The Ambitious Author

Recently my office received an unsolicited submission from an author unfamiliar to us. Of course, this is not unusual. But here is a list of what is unusual:

  • The submission was openly cc’ed to 185 agents.
  • The author sent writing samples for 28 books.
  • The author said she wants to write across all genres.
  • At least one entry offered graphic detail of a sexual encounter.
  • The author stated her age as 25.
  • The author said, “I have only written one book and have come up with 28 book ideas in a matter of literally five minutes.”
  • The author stated, “I am a perfectionist therefore everything must be right.”

Let’s think about each factor:

  • Too many agents: The fact that the author submitted to 185 agents shows determination. I admire that, as well as the work that compiling this list of agents must have taken. A quick scan of the list revealed that the author apparently had the wisdom not to spam multiple agents within agencies. However, 185 is way too many agents to query at once. I recommend going with your top choice or top three choices, and moving from there.
  • Too many books: Asking any agent to consider more than one book or series at a time is not the best use of anyone’s time. An author might think that high volume will result in representation. Perhaps it will, but not with me. Instead:
  1. Choose your best project that you feel passionate about and focus on that when querying agents.
  2. If other books are available, I don’t mind hearing about those. In fact, if your initial project isn’t a good fit but I think you’re talented, I might ask to see another project. But please don’t submit the full details on more than one project at a time unless I have asked you to do so.
  • Too many genres: “But if you have 28 ideas, why not discuss them all?” you ask. Okay, what happens if one agent wants to see a vampire novel, another wants to see the erotic novel, and another wants to see a set of Christian devotionals? Will you write detailed proposals for all three, or choose your favorite project and ignore the other agents, or what? This is a hard call to make, and is destined to result in frustration for author and agents alike. Note that few, if any, agents spread their efforts thinly enough to represent an author successfully across 28 genres.
  • Too many categories: The right to create and to seek publication for explicit speech is protected by our Constitution, so authors are free to pursue these novels. However, let’s say you managed to find an agent who represents both steamy and Christian books and agreed to pitch both. Editors look for an author’s online presence before offering a contract. How would you, as an author, maintain those two disparate identities on social media and in person? Will you seem authentic to both audiences? Where will your heart really lie?
  • Too much information: Editors, agents, and fans love to learn about their favorite authors. However, there is nothing to be gained by stating your age unless it means you can especially relate to your intended audience. Otherwise, there’s no need to invite controversy.
  • Too many ideas too quickly: Many creatives come up with lots of ideas quickly. I advise creatives to take the time to cull through these ideas and to pursue only the very best.
  • Too much perfectionism: If you tell us you’re a perfectionist, make sure there are no typos in your proposal.

I hate to see any submission with so many mistakes, because my guess is that it will be deleted without response by 100% of the agents the author selected to query. Those of us who are (ahem) past their twenties can well remember gaffes we made when we first started our careers. It’s regrettable that apparently this author is unschooled by any publishing professionals who could advise her against making these major errors.

This author’s determination may ultimately take her far. I can only hope she can connect with a great mentor to become focused so she can make a better impression in the future.

Your turn:

Do you have a mentor? If so, how has your mentor helped you?

How did you choose your genre?

What advice would you offer to an author who isn’t yet focused?

33 Responses to The Ambitious Author

  1. Avatar
    Lara D. Elliott March 16, 2017 at 5:40 am #

    I literally became a writer overnight. I woke from a dream at 4 am and started typing my first book. I was done in a few weeks and so excited about it that I started searching online for where I could submit it. I entered a contest with it and quickly learned that I had no idea what I was doing.

    Although I was well past 25, I was excited about this new endeavor and was ready to jump into the market. I researched how to query (this other person obviously didn’t) but I didn’t realize my work wasn’t ready. I’m gradually learning to be patient.

    While I haven’t had a specific mentor, my first year of being a writer was filled with a wide variety of online forums that taught me a lot. Facebook groups, following writing professionals on Twitter, Google groups, Goodreads beta readers, ACFW critique groups and email discussions, agent and editor blogs and online articles. There are lots of great free resources to help you become a better writer. My advice to new writers is to take the first year to learn. Be patient.

  2. Avatar
    Niki Slovacek March 16, 2017 at 6:06 am #

    I’m a new writer, and I still no better. I only have a limited amount of “common sense” below.

    185 AGENTS??? I didn’t even see that many I WANTED to work with let alone take the time to insert that many email addresses. Even if they were copy and pasted.

    If I had an agent, chances are I would stick with that agent useless they aren’t comfortable with the genre.

