This Offer Does Not Expire

During a conference many authors ask , “How long do I have to submit my manuscript to you?” In other words, “Is there a time limit?”

The simple answer is, “The offer to submit to me does not expire.”

Why? Because I like to find new authors and develop, nurture, and encourage their work. My goal is to create a career for that writer. This philosophy is one of the reasons we are so choosey as an agency. We invest in an author to land that first deal, with an eye to winning future contracts.

Fiction authors often tell me that characters are knocking in their heads, begging for their stories to be told. These prolific authors have more ideas than they can spill onto a page. This is a gift. Other fiction authors may not write as fast, but quantity or speed of output is not a criteria for me. I just love working with highly creative people.

That is why I want authors to take the time they need to polish and perfect that first manuscript. As the saying goes, we have only one chance to make a first impression, and we want it to be our best. I receive conference-requested manuscripts throughout the year. We know that life interferes, or the author has made extensive revisions, or both. If you attend a workshop or receive an excellent critique, I recommend incorporating those changes into the final you send rather than hurrying to send the manuscript without the improvements.

An important note: while authors may have lots of time to hone that first manuscript, do be aware that you will need to keep the pace once you sign a contract with a publisher. When you are talking to the agent you hope to work with, let him or her know the number of books you feel you will be comfortable writing per year. If you are truly set on writing one a year, don’t feel you must push and say every six months. If your preference is for every six months, let us know. Best to be up front now than cause a scheduling conflict later. Once you earn a contract, your agent can help you work out a schedule that’s sane for you so that new deadline will feel like a reward than an oncoming train.

Happy writing!

Your turn:

Did you have your manuscript critiqued at conference? Do you expect to make changes as a result?

What is the most helpful advice you received about manuscripts or proposals that you’d like to share?

31 Responses to This Offer Does Not Expire

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton October 4, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    An agent took my first two chapters when we met at conference. Do you think if I don’t hear back in two months I should contact another agent?
    There was no offer, but I hope my story made it past the slush pile.

    It’s a good thing to have other stories already written.

    I enjoyed your post today. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 4, 2012 at 6:55 am #

      Jackie, glad you enjoyed the post. To answer your question, I would follow up and give the agent a chance to respond before assuming a lack of interest. Conferences, as you know, are hectic, and agents often go home with lots of submissions. I don’t think a quick email would be a breach of etiquette. All best to you! πŸ™‚

  2. Avatar
    Jennifer Major @Jjumping October 4, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    I had a lovely person suggest that my opening chapter NOT be grim, dark, sad, depressing AND weepy. Actually, several people suggested that. But it was the sage advice from a writer with some serious street cred who drove the point home. Or would that be “book store aisle cred”? Anyway, now, my MS starts out with the heroine practically doing ballet on a starlit night…and them BAM!
    I hope the changes make the book sing in 4 part harmony with a little bit of string quartet on the side.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 4, 2012 at 6:58 am #

      Jennifer — Sounds as though you got great advice!

      • Avatar
        Jennifer Major @Jjumping October 4, 2012 at 7:46 am #

        Yes, Tamela, I certainly did. From someone who was more gracious than I could have imagined. It’s so nice when a well established writer comes alongside a rookie and offers wisdom and advice. Especially when they aren’t required to do so.

        I’m sure my cheesecake skills had nothing to do with it. πŸ™‚

  3. Avatar
    Tammy P. Stafford October 4, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    The critiques I’ve received love my writing but say my manuscript is too short for a novel, it’s really a memoir. I’ve also been told I need a larger social following. Can you please point me to info or give me your thoughts on these two areas: length and existing platform?

    Appreciate your feedback,
    Tammy

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 4, 2012 at 7:25 am #

      Tammy, 45,000 words is about as short as you can go for a novel. And even then, 45,000 words is a length generally reserved for novels geared to a certain line, such as genre romance or mystery. Most trade book publishers would be looking at 70,000 words at the short end for a novel. A more traditional length is 85,000 to 90,000 words.

      Based on your question, I believe you should decide whether you want to write a true memoir or a novel based on real events and revise from there.

