We’ve all heard about agents, and how they guide us in our careers and fight for us with publishers. But did you realize that many agents cover everything they do in prayer? From reading proposals to deciding on clients to determining which publishers are a good fit to every aspect of their clients’ lives. Our guest, literary agent Cynthia Ruchti, joins us to share about an agent’s spiritual walk.
About Cynthia Ruchti
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in Hope through award-winning novels, nonfiction, devotions, and through speaking events for women and writers. As a literary agent with Books & Such Literary Management, she helps other authors fulfill their publishing goals. She and her grade school sweetheart husband live in the heart of Wisconsin.
Thanks to our patrons on Patreon, we can now provide an edited transcript of our interview!
Karen: Hey everyone, welcome to the deep today. We’re so glad that you’re here and that you get to share time not just with us but with our amazing guest Cynthia Ruchti!
Erin: Yes, and I get to introduce her, everybody. I just want you all to know that! I met Cynthia Ruchti at a writers’ conference somewhere along the way. What impacted me the most was her heart for God. She was doing a short devotional, I think, and then she was leading a worship song. Let me tell you something. You can tell a lot about a person when they’re singing to God. And I knew she was a woman I wanted to get to know better.
Cynthia Ruchti draws on 33 years writing and producing an on air radio broadcast to tell stories hemmed in hope through her more then 25 award-winning books and her speaking. She’s the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers and, get this, since 2017, she’s also served as a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Management. Cynthia and her plot-tweaking husband—I love that—live in the heart of Wisconsin not far from their three children and five grandchildren. Cynthia, welcome!
Cynthia: Thank you so much. I’m going to have to change that bio a little, pretty soon, because we have a sixth grandchild. We don’t know if it’s a grandson or granddaughter, who will be born in August.
Cynthia: We like changing our bios to have more books listed. We also like changing our bios to have more grandchildren listed.
Karen: The only thing I can list is when I get more dogs, so there you go.
Cynthia: More dogs also works!
Karen: Cynthia, as you know, we talk about the deep here on our podcast. Erin has her definition of the deep and I have mine. But we like to ask our guests when they’re here what that term, the deep, means to them. So, Cynthia, what does the deep mean to you?
Cynthia: For me, a lot of it has to do with getting beneath the surface. Whether that means going beneath the façade that we sometimes, not even intentionally, present to others, or going beneath the surface of the activity we are involved in, to get to the heart of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
But getting beyond the surface in our relationships, too. Primarily our relationship with God. We can do a lot of surface activity with God. But the deep, deep work with God often can have its painful moments. It has a depth of joy that can’t be shaken with what’s happening on the surface.
I ran into a passage of Scripture this morning. About the beginning of the year I’d asked God, as many others do, what’s my word for the year? Or my verse for the year? What is that? Am I going to have one this year or not? One year it was brave, and it turned out I needed bravery that whole year. One year it was rest, and I spent the whole year avoiding it.
And this past year I didn’t think I had a word that was going to carry through the year until I heard the word pilgrimage. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I really sensed that’s what He intended. You may have had experiences like that, too, where you weren’t even sure why He was saying that. Psalm 84 has a verse in the Bible that contains that word. I looked first to the Word because that’s the best place to go to figure out what God has in mind, and it was that verse about “happy are those whose hearts are always set on pilgrimage.”
I still didn’t know what that meant. And I still don’t. Here we are this far into the year, and I’m still not 100% sure about that. But I read that verse in another version, and that other version led me around to deep, which is kind of a skewed way of getting there. That verse in the Passion version said, “How enriched are those who find their strength in the Lord, within their hearts are the highways of holiness—or, that heart set on pilgrimage. Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.”
That spoke to me as if to say, pilgrimage, yeah, that was just a means of getting you to that verse. It was the driving force to get you to that verse, which I’m still pondering on. But that is what we do. That is how God wants us to live. “Even when their paths wind through a dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.”
Karen: That’s amazing.
Erin: The hard thing is we’re digging through that pain. We’re digging into that pain. It’s not like when we dig, it hurts less. I think it hurts more until we find that pool. And that is very counterintuitive. You have to trust that that pool of joy and of deep with God is going to be there.
Erin: one of the reasons why I was so interested to have you on the podcast, Cynthia, is because of a conversation you and I were having when we were at Mount Hermon. We were talking about you being an agent now for these past couple years. Tell us a little bit about that transition, when you went from author—and I know you’re still writing—and now you’re being an agent. How is that going for you?