    Ex. I have three non-fiction books
    1.) Pro-life and the journey to give birth
    2.) Adoption and the journey of finding the soul of your child amongs the souls of others.
    3.) The journey of my father in law as he busted out of a concentration camp at 19, skied into Prague, smuggled out sensitive information, was hidden in other countries until he came the U.S. and died a millionaire in the early ’90.

    See- my first agent my be VERY comfortable with my first two books. The third book being more history related, may not be in my first agents sites.

    I would then ask for a reccomandation (in this office ask about Dan Barlow) if it wasn’t a good fit.

    Anyone that has time to spam 100+ Agents has time to prefect their book.

    Do your homemore. If the agent doesn’t take your work- save time for everyone. 💗

  3. Avatar
    Niki Slovacek March 16, 2017 at 6:08 am #

    Sigh/ when you put

    “No better” instead of “know better”. 😐😫

    It’s early? Lol

  4. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris March 16, 2017 at 6:35 am #

    Other than learning from this stellar blog, I’ve been mentored by the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    With rich teaching from guests like Steve Laube, Dennis Hensley, Jane Friedman, Richard Lederer, Chris Fabry, Steven James, and DiAnn Mills, plus regular feedback directly from Jerry Jenkins to anyone willing to ask a question, it’s transformed both my writing and my understanding of the industry. Plus I’ve made a ton of great writer friends!

    Again, I’d highly recommend it for anyone looking for a mentor.

  5. Avatar
    Natalie Monk March 16, 2017 at 6:48 am #

    One of my early mentors helped me improve my self-editing by offering free tuition to an e-class she taught on the subject. She also walkyd me through the process of goal setting and a five year plan–something I need to revisit soon! She invested critiques, craft books, all types of worksheets she had collected over the years, plus regular encouragement and the occasional verbal kick in the posterior when I began to focus on obstacles and “I can’ts”. She encouraged me to enter (and even sponsored) some of my entries in the contest circuit–by far the most effective endeavor in my learning process. She also made herself and her time available to answer all my newbie questions through her personal email.

    I know I must have said, “thank you” during the process, but looking back, I had no idea what a treasure this was. I think I’ll write her a letter of gratitude today!

    This mentor always encouraged me to write in the genre I most liked to read (probably because she knew I would need to keep doing a lot of reading in that genre to fuel my writing). And I would need to love it to write it.

    My advice to a yet unfocused writer would be: keep writing. Look at those 28 book ideas and start building proposals, starting with the ones you most love, and enter them in contests. My mentor always quoted, “write the book of your heart.” You may find yourself coming back to a certain type of genre. Then pick one in that genre and write the whole book. Enter a writing challenge like NaNo or Seekerville’s Speedbo if needed. Then write another. By the time you settle on the genre you most like to write (and read), you will have improved your craft through writing and contests and experimenting with style.

    Great post, Tamela! Thought provoking!

  6. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson March 16, 2017 at 6:54 am #

    Seriously, 185 agents? Wow! I’m stunned! My first attempt at writing a book came from a painful life experience. I submitted the manuscript without any training and quickly learned I needed help. If I wanted to write I needed to be educated, so I enrolled in Jerry Jenkins 4-year writing classes where DiAnn Mills was assigned as my mentor. I attended writers conferences, read educational writing technique books, and listen to educational resources online. I’ve always loved reading romantic Suspense so writing in this genre fit me perfectly. Writing is a continuous learning process. My submissions were to one agent at a time.

  7. Avatar
    sherri stewart March 16, 2017 at 6:56 am #

    My mentor is Jan Powell. Although she’s a busy woman, she listens, she encourages, and she prays. And the power of her prayers have effect. Jan has a way with my words, which are rough. My writing is better because of her.

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 16, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Dear Agent or Agency,

    I would like to offer you my stunning idea for a nonfiction Christian voodoo self-help novel. This is a guaranteed bestseller, and will make crossover history as a devotional memoir textbook.

    But I urge you to act NOW, because I have offered it to several hundred other agents, as you can see by the cc list. It’s good to foster competition, don’t you agree?

    I’m looking forward to seeing your realistic proposal on how you intend to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    Good luck!

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 16, 2017 at 7:35 am #

      P.S. – To receive full consideration your proposal should include a signed and notarized letter of intent from a major motion-picture studio, giving me complete creative control and guaranteeing me top billing in advertising and credits, as well as an appropriate percentage of gross receipts.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby March 16, 2017 at 8:44 am #

        Dear Mr. Budek-Schmeisser:

        Please consider submitting your manuscript directly to the editor of Cerrillo Press. The creative genius embodied in your opus is, frankly, staggering, and an author who could conceive of a work with such potential for literary and cinematic success belongs in our stable of stars.

