Dick Van Dyke” show. We continue to laugh our way through those episodes. We have also enjoyed the DVD’s of “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Odd Couple,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Dog Whisperer.”

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When I first met you in February 2004, you promoted American Christian Romance Writers (now ACFW)—said if we were serious about writing, we’d join. Why do you feel it’s important for authors to be a part of an organization like this?

Continuing education is critical to the growth of a person and a writer. Tricia Goyer wrote on The Writer’s View, “I’ve attended Mt. Hermon twelve times. I don’t have a college degree. Instead I was trained by the amazing teachers and editors there.”

The friendships and networking of an organization like ACFW are for a lifetime. The editor you meet today may become your acquisitions editor of tomorrow. The author today may be the endorsement of tomorrow. Too often we try to quantify these events in dollars and cents. And don’t forget the spiritual charge from hearing great speakers and the learning from attending great classes. But one of the greatest benefits is the camaraderie with fellow dysfunctional writers, editors and agents.

I have dozens of friendships that go beyond the business that started within the business. For a professional defined by isolation the fellowship of other writers is critical to one’s sanity.
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How long have you been a part of ACFW?

Since I became an agent in 2003.
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Obviously you travel the country, attending and working at many conferences. What sets the ACFW conference apart from others?

The fiction-centric aspect of the conference is wonderfully unique. It allows the classes to go deeper than ever in their content. And I truly admire their effort to have material for the beginner as well as the advanced writer.
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What is your favorite part of the ACFW conference?

Talking with old friends and making new ones. We are a part of a tremendous ministry of changing people’s lives through the power of story. To be surrounded by amazingly creative people blesses me beyond measure.

It is also fun to connect with clients and possibly discover that new talent.
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One thing I really appreciate about you is how you make yourself available, sitting in the hotel lobby chatting (casually, not for pitches) with authors. What are some of your memories from attending one of ACFW’s national conferences?

Doing the night owl on author/agent relations with Tracey Bateman. Completely unrehearsed we had a full room of folks who laughed with our antics.
The night owl with Chip MacGregor and Janet Grant in 2007 where we evaluated one-sheets for an hour, unrehearsed. It was a bit like the ACFW version of “American Idol.” We really let down our guard and told the hard truth about what we were seeing.
Late night laughter and camaraderie each year. Don’t be afraid to hang out with the “guys and gals”. It is never an exercise of “cliques-are-us.”
Heart to heart conversation with a client who was so relieved when we agreed to take her story in a new direction that her tears were ones of joy.
A serendipitous conversation with Andy Meisenheimer from Zondervan that turned into a contract for a first time author.
Connecting officially with Cindy Woodsmall at the conference. We had talked before and I loved her manuscript (now published as When the Heart Cries), but we needed the face-to-face to make it official.
I could go on and on. And have left out too many friends, editors and authors in this brief trip down memory lane. But you can see the variety and diversity of the experience, which is my point. Everyone who attends the conference can make it something special.

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At the conference, you take dozens of appointments. What are you looking for in a new author? Is there an element in a pitch that you look for?

This a VERY difficult question. Fiction is the most subjective reading experience of any sort. So even if I like the pitch I may not like the writing. And sometimes the pitch is weak but the writing is great. And what gets me excited may make another agent’s eyes glaze over.
In the pitch I’m looking at the person as much as the writing. It is the connection made with their personality and their passion and their overall presentation of themselves. That is as much a part of the pitch as the actual words in the manuscript. It is one of the reasons why agents and editors go to a conference…to see firsthand that “snap” or “spark” which makes that person stand out. Hopefully the execution of the writing delivers as well.
Understand that I’m not saying that someone has to be a “bigger-than-life” personality. That would be a fairly shallow perspective. Instead it is reading the person behind the page. It is hard to explain and impossible to teach to someone else. But those of us on this side of the table know what I mean. The successful agents and editors have the ability to pick those few from the crowd..
So, please understand I’m not talking about a song and dance routine. But instead I’m talking of the internal fire, that God given spark, that says, “Steve? Pay attention.”

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Is there a particular genre you are wanting to add to your current list?

We cover all major genres with the wonderfully diverse clients we represent. Take a look at our list of clients on our web site. (www.stevelaube.com/authors.htm)

I am a very eclectic reader and enjoy all sorts of books. So it boils down to whether I think I can sell a particular author or story. And it is VERY tough. Usually I say to the new writer, “take what you learn at this conference and apply it to this proposal. Then after another round of hard work, send it….but know that our agency received nearly 2,000 proposals in 2007.”

So far in 2008 we have added four new fiction clients, but every one of them is a previously published author. And yet we are thrilled to say that in the last few years we have secured contracts for ten first-time novelists! So the opportunity is there if you have the right project!

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It’s been said that some editors and agents request everything pitched to them at conference. What is your take on this, and how often do you make requests?

There can be the problem of the “false positive” at a conference – by “false positive” I mean the “Send it to me” from the editor/agent only to later get a stock rejection letter. It is a problem of which there is no real solution. Editors/Agents cannot fully evaluate a project in a 15 minute meeting or over a group dinner table. Back in the office they can weigh your project against the others they are considering. But at least you are being considered! If you had not gone to the conference you would not have had that chance. I can name numerous times in my past where I contracted someone after reading the proposal in the office. Of course the majority receive the “no thank you” letter. Just because the faculty member says, “send it” doesn’t carry with it a guarantee of a sale.

It is especially difficult with fiction because the reading is more of an experience than an evaluation. I’m not afraid to say, “This needs work” to any writer and many of you reading this interview have heard those words from me. But at the same time our agency’s door is always open. We are always in the hunt for the “next best.” I can’t know if that is the “next” unless I get it reviewed and read it myself in a different context outside the conference.
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Have you ever signed an author after meeting with them at conference?

Many times. Both as an agent and back when I was an editor at Bethany House. It does happen. I could safely say that every editor or agent would agree that if they find one (only one) new talent from a conference it is considered a success. I’ve had many times where nothing specific came out of that conference but years later it bore fruit. For example, Paul Robertson attended a conference where I spoke in the late 90s. He said he sent something afterwards that I rejected. Eight years later he sent me a proposal that is now a published book (The Heir) with Bethany House. So while I didn’t necessarily see anything at the time it had results nearly 10 years later.

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What advice would you give to beginner writers about attending this conference?

Go into it with realistic expectations. The biggest mistake is thinking that it is the guaranteed method for getting a book contract. Modify those expectations. Instead see it as a learning experience and a place to listen and absorb the sights and sounds around you.

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Any parting words?

I consider it a privilege to be a small part of this wonderful industry. We are tasked to help spread the good news to a world that doesn’t read. Incredible isn’t it? Our insecurities, our frustrations, our successes (or lack thereof), are all part of the larger movement of souls who find rest in God and His salvation through the vehicle of our stories.
In the 2007 Christy banquet keynote Lauren Winner (www.laurenwinner.net) said that it was the Mitford novels by Jan Karon that showed her that faith could be worked out in daily life. That experience, through the pages of a novel, set her on the path to Faith. What could top that?

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to answer some questions and help writers at all levels prepare for the awesome ACFW conference, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 18-21, 2008. Check it out: http://www.acfw.com/conference/

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