The Biggest Waste of Your Time

Recently, my assistant has been besieged with submissions that wasted everyone’s time. We’re not sure what triggered this barrage; but if these words save anyone a few moments, they’re worth posting.

Don’t submit works that agents aren’t seeking. Please.

I realize that perhaps you think it’s worth taking a chance. That agent specializing in Christian fiction and nonfiction is great, so surely he can make room for your secular children’s picture book, horror novel, or gift book.

Because your work is that good!

Your work may be that good! But if so, working with an agent who is passionate about your category of book is best for you. An agent who’s a star in representing Christian science fiction may or may not be a star in representing your work “Cooking in the Christian Kitchen,” even though everyone has to eat, right? If you’re pitching a cookbook, focus on agents who love representing cookbooks. Those agents will be on first-name terms with editors who buy cookbooks. I know of no editor in Christian publishing currently acquiring, for example, both science fiction novels and cookbooks. If you do somehow break through, why set yourself up to create a hot mess of a well-meaning team who doesn’t know best how to handle your project?

When you submit a project way off base to an agent, not only have you wasted your own time, but you have frittered away time at the agent’s office. The agent may just hit DELETE, and you’ll wonder why you never heard back.

Of course, you may want to query agents who might be eager for a unique but still appropriate project like yours. For instance, there’s no reason not to approach an agent who’s been successful with romance with women’s fiction or an agent who knows romantic suspense with a thriller; and an agent who’s been successful with category fiction may appreciate general fiction. Just please try not to target agents who have expressed no knowledge of or interest in your category. It won’t end well.

Your turn:

Other than reading agent blogs such as this one, how do you decide which agent will work best for you?

What are your favorite conferences where you can meet agents and editors for your category?



55 Responses to The Biggest Waste of Your Time

  1. Avatar
    Maco Stewart July 18, 2019 at 5:00 am #

    Tamela, thanks again.

    Perhaps this category of agent-seekers takes the same already self-defeated approach that many job seekers take: send the same generic resume (in our case, proposal) to as many recipients as possible and hope that some law of averages will lead to a winning outcome. After all, if 100 agents turned down your proposal, then the chances MUST be better on the 101st???

    No, of course not. Yes, persevere, but also make your product better. If you cannot broad-jump six feet, and one hundred tries have only gotten you four feet each time, there is no greater likelihood that your 101st jump will send you sailing seven feet.

    Building prior relationships has two advantages: most important, a writer can see better whether she or he truly wants to work with an agent or agency. Also, of course, if the agent has met you and knows that you are not a complete nutjob, that could be advantageous. I have friends who were so very delighted to have found representation and now are seeing that marrying the first fellow who proposes might not have been the best strategy after all.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:04 am #

      Maco, you make very good points. I hope our readers will take your words to heart!

  2. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson July 18, 2019 at 5:41 am #

    When I was looking for an agent, I was too nervous to send my manuscript haphazardly to just anyone. I needed and wanted to do everything correctly, so I researched agents and learned what genres they represented. I searched for someone who represented romantic suspense. From that list, I searched for the one agent my personality meshed with. It was tough, but I waited and prayed, and now I’m honored and blessed to be a Tamelite!

  3. Avatar
    sherri stewart July 18, 2019 at 5:48 am #

    I go to the website, read about the agents, and study the submission requirements. Before a conference begins, I read about the agents who will be there.

  4. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray July 18, 2019 at 5:57 am #

    This may sound arrogant, and I sincerely do not mean for it to be so, but I am selective about the agents to whom I submit. Indeed, I declined representation from one younger agent that just rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve even reached the point that (at the moment) I submit proposals to one agent at a time. If they decline, I submit to another.

    I have to “feel” some connection with the agent. There has to be some commonality in their online interaction, or in their bio – something that indicates I could partner with this person. I’m not looking simply for someone to pitch my manuscript. I want someone who can offer insightful criticism, bold suggestions on how I can improve the work, improve my live presence, guide me (as a partner) through the publishing minefield.

    I’m also looking for something long-term. I want loyalty in the relationship, where the agent is not representing “this manuscript” but “this man, this author,” who is currently shopping this manuscript, and next year will be proposing “that” one.

    I now yield the soapbox to the next speaker…

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:10 am #

      That’s a great attitude, Damon. Agents appreciate when authors show they have an idea who the agent is and haven’t simply submitted to every agent on a big list, no matter how awesome the list is. I’m all about the long-term, too. I expect authors to have more than one book to write and want to be there on their journey.