        (Well, at least he belongs in someone’s stable.)

      • Avatar
        Sheri Dean Parmelee March 16, 2017 at 9:04 am #

        Hysterical, Andrew! Well done!

      • Avatar
        Peggy Booher March 16, 2017 at 7:25 pm #

        Thanks for the laugh, Andrew!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

      Andrew and Carol, you made me laugh out loud! Literally!

  9. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 16, 2017 at 8:34 am #

    I didn’t actually choose my genre. The plot for the first came to me the last Friday in 2013. With the exception of the thriller set in Colorado in 1925, my novels form a series set in the Roman era. At first I thought I was writing romances (entered Genesis that way), but I learned I actually write historicals because there is a major plotline independent of the romantic part. One part of the romantic pair may even disappear for a few chapters as one of the leads goes through a crisis unrelated to the romance.

    I describe my genre as “romantic historical” now. Not an official category, but an accurate description.

  10. Avatar
    Stacy Simmons March 16, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    My mentor Joy Avery Melville is phenomenal. She will give me things to remember and write down during an impromptu editing session. As a newbie to writing she’s helped me immensely. She’s my prayer warrior and friend. I’m blessed.

  11. Avatar
    B Ricker March 16, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    WHEW!!!!!! My, my, my….hasn’t the world changed! Common courtesy
    and common sense have apparently left the building! Amazing!

    I am 76 years old, have written since I could hold a pencil, and still ponder whether or not I should even attempt to submit my writings … although I did once and got a marvelous “it has merit” which thrilled me. I am delighted that young people can write many wonderful books but pray that there are as many writing good stories as there seem to be those writing not so good stories!

    As to the “graphic” nature of some writings, I would prefer authors would leave some things alone – I close many books because of what I call “inappropriate” details. But I also know that many readers want this type of book, so I try not to judge. Writers can certainly write whatever they choose and readers can choose not to read what offends them.

    Enjoy the daily messages, they are all inspiring.

  12. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee March 16, 2017 at 9:02 am #

    Tamela, that author is astonishing….though not in a good way.

    As far as a mentor goes, I don’t have an official one but I find the Laube Agency blogs incredibly helpful, so I read them every day.

    How did I pick my genre? Well, God hardwired me to be practical and things kinda flowed into the self-help genre from there. I would like to “do” fiction but that is taking some serious study on my part, since there are so many things I don’t know about it. The good news is that, at the ripe old age of 32 forever, I have time to learn the craft…….if you think I’m really 32, then I have some land east of Daytona Beach that I’d like to sell you. Superb posting!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 16, 2017 at 9:16 am #

      Sheri, you are 32…plus a few more, but you’ve been 32 since that 32nd birthday.
      I always say I’m 25 from the inside looking out. From the outside…I’m a very experienced 25.

  13. Avatar
    Christine L. Henderson March 16, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    I love this…If you tell us you’re a perfectionist, make sure there are no typos in your proposal.

    I’m also amazed that the writer found 185 agents to submit their writing. The person must have opened a publishing guide and just started copying email addresses without checking to see if they represented the genre.

  14. Avatar
    Jean Brunson March 16, 2017 at 10:27 am #

    Thank you for sharing the mistakes of one potential author. I am in the process of finding an agent, and I will be careful not to make the same mistakes. I don’t have a mentor, but I have been in two writers’ groups for ten years. The groups taught me many things. l
    suggest that for all writers.

  15. Avatar
    Christina Myerly March 16, 2017 at 10:28 am #

    I have been writing my whole life. I choose my genre based on what I read and the thoughts that came to my mind. I knew from my teenage years on I wanted to write contemporary romance. I don’t have any specific mentors, but I learn from being a member of the ACFW, perusing writing blogs, and reading more books. My advice is to surround yourself with ways to learn. I’m not published. I haven’t officially started to seek publishing, but I’m learning each day how to become a better writer. That’s the stage I am in. I’m learning to be content with that.

  16. Avatar
    Martha Whiteman Rogers March 16, 2017 at 10:29 am #

    Oh, Tamela, you had me shaking my head from the git-go. I had 3 wonderful mentors. DiAnn Mills took me on first and then formed a critique group with Janice Thompson and Kathleen Y’Barbo. They are the reason my writing improved to the point that you had a marketable manuscript.

