Yesterday, we were blessed to visit with literary agent Tamela Hancock Murray from The Steve Laube Agency. If you missed it, click here. Today we’re going to continue the interview. Let’s get started!
Tamela, writers are told that meeting an agent face-to-face at a conference is the best way to acquire one because each can test the relationship waters to see if a connection occurs, which is important for the journey. What do you say to writers who may be struggling in our current economy and who can only dream of attending a conference?
Take comfort in the fact that I have made excellent, warm connections with many authors at conference but ultimately had to decline their work upon review. It’s hard to discern what may or may not work based on a quick chat, and even harder to decline a hopeful author in person – especially an author you like personally. So conferences can result in what my President and CEO, Steve Laube, likes to term “The False Positive.” Very, very few editors and agents are immune to giving authors the occasional false positive. We love authors and want to encourage you. Otherwise, we’d find something else to do with our lives.
Editors and agents contract with authors they haven’t met all the time. I sold most of my books before attending a conference. So save your pennies and:
1.) Follow the agent’s blog. The Steve Laube Agency blog is here: http://stevelaube.com/blog/. You can subscribe to us so our blog comes to your email box every day. The great thing about following an agency blog is that all the agents contribute to their company blogs, so you can get a feel for each agent, as well as the agency as a whole.
2.) Visit the agency’s web site.
3.) The agent may have a personal web site. Visit it.
4.) Friend the agent and like her page on Facebook. You don’t have to comment on her every utterance, but you can get to know her personality a little bit this way.
5.) Follow the agent on Twitter. My handle is @Tamela_Murray, and many other agents have Twitter accounts.
6.) Do you know other authors the agent represents? Talk to them about the agent.
If you send me your best proposal, and I fall in love with your work and feel I am able to devote the time and energy to your career you deserve, I’ll call you after review. Then we’re already excited about working with each other. What better way is there to make a connection?
Such awesome information! I love these little nuggets, Tamela! Okay, now tells us what you think about the writing itself. Writers are encouraged to “find your voice”, write what they know, and to stick with a genre once they have a following. What are your thoughts on these things and do you have any advice about this from an agent’s point of view?
Voice is elusive in that you can’t pick a publisher and force your voice to fit with them so they’ll buy your book. Or at least, I haven’t seen this happen on a great scale. What you can do is write and then find a publisher who likes your voice. You can only find your voice through practice. When you write, be yourself. Many, many people like who you are. Go with that.
You can’t always write what you know. If I wrote what I know, my heroine would sit at the computer and fill out blog interviews, talk on the phone, drink coffee, and then stop when her husband arrives home from work. I find what I do fascinating, but others wouldn’t find it a riveting read. Of course, part of you will be in every book and you will draw from your life experiences. But it won’t be exactly what you know. So write what you are passionate about. Choose a setting and time period that you love, do the research, and write about it.
As for sticking with a genre, authors have to remember that publishers pour lots of time, effort, and money into publishing and promoting any given book. Once you have made a splash with, say, Regency romances, then the publisher can keep building on your success when you stay there. You may have a hankering to explore Bible times, but that change may force your publisher to reposition you in the marketplace, meaning more time and expense for them and for you since you will be building a new audience. And, the publisher already took a risk on you with Regencies. Are you asking for a second risk with a new genre? Not to mention, you don’t want to disappoint your loyal readers. Of course, some authors do write across one or more genres to great success. But I hope my answer offers enlightenment as to the general rule.
One thing that is hard for writers seeking agents is the wait to hear back on a query. When the recommended time period passes with no word of either a rejection or acceptance, the writer isn’t sure if she should stop waiting or keep hoping. The unknown is a killer. However, agents are inundated with queries and proposals, making it difficult to respond to every submission. Please explain to us a little about your day-to-day life as an agent and why writers don’t hear back from agents with a rejection.
This is a good question and one that plagues agents and publishers. We want to be polite and we believe in our hearts that sincere, professional queries deserve a response, but our intentions don’t always live up to reality.
The enthralling aspect of being an agent is that we don’t know what any given day will bring! Among developments, we may find:
1.) A new offer on a book or series
2.) An author needs a pep talk
3.) A long-awaited contract (or two or three) finally arrives and needs to be negotiated
4.) An author has an unexpected crisis that will affect his output
5.) A scheduling dilemma for a book series that needs to be resolved
6.) We need to help authors with sundry issues such as promotion
7.) An editor wants to schedule a conference call
8.) Several proposals need to be submitted to editors promptly
9.) An editor or author will be in town and would like to meet
10.) An urgent question about payment
And these are just off the top of my head! It’s easy to see how a day can go by without a break. Agents receive calls and emails throughout the day about everything from misdirected mail to royalty statements. Some can be answered in moments but others require several rounds of long emails, while still others need a block of time on the telephone.
As you can imagine, agents must put their current clients and projects in front of new submissions. Even those of us who have excellent assistants and readers can drop the ball. If a project passes initial review, then it comes to us. When a project is too good to send an immediate decline but not urgent enough to fill a hole in our list, we might procrastinate. This is especially true during conference season, when we might visit with editors and glean information to help us decide if your project is one that will stand out in today’s skittish market.
I think it’s OK to follow up if you haven’t heard from us. Sometimes, it may be a simple as misbehaving email!
Now I understand exactly how busy agents are and I think our readers do too! It’s common knowledge that if you don’t grab an agent/publisher within the first five pages, your proposal may be rejected. Once a writer gets beyond this stage and is asked for a full manuscript, this is where the writer must deliver what’s promised in the proposal. What are you looking for most—story, writing ability, POV consistency, etc.?
You have listed elements of equal importance. In today’s tough market, writers can’t afford to submit anything but their best in every element. The story must be a standout, meaning it’s different enough that readers won’t feel they keep reading the same book over and over, yet not so far out that it has almost no chance of attracting the attention of a major publishing house. Granted, there are many successful books that don’t fit in a box, but I am sharing the easiest way to gain an agent’s attention, because the agent should feel there is a chance your book will sell to a mainstream publisher before she’ll sign you.
Be sure your whole story lives up to the first three chapters. A big complaint I hear from editors is that writers pour their hearts into the first three chapters, then the rest of the book goes kaput.
Do you have any last advice for writers who may be seeking agents?
Read CBA books so you get a feel for the market. Again, get to know the agent through social media. As for Facebook and Twitter, don’t be shy about following several agents. If you follow me, I don’t assume I’ll see a proposal from you; I just assume you want to be a part of the Christian writing community. Always submit your best work. And pray to the Lord for guidance.
Tamela, thank you so much for spending this time with us to help point the way toward publication. You have been a blessing!
Now that we are fully equipped for the job, let’s get to writing folks!