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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?

Book Proposals I’d Love to See

by Tamela Hancock Murray

beautiful red rose flower on black background

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction.

My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be Here,” but here’s an update for you:

Do you still want to see Christian romance novels?
Indeed I do! I’m happy to say that this is one area of Christian fiction that continues to thrive and enjoy an enthusiastic readership.

I am still passionate about Christian romance novels. I respect and honor the fact that the editors of the romance lines are very specific about their needs and wants. They look for hardworking, dedicated, talented authors who are able to write a fresh story within the romance novel framework. Does this describe you? If so, I’d love to partner with you!

What about other genres of fiction?
As those following the industry are aware, the trade book fiction market has contracted in recent years, but I have never experienced an easy time for authors to break in to trade fiction. As with modeling and acting, more people want those jobs than there are jobs available. This is a perennial fact.

However, I am always seeking a tale well told that I believe deserves a place in CBA. My personal tastes will always veer to heavy romantic elements. To wit, if my husband has a movie on television and I don’t see any women (e.g., cowboys sitting around a fire or a bunch of guys on a boat), I find something else to do until the movie is over.

But as long as there is a heavy romantic element, I’m open to all sorts of stories.

Are you open to general market fiction?
Yes. But the story must be so clean you’d be willing to share it with your most devout friend or relative. Nothing that would dishonor God or disrespect the faith of the church, as defined by The Apostle’s Creed, is welcome here.

Are you still open to nonfiction submissions?
Yes, and I continue to be highly selective. The importance of author platform here is magnified a thousandfold in comparison with fiction. I need to see an author who’s already connecting with his or her audience so I can show publishers the author has gained respect and credibility with current readers and will be a great partner with the publisher in expanding reader base. Nonfiction readers are looking for insight, consolation, help, knowledge, and encouragement. An author needs to come from a position of authority when delivering a book to these readers.

Platform must be accompanied by a great idea told in dynamic writing. Tell me why you have an audience eager to read what you have to say on your topic, and why. I love books that  make me want to read them even when the topic doesn’t apply to me. Now that’s a well-written and engaging book.

And in today’s market, that’s what you need.

Do you have a lot of slots open for new authors?
God has seen fit to allow me a client list that is fantastic beyond my wildest dreams. However, I am humbled and honored by authors who take their valuable time to learn about me and afterwards feel led to submit their ideas to me, especially when CBA is blessed by so many talented literary agents.

Although we are not perfect in our level of response (meaning it’s OK to follow up if you don’t hear from us), my assistant and I do consider submissions from new authors. I am thrilled to work with promising new as well as established authors. You can send proposals via email to ewilson@stevelaube.com (please visit the guidelines for specifics).

Are you still happy to be here?
Why yes, I am!

What is the Best Way to Submit My Self-Published Book?

by Steve Laube

Books

Since it has become so easy to self-publish many authors are creating their own books, both in e-book and print form. Later that author is not quite sure what to do if/when they want to approach an agent. Or pitch to an editor at a conference.

Should they just send a copy of the book with a letter? or should they create a proposal? or both? Is there truly a right way and a wrong way? And if you are at a writers conference why not just bring a copy of the book? You may not like my answer:

It depends.

In my opinion it is best to start over with a full proposal and sample chapters. In other words, act as if the self-published work doesn’t exist. YET, at the same time, within the proposal itself you must, absolutely must, disclose that the book was self-published and has sold xxxx number of copies.

Why not just send the book? Or a PDF of the ebook? or the Kindle file?

I didn’t say you couldn’t, what I said is that it is best to start over fresh. Why? Because of first impressions. Over the years I’ve received hundreds of finished self-published books instead of a proposal with sample chapters. Unfortunately the artwork on the cover or the interior design or the printing quality of the book are less than stellar. It is unfortunate, but I cannot avoid comparing your book to the covers I see from the industry’s finest designers. It is human nature to compare.

Beyond the book cover I’ve seen some used a weird font inside their finished book which rendered it unreadable. Or the author was trying to save printing costs and used a font so small the book was unreadable (to reduce page count).

I mentioned full disclosure of sales above. If your book has sold 5,000 or 10,000 self-published copies, say that in your cover letter. That is significant news. (And that means regular price sales, not free ebook downloads.) It means you are quite the entrepreneur and know how to sell books. That is a good thing.

If you book only sold 75 copies that isn’t quite as exciting.

Ultimately what you really want is to have your words be what is evaluated by the agent, the editor, and the publisher. Not whether or not you had a good graphic designer. The best way to make that happen is to present your story or non-fiction book plain and simple…in a regular book proposal

Of course there are exceptions to this (and it is not a “rule” only a guideline). There are times where the packaging of someone’s book is so terrific that it actually helps sell the book! But in a case like that you are betting that the agent or editor has the same taste in design that you do.

