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.
Our reviewer’s opinion carries weight. If the manuscript doesn’t pass muster, the reviewer reports as to why it doesn’t. Based on the evaluation, unless my assistant has an extremely good reason to disagree, a rejection is sent. But if it survives that initial read, then the submission is sent to me for final evaluation. At that time, I must consider many factors as I make my final decision. The factors differ, depending on the author’s publishing history, type of manuscript in question, and my belief in its marketability. The main point to remember is that rejections from my office are never a reflection of a writer as a person, and I think most agents would make the same statement. I wrote books and articles for many years, so I know what receiving a rejection letter feels like. Since so much of yourself is put into your work, rejection does feel personal. One of the most difficult parts of my job is sending a rejection notice to an author I know and like. But if I waste her time, mine, and the editor’s, then attempts to market out of a sense of friendship won’t help any of us.
On the flip side, when I do offer representation, you can be confident that in my representation, you will have the full support of The Steve Laube Agency.
What is the longest you’ve had to wait for an agent to reject or accept your work?
Did you earn an offer of representation for your first manuscript, or did you write several books before finding success?