Positively Successful: Lisa Hagan, Literary Agent

I first learned of nonfiction literary agent Lisa Hagan through fellow members of a freelance writing organization I belong to, Triangle Area Freelancers. Her name came up at one of our meetings. Everyone there who had met Lisa or had worked with her had nothing but positive things to say. Words and phrases like wonderful, fantastic, amazing, friend to writers, gets results, sweet, and professional were used to describe her. I took note, went home, and searched for her name online and found similar adjectives attributed to her in every search result. So then I started following her on Twitter, where her affirming and positive tweets began to show up in my feed every day. That’s when I knew for sure I wanted to interview her for Vox Laurus.  We chatted back and forth via email and I was very happy when she granted my request. And what do you know — all of those descriptors that I had heard from others were confirmed.

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

Shelfari and Goodreads – See what Lisa is reading and which books she has sold.

You can also follow her on Twitter by clicking here (@LisaHagan123).

9 Comments

  1. As one of Lisa’s authors I can honestly say she is a tireless advocate. She takes the time again and again to interface with the publisher, provide marketing advice, bring forward resources to help authors, and generally encourage and support her authors. This woman can sell your book! And she does it all with a sweet, kind, and generous smile on her face. Lisa changes lives – from her authors, who get to share their messages, to all the readers whose lives are improved from the books she midwives. Lisa is a literary agent rockstar!

  2. As an author of Lisa’s, I most heartly endorse every good thing about her. Her patience and kindness, not to mention tenacity, were the attributes which helped get my book out into the world. I could not have done it without her.

    • Paula, you are echoing all of the nice things I have heard and continue to hear about Lisa. She sets a high bar for others to work toward. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.

  3. Terrific interview! As one of Lisa’s authors, I can testify that she is all that you said she is and more. Savvy, professional, tenacious, but most of all, sweet. She has become a dear friend, which is something I never expected to say about an agent.

    • Elaine, Lisa will probably be embarrassed to read all of these nice comments, but I’m glad you and others are stopping by and letting her know how much you appreciate her hard work. Thank you for reading!

    • Sandra, thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed Lisa’s interview. She exudes warmth and positivity, which is very refreshing. I hope to work with her in the not-too-distant future.

Leave a Reply