      AS for platform, you might want to visit my blog post on social media to learn my thoughts. Here is the link: http://www.stevelaube.com/tips-on-social-media/

      You may also find the comments section of this post helpful.

      Mike Hyatt’s book on Platform is also highly recommended.

      Hope this helps!

      • Avatar
        Tammy P. Stafford October 4, 2012 at 8:38 am #

        Thanks,it does help! I checked my Klout score and good news, I have room to improve! My manuscript is a non-fiction memoir. I just found The Steve Laube Agency through FFW and have submitted my proposal to Karen Ball. While I’m waiting the next six to eight weeks, it’ll be hard to type with my eyes crossed, fingers crossed, legs crossed and probably my wires crossed too hoping for any goodwill (even Godwill) or luck to fall on me but I will strive to increase my network!

  4. Avatar
    Gina Welborn October 4, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    I didn’t have a manuscript critted at conference, although I think it’s a valuble opportunity to get feedback on your writing from someone unfamiliar with you. Maybe I’ll do one next year.

    Best proposal advice . . . Chip McGregor’s proposal workshop is great for overall information; I highly recommend it. To list one specific piece of advice, I say when Roseanna White explained how she did comparables. So now I do comparables two ways, depending on the manuscript.

    For my historical romances I do something like My Story is similiar to Author’s Story in that they both feature XXXX but unlike Author’s Story, My Story YYY. Then I’ll do that again for another book. Usually the first comparasion is storyline/characters. The second one will focus on spiritual thread or theme.

    For my YA that I haven’t officially pitched to any editor, my comparables are like how Roseanna advised, yet I list about eight to ten.

    Published Book by Other Author (publisher, maybe year pubbed)
    list what that book has that is similiar to mine

    Something like . . .

    Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins (Scolastic)
    female protagonist, first person narrator

    Lost in Translation by Roger Bruner (Barbour)
    missions-minded heroine

  5. Avatar
    Heather Day Gilbert October 4, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Tamela, how great that you’re enthusiastic about the creative minds out there! Sometimes it might feel like we’re sitting on about ten different book ideas at once (all in different genres, mind you!).

    It helps to have an agent or writing friend that can bring you back to “Now, what is your brand? How does this fit again?” I personally love YA and have a dystopian in my head, but I’d have to stretch to fit it into my “Writing Beyond the Vows” theme of love after marriage.

    And while my book is out on submission (seemingly for the next ten years…), I’ve already started another one, in a different genre but fitting in with my brand. I find that my creative mind HATES being shoved into neutral to wait. Thankful for my writer friends who encourage me to keep on writing, regardless of acceptance/rejection of my current finished novel.

    Great post!

    • Avatar
      Jeanne October 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      So, Heather, how do you manage the theory that new authors need to stay in the same genre? I’ve got two stories in different genres floating around in my head. I’d love to hear thoughts on this. πŸ™‚

      • Avatar
        Heather Day Gilbert October 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

        Yikes, I totally know what you mean. I’ve completed an adult paranormal and an adult historical fiction. In my head, I have a YA dystopian, a mystery, and a contemp. women’s fiction series…

        SO what I did was combine my contemp locale with my mystery and we’re rolling. Now, if my historical gets picked up, I’m all over book 2 as far as plot, MC, etc.

        Basically, my theory for debut authors is that you keep writing and submitting stuff until the publishers sit up and take notice! Grin. But seriously, you’re not “locked in” until you are picked up. And then…I’ve heard you’re generally locked in (at least till you finish a series, if you have one).

        The KEY with any of this is staying with your writerly theme. So if it’s “Comedy with a Twist,” make sure everything you write sticks to that theme/brand. It’s hard to build a brand if you have only one story, so this is where having two written books helps you hone your brand down more quickly. My brand is “Writing Beyond the Vows”–which, to me, means my books deal with love AFTER marriage.

        Hope this helps, Jeanne? I’d love to know Tamela’s take on this, as well, since she’s seen lots of writers who probably want to switch genres sometimes.

