by Tamela Hancock Murray


More questions!

How are the revolutionary changes in the publishing industry affecting your effectiveness as an agent?

I believe literary agents are needed more than ever because the landscape has become increasingly bumpy for writers. For example, we have been working with publishing house contracts regarding digital issues, how they affect the definition of out-of-print and  how authors will be compensated for digital rights. Clauses that might have generated yawns five years ago, today are scrutinized and reworked with new technology and formats in mind. These are not simple issues and having a skilled literary agent negotiating your contract is critical. In addition we have clients at the forefront in digital-first publishing, with contracts from Zondervan, Cook and Tyndale, to name three. This model is being heavily scrutinized on both sides of the table.

Where do you see these changes taking you in your personal career, and in the careers of those whom you represent?

I anticipate new opportunities for publishers, authors, and agents as we move forward to be sure our readers are able to obtain quality content in whatever format they wish to read. Authors will need to know more about marketing their own books effectively and work with their publishers to maximize opportunities for both print as well as e-book formats. For instance, I perused the catalog of my local library this past week in search of a certain title released by a traditional publisher. This book is available on the market in both print and e-book. However, the library only carries this particular book in e-book format at present. This means the next time I work with that publisher I will ask about this situation and see if there is way we can help influence the publisher’s sales efforts. I expect more of the same in the coming months and years. Every day has a new challenge. We are prepared to face each and every one!

Your turn:

What changes in publishing concern you the most?

What changes do you find most exciting?

Do you see the role of your agent changing in any way?

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Taking Your Questions

In my ongoing quest to address the needs of our blog readers, I am answering more questions authors have posed in the comments section of past blogs.

What publishers do you generally work with, and with which ones do you have the closest working relationship, or usually contact first? Which ones do you avoid? And why?

What I think you really want to know is, “If I sign with you, where will I land?”  I will break down your question into parts in hopes of offering clear insight.

Publishers we generally work with:

We work with all the top drawer publishers. A quick look at our client list as it appears on our web site is proof positive. You name a Christian publisher and we’ve probably done business with them.

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Questions About Editors, Countries, and Awards

This blog is a continuation of my question-and-answer session in response to queries posted on a recent post.

1) Would you be able to get access to briefs from editors on what they are looking for and suggest to the author if there are any mutually interesting topics or genres?

Yes. Between the three of us, our agency has 81 years in publishing experience. During this time, we have forged individual relationships and true friendships with editors, publishers, marketing people, and of course, authors. We are first on many editors’ lists when news strikes. Because of our reputation for working with top authors and our knowledge of the publishing industry, many times we have been informed exclusively of opportunities for our clients.

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Answers from the Mountaintop

(Or, from my desk in Virginia, where I am fueled by bold, rich coffee)

Before Christmas, when I posted about having a serious talk with your agent, a couple of you asked more questions. I really appreciate you! Over the next few weeks, I’ll provide my perspective on various questions. I want my posts to be a source of good, helpful information, so feel free to make more queries in the comments section.

1.) As an agent, what level of updates do you want from your author – do you want progress reports or just the finished product?

I can only speak for myself since each agent is different. My preference is to have a heads up about a writer’s plans, and then see the finished manuscript and/or proposal.

I like to talk with the author when we’re getting ready to prepare all proposals. That way, we can go over ideas and strategies. I am also fine with authors giving me updates on how the writing is going. I enjoy being in touch.

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Serious Talk with Your Potential Agent

What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:

1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see.  Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.

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Proper Care and Feeding of …You!

Thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses last week. I gained a great deal from reading and pondering them. This week, I’d like to take a look from the other side of the desk. As an author myself, I know how hard the writing gig is. And I know a LOT of authors, published and not, who have hit speed-bumps -or even felt like the Editor/Publisher/Agent semi just flattened them in the middle of the publishing highway. As hard as agents’/editors’ jobs may be, the author’s job is pretty tough too. You spend months and years working on your craft, only to have everyone tell you how to do it better. And then there are the lovely people who keep asking when you’re going to get a real job, or would you mind baby-sitting today since you don’t have a job, or any of a multitude of other ignorant comments that nibble at us like rabid ducks as we struggle to be creative.

Sadly, the criticism and ignorance doesn’t end when you get published. Just read some of the reviews on Amazon,, or Barnes&Noble. Or ask an author to share his or her reader letters with you. I know one group of writers that gets together once a year and gives out a prize for the worst review/reader letter. Some of them are, to say the least, brutal. Let’s face it, when your words are on the printed page, you can pretty much know someone isn’t going to like what you said or how you said it. And the ol’ Internet has made it waaaay too easy for folks to share their blistering thoughts.

No, writing isn’t easy. Not by a long shot.

So here’s what I’d like to do.

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Juggling Agent Interest

Whether you have been sending queries simultaneously through email, the Post Office, or by pitching at conferences, you may be among the select few authors who garners interest from more than one agent. Congratulations! While interest from more than one publishing professional doesn’t guarantee a contract, the consensus is that you have a strong proposal and a good shot at success. For the sake of clarity, I am confining this post to writers who are pitching to agents. The agent would manage interest from editors.

Hiring agents isn’t something writers can practice. At least, we hope not. Don’t earn the reputation as a writer who flits from agent to agent. So this decision is extremely important. You want a good fit for the long term. The agents want the same. As you go through the process of choosing, I have a couple of ideas that may help minimize unnecessary work and trouble for all concerned:

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Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

You’ve done your homework, including:

visiting agency web sites talking to author friends about their agents interacting casually with agents on social media reading agents’ blogs attending writers conferences as your time and budget allow

This is part of the process in helping you choose the agent you most feel you want to work with.

When deciding, think about:

agency’s reputation agent’s reputation authors the agent represents (demonstrated success with work similar to yours) personality (this is where social media helps)

Reputable agents welcome being researched because we stand on our record. Of course, every agent and agency who has been in business more than a day and a half has a few detractors. Most of the time, detractors are made either because the client and agent were a mismatch from the start and/or because of an unhappy situation complicated by misunderstanding. Good agents conduct themselves in an ethical manner and your research should reveal that the overarching agreement in the writing community is that their clients are well served.

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This Offer Does Not Expire


During a conference many authors ask , “How long do I have to submit my manuscript to you?” In other words, “Is there a time limit?”

The simple answer is, “The offer to submit to me does not expire.”

Why? Because I like to find new authors and develop, nurture, and encourage their work. My goal is to create a career for that writer. This philosophy is one of the reasons we are so choosey as an agency. We invest in an author to land that first deal, with an eye to winning future contracts.

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The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.

So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:

An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline. A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved

My response in every case was utterly profound:

“Are you KIDDING me??”

So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)

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