Conference Proposal Requests

The recent ACFW conference (attended by nearly 700 writers and industry professionals) has writers, agents, and editors in overdrive as we all attempt to follow up on conference proposal requests. Writers are working feverishly to get proposals to editors. Some are thinking, “Surely the editor who seemed so excited about my proposal is checking email at least once or twice a day looking for it. I must, must, must get the proposal out today!”

Not so fast

Our word is our bond, and we feel responsible when we promise to submit a proposal as soon as we can. Accountability is to be commended. Editors and agents appreciate conscientious writers. However, most of us are looking for a writer’s proposal under certain conditions, and those conditions are usually quite urgent in the careers of writers already established with us. From my perspective, conference requests are different. Here are a few examples:

1.) The editor seemed so excited! Why did I get a email form letter rejection ten minutes after I sent my proposal?

This writer received what I consider a courtesy request. Think about it: no one likes to reject someone face-to-face. It is not easy to tell a person you’re not interested in a novel she’s worked on for months, perhaps even years. And it may be that you never showed them a stitch of your actual writing but only a one sheet or gave a pitch in a hallway. The softhearted editor probably liked the writer as a person, but used the quick form letter rejection to convey a hard truth after the fact.

2.) The editor seemed so excited about my one-sheet! Why did I get rejected?

The reasons are legion (see #1), but a one-sheet, while useful, has its limitations. Writers spend considerable time on one-sheets, honing to perfection. And the plot promised on the one-sheet is indeed delivered in the book — a plot perfect for the editor’s house. However, if the writing doesn’t sparkle, a perfect plot will not garner a contract.

3.) The editor seemed so excited by everything about me! Why haven’t I heard back from my submission after all this time?

Cyberspace is both an exhilarating and frustrating place to work. Few have any idea what it is like on the editor’s side of the desk. During the conference they can focus on the event and the people in it. But back in the office there are dozens of pre-existing issues and new hurdles that prevent the editor from responding immediately. The new submissions are rarely at the top of any editor or agent’s to-do list.


At any conference, we’re running on coffee/diet soda/no sleep/adrenaline/unfamiliar food and we all want to make the best impression we can upon one another. And we are all pretty pumped. Editors and agents want to find the next bright star, and we want to be excited about you and your work.  So please forgive us when reality’s glare forces us to send you bad news after you return home.

My best advice is to be sure to follow up on any and all conference requests with your most superb work. Your agent will help you ensure your work is the very best it can be to submit to editors. When you receive feedback, take it seriously. Continue to write and hone your craft. Even if a conference doesn’t result in a contract this time, you have still made valuable and meaningful connections with writers, editors and agents. Persistence and willingness to learn are key. Any conference is only a part of the larger picture in your career. That’s my perspective. What’s yours?







28 Responses to Conference Proposal Requests

  1. Avatar
    Gwyn Weyant October 6, 2011 at 4:02 am #

    Tamela, You just opened my eyes again. My proposal is going to have to be above normal to be even considered. I was asked for a 3 book proposal at conference. I don’t do well in pitching and Maybe The Lady from Hartline was just being nice. I can’t help but feel that glimmer of hope. Maybe I’m the cockeyed-optimist.

    the one thing I got out of conference from all the agents. And I’m sure that it only came across this way to me. Is that the is a lot more rejection that success in the business.

    Maybe I will never get past the being asked stage. But for many of us unpublished authors. We won’t ever know if we don’t keep “counting pavements” so to speak.

    Thanks for another great article.

  2. Avatar
    Richard Mabry October 6, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    Tamela, like most of the lessons in life, I learned this one the hard way. After my first conference, I hurried home and shot off my proposals and partials before the editors could change their mind. Then I chewed my nails until the “pass” messages started coming in.
    Let me second what you’ve said: Polish that material until it shines like a diamond before sending it in. Truly great writing will trump speed every time.

  3. Avatar
    Brad Huebert October 6, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks for the reminder. I’m “in the pipeline” with a publisher right now and it’s been painfully slow. A year ago I dreamed of being where I am now, not realizing there are a hundred more steps to take than I even knew existed—each one punctuated by schedules, priorities already in motion, and pacing set by invisible hands.

  4. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray October 6, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    Wow — amazing to see comments from writers in three different career stages! Gwyn, as you have seen from Richard’s excellent insights, keep polishing. Brad, you have learned that publishing is often a “hurry up and wait” profession, but isn’t that true of so many vocations?

    I appreciate all of your comments. You are offering our readers valuable perspectives.

    • Avatar
      Loree Lough October 6, 2011 at 6:38 am #

      As always, you’ve provided excellent, timely advice…and this time, it inspired me to pull back on the reins, just a tad, and take another look at those proposals I promised the ACFW editors.

      Thanks, dear lady, for knowing what to say and when to say it!

      Have a wonderful day!

