Author Tamela Hancock Murray

A Few Things Your Agent Needs to Know

changes

You have an agent, but want to be low maintenance. You value your agent’s time and hesitate to fill her in-box with lots of chatty emails or tie him up on the phone all day. I’m sure your agent appreciates you for being considerate.

Still, writing is a serious profession and a business. Therefore some personal events and occasions in your life are critical for your agent to know:

Happy Event

If you are the bride or groom, the parent of the bride or groom, expecting a new life in your family, are taking a month-long vacation to Hawaii, or have another major happy event planned, let us know so we will be aware that you might not be around for stretch of time.

Death of an Immediate Family Member

If you don’t tell us about a death that affects you in a major way, we won’t understand your emotional state. Also, consider that if you are responsible for executing a will and disposing of an estate, it’s best to let your agent know you are involved in time-consuming, heart-wrenching work that could affect your productivity.

Major Medical Issues

This includes any major illness or surgery, particularly if you may be looking at time-consuming physical therapy and multiple visits to doctors. If you don’t tell us, we won’t understand that you must see the doctor three times a week so you never seem to answer your phone or email. Or if you are faced with a chronic condition that changes how you approach your work.

Caregiving

If you must become a caregiver let us know. Not only are you having to adjust to a new routine, but taking on the responsibility of an adult who is unable to function on her own will also consume much time and emotion.

Difficult Family Circumstances

Family difficulties, a separation, or even a divorce are all things that you might hesitate to mention to your agent. Don’t fear judgment. Let your agent know. Your agent is your business partner and these situations can have a chilling effect on your creativity. And sometimes the agent can let your publisher know if you are in danger of missing a deadline, but in a tactful manner that protects your privacy.

Jury Duty

Each state has different rules regarding Jury Duty. For some it is only a day. For others it means being on call for a month. But at least tell your agent if you think you’ll be sequestered. If you are, then we’ll have a heads up and have thought of an action plan for while you are away.

Moving

Keep us up to date, even if you are months away from our deadline and don’t think it affects your work flow. We need to know your new address. And don’t forget to tell the publishers who are sending you checks! Or if you spend months in a second home, let us know when you switched to the new location.

What Not to Do

Please remember that the sooner you can let us know about any changes, the better. The worst mistake you can make is hoping against hope that things will be better than you think, and you can still make that deadline. Don’t make the mistake of meeting the deadline by just turning in whatever you have on screen, in other words, the raw first draft. It would be better to ask for a few extra days to clean up the mess before scaring your editor with something not ready for prime time.

And please, do not assume anyone is reading your Facebook or Twitter updates and consider that sufficient notice. Social Media posts do not substitute for an intentional notification via e-mail or a phone call.

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My Hat Collection

As an agent, I wear many hats and I love them all!

Miner’s Hat:
Worn while picking through slush pile submissions.

Tiara:
Worn in celebration of gem discovery in the form of your marketable manuscript.

Gold Crown:
In celebration of signing you to be a new client.

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The Unhelpful Rejection Letter

Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.

Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.

Lead Me On

When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!

I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.

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Editorial Feedback – Not Just Static

As Steve Laube pointed out the other day in his post “The Stages of Editorial Grief” receiving a tough edit can make a writer feel off-kilter, angry, unworthy, and summon other negative emotions. Of course it’s okay to experience negative emotions. You can’t control how you feel, though you can control how you manage your feelings. As he wisely points out, the key is to overcome emotions and get to work.

Detachment

I’ve edited and been edited, but I can’t say I have ever gotten such a tough edit that I wanted to throw a Waterford vase across the room. One advantage may have been majoring in Journalism in college which groomed me never to become attached to my words. News articles are no place for waxing eloquent, opining, or philosophizing. And with loads of information available today from so many sources, readers rarely indulge fluff from any but their most beloved authors. This is why it’s best not to become attached to your words. Any of them. Don’t become too fond of your title, which will most likely be changed in the Titling meeting. Don’t treat finding new names for your characters as though the courts are petitioning you to change your child’s name. And speaking of characters, don’t develop your own love affair with any secondary characters. They may get the boot in editing. Be willing to let go of your fondest habits and pet phrases. They may seem distinctive to you, but if they annoy an editor, it’s best to listen.

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Why Do I Have to Jump Through Your Hoops?

Recently, my assistant had a conversation with an author who did not send a complete proposal. The author was referred to our guidelines and gently reminded that we needed more material in order to make an evaluation. But instead of saying “thank you” for the guidance, the author declared they did not have to jump through any hoops, and took the opportunity to aggressively express their complaints about our review process.

What made this all the more frustrating to us is that it happens more often than you’d think.

Why All The Work?

Have you ever worked in an office where you could swear one of your coworkers could find something — anything — wrong with your work so they could get it off their desk and back onto you? Well, that’s not what we are doing when we ask for a proposal. We are not giving you busywork so we can get back to our soap operas and coffee.

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Charmed, I’m Sure

Dear Editor:

You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!

In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning? 

Cheers,

Tamela

Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works.

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Modern Speech

A couple weeks ago we discussed local flavor in expressions. It got me to thinking that I grew up in an era where no one thought anything of saying, “He should be shot,” or “My father is going to kill me,” for minor infractions. One of my friends noted that if a teenager said that today about her father, someone would call Social Services. After the Columbine tragedy that left so many dead or maimed at the hands of gunmen, I decided not to use any reference to shooting or killing in a cavalier manner. I believe my speech is gentler for the change.

I’m not sure every alteration has been for the better, though. The term “waitstaff” throws me. I can’t help but visualize a shepherd’s crook leaning against a corner wall, waiting for its owner to retrieve it. On the other hand, I don’t mind “flight attendant” as a substitute for “stewardess.” Have you noticed that media calls both male and female stars “actors” rather than “actresses” and “actors.” This change seems unnecessary to me.

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Fresh Formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

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What Does That Mean?

Some time ago, I was writing a story and used a variation of the sentence, “He wished he could be fly on the wall when they had that conversation.” This puzzled my critique partner, who didn’t know it meant. She had never heard the expression “fly on the wall” before and didn’t know it meant the character could be an unobtrusive observer. I decided to change the sentence for fear others wouldn’t understand, either.

I grew up in rural Virginia, and we had some unusual local expressions. Consider:

ugly as homemade soap

screaming bloody murder

grumpy as an old sitting hen

bleeding like a killing hog

slow as molasses on a December morning

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Your Brand is Not a Limitation

It is All About Expectations

What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.

Your Best Friend

Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide”  and Cattle comes to mind.  And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.

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