Author Tamela Hancock Murray

Why Do I Have to Jump Through Your Hoops?

aggressive

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.

By asking for a proposal, we have a way to evaluate you as an author and what we might expect in the way of your career. In turn, we are helping the editor evaluate your work and giving that editor a document they can take to Committee that will answer the Committee’s questions. That proposal needs to be a thorough document, especially in this tough market. The advantage you have with an agent is that we will help you get the proposal in the best shape we can before the editor sees it. We help your proposal stand out among the many others the editor will review. But you have to help us by doing your share. And most authors do. Trust me, I know how hard successful authors work. Everyone down the line appreciates cooperative, hardworking authors.

What If I Don’t Know How to Create One?

Writing a proposal can be scary if you’ve never had to write one. There are so many parts to a great proposal and many can fee inadequate. For instance, some new authors don’t feel they can garner meaningful endorsements because they don’t know anyone “famous.” That’s okay. I have helped many authors with various sections of a proposal. There are ways to pitch a book that can avoid certain areas of inadequacy. Another scary section can be the past sales history of your books. You may be a new author with no sales figures or a mid-list author with modest sales figures. We often have published authors try to skip that section. Unfortunately you cna’t avoid it. Every publisher will ask for that information. But we know that each author has a different past experience in the industry and modest sales can occur for any number of reasons. Fortunately most publishing houses will take this into account when evaluating a new project.

Best Advice I Can Give

The best advice I can give is that if you’re feeling unqualified to write a proposal, don’t let it paralyze you into not submitting. And definitely don’t vent to an agent or editor (or to their assistant). Do the work and give it your best shot. Send the most polished and complete proposal you can along with your fantastic book. An agent will respect the fact you took the time to research the agency’s site and provided all the information you could, to the best of your ability.

We can heartily recommend a couple resources if you cannot attend a writers conference. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has an excellent e-book resource called Writing a Winning Book Proposal. Or buy Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell.

I wish you great success! And I look forward to getting your complete book proposal.

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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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How Many Critiques Spoil the Broth?

Today I’ll give my opinion on a question sent to our blog:

When an author is trying to find the right Genre to write in for a particular subject, is it profitable to listen to only one critique? 

Discover

The author who posed this question is in the discovery phase. Writers who read lots of books and have developed a love for many types of stories often have trouble deciding what to write. Often I receive proposals from new authors who tell me they have written, for example, romance, women’s fiction, and romantic suspense and want me to market all three. From a statistical perspective, that makes sense. Isn’t it more likely that three proposals going to thirty places will be more likely for at least one to find success than one proposal going to six places? Well, no. This is because authors are better off finding their writing passion and pursuing that with the best book they can write rather than researching and writing across the board. For instance, romantic suspense and contemporary romance have in common the fact that the story’s main plot point is the relationship between a modern hero and heroine. However, a romantic suspense writer must be willing to learn about police procedure and the law, but contemporary romance authors usually don’t because their books focus on different types of conflicts.

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New Year’s Resolutions

So many resolutions. So many possibilities. So many dashed hopes.

In the interest of avoiding disappointment, here is my list of New Year’s Resolutions I am likely to keep:

1.) Watch more television.

2.) Buy more awesome clothes that go with red lipstick.

3.) Add to my collection of black pointy-toed spiked-heeled shoes.

4.) Increase my collection of black high-heeled platform shoes.

5.) Do less housework.

 Well, maybe I shouldn’t keep any of these. But my hope for the new year is to show everyone I care about even more:

 1.) Love.

2. Understanding.

3.) Mindfulness.

4.) Compassion.

5.) Patience.

Yes, more of these than ever before.

This is actually a very selfish resolution. For when we do these things, the likelihood of being rewarded in kind is great.

Happy New Year!

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A Year to Remember

Anyone following this blog or who knows me personally realizes this was a very exciting year for me on a professional level. After ten wonderful years with Hartline Literary Agency, this summer I joined The Steve Laube Agency. I am thrilled to be working with Steve as my new boss and Karen Ball as my colleague.

Although I kept the same title of literary agent and both agencies are headed by Christians, they have different personalities and styles. The transition has been challenging but rewarding. I extend my gratitude to my faithful clients who remained with me through this time of change, and can’t wait to explore the many possibilities ahead for their careers. I am enthusiastic about forming new relationships with beginning and established writers. I see God’s hand in my career as He gave me the leaders I needed at the time I needed them. Joyce Hart gave me chance when I first moved from being an author to an agent. Steve Laube is working with me to help me reach my full potential as a literary agent. My excitement about being part of this great agency has not diminished one iota since I wrote my first post for this blog, Happy to be Here! My esteem for Steve Laube has only grown and over this past year we have formed a solid relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

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Christmas Melodies

The good news for us in Virginia is that we rarely experience a white Christmas. Of course, for snow lovers, that is bad news. No sleigh rides for us.  Not even to a groovy beat. What I love is that winter is cold enough to call for a coat, but usually boots are more of a fashion statement than a necessity.

But here we have plenty of seasonal atmosphere, with an abundance of holly berry scents in candles and sprays, and Christmas music piped in to all the stores. I hope the writers of “Jingle Bell Rock”  and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”  retained their copyrights. Surely they must be billionaires by now.

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