Cynthia: I love every minute of it, even the hard parts, so you know that God’s presence is in the middle of it. And He’s teaching me things even in the difficulties that come with agenting. And there are always difficulties, because helping people get their books published is a winding, twisting path that sometimes has grave disappointments in it. And it’s always hard, it’s always difficult. It’s never easy or there wouldn’t be a need for an agent.
Erin: Wait, wait. You’re saying the agents actually feel disappointed, right? It’s not just the writers. There’s a revelation!
Cynthia: Can you imagine? Yes. There is often that! In fact, because we take on these clients as coming alongside them in their journey, we really are feeling what they feel. We have volunteered to feel what they feel when they’re going through all of this.
The transition part of it was, of course, a deep learning experience for me. Because as much as I thought I knew by being in the industry for a while, as much as I thought I knew from being on the author side of things, there was so much from the agent side of things.
One of the things that was a great joy to me was that I knew that Books and Such Literary Management—where I’m an agent—I knew it was a place of integrity. And there are several of those strong places of integrity and agencies within Christian publishing. And there are others where it’s not as visible or not as sure.
Cynthia: When I got behind the scenes with Books and Such and saw that that integrity ran deeper than I ever knew, that it wasn’t just a façade, that there was a depth to that level of integrity that ran way deep, even behind the scenes, that made me more sure than ever that the decision was a good one to become part of that team. And to root for other people’s projects with more ferocity even than my own.
Karen: I think that one of my greatest revelations while I was an agent was the fact that I, too, had been in the industry—I had led fiction programs for four of the major Christian publishers, I’d negotiated contracts from the publishers side—but it’s so different when you’re going not just as a negotiator but as an advocate. You’re trying to make sure that the marriage that you’re creating between publisher and client is one that will benefit both sides. And yet at times you have to be the tiger and fight for your client against people that you really love and trust. It’s learning how to be a champion, an advocate, and a warrior all in one fell swoop.
Cynthia: Karen, that is such a good description of it. And it really is true that we’re not an “us against them.”
Cynthia: Really, who benefits is the reader. If we do our work well, and we make that good marriage, and we pair people’s projects with the best possible publisher for them, who benefits the most is the reader, who gets the opportunity to read that novel or to read that nonfiction and be moved and changed by it.
So it really is that we’re out for that win-win, for making sure we’re doing the best and the highest level of excellence both for our author and for the publishing house, knowing that the end result is the reader is matched with words from God’s heart.
Karen: So let’s talk some about how the spiritual side of things impacts all of that. I know that sometimes it’s a little hard for authors to see that agents are really just plain old people. You know the image that’s out there of a literary agent is a blood sucking person going to get everything they can out of the author.
That’s completely fallacious, especially where the Christian agents are concerned, the agencies like you talk about that have the integrity, like Books and Such, and the Steve Laube Agency, all of that. So talk about the spiritual side of things, because I think our listeners need to understand that agents steep things in prayer, and I’m not sure that they realize that.
Cynthia: I think that’s a good point. In fact Erin and I were talking about this also at one of the conferences that we attended. It’s probably not known, because it’s not necessarily visible, the depth and the level of prayer labor that we spend even in deciding if we’re going to represent a client or not.
We can have someone with a great story, great personality, a wonderful platform, and we still make it a matter of prayer. It’s not an automatic. Partly because it is that marriage, that care of a relationship. And we’re looking for an author who’ll have a career, that we can accompany them through that career through thick and thin. We’re looking into character. We’re looking to make sure, are we on the same page?
But we’re also needing and depending so heavily on the discerning of the Holy Spirit. If we are walking by the Spirit, that covers everything we do in the business and the relationship side of agenting as well. We are praying over things as we’re looking at a manuscript and looking at a potential client. We’re looking to strengthen the manuscript and to strengthen that client’s hand in God at the same time.
There are often times I’ll be looking at a project that looks good on the surface, and I’ll have just this hesitation. And I’m not sure even where the hesitation is coming from. As I pray about it and refuse to just react instantaneously from what looks like it might be a good business decision, or what looks like I might be able to offer something to that client, or what looks like it might be a good partnership, oftentimes I wait until I have the green light from the Lord. Clearly a green light from the Lord.
