Recovering from ICRS

I’m back! Coming to you “live” from Colorado once again. I know dozens of people have already blogged about ICRS but honestly, when I got home I was SO exhausted and I am so buried with follow-up that I haven’t been able to even THINK about blogging. I’ve managed to get my thoughts together so I’ll talk about my impressions in three posts this week.This was my sixth ICRS (in my earlier years I went to the BEA, Frankfurt and London book fairs). But this was my best ICRS by far. I felt like I got a lot of important business done, far beyond the amorphous value of “networking,” connecting with old friends and making new ones. This was my first ICRS as an agent so it was my “official” face-to-face introduction to the editors and publishers (most of whom I already knew to some extent) in my new role. And it certainly was my first opportunity to pitch them in person.As an agent there is more work involved—it’s totally proactive. When I was an editor, I basically had to show up and people would pitch me. But when you’re the one doing the pitches, it’s a huge workload (and a very heavy bag!) I prepared sixteen projects to take with me… 7 nonfiction, 4 devotional, 6 fiction. That way I had a good variety to choose from as I sat with each editor/publisher and talked with them about what they’re looking for.I have to say I’m extremely pleased with the positive responses to so many of my clients’ projects. I had dozens of requests for proposals, which is really exciting considering almost all my clients are first-time authors. The next couple of weeks will be jam-packed with following up all those requests. (And please understand that the responses from publishers during this time of year are understandably slower than normal because of [1] the barrage, and [2] people taking vacations. This is the time for patience.)I was booked with back-to-back meetings, literally. I never had a chance to “walk the floor” so I didn’t get to see and/or snicker at the “Jesus junk” being peddled. Sorry, I have nothing to report on that aspect of the show! When I was on the show floor, I was always moving fast to get to my next meeting so I was tunnel-visioned. But all my meetings were awesome and I picked up on a few trends you might like to know about:→ A couple of houses mentioned specifically that they are looking at fantasy & sci-fi (so things are looking up, Becky). Notably, Karen Ball at B&H and Andy Meisenheimer at Zondervan both aren’t opposed to looking at it. Be aware that the number of slots compared to the number of people writing fantasy/sci-fi is still hugely disproportionate. Still, fantasy/sci-fi writers have reason for hope.→ Almost every publisher I spoke with mentioned they are starting to consider books with Catholic themes and/or from Catholic authors. Be aware that many evangelicals hold a belief that Catholics are not Christian and cannot go to heaven (this is an issue that obviously exists in the world, quite separate from anything to do with publishing). So for a CBA publisher to include Catholic themes is a somewhat risky move, with the potential to alienate a portion of the Christian book-buying audience. However, most publishers seem willing to take the risk. I get the impression that they are tired of being part of the great divide (protestant vs. Catholic) and instead prefer to be a force for productive discussion and harmony. I am SO pleased about this!→ Platform continues to be king when it comes to nonfiction. There is the occasional book that will sell on the strength of the idea, but the big houses really need their authors to help sell their books.→ Most pubs are looking for people of different ethnicities to write books. The CBA is aware of the general lack of diversity and is trying to change that. I was asked specifically more than once if I have any Latino or African-American authors. (I do.)→ Biblical fiction may see a resurgence. Several publishers said they’re looking at it, including FaithWords, Tyndale and Guideposts. Bethany House is publishing it, but mostly from their well-known authors.And in case all this talk of “doing business” depresses you… take heart in this: ICRS is a business gathering, but it is filled with believers and so the spiritual aspect of the show is profound. It’s not uncommon for people to have deep discussions of faith in the midst of meetings or meals. A normal sight is people praying with and for each other, sitting on benches or tables around the convention center. Each gathering and event includes prayer and many include worship. This is one of the greatest things about this business… having the privilege of working with other believers. I returned exhausted, but uplifted as well. This is an industry full of people with true hearts for Jesus, and I am so honored to be a part of it.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Janny on August 4, 2008 at 7:22 AM

    >I think the news about CBA publishers being willing to look at Catholic fiction and Catholic authors is a mixed bag.

    On one hand, it’s potentially thrilling for those of us Catholics out here who, for wholesome fiction, pretty much have to go to the Christian market to find it–but then have to put up with the subtle–or not-so-subtle–anti-Catholicism contained in many of the books. If CBA publishers are willing to risk alienating the ignorant among us who believe taking potshots at Catholics is okay, then they’re definitely on the side of the solution rather than of the problem.

