To Champion Worthwhile Books


An agent’s job is to sell books to publishers, right? Well, yes, but it’s more than that. Agents partner with authors to help make their writing careers as successful, seamless, and enjoyable as possible.

Another thing agents do is champion worthwhile authors and books—trying to convince publishers to take a chance, even against market conditions or conventional wisdom.

Most agents have a few of those projects on their roster—the ones that have obvious problems with marketability yet we decide to represent anyway because we truly believe in them. We think the author has talent and deserves to be read by many people. We know they might be a tough sell to publishers, but we’re going to try anyway. The book’s just that good.

I know some writers complain about the publishing industry as if we’re all just mercenaries, caring  nothing for the advancement of literature or the dissemination of important ideas. We all just want to make a buck. That’s the word on the street, right?

But the truth is something less black and white. Something more human. 

Yes, many of us are trying to make a living in publishing, and that means we always have to watch the bottom line, spending our time on activities that have a good chance of being financially profitable.

But most of us went into the world of books because… we love books. And so, we not only look for authors and books we believe can be successful and find a large audience, we also look for books that matter.  Books that touch our hearts, books that change our minds, books that are stunningly well written, books that feel necessary.

We take them on, and sometimes it takes a long time to sell them to a publisher. So if you’ve got an agent on your side who is doggedly determined to convince an editor to just read your work and catch a vision for it… and they’re willing to put in the time and effort it takes to persist against the obstacles… then your job is to be patient and keep believing in yourself. Write more books. Keep yourself busy. Allow yourself to feel good that someone sees that much potential in your work.

Try to avoid discouragement. Your subjective experience might be that you’re anxious, you want something to happen and you want it NOW. But quicker isn’t better. When readers are enjoying your book, they’re not going to be asking themselves, “But how long did it take to sell to a publisher?”

Things that are worthwhile need to be allowed the time to come to fruition. As an agent, I’m just as subject to anxiousness and wanting things to happen FASTER. I keep reminding myself, if FAST is what I want, then I’m in the wrong line of work.

If you have a book you believe in, and you know it’s worthwhile but there are external forces making it a difficult sell, don’t despair. There is always a way for an important work to find its audience. Agent or no agent.

Have you accomplished anything in your life that required you to be diligent and persist despite tall odds? What was it like? Did you reach your goal?


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. 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. webpage on February 10, 2013 at 4:41 PM

  2. Dabney Hedegard on March 8, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    Hello, Rachelle.

    Tyndale offered me a contract last Tuesday. I have a silly question. Since I met them through a conference and found the deal on my own, do I still need an agent?

  3. Deena Safari on February 12, 2012 at 1:15 AM

    Learning to respect my own writing pace/process is requiring major diligence. I’ve discovered I’m not like a lot of other writers I’ve come across in that I don’t have the ability to pump out 90,000 words in 2 months. It’s hard not to feel like an oddity with those kind of writing monsters in my circle.

  4. Heather on February 9, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Thanks for this post. I am pursuing my architectural license (8 years of school including a Master’s degree, 7 exams, 2.5-3.5 years of logging my experience) and I’m almost there! (By the end of 2012!) And it’s worth it. And the long haul will be worth it when I pursue writing as well!

  5. Cherry Odelberg on February 9, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    Thank you for this post. It was both encouraging and humbling. Now, as for your question: Have you accomplished anything in your life that required you to be diligent and persist despite tall odds?
    Would you be interested in reading my autobiography? Oh, I guess they are calling that memoir these days.

  6. […] Rachelle Gardner on To Champion Worthwhile Books. […]

  7. Graeme Ing on February 9, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    It’s crazy how often I still hear writers ranting about how mean and uncaring agents are. It sounds like a really tough job, so much so that you have to like the industry to do it. But it’s always heart warming to hear an agent show that they really do care, so thanks for doing that 🙂 I’ve always thought of an agent as a partner in helping make my books the best they can be.

    I will follow your advice and hang in there.

  8. TNeal on February 8, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    I can think of two experiences that remind me to stick through the tough times.

    The first happened as a high school sophomore playing football. The coach tried me out at fullback and worked my tail off. It was, in my adolescent way of thinking, just too tough, so I slipped back over to continue my mediocre life as an undersized lineman.

    The second happened when I got a summer construction job that paid well. My first day on the job, the foreman had me doing everything all the time. I lost buckets of sweat under a hot Texas sun (which is the same sun seen in places as distant as Zimbabwe, but it sounds hotter than the polar sun). I felt like quitting but decided to give it another day. Day one was simply a test. The rest of the summer I worked hard but not as hard as that first day.