We can try to manipulate answers. We can try to manipulate relationships. That rarely works. We can try to massage something out of a message that isn’t there. That rarely works either. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page, so to speak, in all ways. That our hearts are pointed in the same direction.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that every client I represent is a duplicate of the kind of things I would write.
Cynthia: I’m often representing things that are very different from what I would want to write. Sometimes it’s even different from what I want to read. But I know as I pray about it that it’s something the readers need to see or hear or consider.
Karen: That will speak to somebody. That will speak to their hearts and their spirits in their own journey in Christ.
Cynthia: So true. I had a doctor when I was battling lyme disease back too many years ago to mention. It sounds like a completely different century. Oh yeah, it was a different century! It was a year and a half before my doctor figured out that it was lyme disease that I had. And it was eight doctors that I had been through in this search, of all different kinds. They told me at one time that if you have a disease with fourteen symptoms, they send you to the psych department automatically because no disease has fourteen symptoms. And I had thirteen, and one I didn’t want to tell them about.
Through all of that process we got to the end of it, and it was my doctor, my godly internal medicine doctor, who was the person who discovered the answer, and we could begin the treatment that lasted again forever because it had had such a hold in my life by that time, in my body by that time.
But I found out later in the game, his medical assistant took me aside and told me every time I came in to see the doctor—and it was sometimes once a month with a new symptom, yet another symptom, another round of tests—he would go back to his office after I left, put his head in his hands, and say, “God I know it’s something, I just don’t know what it is yet. Will you please reveal what it is?”
Even though it took that long, I’m so grateful that it was that man through whom God wanted to bring that answer. Probably because he may have been one of the only ones of all those physicians who was seeking his answer from God not just from the medical tests.
So I apply that in agenting and think that’s part of my role, too. I sit with my head in my hands, or figuratively on my knees to say God how can this best be used. How can this be tweaked. How can this be edited, or changed, or a new title or subtitle or something that will bring this to the place where it needs to be so that it can reach who it needs to reach. In addition to that, I know I’m talking a lot here…
Karen: No, that’s good!
Cynthia: In addition to that is the aspect that we pray and care about our clients. If our clients are going through something personally, we want to know about it, because we are a prayer advocate as well. It’s not just because they might not make their deadline. It’s because we really do care about our clients and spend a lot of time praying that their lives will be transformed through their writing as much as their writing will help transform others.
Erin: Right. It’s so interesting, Cynthia, I don’t know how many writers out there really understand the degree to which this partnership happens. There is so much that you’re doing in the background that might not be noticed. What do you think, though, is one of the biggest challenges spiritually to being an agent?
Cynthia: I think I’m new enough at this that I’m not battling pride like I might if I were further down the road. I had a big major spiritual breakthrough not long ago, though, when I negotiated for one of my clients a contract I would’ve loved to have had for myself. And then the next week there was another one, where I was able to secure for a different client a contract I would’ve loved to have had for myself with the publisher I would have loved to have worked for or with.
The interesting part of that was my heart was full of joy. It’s almost as if the Lord had to remind me, “You know, that’s one you would’ve loved to have had.” The reason he had to remind me was because he had been working so hard at getting me where I needed to be so that I would rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, where we as a body would celebrate each others’ victories with no thought to receiving anything in return. No thought as to what that might mean to us.
Those were some really sweet moments. I say them now, and say them out loud, publicly here, because that’s what I want to remain. I don’t want to ever get to a place where it’s all business. Or where I’m making decisions according to what it will mean for a paycheck. As most people know, an agent often works for years and years and years and makes nothing. This is what we signed up for. This is what we decided we would do. But I know and have observed other agents who seem like they’re—I don’t want this to be offensive to any person, or for any person to see themselves in this unless God intends them to…
Karen: You know who you are out there…
Cynthia: That they would just want to build clientele. Just build clientele. That they would want to reach certain sales goals for the sake of the money, as opposed to for the sake of the Kingdom or for the sake even of making sure that we’re doing everything with excellence, and pushing ourselves to raise the bar of excellence constantly in what we do.
So that was a real stark reminder to me. Thank you, Lord, that it was in a gentle way that You did it, to remind me that’s where I want my heart to be. That if I’m able to get contracts for my clients that caused my heart to sing, that’s the real beauty in at all.