      • Avatar
        Shar MacLaren October 6, 2011 at 7:29 am #

        Wow, Tamela, such an enlightening post from the agent’s point of view. I received my share of rejections (six years worth) before publishing my first novel in ’07, and I kept every one of them as a reminder that I need to PRAY fervently, continue learning, keep honing my craft, stay positive, and be diligent. Every rejection has a good reason behind it, and writers can learn from each one. There are so many “rules of writing” that it’s almost daunting – don’t head hop; cliches stand out like a sore thumb (sorry, I couldn’t resist using one); keep your writing tight; stay clear of passive sentences; show, don’t tell; make your characters so lifelike that your readers will feel as if they know them personally; be careful of using too many tags (he said, she said); don’t reveal your character’s dark secrets in the first chapter — i.e. show back-story in very small increments. Readers love a little mystery; it keeps them flipping pages. Last, don’t allow your enemy, Satan, to crush your spirit. Remain prayerful and optimistic.

        It took me a long while and lots of practice to learn these important facets of writing, but I would add one tiny tidbit – If you are highly passionate about writing (as in you feel like that passion will NEVER die), then you probably have a God-given talent. Cling close to that belief and let God lead. He has unending plans for all of us!

        Thanks for letting me go off on a little tangent, Tamela.

  5. Avatar
    Christina Suzann Nelson October 6, 2011 at 7:10 am #


    Thank you for such an honest post. While getting a request is exciting, the truth about the frequency at which they are handed out is excellent perspective.

    I try to offer a writing sample. My assumption is that if the agent or editor actually reads my writing, they’ll have a better idea of my talent or lack of talent. I don’t want to clog up email boxes if the agent or editor is really not interested in what I have.

    However, I’ve found that conference requests, though mine have never ended with a contract, have supplied me with amazing feedback and advice. As a waiting-to-be-published novelist, this is an appreciated gift.


  6. Avatar
    Loree Huebner October 6, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Thanks for this post, Tamela. Love your honesty here from an agent’s POV.

    Thanks for linking the related posts. Great info.

  7. Avatar
    Crystal L Barnes October 6, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    I’m trying very hard to learn from other people’s mistakes and listen to advice. So Tamela…thank you for posting this. Perspective plays a large part in all we do. I, for one, am forcing myself to do a final read through to make sure my work shines before sending anything out to those who requested a proposal at the conference. But alas, I am also “chomping at the bit” to get things out before I am forgotten. 🙂

    Good Luck to all!

  8. Avatar
    Vicki Cato October 6, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Thanks Tamela for the great information. I was encouraged by the workshops and I plan to apply what I learned so that my work proposals will be my best work.

  9. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel October 6, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Thanks for the great perspective, Tamela. I think it’s difficult for all of us attempting to make writing our career; we can get so focused on ourselves and our own journey that we forget that an agent/editor has his/her own focuses.

    Also, your post is confirmation to me that I should not pitch to an agent yet. You see, I’m attending a small conference this month and was considering pitching to an agent just to see what happened. But my work isn’t ready yet. So while I’d appreciate any advice I might receive from the agent, it seems there might be a larger danger in pitching too early and burning bridges.

    Thanks again for your insight!

  10. Avatar
    gina welborn October 6, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Tamela, as I read your post, the thought in my head was “I have to learn the difference between ‘learning to strike when the iron is hot’ and with ‘be still, and know I am God so quit trying to make something happen.'”

    I want, I dream, I hope, all the while I wait, I learn, I be still.

    (my apologies for the bad grammar there at the end)

  11. Avatar
    Dawn Kinzer October 6, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Thanks, Tamela. This article is a good reminder to keep things in perspective. I think many of us feel the need to rush home and send requested materials off to editors and agents. After all, we want to keep the positive vibes going … and we certainly don’t want them to forget us!

    I realized after returning home from the ACFW conference that I could add another piece to make my proposal stronger and possibly more interesting. But it’s requiring some brainstorming and research. With the encouragement of my critique partners, I pulled myself back from sending the original proposal, and I’m taking some time to make it even better.

  12. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray October 6, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Lindsay, I’m glad you are still planning to talk to the agent even though you’re not ready to pitch. Most agents don’t go to conferences expecting to sign lots of clients the next week. I enjoy talking to authors about their work, and I feel good when I can recommend changes and we can brainstorm. Just making that connection is great. Agents will often see writers over many conferences, and perhaps over the course of the writer working on several different projects, before the agent and writer decide to work together. Enjoy your conference!

    • Avatar
      Lindsay Harrel October 6, 2011 at 11:09 am #

      Thanks, Tamela! I know, it’s all about connections, connections, connections–AND making sure your work is pristine!

      Again, great post.

  13. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray October 6, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    A general comment: I understand the desire send submissions as soon as possible, but I’m heartened to learn that this post is helping our blog readers take stock and wait to send their best work. Trust me, it’s worth the extra time. Many writers I met with told me it would take them several months to complete their projects. I’m fine with that. Editors are always looking for fantastic books, so my offer to submit to me has no expiration date.

  14. Avatar
    Lauralee Bliss October 6, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Excellent post on the need for excellence in our work and not rushing.

  15. Avatar
    Keith Henry October 6, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    A good post but I do think that if the odds of being accepted are so small that a better way to treat starry-eyed would-be writers is to say something like, “I like what you’re telling but I cannot promise anything until I see the entire manuscript.” OR “Well, sound like something I might be interested in, but I can’t promise anything right now.” This would plant the seeds of acceptance should their work be rejected, making the let down slightly less of a shock. If i’m a writer and an agent or an editor says, “I really like that.” than I am inclined to take those words at face value, especially in the Christian arm of the industry where one should be able to expect honesty. Just saying things to “get people out of your face” or to not hurt their feelings then you are doing them something of a disservice by allowing them to get their hopes up only to be dashed more severely when they are rejected. I am still months from being close to this point myself but i hope when i do the person i talk to is both encouraging AND honest.

  16. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray October 6, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Keith: The agents and editors I know agree with you. We don’t want to do writers a disservice by offering misleading encouragement. Only when you have sat on our side of the desk do you know how difficult it is for most of us to give an outright “no” to an author. This is particularly difficult, and perhaps foolhardy, when the only material we have to consider is a one-sheet.

    I’m glad you read this post today. Perhaps my words have prepared you for what you and many other new authors face at conference. Attend armed with the knowledge that indeed, securing a publishing or literary agency contract is not easy. But then, few easy goals are worthy.

    Perhaps you’ll be one of the few authors granted immediate, astounding success. It happens. But if not, go into any submissions process prepared to find rejection before acceptance.

    Enjoy the journey, and keep praying!

  17. Avatar
    Virginia October 6, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    This was great! I’ve never been in this position since I’ve never been face-to-face with an agent or editor. Most of my partial and full requests have been ‘ho-hum’ or cautious at best, so I haven’t had my feelings hurt. Of course, I always get my hopes up with every positive response to a partial or a query. There’s no helping that!

  18. Avatar
    Carol Moncado October 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela.

    Think I’m the opposite of Gwyn. Think my pitches went well, I felt confident and secure in myself [which is a huge answer to prayer in and of itself] but when it comes to polishing the proposals… I feel way out of my element. But at the same time, all I can do is the best I can do. I’m sure I’ll get better as it I go. And pray that if the manuscript really is ready then a so-so proposal* won’t make or [more likely] break it. I’ve sent one out already and working on another [that had a different list of requirements for it]. We’ll see how they go.

    They’re sent on a wing and a prayer, with an emphasis on prayer.

    Thanks, Tamela. Appreciate the insight.

    *I don’t know if it’s so-so or good or horrid, but for now at least, it’s the best I can do.

    • Avatar
      Lindsay Harrel October 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      Carol, that’s where a great critique group or editor can come in really handy! My group rips my stuff (including the book itself as well as proposals, queries, etc.) to shreds…but it’s way better in the end. Good luck!

      • Avatar
        Carol Moncado October 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

        All my usual critters are unable to for the foreseeable future unfortunately. And none of them have tons of proposal experience either. I did my best and it’s in God’s hands at this point :D. Thanks!

  19. Avatar
    Pepper October 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Oh wow, Tamela. This was such an insightful post. I especially appreciated this quote of yours in a comment:

    “Trust me, it’s worth the extra time. Many writers I met with told me it would take them several months to complete their projects. I’m fine with that. Editors are always looking for fantastic books, so my offer to submit to me has no expiration date.”

    As I’m prepping my work for submission, I’m glad both agents and editors realize that there may be a waiting game involved for the best work. What a RELIEF!! There are a few proposals that I’ll have ready to be sent out this weekend,but others…well, it will be a little longer.

    Thanks, Tamela.

  20. Avatar
    Rachel Wilder October 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    I’m a few days late, but what the heck…

    I left conference with requests for the full from two agents. You and Rachelle. Rather than dash something off as soon as I got home, I let you both know I was still in edits and revisions and it would be a couple of months before it’s ready. I want to put my best foot forward, and that means doing the work NOW, to make it the best I possibly can at this stage in my writing life.

    I’ve been watching and absorbing and learning for five years now. Somehow (probably through much prayer) I was able to keep my head about me and not go crazy over the excitement of going home with TWO requests for a full manuscript. Though I admit walking in a straight line afterwards was difficult because I was so giddy with excitement. I want to be known as a writer who is willing to do the hard work required to make it in this business. I want to be someone editors and agents want to work with. That means asking questions, listening to the answers, and turning in the best work I am capable of turning in.

  21. Avatar
    Michael K. Reynolds October 13, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Great job on this Tamela. I posted it on the Writing Platform facebook page.


  1. Five Great Blogs I’ve Read This Week « V.V. Denman - October 11, 2011

    […] Conference Proposal Requests, by Tamela Hancock Murray […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!