Setting Yourself Apart

Unfortunately, even though I’d love to represent each writer I’m fond of and enjoy hanging out with, I can’t represent everyone for a variety of reasons. That’s okay. CBA has many agents and authors, and God has a plan for all of us.

But let”s say you hope your proposal rises to the top of my stack. Here are a few tips when submitting:

1.) Please follow our guidelines:

2.) Please check over your work to avoid gaffes such as telling us you have wrote a fiction novel where it’s heroe and heroin fall in love at first site while running frum a bare. Seriously, read your work. As you can see from this example, you will not fair well with spell checker hear.

3.) Let us know if you have won or placed in a contest. This tells us that industry professionals have evaluated your work favorably against other authors writing, marketing, and submitting in your genre. Reputable organizations hold prestigious contests every year. If you’re not familiar with these contests, one place to start is with our list of our authors’ awards and recognition.

4.) Tell us about all of your activity on social media. Give us numbers. Don’t be afraid. If for instance, you opened your Twitter account yesterday so you could write your proposal today, that’s fine. Tell us your Twitter handle and let us know you are building your following. You are certain to increase your following by the time we begin marketing your proposal to editors. But do engage in social media as soon as possible and stay active.

5.) Be honest about your past publishing history. All of it. That includes the novel you put on Amazon in 2008 that sold 72 copies that you wish would go away. Why? Because we, and every editor we know, will find it. That’s okay. Just tell us about it.

6.) If you need to hire an editor to make your work sparkle, do so. Our agency lists editorial services here. Sending us a letter saying, “I know this needs editing,” won’t help you with us. And yes, we seem to receive letters with this phrase at least once a week.

7.) Study the market and make sure you are following the rules of your genre. It’s fine to write experimental fiction, but don’t pitch it to any agent as appropriate for Love Inspired.

8.) Last and most definitely not least: Write the best first five pages you possibly can. Make us keep reading. This will assure that you stay on top of the slush pile long enough to get you a fuller read.

Now it is up to you to write a fantastic complete manuscript so you can stay there.

Your turn:

1.) What do you think sets a writer apart from others?

2.) If you had to choose one conference to attend, which one would you choose.

3.) If you could enter your unpublished work in one contest, which one would you choose?

This post originally appeared on The Oregon Christian Writers Conference blog,

Tamela looks forward to being on faculty at their conference in August this year.


23 Responses to Setting Yourself Apart

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton June 25, 2015 at 4:13 am #

    When I first started writing, a friend kept encouraging me to attend the ACFW conference. I attended my first one in Dallas and few years ago, and I’m going back this year.

    Thanks for the list of preferred editors, and thanks for the tips.

    Have a great day!

  2. Avatar
    peter June 25, 2015 at 4:38 am #

    If it is about setting apart, I would think it takes much more than a query letter. In fact, I bet you that some of the greatest works might not have passed that test and were overlooked until a keener eye saw the diamond in the rough, as happened to many other artists. A friend, desperate to be published went Indie, but I declined because I view the process of setting apart as a richer process that is substantially about credence and a long-term platform, not volumes of books moved, which has now petered-out for my friend. The biblical term “sanctified”, means, “set apart”, not refined, purified, polished, squeaky clean, grammatically pure. It means set apart from the madding crowds for a higher cause, groomed for a purpose, with years of preparation and relationship building behind it. To that end, the process is far more than an event or a transaction, reduced to a query letter. It took 40 years to prepare Moses, but when he stood before his grand editor, it was academic whether Pharaoh liked him or his words, he listened and trembled because Moses had acquired a stature that far exceeded the brother of yesteryear. His first query letter was stillborn resulting in a dead guard and an isolated Moses, but his second pushed and pushed, through every hurdle, asserting its veracity to a dumbfounded audience, until it crossed the threshold to birth his vision. He made his point – the rest is history.

  3. Avatar
    peter June 25, 2015 at 5:21 am #

    I need to clarify. As the iceberg is 2/3rd’s obscured and 1/3rd visible, so it was with the Old and New Testament, the years of preparation for Moses vs years of ministry, the books of the bible – I once had a longer list.

