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It Takes a Committee

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Portrait of a group of panel judges holding score signs

One well-known and frustrating fact about seeing a book finally accepted is the looooooong process. Trust me, literary agents would like to see the process move faster, too.

Believe it or not, the fact that at most large publishers, a proposal must go through several rounds of review before a contract is offered is actually good for the author. Yes, you read that right. It’s good for the author. 

I got dumped
Let me back up to an experience I had writing for a newspaper years ago. I had a pretty good gig writing about real estate. Then, Chris, the editor who hired me, left. 

Soon afterwards, I overheard someone identify me as, “Oh, she’s someone Chris brought on.” 

Her dismissive manner of me and the way she emphasized his name told me my gig wouldn’t last much longer because the new guard wanted to bring on their friends. Assignments from the new guard evaporated within a month. I was fine, though, because I had several other writing gigs at the time and wanted to move away from writing about real estate, anyway. But I might not have felt as cavalier if this had happened while I was writing books.

Strength in numbers
As a book author, you do want your editor to love your work. But you don’t want your editor to be the only person at the publishing house to love your work, even if that advocate is the most powerful editor at that house. 

Why? Because even the top editor may decide to leave, for any number of reasons. Then where are you as an author with your only advocate gone? You may be left as an author with very little support for your current book, which is sure to mean terrible sales numbers and no future contract with that house. Not to mention, terrible sales numbers will ensure a difficult road to a contract with a different house.

All aboard!
The editor who’s excited about you and your work will do everything she can to ensure success for you at each meeting as your proposal makes its way through the chain. When the team of editors, along with sales and marketing people, understand you and your book and are rooting for you, they feel invested in you and your work. Having the team’s support is much better than one editor fighting the good fight alone.

And if your editor does decide to move on, good people at the publishing house will still be left to make your book a success.

Patience is a virtue
Indeed, this is yet another example of how the writing life tries our patience. And to use yet another cliche, good things come to those who wait.

Your turn:

How has being a writer tested your patience?

What is the longest you have waited for a response?

Why an In-the-Know Agent is Your Best Partner

by Tamela Hancock Murray

businesswoman on the phone

Even in the tightest market, new opportunities develop. Not only can authors keep up with these opportunities by being well-connected themselves, but this is just one part of your career where partnering with a great agent is key.

Why? Because editors don’t always put out a call to every writers’ loop when they need proposals. Most don’t have time to become inundated with lots of proposals that won’t work. Instead, editors go to their friends, the agents. An experienced agent with a healthy list of talented authors will send editors appropriate proposals.  

A well-connected agent with a stellar agency is likely to learn:

When there is hole in an editor’s schedule. Writers miss deadlines for many reasons. That’s when your agent can help you fill that hole. This can be the start, or continuation of, a fabulous relationship between you and a grateful editor.

About a new line. Agents are often the first outside of a publishing house to learn about a new line. This can help you be among the first authors to submit a proposal.

About unexpected needs. Editors will often let agents know they are expecting to need certain categories of books in the near future. This knowledge also gives you a chance to be an early contender.

That a house is changing direction. Publishers’ web sites and Amazon listings are informative but even the most up to date only reveal what has just happened. You want to look to the future because your book will be published in the future. That’s why, based on a web site, it may seem like a great idea to submit, say, a chick lit book to a house. But if that house has decided to move in the direction of WWII novels, your agent is more likely than any of your other business partners to know this. Your agent can keep you from submitting a fantastic proposal — fantastic for last year.

A key person is leaving. Just one key person’s departure may not only affect individual authors, but might even impact the future direction of a publishing house. Knowing personnel changes sooner rather than later will help you stay ahead in the game.

This doesn’t mean agents, even extraordinary ones, are the first to learn every bit of important news — but we are privy to quite a bit. And this does not mean that just because an author is among the first to submit work, that her work will be accepted over proposals arriving later. But being in the know early is still just one of many good reasons to partner with a great agent.

Your turn:

What are some other reasons you think it’s a good idea to partner with a wonderful agent?

