Interview with Literary Agent Tamela Hancock Murray from The Steve Laube Agency


Today, we have the pleasure of having literary agent Tamela Hancock Murray from The Steve Laube Agency with us! In fact, we’ve got so many wonderful nuggets from her, we’re going to visit with Tamela for a few days. So I hope you take time to read this interview and then come back tomorrow for more.

Tamela, welcome! I am so excited about having you on the blog today.

Sherri, thanks for having me as your guest today. I am honored to be part of your blog!

Tell our readers a little bit about you.

I love life in Northern Virginia with my husband, John, who is also my real-life hero! Our youngest daughter is in high school and our elder daughter just married and lives in South Korea.  I am a native Virginian but I enjoy traveling with my family.

You’ve been an agent since 2001 but you are also an author, as well. Tell our readers a little about the type of books you write.

I was privileged to write primarily for Barbour’s Heartsong Presents line, which of course is now part of Harlequin. I also wrote novellas, and a novel for Summerside. All of my work features flawed Christians who, with God’s help, find lasting romance. This is a lot like me!

I think that describes the majority of us, don’t you? What else have you written?

I’ve also written Bible trivia books for both adults and children. I am proud of these books as well.

Tamela’s books

So many of us encounter obstacle after obstacle on our journey to publication. What was your biggest obstacle in becoming published?

My impatience. When I was a journalism student at Lynchburg College, I wrote a paper, turned it in, and got a grade within a couple of weeks. Later, I was accustomed to the quick turnaround of writing for newspapers and magazines. Books are so different! Many publishers need a year to publish a book after the author turns in the original manuscript. And that’s after you’ve toiled hard for your work to be accepted.

We definitely are used to instant gratification these days. Patience is something we have to learn. It isn’t given to us. How long did it take you to acquire an agent and/or get your first contract?

I wrote several novels that remain in my files and was rejected by Heartsong Presents at least three times before landing my first contract. Like many writers new to Christian fiction, I needed to learn the line’s expectations.

Yes, it’s very important to know what a publisher is looking for before submitting. What is one thing you learned along that journey that could have made it easier if you’d known it beforehand?

I was probably better off not knowing anything. If I had known the actual odds of having a book published, instead of writing, I might have driven my pastor crazy thinking up new things I could do as a volunteer at church.

I think I would have given up completely if I had known in the beginning what a journey this would be.  Ignorance is bliss. That’s for sure. What made you decide to become an agent?

Writing books was fun and fulfilling, but I wanted to stretch. Sales is one of my natural talents, so being a literary agent is a good fit for me. Although this career requires a number of skills, as an agent, you must have a love for selling projects, the confidence to approach editors by email, on the phone, and in person, along with the ability to communicate to them why they want and need your author’s book. You also must know what to do when you are not successful with a particular project, which happens to all agents and authors from time to time. I had this confidence and knowledge thanks to my background in writing and retail experience, along with my journalism degree, so when my friend Joyce Hart said she could use some help at Hartline Literary Agency, I was thrilled to take her up on her offer. I joined The Steve Laube Agency in 2011.

Do you consider this to be just a job or a calling/ministry?

I feel called to be a literary agent for the Christian market. The Lord has allowed me to be a vessel to help His authors with their careers, a calling far beyond my most ardent dreams or what I deserve.

Oh, I love to hear your heart about being an agent! Now let’s talk a little about the business. Since a query is the first thing you see from a writer, it must be as professional as possible. What are some things that mark a query, and later a proposal, as being unprofessional?

In a query:

1.)    Letter addressed to another agent.

2.)    Letter emailed to many agents, with addresses exposed in the Send field.

3.)    Project is not in a category I represent, meaning the person didn’t research us.

Regarding a proposal:

1.)    Poor grammar and punctuation. If grammar isn’t your strength, find someone to help you with it before sending a sloppy proposal to an agent. At least run the spell and grammar check.

2.)    Not being forthright with the information we need to make a decision.

3.)    When you don’t hear from your chosen agent, contacting another agent in the agency to help you get a response.

What is one of the most common communication issues/misunderstandings you encounter with writers?

New writers sometimes mistake “Inspirational” for “Spiritual” and we receive submissions touting religions other than Christianity. This is an honest mistake, though a time-waster for all involved.

But if you mean writers I’m working with, I do my best to keep lines of communication open so I can’t think of any big issue here. That doesn’t mean I think I’m the perfect communicator – I’m not. But my writers are fantastic about communicating with me, something I really appreciate. I would advise writers to email their agents on an as needed-basis. If you aren’t happy with the level of communication, schedule a phone call with your agent to talk about it so everyone’s expectations can be adjusted.

Very good advice! What do you consider a dream proposal?