    There must be a quest for authenticity in all writing. Paul confirmed it, saying that that he once spoke as a child and thought as a child, before putting away childish things. Without the journey that preceded his years of ministry, he would have been all head and no heart, of clanging symbol and tinkling brass.

    True love for the written and spoken word demands a rigorous persistence that shows. Indeed, it oozes through the pores of those whose time has come.

    I recently observed that a president cannot rely on preparing for office in the 4 years leading up to an election, else he will be found out. Being found out in the case of a writer has a different connotation, by which the yoke of learning in our years of struggle, either confirms or discredits us.

    Solomon said it well, “Rather keep quiet and be thought of as a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt”. Authenticity is that elusive quality that will eventually become us, as in Paul’s fragrance of Christ. It is not acquired through science or trade-craft, but through a journey to maturity.

    Along that road, it behooves us to walk with discretion and wisdom, with our eyes aflint on the ultimate objective, for we carry in this body the life and death, of the author and finisher of this great faith.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 25, 2015 at 6:04 am #

    What sets a writer apart is simply the ability to create a world, populated by characters that live and breathe. I suspect that an agent’s coming across a writer like that is rare (it’s certainly rare for a reader to find), and that quality will be a compelling argument for representation, even if the writer eschews Facebook and Twitter, and is housebound . It’s something that can’t be taught.

    I’d go to ACFW if I could, but circumstances make my presence there unlikely – and I’d do myself little good if I went. I can be almost normal at the other end of a computer, but one look at me in person and you’d think, “Lord, how are You keeping this bloke upright?” It’s not the years, they say, it’s the milage, and recent roads have taken a fearful toll. I couldn’t pitch a book now, not in person.

    When I realized this, I started increasing my presence on agency blogs, in the hopes that I could add some personal distinctiveness…but a funny thing happened on the way to self-promotion.

    I realized that I’d become part of communities, and the contribution I could make to those in that virtual home would be lessened by pursuing a mercenary agenda (which is really ironic for a bloke who was, functionally, a mercenary).

    So, in the end, I’m putting my ‘commercial’ writing future into God’s hands. He’ll show the way, and make it smooth…or not.

    It doesn’t matter. In wanting to be the best writer I could be, I became something closer to the best person I could be, and it would be appalling ungrateful not to be content with that.

    • Avatar
      peter June 25, 2015 at 6:55 am #

      I can’t even see the disadvantages. You write with authority, humanity and humor – and you have credibility. Its just part of what will set you well apart as a writer and your triumph over adversity is a great platform. Paul traded very effectively on his being a Rabbi. I think, Andrew, that you have a lot going for you and, I hope this doesn’t sound cynical, perhaps your circumstance will reflect God’s glory.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 25, 2015 at 10:48 am #

        Peter, thank you so much…and yes, circumstance can be turned to service. I hope that it is.

  5. Avatar
    Janet Ferguson June 25, 2015 at 6:09 am #

    I think the author’s voice is what sets the work apart—when I open a book and can sink into their personality and another world.

    I attended RWA national a couple of years ago, but I’m really looking forward to my first ACFW conference in September. Can’t wait to meet my ACFW critique partners!

    I am the queen of typos, so I very much appreciate the list of editors.

  6. Avatar
    Rebekah Millet June 25, 2015 at 6:22 am #

    Oh, tip #2 made me smile.
    I think positivity sets authors apart. Especially with social media, we get a real feel for someone’s personality. I’m drawn to positive authors who make me chuckle instead of ones who post negatively.

  7. Avatar
    Meg Gemelli June 25, 2015 at 7:39 am #

    Thank you for these tips! Though I have no other frame of reference, the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference was phenomenal this year. I took Mr. Laube’s publishing class and was so thankful for his honest, comical approach to guiding new writers! The speakers were amazing and the classes were professionally done. Most importantly, the conferees were kind and encouraging. I can’t wait to go back! Have a wonderful week Tamela and thanks again.