Have you ever been able to submit a work early based on your agent’s inside knowledge?

Or do you disagree? Do you think authors are just as effective as agents in learning news early?

Don’t Just Do It

by Dan Balow

Dont Just Do it

I don’t like the word “just”.

Don’t get me wrong, “just” is a fine word, especially when used in a triple-word space in Scrabble.  It has all sorts of good uses and meanings…even used to fill time when we are thinking, along with the other great words and phrases of our culture, such as “like”, ”um”, “I mean” and ”you know.” 

I simply do not like the word “just” when it is used to place limits on or minimize something we are doing.  It might be unintentional, but many of us use the word to lower the bar:

“I just want to go to church and sit quietly and enjoy the service.”

“I just want to go to work and have no one bother me.”

“I just want to attend that meeting without someone asking me to speak up.”

“I just want to retire.”

Can you imagine someone stating, ”I just want to be a missionary”?  Devoting your entire life, both present and future to God’s will and work, giving up everything you planned in your life for the service of God’s kingdom seems a bit larger than “just” another path in life. 

Now imagine someone who “just wants to be a writer.”  It sounds like a person who aspires to write ad copy for Craigslist.

Purpose, passion, energy and total commitment are what it takes to be good at anything.

Many years ago, I decided to never “just” do anything (except for mundane things like getting dressed, washing dishes, taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn of course). My wife will often precede something she is about to say that contains the dreaded word with an apologetic disclaimer.  I might have gone too far with this entire thing, but it is too late to turn back now.  (Dedicated to the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose)

Many years ago, as a way to remember to not “just” do anything, I wrote myself a note and pinned it up next to my desk.  Here it is:

I Love Mondays

  • They are the beginning of an opportunity to do something significant. It might the start of the best week of my life.
  • Do important stuff.
  • When confusion reigns, remember what is important.
  • Harness creativity, intuition and wisdom to beat back ambiguity and randomness.
  • Have fun.
  • Do it all for the glory of God.

Who in their right mind would actually look forward to Mondays? (and not “just” because Steve Laube’s blog post is on Monday)

Zig Ziglar said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

So, don’t “just” write…write with everything in you, but first, maybe write yourself a note.

What drives you?

An Atypical Time in an Agent’s Life

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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I have enjoyed reading various “typical day” posts lately on other blogs, so I thought instead of sharing a typical day, I’d share an atypical month:

Sad News for Us

My father-in-law, a Baptist minister, passed away at age 89 after two strokes. While our family is sad to lose him, his funeral was a celebration of his life. 

Snow, Snow Everywhere!

I realize snowfall in Virginia is laughable in comparison to other places, but the number and intensity of our storms has been atypical this winter. We drove to Connecticut in between storms, only to be greeted by a storm when we arrived. Instead of visiting my mother-in-law on our first full day in town, we had to hole up in the hotel room.

And Speaking of Hotel Rooms…

Because of a variety of circumstances, my father-in-law’s funeral in one state and internment in another state required that my husband and I be on travel for eight days. So we stayed eight days at the Hampton Inn. 

Contracts Abound!

All the while, I kept getting messages that contracts were pending, on their way, or attached to emails arriving on my smart phone. Thankfully, this is the one aspect of this time period that is not atypical. My 88-year-old mother-in-law asked if all the ringing notifications got on my nerves. “Oh, no!” I assured her. She also said, “You are always on the phone.” I forget that not everyone is as plugged in as I am.

Are You in a Cult?

The nice lady who prepared our free breakfast every morning (Yay, Hampton Inn!) asked us why we were there and we said we were there for a funeral. And we were there. And we were there. And we were still there. On our last day, I asked her if she wondered if we were part of a weird religion where burial requires eight days. She laughed, but I still wonder if anyone there did a Google search on weird religions.

Florida Christian Writers Conference

No time to settle in before leaving for the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference! http://www.floridacwc.net/

This conference is headed up by the lovely Eva Marie Everson and the awesome Mark Hancock. Of course, Hancocks are always awesome. Everyone was wonderful and understanding about my late arrival. By the way, this is a very good, informative, and enjoyable conference. This year, several key note addresses were given by our agency’s own Ellie Kay! (www.elliekay.com) Do consider attending next year.

