by Tamela Hancock Murray
When you submit a manuscript or query to an agent, you may wonder what happens to it, and what our thought processes are regarding the properties we offer to represent versus those we must respectfully decline. Every agent is different, but you may find learning about my process helpful.
I have a very smart assistant. When she reviews my slush pile submissions, she goes through a winnowing process.
The first submissions she rejects are those that are obviously not a fit for me. These include:
1.) Stream of consciousness submissions. If she can’t figure out what you are talking about, she sends it back. By this we don’t mean that we don’t understand systematic theology. It means that the query letter is incoherent.
2.) Error-ridden letters. Even the best of us can type “here” when we meant to type “hear” but more than one error in a final letter is a red flag that either the author is not well-versed in basic grammar or will turn in careless, sloppy work.
3.) We rarely acknowledge queries sent as an email blast in the cc line to the entire industry. It is a form of spam. Target a select few and then personalize your proposal to each.
4.) Books that aren’t in categories we represent.
Submissions that bypass these four problems, among others, and otherwise show promise are passed on to a reader. The reader looks for factors such as:
1.) Excellent writing.
2.) For fiction, coherent plot.
3.) For nonfiction, whether the intended audience is likely to connect with the topic.
4.) Overall message of book, whether fiction or nonfiction.
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