    I wish I’d stayed with the fullbacks. I’m glad I stayed with the summer construction job. I choose to do the same with writing–that is, stick it out.

  9. Harriet Parke on February 8, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    I admire your energy and enthusiasm! You are like a motivational vitamin! I’ve only had 3 rejects so far. . .but lots of “no replies.” I’m not giving up but some days i feel like my shoulders are starting to slump a bit. Then I read your message of the day and I feel better.

  10. joylene on February 8, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Thanks for the encouragement, Rachelle. I’ve written 6 books and my favourite keeps getting rejected because it’s about Vietnam. To be honest, I gave up trying to find it a home several years ago. I’m going to bite the bullet and try again. Nice pun, eh?

    Thanks for always being so uplifting.

    Ps. A few of us have been experimenting with live links, so just ignore mine if you like.

    Joylene Nowell Butler, Author

  11. Katie Ganshert on February 8, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Getting a book deal

    And I’m pretty sure adoption will fit this category. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy journey.

  12. Connie Almony on February 8, 2012 at 4:59 PM

    I commisserate about the idea that agents are merceneries. I am in the Christian Counseling field. Many see counselors as people profiting on others misery. And they get upset that we can’t always drop everything when they call in the middle of the night. The truth is, we go into the field because we want to heal those who are suffering. Yes, we need to charge a fee because, well, our children need to eat too. And we need to sometimes set hard and fast boundaries so we can maintain our own mental health. We wouldn’t be very good role models of mental health if we didn’t. It’s always a delicate balance between giving of yourself and not losing yourself completely. I would assume agents need to develop the same kind of balance :o)

  13. Michelle DeRusha on February 8, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    I am proof in the pudding that you are not out just to make a fast buck! Thanks for taking a risk on me, Rachelle. I promise I will be more patient…and I will get going on that second book in the meantime!

  14. Jessica Nelson on February 8, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    This is so true. Some of my goals are being realized but then I get new ones to pursue. lol

  15. Jennifer M on February 8, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    24 years between mission trips because the leader of the first trip couldn’t lead a rain drop to the ground and destroyed my faith in ever seeing my heart country again. While not as truly incredible as some of these comments, it was my own personal war.

    And since the battle IS the Lord’s…

    Dios tata benday si su chune!

  16. Amy Leigh Simpson on February 8, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Great post today! So nice to see not only the hard work but the heart behind the business of bolstering writers’ dreams. We are all looking for a champion like that. Thanks for the encouraging perspective, Rachelle!

  17. Ann Bracken on February 8, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    The hardest thing I ever did was get my masters while working full-time and having four special needs children at home. Thank heavens for a supportive husband.

    Now to go and edit my book again…

  18. Don Weston on February 8, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    This topic spawned two questions maybe you could use for future posts. First, how do you find that passionate agent? Many unpublished authors tend to throw queries into the abyss and hope an agent will surface. If one does, how many authors know anything about him/her and would accept anyway? Second, I’ve heard publishers don’t spend as much time helping edit manuscripts. Is this true? I know one Portland author who used a Regional publisher and had commas outside quote marks throughout her book among other typos. Do agents help with editing? How do they have time?

  19. Meghan Carver on February 8, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    Diligence was definitely required throughout four years of law school as I worked a full-time job. At the time, it seemed to go on forever. I did reach the goal, although patience is still difficult! Thank you so much for the encouragement to stay the course.

  20. Janet on February 8, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    Wow, Rachelle! Great way to put things into perspective.

    When my brain aneurysm ruptured, I went from reading and comprehending a book by Sigmund Freud to being unable to follow a 3-panel comic strip in an instant. It took weeks of persistence to be able to read and understand routine correspondence. Years passed before I felt almost fully recovered. Many challenges required patience and diligent effort.

    If I can manage that, surely I can apply the same attributes to having my books published. Never say die. Every day above ground is a good one.

  21. Megan B. on February 8, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Rachelle, I wish you represented my genre! You seem like such a great agent.

  22. Desiree Woodland on February 8, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    A Champion of Worthwhile Books

    Posted: 07 Feb 2012 08:01 PM PST

    “If you have a book you believe in, and you know it’s worthwhile but there are external forces making it a difficult sell, don’t despair. There is always a way for an important work to find its audience. Agent or no agent.”…..
    Amen! I know that is true, because of the people who have been touched by my words. They lost their loved ones to suicide or mental illness and found comfort in reading about my journey… when we are true our own experience with God we can’t help but encourage others facing similar circumstances. Mental illness and suicide are not usual Christian topics and yet, we need to have our eyes opened that they happen within the Christian community, as well as the world at large. I am humbled that God has used my book to touch the ones who needed it, and I must remember– that is the most precious gift a writer can receive.