Established authors are known to me by reputation, so for new authors, I like to see:

1.)    Writing that sparkles

2.)    A book written to CBA sensibilities so I can present it to all my favorite editors

3.)    A willingness to partner with the publisher in marketing

4.)    Possible endorsements from major authors writing similar books

5.)    A market comparison showing the writer understands where her book will fit in CBA

6.)    A strong presence on social media

7.)    A professional-looking web site

8.)    For nonfiction, a platform showing your book already has an audience waiting to hear from you

On the flip, what would be an agent’s nightmare proposal?

1.)    Terrible writing. We stop reviewing at this point, but for the sake of your question, I’ll continue.

2.)    Preaching instead of storytelling

3.)    Riddled with errors, factual and grammatical

4.)    Not understanding the rules of the chosen genre

5.)    Nonexistent web site or Facebook page

6.)    Can’t find on the Internet the books the author says he has published

7.)    Hiding published erotica or strident political screeds. If you have done this, tell us now.

8.)    Rejection results in poison pen letter from offended author

We’re hearing a lot about the importance of a presence on social media these days and how important it is to have a professional website. Thank you for sharing that list with us about all the things to look out for. Would people really think they could try to hide the fact that they’ve previously published erotica? Wow!

Okay, we’re going to stop here and let you chew on everything Tamela spoke to us about. We’ll be back tomorrow with more

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22 thoughts on “Interview with Literary Agent Tamela Hancock Murray from The Steve Laube Agency

  1. Very good points Tamela. When you said you still had manuscripts tucked away never published, that scares me. I mean, the thought of the manuscripts I’m working on now never getting published makes me sad. They are stories that have special significance in my life. I would sacrifice other manuscripts, but not these! Guess I’d better make sure they are the best they can be!! 🙂 May I ask if you had any special stories that you really hoped would be published and are not?
    Thanks for the great interview.
    Jan

    1. Jan, you are probably more sad about my unpublished manuscripts than I am. As I became successful with other stories, I let those go. Many other writers have unpublished manuscripts in their files, too. Almost every one I have spoken with is grateful that editors rejected the manuscripts, because in hindsight, the reasons (which varied) became evident. This insight comes with experience.

      As for your novels, you are right — make them the best you can and then submit!

      1. I agree with you, Tamela! As I look back at To Dance Once More, I would be horrified now if that story had been published in its orginal state. As the years have gone by and I’ve taken classes and rewritten stories, I understand why they needed to be rejected.

    2. Jan, keep up the writing! Don’t give up. But I’ll share with you something a writer friend shared with me. She told me that I was treating my stories too much like my own children. She said I needed to be willing to say no to them and to put them on the shelf for a while. Let them cook. And trust God to bring you more stories. That was the best advice I ever received!

  2. Congrats on your daughter’s recent marriage, Tamela. I bet your family will make quite a few trips to South Korea. What an exciting adventure!

    Great interview, Sherri and Tamela. I’m preparing my first proposal, so I appreciate the tips!

    Perhaps you could clarify the query/proposal. In Steve Laube’s Hints for a Great Cover Letter, he mentions that the agency prefers writers to submit the proposal package with the cover letter. I’m a little confused now. Which do you prefer?

    1. If you want to write a detailed query letter and let us respond to that, you can. However, I prefer to see a cover letter and a proposal. In my current series on proposals I’m writing for the agency blog, I plan to include a post on cover letters. But to answer your question now, I recommend sending your letter in the email itself, telling a little about yourself and your book, and then letting us open the attached proposal. Does that help? 🙂

  3. Tamela, thank you for this. For a pre-published author with a growing blog following and a facebook author page, how important is it to also have a website?
    I’ve purchased my domain name but am waiting until I understand what should be on it beside contact info and to have the financial resources to establish it so it begins at its best. What are your thoughts and what do you expect to see when you visit the website of an author querying or pitching a debut novel?

    1. Nancy, I think it’s a good idea to have a web site because it allows you to share visuals with your readers and talk about your writing to establish a firm presence. Readers can quickly see just what you want them to see in an understandable and pleasant format. A blog is great and I like to see that, too. However, a viewer’s first glimpse is more random unless your blog is extremely focused — for example, if you only write book reviews, or you only post about writing. With most writers’ blogs, one day may be a recipe, another may be an author interview, and yet another may be about a pet cat. That’s great, but the web site is much less random. And with a blog only, I have to scroll and read articles. With a web site, I can flip through tabs and see pictures and read paragraphs — a quicker assessment. Does that make sense? 🙂

  4. Hey Sherri and Tamela. A great interview with wonderful questions and answers. I would have loved to have read an interview like this when I was just getting started and trying to find an agent. This kind of information is invaluable. Tamela, I hate to disagree with you but you ARE an awesome communicator! That’s one of the many things I love about you. Blessings, Debbie Lynne

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