Start with Your Winning Argument

A few years ago, I received a call from someone who otherwise never contacts me. “You need to pay expenses for Dick and Jane. They’ve done so much for us!”

Dick and Jane had done a lot for the caller, but they had done nothing for anyone I love. While I’m not so coldhearted as to hang up the phone based on this flawed opening, the caller had opened with an unconvincing pitch.

Writers can make the same mistake when contacting agents.

Not So Impressive

“My book needs editing, but I’d like representation.”

“I’ve never written a book before, and I haven’t finished it yet; but I’d like representation.”

“I’m not qualified to write this book, but I’d like representation.”

“I don’t have any platform, but I’d like representation.”

“Since you’ve been successful with academic theology books, particularly those discussing viewpoints popular in the 1200s, my work is right for you.”

Be Honest!

Of course, you want to be honest in your pitch. But don’t open with the reason the agent may need to reject the book.

What to Do

“My book needs editing, but I’d like representation.”

You’re not ready to query. Would you please edit or have your book edited, then contact agents? CWI has many resources to help you find a freelance editor.

“I’ve never written a book before, and I haven’t finished this yet; but I’d like representation.”

I sign debut authors all the time. However, I recommend completing the book before submitting a query.

Why? Because as you can imagine, writing a book is hard work. I recommend taking time for the discovery process before proceeding.

  • Do you enjoy or feel driven to spend months writing a book eight or twelve hours a day?
  • Are you motivated to compose a manuscript around a packed schedule that may include a day job and many other responsibilities?
  • Are you willing to give up another hobby or commitment you enjoy to spend that time writing?

You need to answer these questions before you try to engage an agent. You are the only person who can answer them.

“I’m not qualified to write this book, but I’d like representation.”

Become qualified, or cowrite with someone who is.

Why? Look at it this way: As a consumer, will you read a book on brain surgery written by a heart surgeon? Or would you prefer to read a book on heart surgery written by a heart surgeon?

“I don’t have any platform, but I’d like representation.”

Take the time to build your platform before approaching an agent.

“Since you’ve been successful with academic theology books, particularly those discussing viewpoints popular in the 1200s, my work is right for you.”

These authors may base this assumption on the success other agents within our agency have enjoyed when naming a topic not in my wheelhouse. That’s not to say I will never represent a new category, but I may be reluctant to pursue a book outside of my core enthusiasms.

Solution? Once you have chosen an agency to query, investigate the agents to ensure you are querying the agent who’s passionate about your type of book.


Authors can’t change some factors no matter what. For instance, a debut author is a debut author until published. An author can certainly open with, “Thank you for considering my first book, Jack in the Box.” Then immediately highlight the strengths of the book, be it fiction or nonfiction. If the agent says, “I absolutely MUST read this book,” then you’ve made progress. After all, you wrote the book for a reason. You haven’t invested time and energy in a book you didn’t feel is entertaining, desperately needed, or both. When you convince the agent the book is essential today and editors can and will seriously consider the submission, you are well on your way to representation.

9 Responses to Start with Your Winning Argument

  1. Damon J. Gray September 23, 2021 at 5:45 am #

    All true, Tamela, from start to finish.

    I suspect as Christ-followers, many of us wrestle with a bit of reluctance to come off as boastful, so we start with “I’m not there yet, but. . .” I recall my father’s advice on resume writing and interviewing when I was early in my career. He said, “If you’re not willing to brag on yourself, no one else is going to do it for you.”

  2. Lisa Phillips September 23, 2021 at 6:56 am #

    This is exactly why I chose you Tamela. The timing of this post is ironic. When I first started writing my book, I never dreamed it could be published, but the more feedback I got, the more I wanted it published. And I never considered it a romance, though I considered it a love story, if that makes sense. I had to do some digging for an agent who loves good clean “romances” with an underlying purpose. Even more digging for one that would also love the whole role God plays in it, and not be put off by it. Especially one that isn’t afraid to represent a debut author. Reading this blog is encouraging for me.
    In today’s world, so many people, even Christians, don’t know the love of God. If my book goes anywhere, I want people to see how God has pursued them in their lives; their own love stories with God. At least to recognize that.
    Researching and choosing an agent is essential, because I want you to believe in the book as much as I do, and not just any agent that accepts it will do that. The query letter, proposal, back cover blurb, and cover letter are scary because I could screw up ever landing such an agent just by not doing those perfect. And I’m afraid, even after all my query drafts, I may have confused the query letter with the back cover blurb or the cover letter. I love when I see a new blog post from you, especially when it’s about queries, proposals, blurbs, or cover letters. And your posts are very encouraging for newbies.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 23, 2021 at 7:06 am #

    When I was but a striving teen
    her father met me at the door,
    taking in my cutoff jeans,
    the torn Def Leppard shirt I wore.
    His eyes took measure, yes, of me,
    and then they lingered down aways,
    and I could not help but agree
    my Adidas had seen better days.
    He nodded then as if to say
    that I was welcome in this place,
    would not perforce be turned away,
    and then a wide smile creased his face;
    “First impressions matter, son.
    Now wait here while I get my gun.’

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks September 23, 2021 at 8:52 am #

    So good to remember, Tamela! I understand why these writers lead with the down side. As a compulsively honest person, sometimes I feel like I should get all the negatives out of the way first so that everyone all all the info up front. But the agent won’t get to the good part if we don’t talk about that first. Honesty is important, but there are also compelling reasons for taking a risk on a new story and it makes sense to address those first as well as doing everything we can to improve in the areas that are negatives before querying!

  5. Loretta Eidson September 23, 2021 at 8:54 am #

    Thank you for always sharing informative information.

  6. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. September 25, 2021 at 6:13 am #

    Tamela, thank you for sharing your common sense insight that many new authors, such as ourselves, might never have thought about.

  7. Judy Wallace September 28, 2021 at 12:31 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this, it was very informative and will help me when it comes time to write a proposal for my novel.

  8. Judy Wallace September 28, 2021 at 12:35 pm #

    Tamela, I have a question regarding a novel proposal. It’s my understanding that you include the first three chapters of your novel with the proposal, can you include more than three?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 28, 2021 at 12:37 pm #

      Yes. In fact, when sending materials to me, you can include the entire manuscript.

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