  5. Avatar
    Sue Rice July 18, 2019 at 6:35 am #

    I use Steve’s Christian Writer’s Guide to help me understand which way to turn. The format is clear and concise. I sincerely appreciate when agents take a moment to provide some sort of feedback. That tells me they respect the time and effort writers put into their creations.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:13 am #

      Sue, I know Steve will love the plug! As for feedback, most agents and their assistants really can’t give feedback because our IN boxes are simply too full. That said, when you DO receive valuable feedback, in my view, it indicates enough interest that your work may have been a near miss and it’s worth pursuing the agent further.

  6. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 18, 2019 at 6:35 am #

    Dear Tamela, you’ll not see my poems
    cross your desk for your perusal;
    I’ll leave that spot for other tomes
    that merit not summary refusal.
    The sonnet ‘s an outdated form
    for the esoteric, wayward mind,
    and to say it’s not the current norm
    is realistic, and not unkind.
    I’m glad you’ve liked those you’ve seen,
    and I’m grateful for your affirmation,
    but I won’t let praise fuel a dream
    that’s far beyond my station.
    Why poems? God, why’d you bid me start?
    “Not to open doors, but to open hearts.”

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:14 am #

      I’m so glad you bless this blog with your poems, Andrew! Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Judith Robl July 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

      Please add my “thank you” to Tamela’s. Your poetry is timeless and pointed, conveying truth in small bites, most palatable for many people whose days are too full of other junk – er, stuff.

  7. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson July 18, 2019 at 6:40 am #

    Very interesting. I have not searched for an agent yet. I have been watching and listening to other authors and their experiences with agents.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:15 am #

      Thoughts from your friends is a good way to get insights you won’t get anywhere else, Melissa. You can use those as a guide when you start your search, but the best indicator is YOUR experience with the agent. Hope you find a great match when the time is right!

  8. Avatar
    Susanne Malinoski July 18, 2019 at 6:59 am #

    I am in the same position as Melissa. I have not yet begun the search, most likely out of fear, but that’s a whole different topic, isnt it?. I would love to hear from others on which workshops or conferences are the most productive for seeking out agents, especially for a beginning writer.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray July 18, 2019 at 8:23 am #

      Don’t know that I can speak to “best for an agent” but I can tell you that I allow myself a maximum of two conferences each year, and one of those will ALWAYS be the West Coast Christian Writers Conference in Livermore, CA. It is the best, and most affordable such conference I know of.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:17 am #

      What type of books are you writing, Susanne?

      • Avatar
        Susanne Malinoski July 19, 2019 at 3:42 pm #

        I have one manuscript polished to a point where I feel it’s time to begin queries. I would classify it as historical romance. My work in progress is Christian historical fiction.

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Chastain July 18, 2019 at 7:06 am #

    I read as much as possible about the agent and what they’re looking for. I also ask other author friends, if published, who represents them. I’ve been to the Blue Ridge Mtn Christian Writers Conference twice, which is an excellent place to introduce yourself as well as get a feel for industry. Why waste your time and theirs with a submission? I feel that we need to be considerate of everyone’s time since most folks, and agents in particular are extremely busy during conference season. Thanks, Tamela, for another great post!

  10. Avatar
    Nancy Cross July 18, 2019 at 7:09 am #

    This is my first novel and have yet to research agents. Possibly someone who has traveled this path can direct me to a list of agents by genre.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray July 18, 2019 at 8:54 am #

      Nancy, get a copy of the 2019 Christian Writers Market Guide. I pick one up about every other year. It’s roughly $20 and worth every penny.

  11. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell July 18, 2019 at 7:40 am #

    I’m planning to approach my first submission the same way others have mentioned. I’m still polishing my work but will seek representation by the end of the year.

    Online, I’ll seek agents who represent the genre my novel fits into. If they take unsolicited submissions, I’ll submit. I hope to find an agent with a couple of years of experience. If their experience is lacking, I’ll submit if they are part of an agency with a proven track record.

    I haven’t been to any writers’ conferences, but I’ve been wanting to attend. Time and location have been issues for me. I wonder if there are any virtual conferences?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 10:19 am #

      Byran, I think interacting on this blog is about as close to a virtual conference as you’ll see from me. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray July 18, 2019 at 11:17 am #

      Bryan, a “virtual” conference just wouldn’t be the same. For sure, go!! You’ll find that the keynotes and classes are fantastic, but the real gold you mine will be between sessions, over lunch, in the hotel lobby, milling around after the last session, etc. You will make friendships that endure LONG after the conference is over.