    From her letter, it’s obvious this girl needs to attend a conference, get in a critique group, take writing courses, do some research on agents and what they will represent, and slow down.

    BTW B. Ricker, I’m 2 months away from 81st birthday, so get busy and get those manuscripts in tip-top condition and submit.

  17. Avatar
    rochellino March 16, 2017 at 10:47 am #

    At somewhere between the 2d agent and the 185th the “query” turned into “spam”.

    BTW, I’m thinking of producing a re- release. Change a few lyrics, the great Tamela Hancock Murray on lead vocals with Steve, Dan and Karen on backup and voila! A new anthem, agents everywhere will be eternally grateful. They can send out autographed CD’s of the new hit instead of that cumbersome, ambiguous, rejection letter. Think of it, a singing rejection letter, no one else has it. It will be a group sing in the bar at conventions everywhere!

  18. Avatar
    Abigail Neilson March 16, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Thank you very much for your valuable article and the helpful insights! It’s very educational and helpfuI. Being a “new kid” on the writing block, I still have so much to learn. I do not have a mentor yet, but I participated in a 52 week Online Global Publishing Course facilitated by Val Waldeck. She coauthored Faith like Potatoes with Angus Buchan and has authored and self published many Christian books that build up the Body of Christ. I value all she has taught me through the course. I am also learning so much from the articles I’m reading on Terry Whalins’ “The Writing Life” and other valuable articles I come across such as yours. I must admit that I find it very overwhelming at times, and am looking forward to the day when I can focus on my writing full-time. As for the genre, I wrote a nonfiction book from my heart. It formed part of my healing journey and my prayer is that it will point people to Jesus, Our Ultimate Healer ⚓💒🌟. I value your prayers for me as I press on and move into all God has predestined for me☺ 📚

  19. Avatar
    Effie-Alean Gross March 16, 2017 at 12:16 pm #


    Mentors are a great idea, though I’ve never had one. My mentors have come in the form of a local writers’ group. When a smaller group developed from the larger one, I learned a lot. We meet at Denny’s restaurant. The four of us are anxious to see each other succeed by offering help where and when needed. I’ve published over 200 articles in my time, but I’m still looking for that debut book to hit the shelves. I’m getting closer every day. We keep learning from one another. Good post, Tamela. God bless you. Thanks for being a “mentor” to so many. PS~~I was hoping that your “unsolicited submission” from the Ambitious Author was hyperbole, but I take it that you actually received the proposal. Oy! Now we know how to pray for you.

  20. Avatar
    Nan Rinella March 16, 2017 at 1:17 pm #


  21. Avatar
    Peggy Booher March 16, 2017 at 7:35 pm #


    I feel sorry for you. Wow! Along with getting a mentor and writing help, the girl needs to drop the attitude, and get some humility. Hopefully, she’ll learn fast from the writing/publishing process. If she doesn’t, she will have a hard time finding someone to help her out.

  22. Avatar
    Chris Moss March 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    My mentor is Cheri Gregory. She has opened up a world to me that I did not know existed: “the Christian communications biz.”

    I have been challenging my husband, my Bible study cohorts, my entrepreneurial friends with my interest in sharing the love, hope and encouragement of Christ across generations for… well, for generations! They have no clue what I am trying to discuss with them!

    Cheri helps me think and dream with more focus. She helps me create micro-steps and project maps to make my thoughts and dreams grow legs, become real. She prevents me from spinning my wheels on the projects that won’t make an impact. She keeps me from over-thinking things. She is a gift!

  23. Avatar
    Jon Duckworth March 22, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    I do not have a mentor with whom I work directly. I do follow several excellent blogs (including this one) and chat with online writing groups. My search for a local writing group has so far been unsuccessful.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

      Jon, thank you for following our blog. So glad we can be part of your journey!

      I’m not sure what type of books you write, but you might try to find a local group with ACFW for fiction and for nonfiction and/or fiction, Word Weavers International.

  24. Avatar
    Jerilyn Tyner March 28, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

    Before turning my efforts to producing a full length novel, I wrote shorter pieces for different markets and published in several categories, including poetry, devotionals, short stories, professional journals, humorous anecdotes, and even one act plays for church and school drama clubs. I have published pieces in each venue, but the real value for me was learning the ropes of contacting editors, writing queries, revising when an editor showed interest, and (of course) dealing with rejection. I also attended writer’s conferences, joined critique groups and learned from others successes and mistakes. Only then did I start writing my first novel. In the last four years, I have successfully published two historical novels, and my third one is a wip.

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