In 2018 I had the privilege of meeting Dan Balow, then a literary agent with the prestigious Steve Laube agency. Earlier this year I reached out to Dan to get his insight on a question that’s probably entered every author’s mind at least once.
What makes a bestseller?
Hearing what makes a bestseller from a professional’s perspective is valuable to writers because it can allow us to hone our writing skills so we’re in a better position to make that coveted NYT bestseller list. I’m going to share the contents of my email interview with Dan but, before I do, I’d like to give you a little insight into his impressive background.
Dan Balow’s been in Christian publishing since 1983 and spent more than five years with the Steve Laube agency. His expertise includes marketing, sales and more. Dan’s managed two audiobook publishers for six years and now heads Gilead Publishing. In short, this guy knows what he’s talking about. You can access 5 years of his blog posts with Steve Laube for further reading.
Okay, so now on to the interview. It’s 2 questions that I hope other writing professionals will find useful.
In your opinion, what are the three most important characteristics of an inspirational/Christian bestseller (Fiction or non-fiction genres)?
I would guess most people in publishing would identify the same three, but would differ in the priority given to each.
The content, the writing quality and the author platform are discussed over and over at conferences, but the only one of those which is common among all bestsellers is the content…whether a book captures the imagination or inspires a reader enough to get them to read the entire book and recommend it to someone else.
Not every bestseller is well written nor has an author with a large pre-existing following. But every bestseller grabs a reader’s imagination, holds it, and makes them want to continue reading. In my mind, this is the “art” of the book, difficult or impossible to explain or attain. The content of a book could also be helped by “timing” which is also difficult to plan. It is also what makes publishing difficult to explain.
What steps should an author, looking to publish a first-time book traditionally, take prior to approaching a literary agent?
View the process like you are applying for a job. Don’t send proposals to everyone all at once, just like you wouldn’t send resumes to a list of addresses without some thought. Research agents who handle your type of writing, and then send a proposal in the form they request with a note which would indicate you know they are looking for your type of work. Every agent supplies proposal-instructions on their website. Agents are not alike to one another and need to be treated as individuals.
Without a doubt, these responses are worthy of a lot of consideration.
- Bestselling titles aren’t always the “best” in terms of writing craft or author platform.
- Bestsellers hook readers, drawing them in so they can’t escape.
- When looking for an agent, write in a way that will resonate.