  23. joan Cimyotte on February 8, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    For me diligence involves small accomplishments. I’ve written tons of songs, I’ve painted tons more in paintings. I try to always finish them. There has never been much monetary reward for any of it. I am as determined with my novel, it’s just bigger and more time consuming. I try to work on it everyday; polishing, blogging, researching, reading Rachelle’s blog everyday… I feel one of these days somethings got to give.

  24. Joanne Bischof on February 8, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    I definitely felt against the odds when I began looking for an agent. But I’m so glad I kept at it and now, that fabulous agent, has gotten me a 3 book deal. While persistence is important, it was just as, if not more important to constantly evaluate what I was doing. How can my query, my proposal, my book get better? It was always a process of refinement until something clicked.

  25. Julie Daines on February 8, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Tending my dying sister and her seven children.

    Love your new photo by the way. You look beautiful.

  26. Sarah Thomas on February 8, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    Praying my husband to church.

    • Barbara Jean Byrem on February 10, 2012 at 7:58 PM

      Absolutely the most awesome diligent effort.

  27. Angie Mizzell on February 8, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    When I look at my bookshelf, this is what I see: “Books that touch our hearts, books that change our minds, books that are stunningly well written, books that feel necessary.” I read books that allow me to connect with the author’s true story or true-to-life characters the author has created.

    As for your question at the end, the journey I’m on feels like that. I’m still in the middle of it… but it feels worth it and that’s what keeps me going.

  28. Rashad Pharaon on February 8, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    Try losing a passport in a remote country and having to wait one full year, in that country, to have a new one sent to you–all the while checking with the embassy daily for any news. Does that qualify as diligent but persistent despite tall odds?? Good thing writing is in my blood. What better companion?



    • Cherry Odelberg on February 9, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      What a fine metaphor for writing! The waiting. The patience. The persistence. The unknown. Yet, how far beyond anything I have had to trust for.
      Very humbling. I wait and persist from the comfort of my own home, in my own country, where I can get in the car and drive to the house of a family member for dinner if I get hungry.

  29. Susan Bourgeois on February 8, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Yes, I tend to work against the norm of what’s expected of me in life. Not that I am famous or anything. Simply put, as long as I can remember, I tend to think of what could be instead of accepting the basic day to day expectations of life. My father lived his life this way and I took note.

    During the times that I, or one of my family members attempt something out of the ordinary, there are always people who doubt or question: Why would you dare attempt something so far-fetched? These are the same people who secretly wish they were in your shoes should you dare succeed.

    People will question you when you attempt to do the unexpected, like write a novel. Who are you to dare attempt to write a novel? See how it works?

    Yet, if we don’t try, how will we ever realize what we’re truly capable of achieving?

    Surely the dreamers of yesterday are many of the success stories we read about each day in our everyday lives.

    I’ve experienced several out of the box dreams that came true.

    The answer is yes, there have been numerous times in my life where I have had to persist in my dreams where the odds were stacked against me.

    In the back of mind there has always been a voice that whispers: Why not you?

  30. Cathy West on February 8, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    Making the decision not to abandon my dream of becoming a published author. Carrying on when sometimes it seems like you’re the only one who believes you can do it, is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Living through countless rejections and those silent “Yeah, see, you’re really not cut out for this,” stares. But still knowing somehow that it wasn’t true. But then I made a friend who became an agent. And she believed in me. 🙂 Having my first book published after many rejections was a huge accomplishment for me. Yes, it took a lot longer than we wanted, but it was definitely worth it. It may never (ha, definitely won’t be!) a bestseller and I’m okay with that – because I have a story to encourage new writers with. I love sharing my journey to publication and telling them, “Don’t give up. Ever.”

  31. Wendy Paine Miller on February 8, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Baby #3.
    This post represents reason #4,782 why I love working with you.
    ~ Wendy

  32. Heather Marsten on February 8, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    Thanks for sharing this. I am grateful to know that agents do take on tough stories, it isn’t always about the bottom-line. I also realize that each agent can only afford to champion a few books like that.

    From reading your blog, I know that you have triumphed against incredible odds, and I am grateful for you truly have a remarkable gift for authors. Your blog is an inspiration. I hope you keep a list of letters of encouragement to pull out and read when you are feeling particularly down or discouraged. My pastor suggests that we keep such a list to inspire us in dark times.

    My accomplishment: I survived horrific abuse and was healed. It is a miracle I am alive, in tact, a good mom, and a wife of twenty-five years when the odds were against me. But God is good. I am healed and whole. That is the theme of my memoir – that there is healing possible in the face of abuse. Now, I have to believe that, when I get my MS in shape, there will be an agent to represent it.