      Pick one and GO!!

    • Avatar
      Pat July 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

      Not everyone has time or money to go to conferences. Some have very ill family members. Some have responsibilities like children. And some don’t have the resources to attend. If you MUST attend conferences then I suspect many authors will go unpublished.

      • Avatar
        claire o'sullivan July 18, 2019 at 1:06 pm #


        every time I save enough money something disastrous happens. Car – 2000 or more for the transmission (might as well get a new car with what money), roof leak (A hot mess right there), and I could go on.

        I pray and wait for God to let me know should I edit? 1000 bucks. Should I go to a conference 700 bucks? Should I… pay the mortgage?

        What I want and what God’s will is may be at odds. IDK.

        • Avatar
          Pat July 18, 2019 at 3:14 pm #

          Are you published Claire?

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 1:10 pm #

        For the record, you do not have to attend any conferences at all, ever, to be published by a traditional publisher.

        What you have to do is write an amazing book that an agent can sell to a traditional publisher.

        Many successful authors I know attend conferences as faculty, or they go to socialize with other writers, or both. They do not go seeking publication.

        I tell my authors I represent that one benefit of my representation is that they don’t need to go to conferences to pitch to editors. I do that for them.

        That said, if going to a conference works for you, great. But if not, keep writing, visiting and commenting on professional blogs, interacting with agents and editors on social media, researching, and submitting. Oh, and do those things even if you CAN go to a conference!

        Please don’t get discouraged.

        • Avatar
          claire o'sullivan July 18, 2019 at 1:24 pm #

          2nd Corinthians 4: 8-9 (maybe not the persecuted part except in our own minds !)

          Give Up?

          Haven’t heard of those words… at a loss… can you explain?


          • Avatar
            Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 2:07 pm #


          • Avatar
            Cynthia Godwin July 18, 2019 at 9:05 pm #


            All excellent points!

            Writers face enough rejection without inviting it by submitting to an agent who isn’t interested in your manuscript. I think research is key and many writers have already made good points.

            One idea I did not see mentioned is looking up the agent of a book you enjoyed that is in the same genre as yours. Writers often thank their agents in the acknowledgments and that’s one more way to find the correct agent for your work.

  12. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver July 18, 2019 at 7:57 am #

    Taylor University’s Professional Writers’ Conference, coming up August 2nd and 3rd, works well for me. This will be the third year I attend. It’s a great place to meet friendly agents and absorb lots of knowledge of the publishing world.

  13. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan July 18, 2019 at 10:40 am #

    Great responses, all.

    Oh HI Tamela, how ya doin’?

    OK, so I can relate with humor my first attempts resulting in a lot of rejections. But… not here, way too embarrassing!

    1. know your genre. Thanks to Bob for an online evaluation of my query letter through Kathy Ver Eecke. That was cool. I might add, suspense is not the same as mystery, intrigue is not the same as suspense, and suspense is not the same as speculative writing (though nothing wrong with cross-genres).

    2. Know your agents personally i.e. conferences are great as is social media.
    Know their expectations. Uh, who do I submit to? Bob? Tamela? Steve? Yikes, what a great group but each has different wants.

    3. What about the great whale of editing? The Moby Dick of a pocket killer. Is it polished? Edited? Does the agent want it edited by a pro? Of course! Who wants to see the MS that’s sloppy? Getting a cheap editor is a disaster both for wallet and for your MS (so save up!).

    I might add that Bob cracked me up posting that Steve is the worst grammarian (hiya Steve…). I think Bob is a total stickler. Pretty sure. Not so sure about ah, Tamela. Polished? Edited?

    As I work again through my last. Last. Last. Last ever rewrite. Last ever spit, polish, last ever re-through, and finally, can’t look at the MS ever again, I save my pennies. Because I know the best may make if the above 3 are fulfilled.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 1:14 pm #

      Claire, your comments made me smile! And yes, I love a polished manuscript. Editors do, too!

      I have no doubt the Lord will open doors when the time is right!

  14. Avatar
    Pat July 18, 2019 at 12:50 pm #

    I just wrote an inquiry letter to you yesterday. Reading this today seemed harsh, like you wanted to chastise someone. Did my query inspire this response?