  8. Avatar
    DIANA HARKNESS June 25, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    What sets every writer apart is the quality of their work. I recently finished reading a historical fiction novel by a Christian writer. Historical fiction is something I love. The novel was poorly written. The author failed to describe the locale in detail (North Africa, Sicily) which would have added to my enjoyment. Instead, I found myself plodding through the dully written novel eagerly anticipating an end which never seemed to arrive. After finishing it, I picked up my next novel (a dystopian or futuristic fantasy–genres which I generally avoid), and found the dark cloud that had settled upon me instantly lifting as I inhaled the beautiful prose. I won’t mention the name of the first novel, but the wonderful writing came from Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

  9. Avatar
    Lyneta June 25, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    I hadn’t thought of including contests. Thank you! I’m adding that to my proposal now.

  10. Avatar
    Nick Kording June 25, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    I appreciate your comment about social media. It is something I’ve heard before but while so many writers I know build platforms with ease, I am just starting to work towards developing relationships beyond my bubble of friends.

    Because I am a rule follower, answers to your questions:
    1. I’m not sure this qualifies as unique, but I’m drawn to writing that tells a story about characters I’d like to know.

    2. ACFW and Deep Thinkers- am going to ACFW this fall but would also love to go to Deep Thinkers (the Susie May Warren retreat in Florida in the spring). The former because of the opportunity to meet agents and writers and the latter to hone my skills because I’m a student first, last and always.

    3. I don’t know. I’d love to read a whole post just on contests.

  11. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 25, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    On reflection, I don’t need to worry about setting myself apart, because on this day that’s turned bloody, with the fell minions of malignancy coming for my head…

    …if I’m still standing come this time tomorrow, that’ll speak more than Facebook ever could. I don’t have to be represented, or published. It has been brought home to me in the last couple of hours that survival is victory enough.

    Hate to go off topic, but if anyone’s got some prayers handy, I need them. The valley of the shadow is here, now.

    I guess this what community is. When you can go public, and ask for prayer. And I am asking.

    But I intend to see tomorrow. Never out of the fight.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube June 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm #


      Our prayers are with you.


      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 25, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

        Thank you, Steve. Prayers light the way in a frightening darkness. Scary times here.

      • Avatar
        Peter June 26, 2015 at 1:37 am #

        Andrew we are praying.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 25, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      Yes, please know that I am praying as well. Keep keep me posted.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 26, 2015 at 9:12 am #

        Tamela, thank you so much. I’m still here; issue is still in doubt. The nightmare remains…but so do I!

    • Avatar
      Johnnie Alexander June 25, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

      Andrew, in the past couple of days your words have had me giggling like a crazy person (the lone, straight hair) and being in awe of your story-telling. Just want you to know my prayers are with you tonight. May God’s richest blessings surround you and your loved ones.

    • Avatar
      Carla Jo June 25, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

      One thing I have learned is that mercies are new every morning. Sometimes when it is night the mercies are running thin. So just go to bed knowing new mercies will be there in the morning.

      Another help is that you do have good options. Sometimes you can not see them but they are there. Give G-d time to bring them out.

      Simple plain strong prayers are Peace, peace, PEACE, peace; mercy mercy; and tears are a great prayer. And so I pray them for you. I will remember you.

      Keep writing. I bless you in Jesus Name.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 26, 2015 at 9:14 am #

        I won’t quit, Carla Jo…He who went to the Cross for me, and for all, deserves my best efforts here. Thank you so much for the prayers!

  12. Avatar
    Lisa Taylor June 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    Just to answer your question on contests (other good answers here already to the other questions).
    My thoughts are:

    – Find something local/regional to start (I got my first book published after winning a contest for Christian writers in Australia/New Zealand)
    – Move to something that works well in your genre and with the scale of your publisher (I write YA so found Literary Classics — which has a “Faith-based” category — and because my Australian publisher is small, also went for the IPPYs — specifically the Illumination Awards, their contest specifically for independent authors and small Christian presses). Because of the success with these I’m broadening out a bit to bigger international contests (e.g. White Raven List– also YA) that may still be open to books out of small presses.

    Yes, Andrew… have sent up some words for you to the One who delights over you with singing. Sending up some words for your family too.

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