WHAT Were They Thinking??

You know, one of the things I’ve learned since becoming an agent is that people have an odd sense of what’s appropriate. Happily, quite a lot of what I receive is well prepared and enjoyable to read. But I’d have to say that anywhere from a fourth to even, on a bad week, a third, of what comes in falls squarely in the “I don’t THINK so” camp.

So here, just to help you avoid such things, are some of what came to visit me in the last month or so.

Please, my friends, do not:

Send queries. Just queries. It says—twice, mind you—on our agency website guidelines to please not send just queries. Why? Because we can’t make a decision about representation based on a query. So save us both a little time and just go ahead and send in the full proposal.

Respond to the agents assistants when they tell you what you’ve sent in isn’t what the agent needs for review by saying “Sure it is. Just send it to the agent.” When I heard this, I shook my head. I’ve made it clear to my assistant that I need the information in a full proposal, so she’s to request that. So why on earth would she go against what I’ve asked of her? And why on earth would someone demand she do so?

Paste your proposal into the body of the email. We need those proposals in a document, Word or PDF, whatever. My eyes thank you.

Send a proposal for a type of book the agent doesn’t represent. (How, you ask, can you know? Check the agency’s website. Most agents list what they do and don’t represent. And no, your proposal won’t change the agents’ minds. Honest.)

Send an email with a hyperlink to your writing, saying “Check out my book/writing here.” Not gonna happen.

Respond to the agent letting you know s/he is going to pass on offering representation by asking him/her to critique your proposal and tell you how to make it strong. As much as we want to help, we just don’t have the time to do that. Besides, there are plenty of places online, including most agency websites, that give the basics of creating a strong proposal.

Send an email in 6 pt type. Yeah, SIX point. Makes my eyes hurt just remembering that one. I realize some computers don’t make nice together, and the typeface may leave your computer at a perfectly fine 12 point type and land in my inbox in a perfectly minuscule point size. Know how to avoid that? Use Time Roman, 12 point type. Most computers “see” that the same.

Send your proposal email cc’d to a list of 50 agents. Please, send one proposal per agent.

Put in your email that, if the agent isn’t interested, you’d like them to recommend another agent who would be. Why not? Because it’s your job to do that homework, not ours.

Send proposals to a Christian agent that contain:

Graphic sex

Voodoo spells and conjures


Alternate life-styles

Reasons the organized church is Satan

Send an email that asks the agent to pass on the url for your wonderful book to their many friends and contacts so that we can all jump right on over to that site and buy said book.

Mistake hyperbole and arrogance for marketing copy or confidence. What do I mean? Well, don’t say in your pitch that:

your writing is the most amazing writing the agent will ever read

your book idea is the most original idea the agent will ever have seen

your book will sell a million and make you both wealthy

the agent will regret it for the rest of his/her life if s/he passes on this opportunity

(Yup, I got all four of those in the last three weeks. And darned if they weren’t all dead wrong.)

So you can see that some days are a bit of a…challenge. But here’s the good news: YOU! You folks are here, reading the agency blog, because you want to be educated and to do things well. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

I appreciate your hard work, and you, a lot.




52 Responses to WHAT Were They Thinking??

  1. Judith Robl March 8, 2017 at 5:24 am #

    Karen, I hear your voice clearly in this post. And it is so right on!

    I’m not about to send you anything but a full proposal with a complete novel manuscript – edited, re-edited, proofed and reproofed – waiting in the wings to follow.

    Now for non-fiction, I might propose before the manuscript is totally complete, but not before it’s half done so that I know how long it will take me to complete it.

    I’m always amazed at the people who have the gall to fly against standard instructions and the unmitigated temerity to assume all the world is waiting with bated breath for their literary offering.

    Thank you for the reminders. You must have an inexhaustible store of patience.

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 10:54 am #

      I wish it were inexhaustible. Sigh. But the good news is I also receive proposals where the writers do everything right. So yay!

  2. Joanna Alonzo March 8, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    *jaw drops while reading* SMH

    “I’m going to make these agents regret not representing me.” – I’ve heard people say that before. I smile at them and bite my tongue, and wonder where they get their confidence. I certainly don’t have it.

    Some of them may be able to truly succeed, but with all the work agents receive and all the writing talent out there, do you guys even have time to look back and regret? XD

    Anyway, that being said, thanks for all the insider knowledge you share with us. 🙂

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 10:58 am #

      The only regrets I have are when I do something wrong. But turning down someone with that kind of attitude? I don’t care how well they do in their career, this business is too hard to partner with someone who doesn’t understand this task of writing is about being obedienct to God, serving your reader, and being thankful for God inviting us to partner with Him in the creative work of spreading His truths.

      Seriously, if an agent chooses not to represent a writer, that’s their right. Just as it’s the writer’s right to find another agent or go Indie.

      Thanks for your insights, Joanna.

