A surge of new literary agents and agencies are drawing on years of experience in Christian publishing in order to meet a growing demand for fresh voices, broaden the industry’s author pool, and help houses eager to reach mainstream readers. Among these new agents are book industry veterans who are interested in shepherding a new generation of Christian writers, including more people of color, into a wider market.

“It’s a great day to be representing Christian writers in the general market,” says Don Pape, formerly publisher of NavPress. He launched Pape Commons: a gathering of voices, on January 1, which will represent nonfiction, fiction, and some children’s projects to general trade publishers as well as Christian houses. Among his clients is singer/songwriter and author Charlie Peacock.

“I started in sales and marketing and moved to editorial, so I bring all those sensibilities to Pape Commons,” Pape tells PW. One of the goals of the new agency is to bring more diverse authors to readers. “We’ve all woken up and discovered that the world isn’t white. There is a recognition that the world is diverse,” he says. “We as agents and readers desire to get out of the bubble we’ve created in the evangelical community.”

In another jump from book publishing to author representation, Tom Dean, who spent nearly 20 years at Zondervan, founded A Drop of Ink in August 2020. The former v-p of marketing now splits his time between marketing and consulting, and working with about a dozen clients, many of them debut authors. Dean is especially interested in millennial writers, and he has already placed several projects with publishers such as Morgan James. He is currently working with blogger and podcaster Josiah Kennealy, as well as Kameron Waters, whose book Vegan Jesus he is shopping now.

“It’s a good time to be in publishing as an agent because publishers continue to be desperate for great ideas and great content,” Dean says. His experience in marketing and editorial are huge helps. “My passion has always been the marketing side, but I understand what good content is and bring an understanding of what is happening in culture,” he said.

Dave Schroeder is also among the publishing professionals making the switch to the agent side of the book business. The former marketing director for B&H joined WTA Media as director of publishing and consumer products in March. He also acts as a literary agent for the company, which often negotiates contracts for faith-based films and novelizations.

“I love working with big-platform authors and those with smaller audiences," said Schroeder, who has 40-50 active clients. "I can lean in uniquely to give each of them the right voice.”

Agencies on the rise

In another agency launch, Rachelle Gardner, formerly with Books & Such Literary Management, opened Gardner Literary on January 1. Gardner spent nine years at Books & Such before founding the new firm, and brings with her existing clients. She represents the estate of late bestselling author Rachel Held Evans, as well as a variety of fiction and nonfiction authors.

“It felt like the next logical step in my career,” she tells PW. “There is a place for agents who bring books that really grapple with faith and culture.” For now, she is operating solo but may hire other agents in the future.

Like Pape and Dean, Gardner also has her eye on younger writers. She is open to debut authors, and emphasized the need for more authors with diverse backgrounds. “I am expanding beyond the Christian market, looking for projects by authors of color, that address racial and LGBTQ issues, as well as the kind of fiction that I love,” Gardner says.

The Bindery Agency, started by Alex Field in 2017, is growing with three new hires: Trinity McFadden, former senior manager of publicity for Zondervan; John Blase, former freelance editor and ghostwriter; and Estee Zandee, former editor with Zondervan and writing coach. (Zandee will start at the agency in the coming weeks.)

“As we move into a new year and look to the future, now is the perfect time to grow our team,” said Field, former v-p and publisher for Penguin Random House imprints WaterBrook and Multnomah. “We already work with an incredibly diverse roster of authors every day; I expect that range and diversity will only grow.”

Helping that expectation become reality, McFadden—with experience in marketing and publicity—is focusing on finding diverse voices for Christian and general trade publishers. “It’s exciting to bring all that knowledge to bear more directly on authors, to be an advocate for authors to find the right publishing house,” McFadden says. She has signed five authors so far, and will take on some from the agency’s existing list, while Blase has signed four clients —one fiction and three nonfiction authors. “I’d really like to find strong fiction writers for general market houses,” Blase says.

Though there are many benefits to an author with representation from an agent, PW has reported a significant number of book deals that are brokered directly between author and publisher. When asked about frequency of unagented deals for religion books, Dean explained: “There will always be the entrepreneur who is willing to figure out how to go directly to a publisher, or who has connections either through an author friend or someone in publishing to pursue a book deal. I say kudos to that person: not every author needs an agent.”

Pape looks at the issue from the other side: “In the religious market, there is opportunity for publishers to go to a pastor or ministry leader and pursue them directly,” he says. Still, Pape observed, “based upon the number of queries I have handled this week, I think there is plenty of room for agents to represent a whole new generation of writers.”