Dan Balow, Literary Agent at The Steve Laube Agency ‹ Return to Interviews ›

 

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Dan Balow

Dan started in Christian publishing in 1983 and over the last 30+ years has been involved with the business side of the industry in marketing, sales, foreign and domestic rights management, audio books, digital publishing, and acquisitions.

Do you consider content or platform first?
These days you cannot separate the two. A great concept for a book, well-written by someone without any platform is just as incomplete as a proposal from an author with a major platform who cannot write well.  As I consider an author for representation, both need to be present.

What are the major trends you see in Christian Publishing? Are there trends that you miss?
The last ten years we’ve seen the industry add some interesting new authors who are younger, emphasizing a focus on living out one’s faith in a more specific manner. A faith without works is dead, so it is a strong, positive direction not only for Christian publishing, but also for the church.

While I no longer represent fiction, I certainly miss the greater variety that Christian fiction had 10-20 years ago.

What types of Christian books do you specialize in?
I work with non-fiction and also with a select group of books for children. I hesitate at  getting more specific than that because I am always surprised by the creativity of so many authors. Almost every week I see a proposal for something with a unique perspective that I hadn’t considered before!

What is the market like for Christian books these days?
The same could be said for all book sales, but the Christian retail market has been particularly hurt by the changes in distribution.

Twenty years ago, the Christian bookstore was the epicenter of the Christian publishing marketplace. They sold music, videos, gifts, church supplies and books. The online and digital migration of music and video along with the movement of many buyers to online purchasing depleted the number of Christian retailers to a fraction of what it was, so while the sales of Christian books remain strong and growing, where they are purchased has changed.

What are the key ingredients to a Christian author’s platform?
First and foremost would be their qualifications to write on a certain subject. For instance, publishers want to see a book on a deep theological issue from a person who has formal theological training, not the insightful lay person. The most common reason I will decline an author is that they are simply not qualified to write a certain book.  A book on the intersection of faith and science (a real proposal) should be written by a theologian and scientist, not an intelligent Christian engineer working for a road-building company. The words were true and well written, but the qualifications are not there.

Once determined to be qualified, the author needs to have a ready-made audience, most likely assembled through social media and some sort of public-speaking effort.

A book does not create a platform, but it can expand an existing platform. A book is never first. Platform first, book second.

Are there any unique components to the Christian publishing industry vs. Mainstream Publishing?
Christian publishing wants more overt spiritual content, while mainstream does not.

That distinction separates them more than one might think.

Authors who want to write a “cross-over” book, usually code for diminishing the spiritual aspect to appeal to a wider audience will find that the requirements of a mainstream publisher are much different than they might think.  Theoretically it is good thinking, but in reality, Christian publishers want Christian books with overt Biblical solutions to problems and perspective and mainstream publishers do not.

Do you have any tips that authors should avoid as they approach you?
Several.

First, I am a person, not a corporation and you don’t need to approach me like you are writing to a Forbes 500 company. Be a real and pleasant person.

Second, read the material on the agency website and submit in the requested manner and subject matter we show there. Starting a proposal with, “I know you said you don’t accept……but here is one anyway,” is a waste of your time and mine.

Be real and follow instructions. Beyond these, use common sense.

How did you get your start as a literary agent?
In 2013, after thirty years working for and with publishers in a wide variety of roles, I listened to a little bird on my shoulder who suggested I would like being an agent for the Steve Laube Agency. The bird was right.

BIO
With half of his experience coming with Tyndale House from the early 90’s to the mid-2000’s, Dan has developed a wide-ranging perspective on the industry, taken from involvement with hundreds of authors, thousands of books and a love for the business.

He joined The Steve Laube Agency in July 2013.

Dan’s strengths would be his understanding of book marketing, what it takes to be successful in the current publishing environment and how all the pieces of the publishing “puzzle” fit together.

Dan served on the executive board of the Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association, the trade association for Christian publishers in the U.S.   In addition, he is a founding member of the advisory board of the Christy Awards and is involved in training and mentoring Christian publishers around the world through Media Associates International.

Dan is a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in Communications, is married to Carol, a speech therapist in the public schools, making Wheaton, Illinois their home. They have four grown children (and one grandchild).

 

TESTIMONIALS

MediaConnect was instrumental in helping me build my personal brand alongside raising awareness for the book. In addition getting quality reviews and feature pieces about my book, they also helped place several bylined articles in great publications, including Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Fast Company, that helped establish me as a thought leader.
— DAVID BURKUS, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas