Four Ways to Rise to the Top!

Since agents receive more proposals than they have time to represent, a huge obstacle for new authors is getting their manuscripts to the top of the stack. Every week I review excellent proposals from writers I would be proud to represent. If only I could double my hours in a day!

This happy dilemma speaks to how much the Christian market has matured. We attract the best and brightest writers. I don’t discern an attitude that readers should be happy to see Christian content, no matter how preachy or bland, simply because the writer’s heart is with God. I am proud of the professionalism of the top submissions I receive. Our agency looks to your proposal as a tool to gain the attention of the editors we know, so they can feel confident that they won’t be shot down in Committee thanks to a proposal missing critical elements or is otherwise poorly executed.

New at proposal writing? Never fear — we will help you fine-tune the final plan editors will see. But here are a few ways to get through our door:

A Must-Read Title

If I can’t wait to open your proposal because I’m intrigued by the title, you’ve got my attention. And that title will get editors’ attention, too.


Whether you’re writing genre romance, a novel, or a non-fiction work that’s extraordinary in its uniqueness, we’ve got to sell it. Let me know what I can tell the publisher’s sales team so everyone discerns what type of book we’re discussing. Then book buyers will understand how they can sell your work to readers. Saying your book is a first-ever or one-of-a-kind doesn’t help. I need to know who will be buying your work and why.


Established authors with a great sales history will jump to the top, particularly when writing a new story for their current market. Worried about poor sales history? Please don’t hide by omitting facts. To represent you well, we need to know your history so we can strategize how best to market your work. A bleak sales history comes to light sooner or later and later is not wise. We want to keep good will, not squander it. Debut writers need not despair, either. Publishers can find excellent places for new authors. Regardless of where you are in your career, you’ll find that stellar writing will put you ahead of less-eloquent writers.

A Great First Page

There’s a reason many conferences offer workshops with first page critiques. The first page is critical to your success. Readers want to jump right into the story and stay there. Put us in the middle of the situation, then let us know later why your heroine dyed her hair burgundy.

Of course, proposals contain many more elements, but perfecting these will put you ahead in the game. Find our proposal guidelines at

I look forward to seeing your work!

Your turn:

What grabs your attention when you’re reading?

What keeps you reading a book?


37 Responses to Four Ways to Rise to the Top!

  1. Avatar
    John de Sousa September 7, 2017 at 5:11 am #

    I like to be forcefully abducted by the first page. There are so many worldly demands telling me that I don’t have the time (or energy) to enjoy a good read. I need to be snatched up, gripped tightly, and carried away to drown out those voices. I love a first page that DARES me to put it down, and wins because I can’t!

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    Damon J. Gray September 7, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    I like to be led somewhere. I want a concept presented, but not fully addressed. Hook me, and then lead me down an interesting road. Then by the end of the section, or the chapter, I need to be saying either, “Whoa!,” or “Ah, now I get what you’re driving at.”

    I tend to get a fair amount of blow-back in my critique group because I use this same approach in my writing. They frequently tell me to make my point first, and then support it. I find that difficult to do, because it is not what I enjoy reading. That is how the newspaper writes … Here is the point, and now, here is all the supporting material.

    I much prefer a teaser without the final answer. Tease me with a concept or a question. Lead me down the interesting paths and then close it out with a thought-provoking solution or lesson.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 7, 2017 at 6:59 am #

      Damon, I agree with you. Expository writing has its place, and that place is NOT in the world of fiction (unless your name happens to be Tom Clancy).

      My favourite opening ‘question’ is this:

      Bubba wiped the sweat from his face with an already-soaked rag, and felt the warm glow of accomplishment against the August heat. The digging tools were stowed, the treasure had been winched onto the groaning truck-bed and tied down, and the swamp-rumours were proven gloriously true.

      Junior year at Robert Oppenheimer High School would be very different, for Bubba Beauregard Lee had just become a nuclear power.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 8:08 am #

      Right, encourage the reader to think for herself. Well said.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 7, 2017 at 6:45 am #

    A book is a relationship, and the best relationships build slowly, with some reserve on both sides.

    It’s not to say that the exciting and hard-pressed opening does not have its place, but when that becomes the grail for the beginning of every story, we lose something of value, the grace of pace.

    • Avatar
      Tisha Martin September 7, 2017 at 8:08 am #

      Andrew, I love it. “A book is a relationship.” In a normal setting, a person wouldn’t come up to someone and start talking about their family. There’s the polite introduction and nicety questions. However, if the relationship continues then the two become fast friends. And there are only a few books that I consider my best friend. Close friendship is valuable. How inspiring.

      By the way, what have you published that I can read?

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 7, 2017 at 8:20 am #

        Tisha, thanks! 🙂

        I do have some stuff out there – if you care to enter’Andrew Budek-Schmeisser’ in the Amazon search window, you’ll find what I’ve got (‘Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart’ went out of print when the publisher folded, but I have the rights and, health permitting, will re-introduce it).

        Marie Gregg just reviewed my novel ‘Emerald Isle’; if you’d like her take, here’s the ink.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 8:09 am #


    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray September 7, 2017 at 9:31 am #

      I’d not considered putting it in those terms. I like that Andrew – “A book is a relationship…”

  4. Avatar
    Katie Powner September 7, 2017 at 7:44 am #

    I don’t necessarily need to be dropped right into the action on the first page, as long as I get the sense the story is going somewhere. It’s amazing how much you can tell about a book from its first page or two.

    I agree with Andrew that an action-packed opening has its place, but doesn’t need to be the golden standard, in my opinion.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 8:10 am #

      I think some genres stand up to a slower beginning than others. Good point.

  5. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson September 7, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    I like to be captivated immediately. If the first paragraph doesn’t draw me in, I move on to another book. I like action packed suspense or a romance that catches my attention. I also look at the back of the book. If the description of the book sparks my interest, I’ll give it the first page or two to prove it’s going to be worth my time.

  6. Avatar
    Tisha Martin September 7, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    The writer’s voice is a powerful draw for me. And if there’s a bit of action to engage me with that first page, why, that’s even better.

    Right now, I’m reading Jeanne M. Dickson’s “Grounded Hearts,” about an Irish midwife who harbors a Canadian flyboy in her home and fights off the visitors that come by. She knows she’ll be in a hot mess if someone finds out the soldier’s in her house. It’s not the action that draws me in this book, but the writer’s voice: a bit of classic edge. Love it.

    Nuggets of mystery and unanswered questions keep me reading. If the author can present the story in such a way that provokes a question from me then I’ll keep turning the page to find the answer to my question. And if the answer just happens to be at the end of the book, there had better be activity woven throughout the book to make that answer worth my reading the whole book. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Joey Rudder September 7, 2017 at 8:18 am #

    I have to say this post gives me so much hope, Tamela. Thank you! My novel is in the final revision stage (the feedback from the ACFW Genesis contest helped immensely), and I’ve been praying about the next step as I approach it…

    What pulls me into a book and keeps me reading are the characters. I like feeling as if I’ve accidently stumbled into the middle of their lives during a time when they’d rather not have guests, a time when life is real and painful and I find myself pulling for them and crying with them.

    When that happens, I’m hooked.

  8. Avatar
    Kristi Woods September 7, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    Titles and back cover descriptions are the doormen for books in my world. An emotional attachment is like slipping the doorman $20. Viola! The door magically opens. But that’s only the beginning. After gaining entry, a nonfiction read must offer a puzzle piece within the first chapter, a hint toward a beautiful scene of individual pieces clicked together by book’s end. Those pieces inevitably connect directly with my emotions.

    Fiction proves a bit different. Start with action or some “unknown” tidbit tossing my mind into some sort of analytical gymnastics, and we’re typically good to go.

  9. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 8:39 am #

    Kristi, I might add that nonfiction has the added task of addressing a felt need by an author with the authority to talk about the topic.

    Great descriptions, by the way.

  10. Avatar
    Carol Ashby September 7, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    I’m a patient reader. I’ll give a book at least the first chapter to snag me, but I understand some won’t read past the first page. I try to make page one intriguing enough that they will. Some involve action, like the first scene of my first release where the hero kills the brother of the heroine by mistake. Some reveal the pain point of one lead character that sets the stage for future action, like why the hero of the one I’ll release in November fears letting his guard down with any woman.

    I have observed something that might be useful for targeting a mixed female/male readership. My first scene introduces the leading man. I’m getting positive reviews from both men and women, so I know I’ve got mixed readership. It may well be that having that first scene in the man’s POV is what hooks a male reader into trying out the books, which are historicals where the romance is important but it’s interwoven with another plot line that’s even more important.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 9:48 am #

      The back cover copy promise will help me be patient!

      Congratulations on your success!

  11. Avatar
    Pearl Allard September 7, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Now I’m curious why the heroine dyed her hair burgundy! Seriously though, thanks for the tips.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      Keep turning the pages! 😀

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      Rebekah Love Dorris September 7, 2017 at 10:56 am #

      Ha! Pearl, that’s exactly what I was thinking! Burgundy hair? Like minds strike again! 😀

      And I agree, great post. What a cool job you have, Tamela! Thanks for making it look so easy! 🙂 (I know it’s not.:)

      And, may I ask…what did you read yesterday?

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

        Rebekah — Well, I read…


        I have the Wodehouse book on my nightstand!

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray September 7, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

          P.S. — I did have every intention of reading a book but it just didn’t work out for me. I might still make my contest an annual event because it generated such great suggestions and discussion!

        • Avatar
          Melissa Ferguson September 7, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

          What catches my attention and keeps me reading? Writers like Wodehouse on your nightstand who makes ordinary details in a story extraordinary, such as, “He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom” and “Mike nodded. A somber nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, ‘So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?'” 🙂

          • Avatar
            Rebekah Love Dorris September 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

            Whoa! That’s amazing! Chris Fabry does that. I want so bad to learn to write such sparkling metaphors. I’ll have to look that one up!

            And Tamela, I didn’t get a book read on your birthday either. (And I didn’t have the excuse of a million Facebook posts to answer!) 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Sandra Lovelace September 7, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

    Excellent craft is a must, but the main draw for me is relatability. (Yes. It’s a real word.) If the non-fiction author or fiction character thinks and feels in synch with me, I’m hooked to the last word.

  13. Avatar
    Deb Santefort September 7, 2017 at 8:57 pm #

    I like fiction and I prefer contemporary settings. I gotta be honest; I love me some brain candy! I will read a book’s back cover copy and then add the title to my list. I won’t read it until I’ve forgotten what it is about. I want to be surprised.

    For me, emotion = entertainment. I will keep reading a book if I care about the characters. I want an experience. I want connection and conflict. I want to feel the feels and I don’t want to know where the story is headed.

    It’s funny because I view others’ writing differently since I’ve started writing. I have a low tolerance for descriptions of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. I can’t stand it when an author is trying to sound smart… Ain’t nobody got time for that! It also irks me when an author uses an older person’s vernacular for a young character. I’m a sucker for authentic, believable dialogue.

    Also, when I’m reading secular fiction, I ask myself how the plot would change if the characters learned the truth of the Gospel. I think about if the story could be edited into a work of Christian fiction.

    PS I hope you had a great birthday, Tamela!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 11, 2017 at 10:01 am #

      Great points! I love the observation of “what if” a secular novel could contain Christian elements!

      And thanks for the wishes! I had a great day!

  14. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield September 8, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    I prefer to be invited in quietly, slowly, deliberately, like a hand has appeared from behind a door open only a crack, with the hooked index finger beckoning me to follow. I want to explore the setting and discover the context before much actually happens. A lot of action or information on the first page or two feels like TMI to me. After being clobbered with that, I’ll think, “Whew!” then leaf ahead and sneak enough peeks to spoil any surprise, then go find a book that invites me in instead of capturing me and dragging me in. I tend to write that way,
    too, so of course those who want to immediately be grabbed and yanked into the plot tend to think I arrive at the party too late. ?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 11, 2017 at 10:02 am #

      As long as you’ve got me wanting to go through the door, you’re doing well!

  15. Avatar
    Kelly Scott September 12, 2017 at 9:21 am #

    Great writing contains clues, like a mystery, that once pieced together yield a great crescendo. This starts on the first page. As a rookie writer, this is easier said than done.

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