  3. Sandra Allen Lovelace March 8, 2017 at 7:04 am #

    And thank you, Karen Ball. I appreciate your personal and professional encouragement to all of us on this writing journey. The direct bits like this post are all part of a well-rounded publishing perspective.
    May God bless you for your efforts. Amen

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks, Sandra. And may He bless you as well!

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 8, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    One question, Karen…should the link to the gift card for a free box of Amedei chocolate go in the proposal, or in the body of the email?

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 10:50 am #

      It should go straight to my mailbox!

  5. Beverly Brooks March 8, 2017 at 7:18 am #

    I did the query only thing … thinking I was saving the agent time. I feel stupid. It also kind of said “you probably aren’t interested”.


    Probably should hold off on further writing until I grow some confidence.
    Thanks Karen for this post …

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 10:53 am #

      Oh, please don’t feel stupid. We all know that a lot of these missteps come from a lack of education, not from stupidity. Two very different things. Please feel free to submit, Beverly, just follow the guidelines. 🙂

      Now, ordering my assistant to just send the proposal to me after she’s said it’s not sufficient…

      Well, some things education can’t fix.

  6. Jon Guenther March 8, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    You know what’s funny? Or maybe it’s not really that funny. The fact that agents keep having to do posts like this because someone doesn’t read simple instructions. Now I’m not going to start a movement or anything, because I know people can make mistakes and there is a level of appreciable anxiety submitting your work. Even I still get it and I’ve been a professional author for… well, let’s just say a long time. But really? REALLY?!

    Let’s not waste the time of agents whenever we don’t have to. I beg you. I implore you. Read the directions, make a checklist, dictate it to your smart phone, or hire an assistant with experience doing these things. But please just do what is asked: nothing more, nothing less. Don’t be “clever” or “witty”, and especially don’t be rude. Most agents will tell you that even if they pass on something, the chances of their willingness to look at something rise by multiple factors if you follow the guidelines.

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:02 am #

      And don’t waste your own time. I know how hard it is to send out a proposal, but when you don’t follow the guidelines, you waste your time, too. And you have to deal with the rejection that will come.

      Truly, though I confess to some frustration at times, my goal here is to equip writers for success.

      • Jon Guenther March 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

        “…my goal here is to equip writers for success.”

        And we appreciate you for it, Karen! 😉

  7. Katie Powner March 8, 2017 at 7:44 am #

    I have to confess that one time I intended to send a query from my professional/business email address but accidentally sent it from my “personal” email instead, which uses a decidedly less professional name. I was embarrassed, but once I hit send I couldn’t take it back!

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:03 am #

      Katie, not to worry. My guess is the person you sent that query to didn’t even notice. What matters to agents and editors is the content in the proposal. 🙂

  8. Teresa Haugh March 8, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    My heart goes out to you, Karen, but the humor in this post really made me smile this morning. Absurdities usually do. Keep up the good work.

  9. Jennifer Hallmark March 8, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    Wow. That’s all I can say…

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:07 am #

      These kinds of things do have that effect, don’t they? 🙂

      It’s similar to when I was the senior acquisitions editor at Tyndale long ago, and I recieved a proposal that said something along the lines of “I can only hope you will not be like the other editors consigned to hell for refusing to do God’s will and publish this book.”


  10. Carol Ashby March 8, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    Everything you list makes sense, Karen, but a few things that are verboten with agents are standard practice in other businesses.

    One is expecting to be notified that a proposal is rejected rather than making the proposer assume that silence is rejection. If it’s a first-time proposal from someone in my old scitech day job, they would expect an active response. Many rejections (and I had my share!) even include a meaningful reason with the rejection or the opportunity to request one.

    Posts like this are very instructive for the new person coming from a proposal-based business background. It’s important to play by the rules of the new game if you want to win. Thanks for defining them so clearly.

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:11 am #

      Carol, you’re right, other industries handle things as it’s appropriate for that industry. I’ve always thought changing industries is a bit like learning a new language–you have to use the proper terms and structures to succeed.

  11. Henry Styron March 8, 2017 at 9:02 am #

    So, I’m guessing this means your assistant didn’t pass along my bawdy voodoo alternate lifestyle novel in which I prove that the organized church is of the devil?

    That’s a shame, because it’s the most amazing writing in the world, and you’re really going to regret not taking it on. It’s going to wind up selling a million copies, you wait and see.

    Oh, well. Perhaps you could recommend another agent who might regard it more favorably? I could send you a hyperlink to pass along to them if they’d like to take a look at it.

    Thanks much!

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:12 am #

      LOLOL! Oh, Henry, thanks for the guffaw. I almost snorted my coffee!

  12. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 8, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Speaking of voodoo…this kind of fits in with “WHAT are they thinking?”

