When Your Agent Makes You Speed Up

by Tamela Hancock Murray

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Since I wrote last week about when your agent may make you slow down, I thought this week it might be fun to write about why your agent may make you speed up. Now, speeding up is never, never to occur at the risk of writing less than your best. Story craft, along with  care and attention to detail, are always musts for fiction and nonfiction. But there are times when we need to speed up.

Immediate Vacancy

Many is the time that I receive notice from editors looking for submissions when they need to fill a slot right away. Perhaps they are working on a special Christmas project, or a contracted author has been unable to meet a deadline. They may call on agents they know to be reliable with a list of equally reliable, talented authors, to help them fill that hole right away. So when your agent calls and says, “I know you’re working on a suspense/historical/devotional manuscript. Are you able to meet a deadline of two weeks from now for an editor in need?” At this time you can either accept, decline, or even ask the agent for another two weeks or so. Working with your agent, you may gain a well-deserved contract more quickly than you expected, along with the gratitude of your new editor. This is a very good reason for authors to work with agents, because agents tend to be privy to this type of inside information.

Exciting Verdicts

Anyone who’s worked in an office knows that committee meetings don’t always result in a clean verdict. Sometimes a preliminary meeting means more work for an author before the proposal can or should be taken to the next level. As you might guess, this is an easy example of the “hurry up and wait” business that is publishing. The next meeting is without fail scheduled within a few days. Is it always a great time for the author to drop everything to tweak a proposal? No. Is it always a good for the author to do so? Yes. It is hurried times like this where an agent is critical in being sure the editor gets the essential materials she needs to go into her meeting, ready to answer the committee’s questions. If all goes well, a contract will be offered.

Draining Lethargy

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

Unexpected events happen to us all, and they can drain the living life out of us. Sometimes we not only must deal with an event itself, but the errands and cleaning up after the event can take weeks, months, even years. Who wants to write a romance when we aren’t feeling loved, or who has the energy to write about adventure when nothing seems better than sleeping for a couple of weeks? This is when an honest and open relationship with your agent will be your oasis as you seek refreshment in the unrelenting desert. Your agent can offer encouragement, prodding, and help in getting you back on track so your career doesn’t become as dormant as Rip Van Winkle during his twenty-year nap.

Your Turn

Have you experienced any of these scenarios?

What other times would you want an agent to encourage you to speed up?

21 Responses to When Your Agent Makes You Speed Up

  1. Avatar
    Jeanne T March 21, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    This is a good perspective on those golden opportunities I hope to one day be ready for. It sounds like having a number of stories already written is a very good thing. Since I’m only just beginning work on my second book, and I’m not agented yet, I haven’t had this happen. But how fun would it be if it did? 🙂

    As far as having an agent encourage me…the scenario you presented is a good one. I hope that I will be motivated to keep moving forward on my writing without too much need of encouragement, but I hope that when I have an agent, that the relationship will be such that if my agent senses discouragement because of something writing/publishing related, s/he will be able to speak the words I need to hear to keep holding on and pressing forward.

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    Laurie Alice Eakes March 21, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    I know of a minimum of two times this has happened and wouldn’t have without an agent pushing me. I’ve turned down opportunities, as well, because my schedule doesn’t aloow or other things, but I have answered the “How soon…? or “Do you have…? call and have sold three books because of it.

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    Kathryn Elliott March 21, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    I’m one of the weirdos who functions better on a tight deadline – blame it on newspaper work. I love a good frenzy to get creative juices flowing, but there are days Rip had it right and a long nap sounds heavenly. I rely on my critique partners for a boost on those frustrating days when mundane tasks weigh down progress. We have all been sluggish at one point or another; lethargy loves company.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray March 21, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      Kathryn, I had a college roomie who would wait until 1 PM every Thursday afternoon to complete a complicated psych lab report that was due at 4 PM and she finished on time every time. I would always have mine done by the previous Friday or Monday. And I was a journalism student! You sound as though you know when to write and when you can nap, and that’s a good thing. 🙂

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    Nancy B. Kennedy March 21, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    I once sold a nonfiction manuscript, but the contract fell through in negotiations. I thought the book was dead (along with the economy) but a year later, it got another chance. The publisher of my current books needed to fill a slot and asked my agent whether I had anything to offer. I had to rewrite maybe a third of book because of the time lapse, but it was worth it, even though I was working on another book simultaneously. Truly feast or famine!