    Have a blessed day.

  33. Jessica Kent on February 8, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    So encouraging! Thank you. Great to hear an agent say, “I will fight for you!” and view it all as more than just numbers (which, of course, it has to be sometimes). Yes – in it because you love books. I’m not only a writer but a bookseller, and that’s why I do it: I love books.

  34. carol brill on February 8, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    One of the things that keeps me writing is knowing that success in this business is part talent and part perseverance (and maybe some luck mixed in:). It helps that any time I take a strength or values inventory dilegence and perserverance are at the top of my list of strengths. My job is to keep showing up at my desk and working to become the best writer I can be.

  35. Amy Boucher Pye on February 8, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Great post, Rachelle. Sorry if this has been covered already, but it made me think of Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, being rejected 60 times before she got published. Love this article and how she describes her dogged determination to keep going. (“It was like I was having an affair with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl.”)

    • Jennifer M on February 8, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      SIXTY people rejected The Help??? I bet they’re having a fine French buffet of crow. Crow de Shame, Crow de Afterthought, Crow de Hindsight, Crow de Movie rights.
      That gives me such inspiration! Why do I have Dory AND the Bible in my head? “Just keep swimming” and “I know the plans I have made for you”.

      60? Wow.

      • Amy Boucher Pye on February 8, 2012 at 4:56 PM

        Agree with you, Jennifer, on the Crow de… Love Kathryn Stockett’s tenacity!

  36. marion on February 8, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    Wow! Thanks Rachelle for being a champion for otherwise-lost causes.

    “My times are in your hand.” Psalm 31:15.
    One of my faves. We do what we can. But it will happen at the right time. Not before. Not after.

  37. Charlotte on February 8, 2012 at 3:44 AM

    Rachel, as the author of a worthwhile book that is taking its time to find a home, I really appreciate this post. I found an agent swiftly (second query), but the revision and submission processes have been achingly slow. I know my agent believes in my novel and she is sticking with me, but the slowness does get me down. It’s good to know that I am not alone and that there are other worthwhile books out there also slowly working their way towards publication.

  38. Anne Martin Fletcher on February 8, 2012 at 3:23 AM

    Thank you, Rachelle, I appreciate your words and thoughts.
    While my life is filled with various accomplishments, sometimes it is good to hear about the flip side. I just blogged about “Failure” and how it often represents God is saying, “Not yet.”
    Of course, that must be how you look at challenges, since your theme is “Things that are worthwhile need to be allowed the time to come to fruition.”
    Cheers to all you night owls.

  39. Brianna on February 8, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    I’ve had to be persistent in everything I do in my life. Being a writer isn’t an exception. I struggle daily to figure out which is the write path for me to take. At this point, I’ve settled on a combination of traditional and independent. I am diving in head-first right now.

  40. P. J. Casselman on February 8, 2012 at 2:51 AM

    I’m 5 foot 11 inches tall. In college, my weight was only 230 pounds. As a nose guard, my chances of success were slim at best. Many of the offensive lineman across from me were fifty pounds heavier and taller, which gave them the leverage advantage. I hit the weights and worked on my quickness. My first year, I not only did not play varsity, but I did not start on the junior varsity team. Instead, they used me on what is called “the meat squad.” This is the team the starting varsity use as practice dummies. In other words, they clobber us.
    In the off season, I continued to work hard in the gym. The next year, I started on the Junior Varsity team. Yet I was still too small to play against the big guys. I felt like throwing in the towel, but the goal of at least playing on the varsity team loomed as a goal that had to either be reached or go home knowing that I gave it all I had.
    I became the strongest weight lifter on the team, which my coaches made note of. They watched me my third year to see if I could hold my own against their top linemen. After sacking the quarterback eight times, they placed me on the starting roster.
    It took three years to achieve a goal that seemed impossible due to circumstances beyond my control. But by making the most of what I could control, I changed my circumstances.

    When I applied this to writing, I made a similar goal. I did not want to be a best selling author or even get published at first. My only goal was to get an agent to read my manuscript. Failing this, I pulled out of the game and self pub’d my first two books. Why? Because I needed to hit the weights. I write, but also know that I must build a following, work on my themes, get a feel for the market, and become so compelling an author that some agent will take notice and read one of my manuscripts. It’s a simple goal, but achievable if I don’t throw in the towel.

    • Anne Martin Fletcher on February 8, 2012 at 3:18 AM

      I love your analogy to “hitting the weights.” I often feel that the writing is the easy part. This platform “stuff” requires my writing to be more targeted and succinct. Then I have to figure out why what worked in publicizing my blog one month, no longer works after FB changes its interface. It feels like lifting weights.

