The first thing I should tell you is I have never met him, because he lives in America, and I have never been there. There aren’t any literary agents for Christian writers in England. Well – I did have one but he went bankrupt; UK Christians aren’t that great at buying books it seems.
My agent is called Chip. Nobody in England is called Chip. It has that exotic American snap to it. Chip. That’s his name. And MacGregor - which I had associated only with Peter Rabbit before.
My agent – Chip – seems sharp and pointy in his mind to me. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He works very hard. He is a very self disciplined man. His agency is flourishing and doing really well (I think – it has increased its staff anyway and that’s surely a good sign). He has a list of authors who seem mostly highly successful and talented people. Chip sends us emails making sure we know about the Google register and being Brutally Honest with us about Marketing – which is to say he tells us that’s our responsibility and if we don’t do it nobody will. He goes into patient detail about what we have to do for Targets and Platforms and Goals and Priorities and things. I read all his emails.
I have this bad feeling about my agent. Well, no – not about Chip, because he's a sweetie; about me actually. The thing is, I don’t market anything, because I couldn’t sell a bottle of water to a man dying of thirst; obviously – you’d just give him it, wouldn’t you?
When I write a book, publishers ask me to send a list of famous people (speakers, preachers, writers – you know, people with a Ministry) so they can be approached for commendations and endorsements for the book cover. And they send me a pile of books to give to famous people to help with the marketing. I don’t know any famous people. I either give the books to the church for raising money to fix the roof, or to people coming by to pick up things I advertised on Freecycle.
My books do OK. My Hawk & Dove trilogy has been jogging along for 20 years now, quietly selling. My Spiritual Care book found its way into most hospices. But marketing is not my forte. I can only write.
And the reason I have this bad feeling about my agent is I think I let him down. I am not a success, not really, or savvy. I don’t have targets – at least, only three: to make Jesus known and loved everywhere and to help build the Peaceable Kingdom and to make sure that anything that passes through my hands is blessed before it goes on its way. I do no marketing. I can’t get my head round target audiences or techniques. I’m just not made that way.
I don’t give my agent enough work either. I just take a book along to a publisher and say ‘Will you publish that?’ and they say ‘OK then is this enough money?’ and I say ‘Sure’. Chip places some things for me, and I’m grateful for that, and grateful to know that I have a literary agent. It’s not the thing that makes me feel like a proper writer – only writing does that; but it kind of feels like someone’s on my side. But I feel bad that I don’t do my side of the business all that well.
But there is one thing especially I wanted to tell you that I really really love about my literary agent. There are subsidiary things – I love that he prays for me; I love that he is faithful and patient, and that in a quiet way his faith in God is as humble as it is tough. Chip hasn’t had life easy. But the thing I really really love is this photo I have of him with his granddaughter Maelie just after she was born.
Any man who has the soul within him to allow such tenderness to shine from his face also has my friendship, and my trust. When I look at this picture, I believe in Chip. Nothing to do with his sophistication or his sharp mind and the way he knows the market. I just know that such vulnerable tenderness as that takes you all the way home.