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    Carole Lehr Johnson March 21, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Tamela, your insight is much appreciated. Someday I hope to have an agent who will hold me accountable–both slowly and speedily! We all need encouragement from time to time.

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    Carol Moncado March 21, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Mary Connealy has talked about this some – how she had something like 20 manuscripts done before getting her first contract and it helped her be able to say yes.

    I’m half there… finished the rough draft of the 10th manuscript earlier this month.

    I also work best under pressure. Or write the most quickly anyway. And like Jeanne, I hope to be self-motivated, but I am already so very grateful for the friends who come along and encourage me, just when I need it most, even if they have no idea I need it. I’d hope for an agent relationship that’s the same way.

    But I used to be like your college roommate, Tamela. I was doing an independent study with a professor I’d had about 6 times before. He gave me all of the assignments at the beginning of the semester and I had these grand ideas of getting them all done way early as I was also pregnant at the time. Yeah. Notsomuch. I’d start the papers about 2 hours before the Monday at midnight deadline. I got an A- in the class though ;).

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    Ron Estrada March 21, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    I write a regular column for a local magazine called Women2Women Michigan (yes, a risk for both career and marriage). I’ve had my editor call me several times now on a Friday to re-write or just completely write a column that another writer was supposed to have done. Often it even requires a phone interview with someone I’d never even heard of. I’ve found that I do well under pressure. Hopefully, I’ll get one of the those calls for a novel. Heck, that’s why God made coffee.

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      Jeanne T March 21, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      Laughing out loud, Ron. That’s EXACTLY why God made coffee! 😉

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      Heather Day Gilbert March 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      Yes, Ron–I’ve repeatedly heard that newspaper experience (and undoubtedly magazine experience) prepares writers for those tight deadlines. I wrote for papers, and I can say one thing it did give me was confidence to interview people (often at the drop of the hat, like you said, Ron!). I personally think there are two categories of writers–those who procrastinate and work like maniacs at the last minute, and those who get their posts/writing done the minute they hear about the assignment. That’s the way I tend to operate–give me a goal, and I’ll get it done ASAP. Then I can *presumably, but not really* relax.

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    Pat Jaeger March 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    Great post, Tamela. You are correct in noting that there are times authors need encouragement to move forward. Having lost several loved ones in the past two years, my writing really went into a slump. This past Fall, God sent a wonderful writer’s group, and friends to help me get back up and get to writing again. I look forward to having an agent one day, and pray for just the kind of relationship you write about, but until then, thank you Lord for the writer’s group!

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    Jenni Brummett March 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    “Who wants to write a romance when we aren’t feeling loved?” I would argue the opposite. When I’m feeling unloved, writing my romance is a poignant escape of sorts. As writers, we can control what’s happening in our fictional world, even if real life is pulling us down.

    Tamela,I know someone needs to hold down the fort, but I wish you were coming to Mount Hermon this year. I would love to chat with you about my Christian Gothic Romance. 🙂

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    Jackie Layton March 21, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    I’m not published yet, but this makes me think participating in Nano Wrimo and Speedbo may be good training for the day an agent needs a story quickly.

    I’m so glad I stopped by today. Now back to Speedbo.

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    Stephen Myers March 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    Jenni Brummett summarized my first thoughts:

    “Who wants to write a romance when we aren’t feeling loved?” I would argue the opposite. When I’m feeling unloved, writing my romance is a poignant escape of sorts. As writers, we can control what’s happening in our fictional world, even if real life is pulling us down.”

    Its funny really…that’s how I came to start writing Christian Fiction and with Romance Fiction. Its how I’ve come into Historical Fiction as well. Writing IS my escape or the world in which I wish (Pray) it would be or become.

    There’s a great example from Woody Allen in the award winning 1977 film ANNIE HALL. Near the end of the film the audience is watching the rehearsal of a play that summarized the last scene of the Alvy (Allen) conversation with Annie (Keaton) that played out differently on stage than in real life. Alvy/Allen turns to the camera and says:

    ALVY
    (To the audience, gesturing)
    Tsch, whatta you want? It was my first
    play. You know, you know how you’re
    always tryin’ t’ get things to come out
    perfect in art because, uh, it’s real
    difficult in life.