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 8, 2012 at 9:05 AM

      P.J. – You won the Ken Gire book and I emailed you on Sunday. Did you get my email? I need your address.

      • P. J. Casselman on February 8, 2012 at 12:57 PM

        Hi Rachelle,
        Sorry, but I did not get the email. I mailed my address to you at your booksandsuch addy. Thank you!

    • Helen W. Mallon on February 9, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      P.J., I really, really like your attitude. I’ve been working on a novel for 10 (gulp) years, after deciding at age 45 (gulp) that what I really want to do is write fiction. Soon I will be in the agent search process…which may turn out precisely as yours did. Thanks for not only the reality check, but the words about persistence, no matter what.

  41. Camille Eide on February 8, 2012 at 2:50 AM

    First – thank you, Rachelle, for championing me! I’ve been tempted to give up numerous times since that first typed word and might have without the boost of your belief in me.

    Second – I’ve been shedding the “hurry up” mentality and growing patience in this publishing process, something that tests not only my determination & fortitude, but my confidence. And our confidence should be put to the test because there will be rejection, whether it comes from editors, pub boards or readers. It takes deep roots borne of a steady belief that I can and SHOULD be doing this in order to stand the wait, the rejection, the “it’s not my cup a tea.”

    Without instant success, some might falter in their stride, but with it, would we develop the confidence and security needed to make it past the obstacles ahead? How deeply rooted would our confidence be if it depended on instant acceptance? Without a solid, steady confidence (and I don’t mean self-delusion), how can we face the inevitable hurdles of negativity and rejection sure to come?

    I love to be loved, don’t get me wrong, and am blown away every time someone expresses pleasure over my work, and yes, it does boost my confidence, but if those moments of praise are all I base my confidence in, I won’t last long during droughts of praise or storms of rejections. Jeremiah 17:7-8 expresses a favorite biblical principle of mine, applicable to so much in life, including this writing life.

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl on February 8, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Camille, I haven’t read your books yet, but I’m dying to because, 1) I’ve heard the raves and, 2) you make even a blog comment sound like a place I’d like to linger for a while.

      So glad you haven’t given up. And so glad I was blessed to meet you in person!

  42. Marsha young on February 8, 2012 at 2:01 AM

    Going back to college in my late forties, while also working full time and being a single parent – eventually obtaining both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

    Became the “only woman in the board room” as an excutive in a tech company – all after 15 years as a full-time at home mom. Yes…it was sweet.

  43. Beth K. Vogt on February 8, 2012 at 1:15 AM

    Um, marriage?
    Motherhood? And then another go-round when I was surprised by another pregnancy about the time my firstborn headed to college?
    Yeah … that kind of stuff required diligence against tall odds.
    How about just growing up and learning how to be a decent, caring human being, walking out my faith in a way that was real … and didn’t freak others out?
    And still I find myself in “hurry up” mode some days — thinking writing is some sort of “express lane” experience.
    Great post, Rachelle.

  44. 1000th.monkey on February 8, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    Try being a female in the video game production industry. About 98.9% males. Half the guys in my production team thought I was only hired ’cause of m double-x-chromosones, the other half hit on me constantly. Put that together with working 6-7 days a week, 14-16 hour days (sometimes there for 72 hours straight, no sleep) and you’ll probably see why I finished the term I signed on for, but wasn’t willing to join a second cycle in that industry.

    • Beth K. Vogt on February 8, 2012 at 1:17 AM

      I’ve read your comment several times. All I can think is “Wow. What a trailblazer.”
      Of course, being a trailblazer requires counting the cost, sometimes.

      • 1000th.monkey on February 8, 2012 at 11:49 AM

        Yup, most of the time I was treated as a ‘girl who was only hired ’cause I was a girl’. Every day was a test of proving myself, my skills, and convincing my co-workers I wasn’t just a new fish in their extremely limited dating pool.

        Not a lot of fun, but I stuck it out and did the contract I was hired for, even though 6 guys dropped off the team ’cause they couldn’t handle the work/hours.

        I fet pretty good about that 🙂

  45. Nick Thacker on February 8, 2012 at 12:27 AM

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle!

    It’s true–I have sort of an “idea” of how the publishing industry works, even though I’ve never been involved in it. It’s unfair, but it exists.

    The blogs, newsletters, and social media channels are FULL of authors touting the virtues of self-publishing, yet most of us don’t have a clue what the legacy publishing world is really like.

    But, admittedly, I’d like to know… 😉