    In the late 1990s Bob Button owned a P-51 Mustang which he had modified for the National Championship Air Races, held every year in September in Reno, Nevada. (It’s the world’s fastest motorsport!)

    He named the aeroplane “Voodoo Chile”, in honour of the Jimi Hendrix song. Unfortunately, by the late 90s most people had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was, and Button changed the name to just plain “Voodoo”.

    He tired, you see, of people calling the thing Voodoo Chili.

    • Carol Ashby March 8, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      Probably only we New Mexicans will get that joke, Andrew.

      When my daughter read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in middle school, she asked me why one of the characters kept calling Huck chile. That made no sense to her, even though he was a hot-pepper kind of kid.

    • rochellino March 8, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      I seems there may be some mistaken research in the story, interesting as it is. The whole Jimi Hendrix part of the story is, well, way off. Jimi’s song was, and still is, Voodoo Child. On the link below he is performing it in Stockholm in 1969. Radio AFN (Vietnam) used to play it, some of us would beat on our rifle butts like they were drums in certain parts of the song when this was played which now, nearly 50 years later, still makes the song unforgettable for us.


  13. Cristel Phelps March 8, 2017 at 9:20 am #

    Karen, you made me smile today! I promise not to regale you with my amazing writing. Instead, I just want to say thanks.

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:15 am #

      Cristel, you’re welcome. And thanks to you, too.

  14. Christine L. Henderson March 8, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    I can appreciate your frustration. Lack of rational thinking and follow-through isn’t isn’t limited to your career, I scratch my head at calls I receive as a Realtor.

    Here are two true examples…
    Can you tell me about the house I just drove by? I don’t have the address, but it’s by an elementary school. (And they don’t have the school name. I work in a major metropolitan area. There are tons of schools and our office has hundreds of listings)
    I just claimed bankruptcy. I have no debt, so it should be easy for me to get a home loan. Can you find me a home?

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:17 am #

      I have a friend who was a librarian, and she said she couldn’t believe the number of people who come in and say, “I’m looking for a book. I don’t know the title or the author, but the cover is blue.”

      Well, that narrows it down…

  15. Karen Nolan Bell March 8, 2017 at 10:05 am #

    Although I’m sure none of this was funny to you when it happened, you perked up my day. You encouraged me, too. Writers are an odd lot, but at least I feel more normal after reading your post. Whew! I don’t know why it still surprises me when people make these errors.

    • Karen Ball March 8, 2017 at 11:18 am #

      Karen, after a day of encountering these things, I actually did sit there and laugh.

      It was either that or bang my head on the desk.

  16. Joey Rudder March 8, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    Learning here, Karen. Thank YOU!!!

  17. Linda March 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    Smiling. I wonder if those folks who wrote those things are really serious? Sometimes humanity just amazes me.

    • Karen Ball March 10, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

      Oh yes, they were serious. And really, I understand. They just need to educate themselves a bit better.

  18. Melissa Henderson March 8, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    Wow! All of those things would make me frustrated and I am not an agent. haha! Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  19. Lee Carver March 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

    You get a proposal saying God told him/her to write this book, and He lead him/her to you as an agent. Do you ever ask the author why God didn’t tell you to be its agent? He really should let you in on the plan, right?

    As an inspirational writer, I don’t doubt that God directs authors to write books. But I doubt that agents want authors to “play the God card” in order to sell them.

    Thanks for the laughs, Karen.

  20. Frenchy Dennis March 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    Karen, I think you need a hug. In the meantime, hang in there. You might like to know that I pray for the Steve Laube Agency because you are willing to stand up for our Lord and His standards. Thank you!

    P.S. In the past I’ve sent proposals to your agency and you turned me down. I still love you because I know you know best.

    • Karen Ball March 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

      Frenchy, thanks so much–for the prayers and the hug.

  21. Sheri Dean Parmelee March 8, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    Karen, this was so funny, it could go for a spin on Fun Fridays! Thanks for sharing- did you see that video of people bugging the agents at conferences? That was a gem, for sure!

    • Karen Ball March 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

      I didn’t see it, but I bet it’s a hoot!

  22. Maria Bostian March 8, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! My jaw had reached my desk by the time I got to the end. I’d love to be “a fly on the wall” for a day! I’m sure I’d be amazed at what I saw and heard.

    • Karen Ball March 10, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

      Probably so, seeing as I’m still amazed all the time!

  23. Nan Rinella March 9, 2017 at 9:26 am #

    You forgot Steve’s favorite

    “God told me to write this book.”


    • Karen Ball March 10, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

      Oh, that’s a definite classic.

    • Sara Davison March 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

      And he told me you were the agent who had to take it on …

  24. Damon J. Gray March 17, 2017 at 9:57 pm #

    I laughed aloud as I read the section on hyperbole and arrogance. It reminded me of some of the early contestants on American Idol who cannot sing their way out of a paper bag, but believe they are the next Barbara Streisand.

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