Friday Five Interview – Tamela Hancock Murray

August 13, 2010

Tamela Hancock Murray is a great friend and . . . she happens to be my literary agent a really good one at that. She works with Hartline Literary Agency. She is very professional, loves Christ passionately, and really knows the industry. Most of all, she really understands her clients and helps to further them in their calling.

What’s makes Tamela a great agent is that she’s a writer as well. She’s written several novels and has a background in a wide variety of writing, publishing, and public policy endeavors. A bit more of her background:

She has been a writer for many years. As a college student, she interned on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Department of State before graduating with honors in Journalism from Lynchburg College in Virginia. Today, Tamela has more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books to her credit, plus magazines and newspaper articles. Her published titles include Love Finds You In Maiden, North Carolina. Tamela lives in Virginia with her husband and their two daughters.

She took time to answer five questions for The Friday Five:

1) If someone is new to the Christian Publishing world, they might not understand what a literary agent does and why someone would need one. Can you explain?


Sure, I’m happy to explain. Literary agents sell books to editors to be published. We help both writers and editors.  First, we choose excellent works that we feel are ready to be published, and help writers polish their proposals to put their work in the best light. We also make sure the work itself is at its best to present to editors. Competition is great, and writing must shine. Agents also decide where to send proposals, matching the right editors with the right proposals.

Agents talk to editors often, so they have a pulse on what editors need at any given time. Editors appreciate agents because they know submissions from us are presented with care. I am privileged to work with talented writers and I’m thrilled when I bring a gifted writer to an editor’s attention and gain a positive response.

2) Agents seem to be the new gatekeepers in that they have the slush piles and more-than-enough queries for representation. How can a writer get ready for an agent so that his work is something an agent would like to represent?

The main thing a writer can do is to visit the agency’s web site and study it. Look for what the agency asks to be submitted. Follow these instructions. Also look for agents who represent the type of books you write. Another strategy is to get to know the agent through events such as conferences. Meeting the agent face-to-face will allow you to see how both of you click. Another great option is to ask a current client to recommend you to the agent. Agents will give strong consideration to writers their authors recommend. For the record, Hartline Literary Agency does accept unsolicited queries and proposals.

Let us know how you found us, and please select only one of us to query at a time. Our web site is: www.hartlineliterary.com

3) A lot of people are talking about the future of the publishing industry, some even predicting that we’ll never have books and everything will be digital. What is your take?

I think there will always be room for both. People enjoy beautiful books for their personal libraries to read and display. The leather-bound, illustrated family Bible will always be a treasured possession.

On the other hand, electronic books offer a way to read many books for less money, and those books don’t consume physical space so this is ideal for people with little shelf space and those who travel often.

When I read a library book I especially like I might purchase my own copy, and I believe people will purchase hard copies of their favorite electronic books. I am thrilled by the new formats, because I believe more people will have better access to a greater number of books. Electronic books are a special blessing to those who don’t have access to a large library system, and to people who enjoy reading rare and out-of-print books since they are becoming available in e-book form.

4) Tell a bit of your story. How did you get involved in the Christian publishing industry and what drives you to keep writing and representing authors?

I am a full-time literary agent and write very little for publication at present. My college degree and professional writing background help me understand writers and what it’s like to sit in front of a blank computer screen, knowing it must be filled with words — astounding, excellent words — by a certain date. I possess the technical knowledge and skill to help budding writers apply that extra polish, and I am thankful for my years as a writer for that reason.

One of the most interesting assignments I had was during my U.S. State Department internship, when I prepared news briefs for the Secretary of State each morning. Later, when I was a young wife and mother staying home with an infant daughter, I wrote a few articles and was offered a job as a newspaper stringer, meaning I would write on their demand.

This option wasn’t practical for me at the time, but the offer encouraged me. I wrote for small Christian magazines, newspapers, and also novels. When I received an advertisement in the mail for Heartsong Presents, I felt led to submit to them.

They accepted my third novel, and I will always be grateful to them for giving me my first big break. My first job not involving my grandparents’ farm was in retail. I’ve always enjoyed the art of salesmanship, which encouraged me to make the transition from writer to literary agent. I love being a Christian literary agent because my work helps others realize their dreams, to God’s glory. Whether writers are helping others live better by walking with

God or writing to entertain my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am honored to be a part of their ministries. Joyce Hart will always occupy a special place in my heart because she was willing to give me a chance to be a literary agent.

5) What piece of advice would you give someone who feels they have writing talent and hears a call of God to communicate the message?

If you write 1,000 words a day, you will have a rough draft for a trade book novel in 90 days. Then you need to polish it until you feel it’s ready to be seen by people whose only interest is in reading a good book. If you are too afraid to let strangers read your work, you’re not ready for publication. After you submit, be prepared to accept and use constructive criticism. Work with a couple of other writers and learn from each other. Once you gain the courage to submit your work to agents, pay attention to any advice they offer. Be grateful for anything more than a form letter. That means they took time to give you special advice and they are nurturing you.

Thank you, Dan, for these wonderful questions and for the chance to spend time with your readers. May you all have a blessed day, and enjoy each moment that you write for Him.