Advice From Pros: Lisa Hagan

Advice From Pros: Lisa Hagan

Lisa Hagan has been a literary agent for the last 25 years in New York City and London and is now on the family farm in Virginia, still partnering with top authors and helping them reach their publishing goals. Her business, Lisa Hagan Books offers literary agent services and book publishing and her books have been splashed across numerous media outlets including the New York Times Bestseller List, the Today Show, and featured on Oprah. Despite her wealth of experience, bestselling clientele, and celebrity network, Lisa is incredibly humble and approachable. She’s one of the rare literary agents who’s personally very vested in authors and considers them friends. Working hard to champion each project she takes on, she still finds time in her busy schedule to speak at conferences, coach authors, and connect with readers. What a gift it is to the Books Uplift community to have her share her professional advice. Meet Lisa:

Have you always wanted to work as a Literary Agent?  I have always loved books, and if I had known what a literary agent was in high school, I would have made being an agent my goal. I planned to be a novelist, but I am much better at sales. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I discovered this career path when my mother became an agent. I am a grateful nepo baby.

What do you like best about your work? I enjoy working with authors, seeing the seed of an idea, and nurturing it through the process of becoming a book. It is exciting every time. I like the entire process, from discovery to publication and marketing.What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? My mother mentored me, and I have had the opportunity to mentor others throughout the years. While you have to love books, you must also enjoy sales, reading contracts, and deciphering royalty statements. It is a left and right brain job. It’s the best.

What is one (or more) fascinating insight you’ve gleaned from working as a literary agent?  My area of expertise is self-help, and I often laugh and say, I should be perfect by now; I’ve read so much self-help. I am so not! Reading all of the self-help has made me a better agent in working with people and personalities. I did a book, It’s Not About Time, by Nan S. Russell in 2017 that changed my life and how I looked at my day. It freed me from feeling like I was always behind the eight ball. The work will get done.

As an expert in your field, what advice would you give to published authors? Do PR for as long as you can to keep your book in the eyes and hands of the reader. Stay relevant. Engage with your followers on social media and create fresh content regularly.

What advice would you give to unpublished authors? Build your platform and have a strong marketing section to match your great idea.

What is one (or more) cautionary “pearl” you’d like to share? Query agents that represent your genre. Don’t waste our time or yours.

What do you think is the biggest reason someone doesn’t get their book published? I see great ideas without a platform that is too hard to sell. I see great platforms without a well-thought-out proposal and sample chapters. Depending on what it is, we can usually fix the proposal to make it shine. However, it is refreshing to receive a well-written, engaging proposal with all of the components to be a winner.

What do you like to see on an author’s platform? Good social media numbers, engagement with followers, podcast interviews, and speaking engagements are preferable. A writer that is passionate about their topic, and it shows on their website and social media pages.

How do you suggest authors (published and non-published) build their platform, including social media and website? People need to know you are the go-to person on your topic. My successful authors spend a small amount of time on social engaging with the followers which builds more followers. They make it fun and share good advice in a friendly manner.

As an author, share a little about where readers can find your books? Anywhere books are sold.

What conferences or events do you recommend authors and writers attend? There are many fantastic conferences, you can’t go wrong. Being with like-minded people sets the soul on fire and gets your creative juices flowing. I’ve been in the business for a while, and I am inspired whenever I attend or speak at a conference. The Write Now! Conference in Raleigh, NC, is outstanding. I learned how to negotiate magazine serials there which was incredibly helpful. The James River Writers Conference in Richmond, VA, shares a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, and I also enjoy The Washington Writers Conference in DC; you never know who you will meet. I still get star-struck by authors after all of these years. 

Do you speak at conferences or conduct trainings? If so, where can we learn more? I speak at conferences when I am asked and often do the 5-minute pitch sessions.

What book uplifts you? This question took time to consider. I have read a great many books for work and pleasure in my lifetime. The agent in me wants to say one of my own books. Humor- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison. I read this book years ago, and I laughed through the entire book. I reread Peter’s book every time I need a pick-me-up. I love books that take me on a journey doing something I would never do in real life. I have agented several books that are similar but not with the humor. Lawrence Anthony’s The Elephant Whisperer touched me deeply.

With every book I work on, I think oh, this one is my favorite. It must be like having kids; you can’t pick your favorite. Each book is powerful in its own way.

In 2008, Amy Leigh Mercree came to me with an idea for a divination deck using the periodic table. It was super cool, and I thought it would sell quickly. Unfortunately, it did not. 18 books later with Amy, we sold the deck to Hay House, the exact publisher that she wanted to begin with. So you never know what will happen in the world of publishing. It is wild and a lot of fun; you must be prepared to go with the flow.

In 2021, Sally K. Norton came to me with her research on the devastating harm oxalates were doing to our bodies. I had never heard of this and was quite fond of my spinach smoothies in the morning, which are high in oxalate, so I stopped immediately. We worked on her proposal, Toxic Superfoods, which sold quickly to Donna Loffredo at Rodale. Due to Sally’s personal experience, passion, and expertise from years of research, her work and the book have helped hundreds of thousands of people heal. It has been remarkable to watch and to heal myself. The enthusiasm and joy she exudes while helping others is contagious.

I do not represent fiction even though I read it every night before bed for pleasure.

The last two really great funny novels I read were Nora Goes off Script by Annabel Monaghan and Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel the last powerful novel was, Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. I still think about that story. I read several novels a week, these three stand out.

Anything else you’d like to share? It is a business. When you pitch agents, you better be serious about it. Once you query agents, have your proposal ready. It irritates me when I am queried and then have to wait six months for the proposal to be written. I may not be interested in that topic any longer. Most of the time, I don’t remember the content and have to find the original query if I am so inclined to see what I liked about it to begin with.

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