Spiritually, the hard part of being an agent is oftentimes balancing time. For those of us like Karen, who’s been in a place where you’ve been agenting and authoring at the same time, we understand that balancing time or where or which is the biggest bonfire that we have to put out at the moment, or the needs never cease, and the workload isn’t logical. It’s not the kind where—I visited Denmark just a little bit ago and their intention is that the workday ends at four or 4:30 so that everyone can go be with their families for supper, and they locked their computers away in the workplace so that you’re not tempted to work in the evening, when your husband is say watching another baseball game.
Cynthia: Something like that. So that part of it is an issue that I’m wrestling with the Lord all the time about: “What do you want me to do at this moment? Not just what’s on my to-do list for the day, but at this moment, which is the thing I need to attend to, according to your will Lord, not my agenda?”
Erin: You mentioned something earlier about the deep. You talked a little bit about knowing your why, in a sense. Going deep enough to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. I’m curious, why did you decide to become an agent?
Cynthia: Like everything else in my life, God decided for me and left me no option. So I wrote and produced this radio broadcast for 33 years and prior to that I worked in a chemistry lab. I thought that was what I was going to do with my life. I retired from that to care for my toddler children when they were young. I took a correspondence course in creative writing just to keep my mind active with something other than caring for children, and dirty diapers, and the latest updates on which diaper is the best.
The last assignment for that particular course that I took, which happened to have been the Christian Writers Institute at the time, was to write a script for a 15-minute radio broadcast, which I thought was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard of. I knew there were half hour hour and hour broadcasts. There were two minutes broadcasts, and I had no interest at all. At all.
So I procrastinated on that assignment for eight or nine months maybe. I finally did the assignment just so I could get my certificate to say I completed the course. Two weeks after I got my certificate a woman came to speak to the Christian women’s clubs in our area, the Stonecroft clubs, and they needed somebody to help her with her luggage and to sing in between her speaking points. I volunteered because they had already found a babysitter for my two-year old, so how could I say no. During that time the woman said she had just been given 15 minutes of free air time on a radio station that was about to go on the air. I said, “That’s very nice.”
Still had no interest. But at the end of our four days together, instead of her responding to my offer to search for some Scriptures that would go with her theme for the day, or perhaps look up some poems that would fit with what she was talking about, she handed me the address of the station and said, “Send the first program here.”
Cynthia: And I had just told the Lord, “I’ll go wherever you want me to go. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” He said, “Did you mean it?”
So with no experience, and no training, and no equipment, and no anything, nine months later that radio station went on the air and our first broadcast went on the air, and it was on continuously for 33 years. At the end it was five days a week, Monday through Friday, of these scripted broadcasts. The first half was fiction, musical interlude. The second half was devotional thoughts about that slice of life scene from everyday life.
So when Janet Grant from Books and Such called me one day a couple years ago and said, “Have you ever considered being an agent?” I said, “Nope. Uh-uh. Nope. Nope. Oh dear, I think I’m going to have to pray about it.”
When I told my husband, I was sure his answer was going to be, “You’re not going to do one more thing.” Instead he said, “Don’t you think God has been grooming you for this?”
The end result of our praying together about it and talking about it was that I said yes to God because I know no other answer to give Him.
Karen: There’s no other answer that makes any sense because if you say no it’s a big mistake.
Cynthia: Big, big mistake. I’m smart enough to know that. So anyway that was it. And the adventure of it has been so wonderful. As I’ve said, I’ve not only loved it, but I love the people that I work with. I love the people in the industry.
I’ve had some opportunities over the past years to grow in deeply caring about retailers and publishers and editors and marketing people as well as the authors. I think God has used that all because He’s giving me an empathy for all sides in this mishmash called publishing.
Karen: Well, Cynthia, thank you so much for taking the time to spend with us and to share your experience and give us some insights into the spiritual walk that agents have. And also just into the ways that God deals with us no matter what career path we’re on. The ways that He leads us and guides us. I love how specific He is to speak into our lives His truth in the ways that we can hear, whether what we need is a gentle reprimand like you got, or if it’s something just a little bit harder for those of us who are maybe a little bit too strong-willed. I really appreciate the time that you spent with us and we look forward to maybe having you on again.
Cynthia: I would love that. Thank you so much.
Erin: Thanks, Cynthia.
Cynthia’s not just an agent, but an author as well! Here’s her latest release:
We want to hear from you!
Did you know many agents wrestle in prayer as they make decisions about your manuscript? What do you think about that?
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