    HOWEVER…and this is a big however: if a CBA publisher is interested in looking at Catholic fiction, by Catholic authors, about Catholic characters, then I hope they are equally committed to hiring Catholic editors to handle same books. The last thing in the world a Catholic author needs is for her book to go to a Prod editor who knows nothing about the Catholic faith–or, worse, one who “knows” things that are all WRONG–and have that editor try to evaluate it. If my book lands on the desk of an evangelical Prod who believes I’m not going to heaven, and my characters aren’t, either…how is that remotely going to help me in that publishing house? How will that bring me anything but an extremely rapid rejection note?

    So to CBA publishers, my request is simple: if you’re truly committed to healing this gap, your first step should not be in encouraging Catholic authors to submit, but in hiring Catholic editors to evaluate their work within the context of what the Catholic Church teaches. Otherwise, this promise is little more than lip service driven by what’s perceived as a “market” rather than a sincere effort to broaden one’s reader and writer base.

    Wondering where to hire Catholic editors? Well, it just so happens that I could help you with that….:-)


  2. Tiffany Stuart on July 24, 2008 at 9:37 PM

    >I’m late on reading this update because of vacation. But sure loved knowing you had a great and productive time.

  3. Rebecca LuElla Miller on July 21, 2008 at 10:13 PM

    >Rachelle, thanks so much for passing along the information about fantasy. It is an encouragement that more houses are considering it. Quite honestly, that’s an answer to prayer.

    Thank you for taking the time to pass along these trend updates. It is good to know what the business looks like. You obviously are under no obligation to pass this info along to the “unwashed masses” – LOL, but this unpubbed author really appreciates it.


  4. Natalie Hatch on July 21, 2008 at 9:40 PM

    >I had no idea there was such a divide by the evangelicals as to who is and is not christian, I thought that they’d accept Catholics, although I know they don’t accept LDS. Ah well to each their own.

  5. Kim Kasch on July 21, 2008 at 8:57 PM

    >Welcome back! Bet Saturday was tea party time.

  6. Timothy Fish on July 21, 2008 at 8:54 PM

    Part of this discussion reminds me of a discussion that occurred several months ago on another site. Since you have more experience than I, perhaps you can shed some like on the subject. If I were to go out and interview people to work for my employer, I could not legally ask the person about his or her race, gender, religion or national origin. The religion question is clearly not an issue here since you can’t reasonably expect a non-Christian to be able to write Christian books, but doesn’t the Civil Rights Act of 1964 make it illegal (or at least a legal gray area) for you, as an agent, to divulge information about your clients’ race, gender or national origin to publishing companies?

  7. Anonymous on July 21, 2008 at 3:19 PM

    >It’s a good sign that the CBA is open to Catholic themes. I know you passed this on as factual information, however, I never cease to be amazed by these Christians who spend their time deciding who is, or is not, truly a Christian.

    Mcatthew 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

    They need to worry less about others and more about themselves.

    Great Blog…always enjoy it.

  8. Lea Ann McCombs on July 21, 2008 at 12:45 PM

    >Hi Rashelle,

    Welcome back! I imagine your little munchkins were overjoyed to have you home. Sounds like you made some great contacts–hope some of them are looking for Suspense!!

    It is great to keep us informed of what’s hot and what’s not. It’s fairly easy to shift a book into a different genre if you start early enough. A great idea can transcend several genres. Just takes a bit mnore creativity!

  9. Anita Mae on July 21, 2008 at 12:35 PM

    >Hey Rachelle, thanks for the update.

    Your words about people praying in the middle of a meeting and such is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the ACFW conf in Sept.

    It’s like when you’re in a store and someone from your church walks in. Even if you don’t know them that well, you get this feeling that you share a secret, you know?

    The fact that there’ll be a prayer room, devotion time and the Harp and Bowl is a big draw for me. I love meeting other ‘industry’ people but the ability to fellowship with them will create some heartwarming memories I couldn’t hope to equal at a secular conference.

  10. Rachelle on July 21, 2008 at 12:24 PM

    >Anonymous 8:39… I'm not sure how serious you are, or if you're being totally facetious. I think if you read the comments of others, you can glean the value of knowing the trends.

    I have many friends who write fantasy & sci-fi and will appreciate knowing publishers are considering it. I have several friends who are African American or Latina and bemoan the whiteness of CBA, so I wanted to encourage them, too. And have you noticed the debates recently on my blog about the CBA's lack of acceptance of Catholic themes? Another issue that many people are interested in. It's important to also realize that whether the trends apply to you specifically, this information helps you stay current on the CBA publishing industry.