      • Avatar
        Jeanne October 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

        These are some great thoughts, Heather. I appreciate you sharing them. Man, talk about thinking outside the box! You are amazing in all the different directions your stories go! I’m duly impressed. πŸ™‚

      • Avatar
        Heather Day Gilbert October 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

        Thanks, Jeanne, that’s very kind! Do you have a blogspot? Also, what genres are you thinking about writing in?

      • Avatar
        Jeanne October 5, 2012 at 3:34 am #

        Heather, I’ve written in women’s fiction, but I have a romance or two putting themselves together in my mind. So, my genres are probably less broad than yours. πŸ™‚ I don’t have a blog, yet. I promised myself I would start one after ACFW, but the time hasn’t been there. πŸ™‚ It’s on my list of to-do’s.

  6. Avatar
    Robin Patchen October 4, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    Great post, and it makes me feel better about the time I’m spending polishing the manuscript before sending the requested proposals.

    I received a lot of great advice at the conference, and I’m working to implement some new ideas. Though I’m itching to send those proposals, I want to wait until my manuscript, to quote Karen Ball, “sings.”

  7. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel October 4, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    I actually went into the ACFW conference with a question: Do I keep revising this book or move on to the next? I wanted to get some honest feedback from industry professionals. Through my two editor appointments, I realized that my first book wasn’t going to garner interest as is, so that, paired with a few very nice rejection letters earlier in the year, told me to move on the to next book. It can be hard to do, but I would never say that first book was a waste. And when I do submit books to editors and agents in the future, I want it to be an improvement–so it’s all about forward motion for me!

  8. Avatar
    Meghan Carver October 4, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    I’ve had three requests through conferences, and I sent them immediately. I had heard that it is best to send ASAP while you’re fresh in the agent’s or editor’s mind. But it’s also good to know that I can send anytime I’m ready!

    I received critiques through the Genesis contest, and I definitely made changes as a result before I started the query process. Thanks, Tamela, as always, for your upbeat and encouraging words.

  9. Avatar
    Carol Moncado October 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    I think I’m actually in pretty good shape with what I’m sending out. They’ve already been critted a number of times and then the beginning of an MS was critted again with just a couple small suggestions. Whew! Nice to know I may be doing something right ;).

    I do have a question to go along with the topic though. Not necessarily you [or others in the Steve Laube Agency] specifically, but in general…

    A request from a meeting doesn’t expire [I’ve heard that from a number of editors and agents] but what about the ‘if you met me at conference, you can query me’ sort of thing? No official pitch meeting or anything, just ‘met at conference’. Do those invites expire? Or does it just vary by agent/agency?

    Thanks for your insight :).

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Carol, when I say you can query me any time, I mean it. I don’t mind if you say, “You may recall we met at so-and-so CBA event in 2005.” I’m fine with that. I don’t promise to remember whether or not you like soy milk lattes, but a meeting is a meeting. And chances are, you are friends with me on social media so we are in touch, anyway. The meeting is just a reference point, and a bonus.

      I realize I responded with specifics when you asked for a general answer, but my educated guess is that most other agents would agree.

      Bottom line: fabulous writing is welcome at all times!

      • Avatar
        Carol Moncado October 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

        That is very helpful! Thank you very much :).

        Carol

  10. Avatar
    Angie Dicken October 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Tamela! This is a very timely post, as I am working on my proposal this very minute! You gave me great advice to enhance my beginning chapters, and I hope that my changes have improved my manuscript.
    Thank you for your insight! I love talking the “what if’s” of a story. πŸ™‚

  11. Avatar
    Jeanne October 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Tamela, I too, have wondered what the “expiration” is on a “You can send this to me when it’s revised” comment from an editor or agent. I appreciate your insight.

    An editor and an agent both read my first chap, expressed interest in it, when I finish revising. So, I’m taking time to bring my ms through critiques with my group and work in things I learned at ACFW. That whole first impression-mindset–makes lots of sense to send my very best. πŸ™‚

    Great post today.

  12. Avatar
    Kara I October 5, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    Thanks for such a great post Tamela πŸ™‚

    I had a paid critique at ACFW. I was SO nervous because the person I had chosen was an author I am a big fan of, who writes in my genre. I think I may have been even more nervous about meeting her than my agent or editor appointments!

