Agent Interview by
contributor Kerrie Flanagan
“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.
This installment features Rachelle Gardner, an agent with Books & Such Literary (formerly of Wordserve Literary) and host of a very popular blog on publishing. Rachelle works with both fiction and nonfiction authors. She has been in the publishing business for 15+ years, working in various positions encompassing marketing, sales, international rights, acquisitions and editorial. She lives in Colorado with her firefighter husband, two daughters, and lovable yellow lab. Also, know that Rachelle is featured "Ask the Pro" guest for the Feb. 2010 issue of Writer's Digest. (Subscribe here.)
She is looking for: full-length fiction (75,000 to 110,000 words) in all genres except fantasy and sci-fi. She is looking for books that don't contradict a Christian worldview. In nonfiction, she represents books that would fit in the general market or the Christian market (or both).
GLA: How did you become an agent?
RG: I’d been working in publishing, in various roles, for more than a decade. During that time, a surprising number of people told me I should be an agent, and a few agents asked me if I wanted to join their agencies. I wasn’t ready for that; I loved editing and working closely with authors on their books. A couple of years ago, I’d left an in-house editor job and was freelance editing and writing. My agent, Greg Johnson, was looking to bring in another agent. I finally realized that as an agent, I could still do what I loved—work with authors and help them with their books. I decided to make the switch, and it turned out to be perfect for me.
GLA: What's the most recent thing you’ve sold?
RG: Snow Day, a novel by Billy Coffey, to Faithwords (a Hachette imprint). He’s an incredible writer with a popular blog and the book will be released in Fall 2010.
GLA: You have recently branched out from only representing Christian books to now representing general fiction as well. What made you come to that decision?
RG: I’ve always read heavily in commercial women’s fiction. I can’t get enough of authors like Anita Shreve, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler and Sue Miller. I’d love to represent authors like that if I can.
GLA: What is the biggest mistake people make with their submissions for the Christian market?
RG: First, I try not to think of writers making “mistakes” because each writer has to go through a learning curve, and often the submission process and resulting rejection is very instructive to them. Also, I don’t think there are any mistakes that are specific to the Christian market—we see similar things from all kinds of writers. I think most writers query before they’re ready to be published. They haven’t been writing long enough to be producing work that large numbers of people would want to read. I used to call this a “mistake,” but now I believe it’s a necessary part of the process for each writer. The rejections give them valuable feedback so they can continue writing and getting better.
GLA: What misperceptions do people have about agents who don’t live in New York?
RG: They might think that agents outside of New York can’t sell books as effectively, or maintain strong relationships with editors. That’s a misperception because these days, most day-to-day business is done electronically whether you live across the street from the publisher or half a continent away. There are plenty of opportunities to meet face-to-face with editors at various times throughout the year.
Even though New York still has the largest concentration of agents, I know agents in almost every state these days. Technology has allowed us to be able to do our jobs effectively from just about anywhere. I think being outside of New York is no longer a disadvantage.
GLA: How often do you visit New York and how long do you usually stay?
RG: Since I’ve been focusing on the Christian market, New York hasn’t been all that important to my business. Christian publishers are primarily located in Colorado (where I live), Nashville and the Chicago area. I meet with them several times a year, either at their offices or at conferences. This year I’ll be going to New York for a week and will schedule five days of meetings with editors there.
GLA: Are there any advantages to living in the same state as one of your clients?
RG: My clients that live near me don’t have advantages over my other clients in a business sense, but I love being able to meet face-to-face and talk with them. It definitely helps us to have a stronger relationship. I get to meet many of my other clients at conferences, but I still have some clients I’ve never met in person!
GLA: How important is platform when submitting a nonfiction book proposal?
RG: We all know that platform is very important. But this isn’t easy for agents and editors. We love great ideas. We love fantastic writing. So when we receive a wonderful proposal from an author who doesn’t have a platform, we struggle with it. Everything in us says, “This is a terrific book. I’ve got to have it!” But market realities tell us it could be a bad business decision.
I’ve got a proposal out to several houses right now. Every one of them has said they love the book and the author is a terrific writer. But they’re all struggling with his lack of platform. They’re debating it in their pub board meetings. As of now, I still don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a perfect example of the primary importance of platform. It is just too hard to sell a book without one.
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GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?
RG: High quality women’s fiction that I can’t put down. Female-oriented suspense for the Christian market, similar to Sue Grafton & Janet Evanovich.
GLA: What are you tired of seeing?
RG: Memoirs written by people who haven’t studied the craft of memoir writing, but simply sat down to tell their tale. Memoir is a genre that’s all about the writing. It’s got to be fabulously written, well-organized, and have that can’t-put-down quality.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers' conferences where people can meet and pitch you?
RG: The Northern Colorado Writers Conference in March of 2010.
GLA: What is something about yourself writers would be surprised to know?
RG: I like to crochet but I’m terrible at it! I’m trying to get better but meanwhile my kids are stuck with quite an array of badly-made winter scarves. Some might also be surprised that my vices are People magazine and a nice glass of Merlot.
GLA: When writers first contact you, what do you want them to send and how?
RG: I ask for a query that includes a pitch for the book and any other information that’s relevant. For fiction, the pitch is the most important part. Nonfiction authors need to give me a brief (one paragraph) overview of their platform in the query.
Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I ask writers to paste 3 to 5 pages of their manuscript into the email. This allows me to make a more accurate assessment of the project. With queries, I don’t open attachments or click on links, so all the necessary information needs to be in the email.
GLA: What advice do you have for new writers?
RG: Spend as little time as possible cruising the Internet and watching TV. Spend as much time as possible reading and writing. It’s crucial for writers to be readers. Read whatever interests you. Read books of the genre in which you’re writing. Read books about the craft of writing. And read some things that are completely outside of what you’d normally pick up. Read, read, read.
This agent interview by Kerrie Flanagan,
director of Northern Colorado Writers and
a freelance writer. Visit her blog, The Writing Bug.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- How to Make a Book Trailer: 6 Tips.
- 9 Things We Can Learn From Other Writers.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Why Writers Must Train Themselves to Produce on a Deadline.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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