February 07, 2011

Being a Western Agent




People automatically assume the way I like to dress that I handle primarily westerns. Actually, not so much. I only have a couple of western projects that I am handling right now one of which I just brokered a deal on.  But historicals, and historical romance set in that time period? That’s different, I have a number of them.

It isn’t that there is no markets for traditional westerns, they are still coming out, but there are fewer houses doing them and for the most part the ones that are being published are by authors who have been with the house for some time and are established names. These writers tend to have agents or have been writing for these houses long enough that they don’t really need one to place that work. More likely than not the editors call them when they want more, how great is that?

The western shelves used to contain all of these various subgenres but not anymore. There is a distinction between the traditional, the historical, historical romance and the non-fiction books about the old west. They don’t shelve in the same place now. My traditional western-writing friends are also quick to point out that my few offerings as a writer are not traditional westerns either. Because I include faith content in my writing they classify them as “Christian Westerns.” I often say they are “Inspirational fiction set in the old West.” Either way they shelve at a different place too, and there aren’t many writing them.

Our friend Steven Bly, Sigmound Brower or Gilbert Morris are probably the best known in that subgenre and all of them write things other things as well. At a conference a while back a question was asked “How can I get started publishing Christian Westerns?” The moderator said, “First you get rid of Steven Bly and Terry Burns.” He was right about Steven, but I know he included me just because he knew I was there.

It’s just a really tough market right now and I wish that wasn’t the case. That’s my favorite genre and I’d love to be working in it more. But I have to have the markets available before I can start tying up the books. The various Western writing groups I’m in spend a lot of time talking about what it will take to bring about a resurgence of the genre. “True Grit” and a few more good western movies wouldn’t hurt anything.

My last couple of efforts have been young adult hoping to help with the cause of bringing some new readers to the genre. Blogs such as this one and a number of others help raise the visibility. Of course the Western Writers of America is the largest group and they are looking for ways to promote the genre. There is a new online group formed by western writers aimed at specifically promoting the traditional western genre. It’s called “Western Fictioneers” and you can find them at http://www.westernfictioneers.com/.

It has long been known that the best book promotion is word of mouth and to accomplish that writers need to create a buzz. To that end these well published writers are working to get their backlist up on Kindle and other e-readers. Some are even talking about taking some work directly to Kindle as a means of trying to create that buzz. They are talking about things that they can do together to help new readers find them as a group and find their work.

If more people start buying westerns then more will be published. But it’s the chicken and the egg question all over again. Will people buy more westerns if they are published, or do more have to buy them in order to get them published? Catch-22.

A lot of genres are cyclical, including westerns, they come and they go. What can we do to help generate another resurgence and to get more readers in the genre? What do YOU think?

2 comments:

Stephen Bly said...

Terry: Good post! And thanks for the mention! I agree that good western movies like True Grit will help the genre in book form too.

Donna Alice said...

I agree that we really need more westerns on shelves of all genres. What I'm finding difficult is that there seem to be no outlets for westerns written for children (which I write!) Even the Western Writers of America give awards for middle grade books but most of them come from the booklists of major secular publishers and are not written as westerns specifically.
Any info you can share about how a writer of middle grade fiction can find a publisher or an agent to promote this genre for children? Thanks!