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)?

Dan Balow

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.

Takeaways:

  • 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.

I plan to continue to get insight from other agents and share with you so follow my blog or bookmark this page. Don’t forget to also follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my YouTube channel and email list for writing hacks (beginning July 2019) and free resources.

JP Robinson

Tim Shoemaker gives a presentation on how God is the Christian's confidence.

What a day! Tim Shoemaker, award winning author of Code of Silence, kicks things off by illustrating how a Christian’s confidence should be in God and not himself. The lesson has impact and the visuals (a ketchup-covered $20 bill) certainly reinforces his point.

Thanks Tim!

Bill Meyers, award-winning filmmaker and author of over 140 novels that have sold over 8 million copies, steps up to reinforce Tim’s message with another powerful lesson on “Spiritual Transformation.” Talk about a confidence booster!

Then, for the next 7 hours I’m swamped meeting with authors and offering advice and constructive criticism of their manuscripts. Helping these authors achieve their dreams is a great feeling.

One of the highlights of my day comes just before I start teaching a dynamic workshop on how to write historical pieces (thanks guys for an awesome class filled with laughs by the way).

If I’ve got the story right, two high-school friends that lost touch since childhood, happened to take my class and reconnect at my workshop! All I can say was I heard a lot of happy screams and laughs. 🙂 As they said, “we really resurrected the past!”

After class, I rush back to the Reusch Auditorium to (re)connect with friends, talk to literary agents about my next work-in-progress.

Photo with authors MK Gantt, JP Robinson  and Bill Watkins at the Estes Park conference center

I’m privileged to share dinner with Bill Watkins, author of the New Absolutes, and touch base with other friends such as MK Gantt.

Before I know it, the sun is hanging low over the mountains but my day isn’t complete without a phone call home to my amazing wife.

About an hour later, I’m ready to call it a night.

Thank you Lord for a powerful day filled with your grace, light and truth.

Day 1 is done.

JP Robinson

The journey begins

The 3 day literary marathon is on!
Contrary to the single summary I posted on the Lancaster Christian Writers’ conference, I thought I’d “take you along for the ride” via a short blog post in which I capture the main action of each day.

Ready? Let’s go!

5:30 a.m. I wake up after snatching about 3 hours of sleep. Tired? Absolutely! But it’s okay; that’s what coffee is for.

One problem. Caffeine intensifies dizziness in high altitudes so… no Lavazza for me today. Or for the next three days in fact.

After a flurry of activity, I’m on board the train toward the airport. En route, I catch another train then–heart pounding–I arrive at my gate just as the call to board is made.

JP Robinson drafts his next novel, a young adult thriller while en route to teach a writing workshop at the Colorado Christian Writers conference
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The plane is crowded and, with 2 bags in tow, I’m sure I earned a few mean looks. But the time in flight is well-spent. By the time we touch down in Denver, I’ve completed a two page summary of my first Young Adult novel which I can’t wait to begin writing!

Our diligent conference coordinator, Marlene Bagnull, is well-organized and a ride to pick myself and another passenger, Jim Hart from Hartline Agency, arrives in short order. I’m blessed to engage in meaningful conversation with Jim during the 90 minute drive through Colorado’s breathtaking vistas.

Gorgeous mountain scenery in Estes Park Colorado

Around 6 pm, my coffee-less day is catching up with me. I have been going for 14 hours, and I’m grateful to slip into my room where I catch my breath at the view. It inspires me to pray and to write.

Tomorrow officially begins day 1 of this literary marathon. Join me in praying that it will lead me to good roads hitherto unexplored.

JP Robinson

In just under 3 weeks, I’m flying out to join other authors, publishers and writing professionals at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference where I’ll again teach two workshops. 
The only thing better than a Christian Writer’s Conference is a writer’s conference in the Rockies!

Registered yet? https://colorado.writehisanswer.com/

Post conference, I’m looking forward to some much needed R&R in the West Coast. Who knows? Maybe I’ll start my next novel at an altitude of 14,000 feet! I believe in having “high expectations” for my work. 🙂

Excuse my silence over the next few weeks as I have author critiques to complete and presentations to prep.

Join me in praying for a successful event.

JP Robinson

This weekend, I was privileged to teach two workshops at the Lancaster Christian Writer’s Super Saturday event. With great food, fellowship (did I mention awesome Colombian coffee?), it was a day to remember.

First, a big shout-out to Jeanette Windle, LCW President, who did a terrific job hosting the event.

JP Robinson, Brian and Ronie Kendig at 2019 LCW conference (from left to right).

Second, it was a real thrill to interact with Brian and Ronie Kendig, bestselling author of multiple “rapid-fire fiction” novels. I left inspired to draft the first book in my upcoming political thriller series set in the Middle East. Stay tuned…

Finally, I heard a lot of positive feedback from my workshop attendees. Comments like, ” JP, thank YOU for sharing great info about marketing! ” and “You’re teaching things that I need to know,” really made me feel that my time was well spent.

For those of you that didn’t get to sign up for the my author-only email list, join by clicking on this link.

Several attendees were gracious enough to send me pictures of the event. Thanks all!