    One of my greatest problems at present is getting past the ‘I’m not good enough’ phase of editing my first to second draft with thinking I have to be ‘perfect’ as I work out what is wrong with what I’ve been self educating to make right.

    The things that help me most now is reading posts on the ACFW loops and Blogs of Colleen Coble. They are like the “Holy Grail” to my development as a writer. She reminds me that her finished work as in print (LONESTAR ANGEL for example) was after 7 or so revisions or drafts. She talks how great it is to get the good feedback of what is right, painful of what is wrong and then the motivation to fix what is broken with the suggestions of what might be right.

    My problem is though I am not married to my words or draft I am ever questioning my worth and what I have yet learned to apply to fix what is broken or wrong. Its too tempting to rewrite than fix what was good to begin with. Though I have a paid editor relationship at present I can get lost too easily in the enormity of what to fix rather than, as Coble, Margaret Daley and Joy Avery Melville suggest is ‘fix one thing at a time, then go back and fix the next thing, till its right.’ I get discouraged its taking so long to fix those things and the goal scoots further back.

    Over stressed from life (and it affecting my health in the past week) I took 12 hours to read Noelle Marchand’s A TEXAS MADE MATCH, her third book in a series for Love Inspired Historical. She wrote thanking me for my comments of what I loved about her work and to share some things turned out differently working with her H/LI from her original drafts but how well it did turn out.

    I wonder if, in my quest to sign with an agent and later with a publisher, trying to get a draft so ‘perfect’ is double or triple work of what working with an editor (of a publisher) might actually produce as a real world template of the actual process. In other words I wonder if my ‘fears’ of not writing ‘perfectly’ are dragging (slowing) the process making what I’m doing harder than it has to be? On the other hand, my work (draft) may not be acceptable enough to get that kind of offer to work with an editor to fix things that should be perfect in the submitted draft. Either way it does not boost confidence in my work and so self critical I’m not accomplishing much (other than study of the craft) in the process.

    In my spirit I hear another script line from the 1994 film SHADOWLANDS. The thought is Lewis (read/played by Anthony Hopkins) who is reflecting on the loss of his wife Joy and on an outing with adopted son Douglass. His thoughts we hear:

    “Why love if losing hurts so much?

    I have no answers anymore, only the life I have lived. Twice in that life…I’ve been given the choice: As a boy…and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

    I don’t see it that final and dramatic but I do ask or ponder the question “Why write if trying to get it right causes so much doubt?” But reading Coble’s journeys in writing (much the same as my own) is that the process is difficult but worth it. “The doubt now is part of the joy to come when its ready for an agent and/or publisher/editor. That’s the deal.”

    One mid-list friend who has published about a dozen novels once confided she worries ‘if the next manuscript will be rejected and they find out instead of a good writer I’m just an old hack.’ She’s not, by the way. She’s brilliant. Her writing is beautiful as are her stories. She’s not a Coble or Kingsbury as a top seller but she’s published a dozen times from a publisher, editor and agent that loves her work.

    I think having an agent in a relationship with a writer is like seeing the one fan of our writing in the stands behind us, with or without a cheering crowd, to remind us to just step back up to the plate and swing at the next pitch to home run to the outfield bleachers. For those of us pre or unpublished we may or may not have a sense of that and at the plate we feel very much alone in the process of potentially striking out. That’s, at least, what slows me down.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray March 25, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      Very nice post, Stephen. Thank you for sharing. And yes, I there is definitely the idea of escaping not only through reading but also through writing, where indeed you can make the world a better place — at least on paper. And as you gain readers, you are making their world a better place, too. I think the best way to overcome self-doubt is to submit. When you’ve gotten to the point you’re editing your edits a second time, then stop. Take a deep breath and submit your work. As you wait for responses, write something else. Then even if the first piece is rejected, you have the hope of another. And remember, you only have to be accepted by one publisher to get a contract. Hope my words don’t sound trite. Perhaps they will help more than one person. Thank you for inspiring me to share.

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    Hannah Currie October 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Thankyou both Stephen and Tamela for your posts and honesty. Have to admit, I often find the tough, painful, ‘reality strikes’ stories from other authors more encouraging than the happy ones because they remind me I’m not alone in my struggles as an author!

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