    So I sat down and she found my pages, looked at me and grinned and said. “Oh my gosh, you wrote X. I LOVED it!” It was overwhelming to have such an enthusiastic response.

    I did have one question for you. What do you think the window is if, by some providence, you happen to find yourself having written something that you’re told is “in” right now? For example, three years ago at ACFW in Denver historicals were in, this year there seemed to be a lot more interest in contemporaries.

    I guess my question is this. No matter how much you polish something for submission, it will never be perfect. What would you recommend if you’ve been told what you’re writing is what people are looking for right now? Taking a few weeks or a couple of months to polish as much as you can and send it in, or take longer but risk that by the time you submit it the trend has moved on or publishers have already filled their lists?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 5, 2012 at 4:27 am #

      Kara, that’s a good question but not easy to answer. In my view, this is a time when a polished query letter will serve you well. Try letting agents know who you are and your plans for your book, and see which ones ask you to submit. Then you can let them know when you plan to submit the complete for their review. All best!

  13. Avatar
    Laura McClellan October 6, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Tamela – Thank you so much for this post. You cannot know how much I needed it just now. I went to the ACFW conference this year (my first) discouraged because I hadn’t yet finished my manuscript, but met anyway with an agent I deeply respect. Since I told her up front I wasn’t there to pitch because my ms isn’t ready, I was shocked/stunned/speechless when, after asking to read some of my writing, she read the first few pages and then asked me to send it to her when it’s complete. I’m working at it, trying hard to finish it with excellence, but my demanding day job (I have a full-time law practice) makes it hard for me to progress as quickly as I’d like, and I’ve been stressing about how long it will take, afraid that I am blowing this amazing opportunity I’ve been given by someone I’ve long dreamed of working with.

    Anyway, your post gives me hope. Which I appreciate more than I can say. Thank you.

  14. Avatar
    Terri Weldon October 6, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    Tamela, I had a paid critique at ACFW, actually two. They were amazing. I chose to have one look at the book I was pitching at conference and the other to look at something I’d just started to get her opinion on the concept. Both women were helpful and encouraging.

  15. Avatar
    Sandy Nadeau October 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I am working on applying what I learned at the ACFW conference to my ms and sat here wondering how much time I really have. Now I can relax and get back to work.

  16. Avatar
    Stephen Myers October 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Tamela – Thanks for clarifying up a slew of questions. Honestly, my conference experience was so positive I’m still stunned how to get back into the routine of writing without over critiquing my work. Then there’s all I learned, which organized, in files, notes filed, books read, my mind is almost mush! I’ve started several thank you letters to you and the editor I met with (successfully) and can’t seem yet to get them in the mail (i.e., they are too long). I did manage to get thank you e-mail off to everyone else.

    What’s ‘scary,’ is trying to make that H/LI novel so good (so perfect) I can’t seem to relax back in the rhythm I had pre-the-conference. Then again I’ve not checked my PO Box number yet either (I just realized). I had exceptionally positive meetings with one mentor (Gail Gaymer Martin), such a good meeting with Melissa Endlich, (leaving a chapter she asked to take), and five minutes with you after the agent panel session. So PANIC has set in of all I have to do in addition to the manuscript of the proposal and related synopsis supporting materials. (Almost laughing about it but its true). Most important is my main mentor who, after the gala suggested ‘just perfecting the manuscript asap and wait till she is more available in Jan to review my work and help craft it as best as possible.’

    Part of me wants to RUN and get a completed manuscript in record time, get it before your eyes (and the editor) and yet the heart of what I seem to hear from the Lord is ‘in time.’ So your post which I’ve saved as a PDF file is a ‘keeper’ that I should go slow and get this one as good as possible while mapping out the sequels and working research on two other separate titles.

    Thank you for the chance to communicate and participate.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 16, 2012 at 7:52 am #

      Stephen, thank YOU for sharing! You can consider this your thank-you note to me. πŸ™‚

      I look forward to seeing your work when you are ready. Happy writing!

  17. Avatar
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