Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!


Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

Academic or Theological books: I love the Word, and I love talking abut God and faith, but I’m neither an academic nor a theologian. These books are out of my real of expertise.

Poetry, Screenplays, and Graphic Novels: Again, love to read ‘em, but I don’t represent ‘em.

Okay, on to the good news!

What I AM Looking For

Yes, Virginia, I am interested in nonfiction! Especially what I call lyrical nonfiction, the kind written with a storyteller’s narrative voice. Below you’ll find examples of this style of writing. (And just FYI, I didn’t choose these books so much because they’re bestsellers—though that’s always nice—but because the tone and voice captured me.)

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Beautiful, stunning prose that draws you in and leaves you changed.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. Honest and evocative writing that lets readers know they’re not alone in their struggles.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I love the way this book begins. It sets the stage perfectly for what he has to say.

Something to note on nonfiction:

I love memoirs, books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. But if you’re going to write a memoir, you need to be sure you’re writing about universal truths as much as your own story.

Fiction is, ever and always, my first love. I’m all about story, especially well-crafted, powerful story that directs readers to God. Not “preachy” stories, but stories that are authentic and grounded in the reality of what it is to be a follower of Christ. Be they romances or suspense, thrillers or Amish, contemporary or historical, I’m always looking for stories that transport readers and touch their hearts.

That being said, there are a few types of fiction I don’t represent. Again, I’m not saying these aren’t worthwhile books, just that I don’t have a place for them right now:

  • Stories set between the 1930s and contemporary time.
  • Stories about childhood sexual abuse’
  • Stories for children or middle grade readers
  • Stories that don’t have a clear spiritual thread

A note about fantasy and spec fiction: while I do represent a few authors in these categories, and while I love these books as a reader, the craftsmanship bar is especially high for these books because there are so few publishers working with them. 

With both fiction and non-fiction, I’m happy to consider proposals from new, unpublished authors, so long as you’ve done your homework (meaning you’ve been to writers’ conferences, had your work critiqued, done the work of revising and refining so that the craft is as good as you can get it, and been to our website to follow our guidelines for proposals).

So…comments and questions?

17 Responses to Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

  1. Terrance Leon Austin February 5, 2014 at 4:02 am #

    Thanks Karen.

  2. Chris P. February 5, 2014 at 6:22 am #

    Thanks for the info! Just to clarify, you are only looking for books set prior to 1930?

  3. Jeanne Takenaka February 5, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    Fun post, Karen. It’s good to know what you do/don’t represent. :) Thanks!

  4. J.D. Maloy February 5, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Whoa. I was just talking with a friend about the word “sing” in reference to writing.

    I learned what the word meant 3 years ago when a well known someone in the writing industry read my work. He told me what parts ‘sang’ and asked if I could see why. At that time I couldn’t completely identify, but the parts he did reference were easier for me to write. Huh, a hint perhaps?

    Since that time, I’ve been learning, practicing and growing in the craft and now I can identify when the story finally takes shape and SINGS baby! I can feel it now. Like something was missing and then after taking a step back (sometimes it was a month or longer) it was clear. Sha-bam! And giving my work for people to critique helps too. They’ll let you know what parts they stop critiquing because they’re so enthralled in the story. That is a big compliment people.

    In my current WIP, it’s my two mc’s. When their in a scene together the story sings. Their chemistry is obvious to all my critique partners. Whoop whoop. My solution: to get them in more scenes together!

    Thank you for this fantastic reminder that we writer’s need to strive toward :)

    Rock on!

  5. Sandy Mauck February 5, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Oh, that is so my heart. I want my writing to sing. I want those who read it to read it like they were singing a song. When I painted paintings, I had a whole music series: Garden Symphony, Floral Fugue, and Arbor Overture. Writing that sings- I will keep that in my heart- music inspires and does all that you said, Karen, why should the written word be any different. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Karen Ball February 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Chris P, for historicals, yes, prior to 1930s. Of course, I’m also interested in contemporary fiction. :)

  7. Catherine Hackman February 6, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I feel that a lot of Christian fiction is really innocent–like children’s stories with adult characters. Bad things happen, but we gloss over them. People don’t kiss.

  8. Catherine Hackman February 6, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Sorry, the comment posted before I was done. Main characters don’t make the mistake of having an affair or stealing, etc. Is a story with realistic problems of not perfect main characters who do eventually find a moral compass or slide away and come back difficult to sell on the Christian market? Do most Christian publishers want the innocent story?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 6, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Catherine, yes, I have seen characters have realistic problems in Christian novels, even in genre romance. For example, think of the single parents you find in many romance novels. I once wrote about an alcoholic coming back from the brink, although I didn’t go into gritty detail. Another author who tackled alcoholism is Debby Mayne in her Class Reunion series. She also dealt with a troubled teen. The tone of the series is light overall, but if you look at the plots, you’ll see that the message is still there, and deep. Different voices include, of course, Francine Rivers. Also consider Ginny Yttrup. Enjoy, and be uplifted and edified.

      • Catherine Hackman February 7, 2014 at 6:16 am #

        Dear Tamela,
        My blog theme this year is “Books The General Public May Not Realize Exist” (something like that). I’m going to check into the books/authors you listed, read the books, and post about some of them on my blog. I feel the stereotype I mentioned keeps many people from reading in the Christian genre. I’m not looking for an agent right now (so I’m not brown-nosing–lol), but I love your agency and this blog. Thank you for your answer.

  9. Tamela Hancock Murray February 7, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Catherine, you are so welcome! Yesterday we had a lively discussion on the blog and if you care to take a moment, you can see many other authors listed in the comments section. Thank you for doing such a great service in making potential readers aware of more CBA titles!

  10. Shirley Buxton February 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    Could someone help me understand how to show spirituality without being preachy? How does being preachy look?

    Thank you so very much.

  11. Karen Ball February 18, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Shirley, that’s a great question. I think I’ll address it in a blog, so stay tuned!

  12. Sara Kuntz February 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    I was considering the great question that Shirley posted. . . how to show spirituality without being preachy. I guess it is really the same difference that exists between effective writing which draws you in and less effective which leaves you unmoved–the difference between showing and telling.

    If the reader is making the connections herself and captivated by the unfolding story, she will feel caught by the Truth rather than clunked over the head with it.
    Bottom line, if I think I may sound preachy, I probably am. Like right now, perhaps?

  13. scatterwisdom February 25, 2014 at 5:25 am #


    You might enjoy my blog article King Solomon and Creative Writers

    I would be interested in your comments about it.

    Regards and good will blogging.

  14. Sammy Beuker February 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm #


    I am glad and disappointed in this at the same time. I was just finishing a proposal for you that I now read you really aren’t interested in (setting in wrong time period). However, I guess I would rather know than wait forever for a kind rejection.

    One question I do have: what does a “clear spiritual thread” mean? Does that mean the thread is evident throughout the entire novel, or evident when you are done. Can God’s prodding be revealed through the main character’s experience, nonexistence at the beginning yet clear and real at the end?


  15. Sam Moody April 1, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Do you take short stories (fiction) by chance?

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