As always, check the agent’s guidelines (ours are found here) before sending anything to an agent or to a publisher.

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

iStock_000001066974XSmall

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.

First Lines of Best-selling Books: How Many Can You Guess?

by Karen Ball

Open Book

It’s 71 degrees outside as I write this, the sun is shining for the first day in weeks, and there’s a gentle breeze tickling the suddenly budding tree branches outside my office window. As you can probably imagine, I’m having a LOT of trouble concentrating on work.  So I thought I’d share something fun with you.

I always wonder how much of the books we love actually stays with us. So let’s do a test. I’m going to list a series of first lines from best-selling books in the Christian market. Immediately following will be three best-selling titles. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out, without cheating of course, which book those first lines belong to. (answers are at the end)

Ready? Here we go!

Diligence Rewarded

by Steve Laube

hardworkahead

The ease of today’s social media communication brings a casual layer to the task of writing. Careful composition is trumped by the need for speed. For most “throw away” emails and posts that is the new normal. But it should never leak into the business of writing, either in craft or in delicate communication.

The other day I received an email query/proposal. There was a very large file attached and the body of the email read, “Here is my book. Please take a look.” No signature line, that was it. At least it rhymed. This was not a friend, a client, or someone I had ever met. But the casual, even flippant, nature of the note all but says, “I’m not serious about the craft or business of writing.”

The best writers are those who take their ideas and their words and run them through a gauntlet of critique and reformation. They pour their words into a garlic press and slice and dice them into bits that can flavor their entire book.

This takes time. This takes hard work. And it is a process that seems endless.

Why Not Take a Chance?

by Tamela Hancock Murray

great risk road sign illustration design
Often I receive queries and proposals in which the author will say his submission is out of the box. I’m not opposed to groundbreaking work, but I have to decide what will and what won’t work for me. I am the first to admit, this process is subjective. Our own Steve Laube is routinely teased by a couple of his successful author friends he turned down. If an agent as wise as Steve Laube misses a call, everyone does. But here are a few questions I’ll answer to show why it’s not easy to sell an out-of-the-box work:

Is the economy making you more selective? It’s not helping, but in any economic environment, we agents must choose the best of the best and most marketable submissions.

But you and the editors are all friends. Why not take a chance even on work you’re not sure about? I do take the occasional chance on out-of-the-box submissions that are so stellar I’m awestruck, but I’m not often awestruck. I must be mindful that I am putting my name and The Steve Laube Agency name on every submission I send. In addition, the submissions I get behind must compete with other submissions that have been vetted by other professional agents. I would venture that the quality of agented submissions is outstanding. So getting me on board is hard, but getting the publisher on board is harder.

Five Myths About an Agent’s Rejection

Application Rejected

1.) The agent hates me. Unless you approached her and said something along the lines of, “You and your kids are ugly and you have lousy taste in manuscripts,” a rejection shouldn’t be personal.

But if you are worried that you unintentionally offended an agent or other publishing professional, take action. Email to let him know you have been worried about why you may have been the cause of offense, followed by an apology. Chances are good the other person had no idea he should have been offended, and has been enjoying the beach, not thinking a thing about the “incident” that has you worried. Or, if he really was offended, he should accept your apology. Then you can make a fresh start.

2.) The agent was making up an excuse to reject me.  Except when writing blog posts, we don’t have time to wax long and poetic. But if an agent says anything beyond a catchphrase such as, “This work is not a good fit for me,” then I would consider the advice. Those phrases might include allusions to the quality of writing, slim market for your type of work, or other hints as to why your work was rejected. This hint could help you learn what might work better for you in the future.

Genre Hopping

by Tamela Hancock Murray

bounce rate, web marketing

An author recently posed a question to us through our question button (in the right column on the blog page). We like when authors do this, so please feel free to use the button!

While everyone’s situation is different, the elements of the question are relevant to many so I’m addressing those today.

I have a question about genre hopping. I have a non-fiction book geared for parents of teens that is going to be released by a traditional publishing house in the spring. I have written 100′s of articles , but this is my first book project. I also have worked on a historical fiction novel for middle school readers for about the last 7 years and am in the final edits, book cover design and all the other details that go with self publishing. It will also be released at the beginning of next year as well. I have a distinct marketing plan for both books that are separate from each other as to not cause genre confusion for readers.  

What is the rule of thumb for staying within a single genre?

This author honed in on one question, but has asked many. If this author were a client, I would set aside a good block of time for a phone call to talk over the following:

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