    I think you should be thanking your lucky stars that you are a white evangelical female writing historical fiction, since that represents exactly what most publishers are looking for, have always been looking for, and probably always will be looking for. Have some compassion for those who are not in your shoes!

    And if you were just kidding, sorry! It's hard to tell in the written word sometimes.

  11. Ralene on July 21, 2008 at 11:03 AM

    >Welcome back! It sounds like you had a productive trip. I am relieved to hear about the fantasy/sci-fi. I’m about to start writing on a sci-fi (I think that’s what it would be classified as), and was worried about the Christian market for it. Thanks!

  12. Catherine West on July 21, 2008 at 10:49 AM

    >Welcome back, and I’m glad the trip was productive.
    Your info just hammers home the fact that this is an ever-changing business. What publishers don’t want today, they may be clamoring for tomorrow. I think it’s so important for first time authors to keep this in mind. Keep up with the trends, know where your genre fits and where it doesn’t, keep writing, learning and taking every opportunity to make those connections that may one day prove invaluable.
    And don’t lose heart, ever. This is God’s deal, and He’ll make a way. I’m speaking as much to myself.
    It’s easy to get discouraged when you hear you’ve written something that might not be saleable right now, but things change. Hearing about the business side of publishing should not depress us, but rather encourage us and inspire us to do more, go further and push harder to be the best we can be.
    Rah rah rah. Your cheerleading session for the day is now over.

  13. Matthew C Jones on July 21, 2008 at 10:21 AM

    >Welcome home! And thanks for the industry update. It’s nice to know what’s going on in the wide world of publishing.

  14. Camille Cannon (Eide) on July 21, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    >Welcome back, Rachelle. Great photo! Thanks for the info, and congrats on all the positive feedback.

  15. sheriboeyink on July 21, 2008 at 9:42 AM

    >That’s great news about the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Thanks for the info.

  16. Nicole on July 21, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    >Great pic! (And you thought you wanted to be Jennifer Anniston. No Way!)

  17. Anonymous on July 21, 2008 at 9:39 AM

    >There is a lot of information here, but what are we supposed to do with it? If we could somehow convert from being a white evangelical woman who writes historical fiction to a black catholic priest who writes sci-fi, would we have more of a chance of being published? We can’t exactly change the color of our skin, our gender, the doctrines we believe or the genre we enjoy writing.

  18. Cindy Thomson on July 21, 2008 at 9:14 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing with us. Those are very interesting tidbits! 🙂

  19. Jill Eileen Smith on July 21, 2008 at 9:02 AM

    >Biblical fiction may see a resurgence. Several publishers said they’re looking at it, including FaithWords, Tyndale and Guideposts. Bethany House is publishing it, but mostly from their well-known authors.

    Biblical fiction is also being published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group as is Bethany House. Two unknown authors have debut Biblical novels coming out next March 2009. I’m privileged to be one of them with a Biblical series on the Wives of King David. The first book is Michal: A Novel about David’s first wife. I’m excited to see this resurgence of interest in Biblical fiction! I hope it continues. 🙂

    Enjoyed your insights, Rachelle.

  20. Katy McKenna on July 21, 2008 at 7:44 AM

    >Oh, and love the pic!! You look like you just returned from a refreshing trip…. 😉

  21. Chatty Kelly on July 21, 2008 at 7:29 AM

    >Welcome back. Looking forward to your continued blogs.

  22. Rachelle on July 21, 2008 at 7:04 AM

    >Anonymous –

    You’d better follow up so we can figure out what happened. The oldest queries in my box have been there less than two weeks. Of the proposals I’ve requested, the ones that have been sitting the longest have been there two months. Send me an email!

    Thanks for the heads up.

  23. Katy McKenna on July 21, 2008 at 7:02 AM

    >Rachelle–Sounds like a truly great trip. The trends info is hugely helpful. So maybe it’s not a fantasy, thinking about writing those Catholic characters! 🙂

    Thank you for all the work you’re doing on behalf of your clients and your readers.

  24. Pam Halter on July 21, 2008 at 6:56 AM

    >Thank you for the trends information! I’m thrilled for us fantasy/sci-fi writers and I have a friend who writes biblical fiction. She will be thrilled, too.

    Someday, I’ll attend ICRS!

  25. Anonymous on July 21, 2008 at 6:46 AM

    >Sorry for asking. I realize you’re extremely busy, but…

    Does that means more patience from those of us who have sent you proposals?

    What about people who are approaching three months without a word?

    Should we follow-up at the three month mark or wait until after the fourth month?

    Just wondering.