LISA HAGAN LITERARY has a history of anticipating future book trends and creating appropriate projects with its clients — scientists, writers, and innovators from around the world. Lisa Hagan began her literary career with PARAVIEW LITERARY AGENCY in 1993 and purchased it 1999. The PARAVIEW LITERARY AGENCY was among the first to successfully develop literary properties for a rapidly growing worldwide audience known as cultural creatives. Lisa will continue to follow this path and is excited to announce the new name change to LISA HAGAN LITERARY. The agency handles only nonfiction properties at this time.
Lisa discusses with me how she got her start as a literary agent, how she views the future of the publishing industry, and how she defines success.
1) How and why did you become an agent?
I was working in the documentary film division of Paraview and while we were in between projects I picked up a manuscript from the slush pile and have never looked back. I was hooked by the process of turning a dream into a book.
My love of books started at a young age. We went to the library every Saturday morning. I was allowed 4 books each week from the public library plus the books from the school library. As my best friend since school says, “Lisa is never without something to read.” Which is true. I wasn’t taught that you could do something that you loved to earn a living, but I was in the right place at the right time, it fell into my lap and it was meant to be. Being an agent and helping writers become authors is the best and most rewarding career that I could ever imagine for me.
2) Is there a particular reason you handle only nonfiction properties?
The first manuscript that I picked up was a novel. I did not sell that novel; the author and I are still friends though. I represented fiction for a few years in the beginning because I love a good story. I found that the editing process was not one that I enjoyed as much as discovering a new author and the thrill of the sale.
Paraview was famous for non-fiction works in the genre of mind, body, spirit. Sandra Martin, the founder of Paraview, was the first agent to really become successful in this genre back in the ’80s.
I realized that I preferred to sell books that I felt would make a difference in someone’s life, to help them be a better person, to share a story that would empower them. I slowly stopped representing fiction until my focus solely became non-fiction.
3) What exactly does an agent’s job entail?
Reading. I read an incredible amount of queries, proposals and manuscripts. Once I find an idea that takes my breath away, I contact the writer to discuss our options and decide whether we would make a great team or not. Then it is on to perfecting the proposal with the author before pitching the editors and then on to negotiating contracts after I make the sale. I assist with navigating the publishing process and PR. Then we start all over with a new book idea.
4) My research tells me it’s virtually impossible for someone to become an agent straight out of college or on a whim. What preparation does it take for someone who wants to enter and then advance in the field?
No, I don’t think you have to be with an agency, but I would definitely recommend that you have a mentor to become an agent. It is not an easy business. In fact, it is quite cliquish, just like high school. You have to be willing to pick up the phone and introduce yourself, go to NYC, and make appointments to meet with editors.
You have to have a love of books but you also have to be an aggressive salesperson. I have been told on more than a few occasions that if the proposal was only as good as my pitch…. Becoming an agent requires cold calling, networking and putting yourself out there. The editors need agents to send them material, they rely on us. It is my job to know who the editors are and what they are looking for. I am in constant contact with editors. I know what they want and they know what I represent. Editors come to me with ideas looking for a writer. I call those easy sales. I am known for my authors and I am ecstatic about that.
You have to be able to handle rejection in this business. It takes a lot of no’s to be successful. My motto is, “NEXT!”
5) How have e-publishing and self-publishing changed the agent’s current role in the industry? How are they affecting an agent’s future career potential?
At first we were all concerned about e-books, but as we are now seeing, it doesn’t make any difference. People are reading and that is all that matters. As long as writers can write and we can sell and the publishers can publish good works, it’s all good.
I did feel a disruption in the business starting in 2008, but we all weathered the economy storm and publishing is getting back to a better place. I am still selling terrific proposals and people are still buying books.Whether they are an electronic book or a hard copy, it is still a sale.
Self-publishing has been around longer than I have been an agent. We would not touch a self-published book with a ten foot pole back in the day. Now, it is common place. I’ve represented quite a few self-published works and have sold them to one of the big six. Publishing is not as stuffy as it used to be.
6) You have a reputation for being a very positive, affirming professional in a tough industry. What does it take to be a happy literary agent?
I was told early on by an editor that I was too nice to be an agent. Yes, you do have to be tough, demanding and sometimes I do have to yell, but for the most part, I get what I want by being me. I am tenacious and I think that, and knowledge of the business, is all it takes. I don’t give up and I am always thinking about my authors and what will help them to be successful. When I was a kid I used to say, “If I am not reading, I am not breathing.” I love what I do and everything in life can be in a book or pertains to a book. My research for my authors is constant.
7) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?
For me, if a book that I have agented helps at least one person, then I am happy. Changing people’s lives through words is my mantra. I just want to leave a positive mark in the world to make a difference. This is the way that I have found I can do that and I am good at it and I am grateful for that.
8) What is the most helpful piece of career advice you have ever received?
I’ve said this in every interview. I thank literary agent Jeff Herman. I read an interview with him early on in my career and he said, “If you dread a client’s phone call then let that client go.” Wow. That was some of the best advice I have ever received still to this day. There are a lot of writers out there; I only want to work with the best — writers with integrity and writers that share my goal of changing the world one book at a time. Leave your ego at the door and let’s do this.
9) Is there anything else that you think is important for readers to know?
Agents are not scary. We need writers. Editors need discerning agents with excellent writers. If you love to write and have something that you think is worth sharing with the world then keep writing. Don’t give up.
If you would like to learn more about Lisa, click on the following links highlighted in red:
Publishers Marketplace – Here you will find Lisa’s contact information, as well as a listing of her leading clients and best-known projects.
LinkedIn – Lisa’s profile
You can also follow her on Twitter by clicking here (@LisaHagan123).