And finally, Snow!

Today is Monday and in honor of my arrival home, more snow! So a-shoveling I will go.

And there you have it: an atypical time in the life of an agent.

Your Turn:

What has been the most atypical time in your life?

Bring the Books

Agency Library

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

by Karen Ball

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Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

2013 – A Year in Review

by Steve Laube Businessman on a ladder ticking boxes showing opinion terms on grey background What a year it has been. I’m tempted to write that sentence and leave the rest of this page blank. It would be easier than to remember and recite all that has come to pass. But it is a healthy exercise nonetheless.

Agency Business

The biggest news of all was adding another agent to our group. This past Summer we welcomed Dan Balow to our ranks. He is a fabulous addition and is already making his “agenting” mark. Just don’t talk to him about Cheez-its.

Despite some sudden changes in our industry (see below) we continue to secure publishing deals for our clients. The good news for writers is that content is still king. Without great content there would be no commerce.

The forecast continues to be sunny at our Agency.

The Industry

Random House officially merged with Penguin to form Penguin Random House. Most of the infrastructure changes that would affect us have been completed.

Three Myths About an Agent’s Acceptance

by Steve Laube

Arrow with word  Fact breaks word Myth. Concept 3D illustration.

You’ve worked hard. You wrote a great book. You pitched it just right and the literary agent has called you saying they want to represent you and your project. Hooray! But there are some misunderstandings or myths about what happens next.

1.  Your Book Will Soon Be Published

Just because an agent has said yes doesn’t guarantee success. Nor does it speed up the inexorable process. Remember that while the agent will work hard in getting your work in front of the right publishers and deal with any objections or questions that come, it can happen that an idea is rejected by every publisher.

In addition the acquisitions process at a publisher is very process oriented. When I was an acquisitions editor we tried to have a monthly publications board meeting. I was given time to present about eight titles at that meeting. Thus beforehand we had to decide which titles were going to be pitched. Often I would bump an idea to the next meeting because another one took its place. For the author and the agent this means waiting and waiting some more. Other businesses may make their decisions more quickly, but publishing has always worked in this methodical manner. Of course there are exceptions, but usually at the expense of someone else’s project that has now been bumped to the next pub board meeting.

High Maintenance Agent?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Excited Nerd Girl With A Big Idea

We’ve all heard of high maintenance authors. They whine unnecessarily about covers, edits, and deadlines, make impossible demands, and otherwise exhibit other diva-ish behavior.

But what about your agent? You want a partner who will work with you but not interfere. Someone who will encourage you but not be so intrusive that you get nervous. An experienced friend who will give you tips on how to create a more effective story but not insist her ideas or better or — Horrors! — try to rewrite your book.

I always talk to my authors about the level of back and forth they want and need and I tailor my efforts accordingly. I’m not perfect, but I do my best to achieve effective communication with each author. Everyone understands that the number of phone calls and emails will ebb and flow according to where we are in the publishing process.

Dan Balow Joins The Steve Laube Agency

by Steve Laube

portraits of Dan Balow taken April 9, 2010I am very excited to announce that Dan Balow has joined our agency as the Director of Publishing Development and Literary Agent. This gives us four members of our team, me, Tamela Hancock Murray, Karen Ball, and Dan.

I’ve been looking for ways to increase the services our agency provides to current and potential clients. I have known Dan for 15 years and by adding him to our agency we can expand our role in helping to maximize our client’s sales, work with ministries and organizations to develop their publishing efforts, and expand our reach internationally. Dan’s strengths are his understanding of book marketing, what it takes to be successful in the current publishing environment and how all the pieces of the publishing “puzzle” fit together. Our team has expertise in all facets of the industry, writer, bookseller, editor, marketer, agent, executive management, and publisher.

Dan is a 30 year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was the director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers working with authors Francine Rivers, James Dobson, Josh McDowell, Charles Colson and many others.

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