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Christian Literary Agency, Left Behind Series | Alive Literary

Left Behind Series

By Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Back in the winter of 1991, I took Tim LaHaye skiing at Breckenridge. That evening after dinner as we sat around the lodge fire, I asked him what he most wanted to do with the rest of his life. “I want to tell people about Jesus,” he said. “How?” I asked. And then for the next half hour I sat and listened as this lifelong prophecy expert and private pilot talked about an idea for a novel that he said had been roundly rejected by about a half dozen publishers in the early 80′s. He called it Left Behind, and about all he had in his mind was the question: What would happen if the Rapture occurred on a 747 at 33,000 feet over the Atlantic?

He indicated he was open to help with the manuscript, since he’d never tried his hand at fiction, and so I paired him with a writer who was willing to write the novel for a relatively modest amount. In the end, I determined that the resulting work wasn’t saleable, and I turned next to Jerry Jenkins. He was a new client, best known at that point for his collaborations with Orel Hershiser and Nolan Ryan on their NY Times best-selling autobiographies, but who wanted to be doing more fiction. Jerry was aware that the project had been pitched to no avail years earlier, that another writer had struck out with the idea, and so he fairly wanted my take on whether the book would work.

“In the hands of the right writer, it has serious potential,” I said, adding a caveat that if he wanted to be involved I needed him to write a single chapter on spec.

He agreed, and a couple of months later he delivered a killer chapter with multiple cliff-hanging elements that I thought could do well with the right publisher. In 1992 I sent that chapter with a proposal to a broad list of houses: Bantam, Bethany, Cook, Crossway, Doubleday, Focus on the Family, Harper-San Francisco, Harvest House, Moody, Multnomah, Nelson, Questar, Tyndale, Word, Zondervan. I felt like I was on a fishing expedition, trolling the Pacific.

The thin reject envelopes came quickly. The letters said things like: We rejected the idea years ago… A novel where the ending is known would be a tough sell… Dr. LaHaye is untested with novels and sales of his recent books have been declining; and Jerry has never collaborated on fiction before. Others were less forthcoming: This novel is just not right for us. For another, the issue had more to do with an agent being involved–still pretty radical back then: “We feel we could do an adequate job, but not one what would match your expectations. So, we’ll have to pass on this opportunity.” Thinking I was going to get skunked, I tried to turn some of the no’s into yeses-especially at Thomas Nelson, one of Jerry’s previous publishers. But they closed the door on the idea three times, and others were similarly entrenched.

In the end, only Don Jacobson at Questar and Ron Beers at Tyndale had any real interest, and ultimately their offers were identical. What made a difference was that Ron called and said the proposal had his serious interest, and offered Jerry and me the opportunity to personally pitch Tyndale’s entire executive team. At our dog-and-pony show weeks later, the meeting went nowhere fast and I figured I’d wasted the flight from Colorado. The reps from sales and marketing quickly shot the idea full of holes, and even editorial seemed to backpedal in the face of their barrage. We were on the downside of disaster when somebody asked Mark Taylor, president of the company, what he thought. His comment stopped the meeting cold. He glanced around the room and then quite uncharacteristically blurted out, “I think we can sell a half million copies of this book.”

I smiled over at Jerry, but everybody else was staring at their shoes. The CFO of the company tried to break the silence with a touch of humor. “We should probably not use numbers like that in front of an agent.”