    I didn’t submit anything for you to look at. I know that everyone has a limited amount of time, but agents’ bread and butter comes from author’s hard work. With the “barrage” you received it sounds like a lot of people are working very hard.

    I hope my query didn’t create a “hot mess” Steve speaks of. That would be hurtful.

    It took a lot of time to write this article and respond to all the comments.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 1:19 pm #

      Pat, I wrote this post weeks ago. In fact, I have been out of the country and was on an airplane the majority of the day yesterday. I don’t ever buy Internet access to use on the plane. So please do not worry!

      Thank you for sending the query. My office should be responding very soon.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2019 at 2:24 pm #

      Pat, we can’t find a query from anyone named “Pat” in my office email box. Did you send it to my assistant at I would like my office to offer you a response.

      • Avatar
        Pat July 18, 2019 at 2:33 pm #

        Hi Tamela. I sent an email to you at Steve Laube agency. It was an email introduction.

        I didn’t send a hard copy letter.

        Thank you for looking.

      • Avatar
        Pat Reeder July 19, 2019 at 9:15 am #


        The inquiry was under Patience

  15. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan July 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm #


    if you sent it yesterday, it’s still on the slush pile that hasn’t made it to the readers or the agent yet. Unless it’s a very weird genre.

    Worry not.

  16. Avatar
    Jeff Adams July 18, 2019 at 4:23 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela. Succinct. I like it. If you need an electrician, don’t call a plumber, and vice versa.

    I wonder if some writers understand the industry vernacular. And as others have noted, some use shotguns when they ought to use a sniper rifle.

  17. Avatar
    Les Linz July 18, 2019 at 4:35 pm #

    About time-wasting–very insightful and well-put.

  18. Avatar
    Kent Dickerson July 18, 2019 at 4:46 pm #

    I’ve attended three conferences and each had the opportunity to talk to agents. The first two I had determined to self-publish and was not seriously seeking to take an agent on. At the second one, an agent for a hybrid publisher asked me to send a manuscript but I declined.
    This year I attended Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I found everyone at the conference friendly and helpful and there was great training available. I was urged by a friend to reconsider traditional publishing and talk to a couple of agents. This would be easy to accomplish as there was a meet and greet about to begin with most of the agents available. I spoke to only one, Steve Laube. He was very interested in the book and asked me to start the process to be published by sending a book proposal. I felt I had connected with the best fit for me and came home to learn how to produce a good proposal. We shall see how it is received.
    I am very grateful for conferences and sites like this one which help us as writers.

  19. Avatar
    Nancy B. Kennedy July 19, 2019 at 9:25 am #

    Writers also face a dilemma when they have been represented by one agent, but decide to write about something that isn’t a good fit for that agent. It might be a welcome project for another agent, though. It’s scary to jump ship, because you worry that you won’t find another agent, and to be an unagented author is not an enviable position. Plus, you have a lot of gratitude toward your current agent for all he or she has done for you, and you aren’t eager to leave. But if you’re passionate about your project (and fairly confident about its marketability) and you take logical steps to land with another agent — as, for example, going to a writers conference, entering a contest, or submitting your proposal to agents who represent your genre — it can be done. I know from experience!

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan July 19, 2019 at 9:34 am #

      Great information! Thank you, Nancy. I have thought the same thing. Though I am in the hopes of getting one agent for my first, first!

  20. Avatar
    Michael McMillan July 20, 2019 at 8:15 am #

    Hello, Tamela!
    You have made what you are looking for very clear in your post, “Book Proposals I’d Love to See”. I can’t understand why people would waste your time (or their own, for that matter) submitting anything else. It is hard enough trying to find an agent, without setting oneself up for rejection that way. I do understand that everyone feels that their work and voice are unique, and should be heard. It’s heartbreaking to feel as if you will never find representation, but trying to sneak or force one’s way in is not helping oneself, either. I hope everyone will take your advice and the advice of those who have replied here to heart. Thank you, and God bless all of us out there looking for their dream.

    • Avatar
      Michael McMillan July 20, 2019 at 4:36 pm #

      Upon reflection, I was thinking that perhaps one of my own recent submissions might not have matched up perfectly with your criteria after all. 🙁 Hmm, perhaps, a trip back to the drawing board may be in order? Lessons learned, and all that. God bless!

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