A Whole Lotta Questions

I was going through some old posts and found several questions people have asked that I’ve somehow neglected to answer as of yet. Here are a few random ones.

Do more people get a yes or an “I want to read your ms” from sending sample chapters per your website’s guidelines, or by meeting you at a conference?

For me, it’s all about the writing—and the platform, when applicable. It doesn’t matter where I first come across an author. If I like the initial pitch, I’ll ask to see more, whether I came across the writer via email or at a conference.

The advantage of meeting an agent at a conference is that you get a full fifteen minutes (in a standard appointment) plus other times such as meals to let them know who you are. It’s possible to establish a personal connection that will make your work more memorable in the agent’s mind. When your query comes via email, you only have the words on the page to convey your book to me, which for some is a disadvantage, and for others an advantage.

Bottom line, it’s extremely valuable to go to a conference; but probably not a career-killer if for some reason you’re unable to make it happen. (The disadvantage of not going to conferences lies more in the education you’re missing and the connection with other writers.)

Is it okay with publishers if authors have included stories/pieces of theirs that have been published in magazines, book compilations, etc. in the book that they are presently submitting for publication?

Usually doesn’t matter at all. The issue is whether you own the rights to your writing, which is determined in the contract you signed with whatever publications your pieces appeared in. Make sure you own the rights before including it.

When an author uses one of the “no-no’s” in their query, do you still read the included 10 pages or do you send an automatic “No thanks”?

I am SO NOT all about the rules. In my world, there’s no “automatic” no-thanks. I’m just trying to find some good books here, you know what I mean? The guidelines make my job easier by ensuring I’ll have the information I need to make a good decision. If I give a quick “no” it’s because the project isn’t right for me.

Of course, it could depend on which “no-no” was violated. For example, if you bore me to tears, which is the biggest no-no, then I most likely will not get through your whole 10 pages and I’ll send a quick (not automatic) no-thanks.

How good is an agent’s memory? For instance, if I sent a query that I thought was good only to find it on your “do not do this” list, what are the chances that you will remember my first query if I re-write a killer one and send the new one to you?

I have to say, I have a pretty darn good memory and it would be hard for you to get something past me; and if you tried to, I’d wonder why you did that rather than simply being aboveboard. I’m pretty good at recognizing names and ideas I’ve seen before. Plus, I save every rejection letter I’ve ever written. So chances are really good that if you resend the same story, even if it’s been improved, I’ll recognize it.

I recommend that if you’re resubmitting to an agent, always state it right up front. Just spell it out, whatever your situation is. Either, “You passed on this before but I’ve rewritten it, ” or “You passed on Project A but I’d like to see if you’re interested in Project B.” I always appreciate when people let me know what’s going on, rather than making me research you to figure out why I recognize your name, which truly does waste my time and annoys me. Sorry, I have my human moments.

Editors seem to have different views of prologue–is it necessary? Is it helpful? What are your thoughts on the subject when reading a manuscript?

I have no thoughts on it. If your book requires one, and you do it well, then a prologue is fine. Some claim that readers don’t always read prologues, but I believe with fiction, they do. I believe you should base your decision on whether it’s right for your book.

What effect do you think the internet/email and its accessibility and pronto delivery have had on the number and quality of queries and writers’ expectations for speedy replies?

Much higher numbers of queries. Much lower quality of queries. And much higher expectation of a quick response.

My novel in progress has been posted on an open website while I’ve worked on it. The critiquing process is now about done, but does the fact that it’s been on the net for about a year exclude it from publisher’s consideration?

I don’t think this is of any consequence. If anything, you’ve perhaps built up some demand for a finished book. But I wouldn’t make a habit of doing this, as there are unscrupulous folks on the web stealing content.

I’d like to know why speaking is the most important part of a platform. What if your spiritual gifting doesn’t lie in that area? Are there equally effective ways to build a platform without speaking? Will a publisher dismiss your proposal just on the fact that you don’t do speaking?

In some types of writing, such as women’s Christian nonfiction, speaking can be crucial to a platform. But… there are so many other ways to build a platform besides speaking. The possibilities are endless, and they differ according to what kind of books you write. Many fiction authors don’t speak at all, but they have pretty big platforms. For nonfiction writers, a platform can start with a credential, i.e. perhaps you’re a licensed psychologist. Platforms can be built from writing… gaining visibility in newspapers, magazines, and online media. You can build a reputation as an expert in your field. There are so many things you can do that have nothing to do with speaking. We’ve talked a lot about platform here, so go back and read the other posts for ideas.

Any more questions for me today???

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

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. Anonymous on August 13, 2008 at 4:00 PM

    >I write middle grade and inspirational romance.

    In my research on the web, it is rare to find agents who represent both.

    Should an author seek two agents, one for each genre? (Two dream agents working for me, yay!)

    Or seek a single agent who handles both? (The pool of agents who represent both genres seems to be quite small.)

    If I go with option one, do I need to let agents know in the query process?

  2. Anonymous on August 13, 2008 at 2:43 PM

    >I have a question.

    I paid to have my novel critiqued by harlequin.
    When should I tell an agent that? Query letter, later, or never?

    Thanks Rachelle!

  3. Timothy Fish on August 13, 2008 at 2:14 PM

    >The biggest problem with prologues is that they tend to be the place where the author puts all of the background information that the reader doesn’t care about. Another problem is that author’s seem to expect readers to remember the prologue well enough to understand the significance of something buried deep in the book. All of the best prologues that come to mind do nothing but set up the first chapter. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain uses the prologue to ease us into the strange world of Camelot, but once we are in Camelot we have no more need of what he said there. That is how a prologue ought to be done.

  4. Anita Mae on August 13, 2008 at 12:58 PM

    >Rachelle, you said, ‘Bottom line, it’s extremely valuable to go to a conference; but probably not a career-killer if for some reason you’re unable to make it happen. (The disadvantage of not going to conferences lies more in the education you’re missing and the connection with other writers.)’

    So, what you’re saying about attending a conference is like going to church:

    We don’t need to go to church to feel God’s presence in our lives or to learn from His Word, but if we don’t go, we’ll miss out on whatever He has laid upon the pastor’s heart to pass on to us, as well as the fellowship that comes from being with other believers.

    And yes, I will be going to the ACFW conf and hoping to meet you. But you’ve mentioned again, not to bore you. Hmmm – that Pony Express entrance is really tempting…

  5. Andrew on August 13, 2008 at 12:13 PM

    >Is it appropriate, in a fiction query, to mention a platform for speaking? The novel I am currently pitching has a potential platform, post-traumatic stress disorder, and I’m an experienced public speaker. I think it could make a good ‘package’, but would it be proper to say this to an agent?

  6. Kat Harris on August 13, 2008 at 10:56 AM

    >How good is Rachelle’s memory?

    Let me tell you…

    The e-mailed Rachelle for the first time at the beginning of February this year.

    I received an e-mail from her at the end of June on a completely unrelated topic.

    Not only did she know who I was, she remembered my e-mail address.

    I hope it was because she had it on file someplace and not that she just remembered it (because remembering random e-maill addresses would be a wealth of useless knowledge, IMHO).

    But I thought it was cool she remembered.

  7. Sheri Boeyink on August 13, 2008 at 9:53 AM

    >Thanks for the answers to the questions.

    I’m sure you’ve seen this situation before, but here goes:

    So, let’s say I submitted a proposal after a query letter was accepted–And since the submission of the proposal, the novel was significantly improved (not just a few spelling errors, but bigger things like tightening, deepening the POV, author affiliations/platform, etc) — would you suggest a re-submit (upfront- telling you it’s a resubmit) or just hold out and let the original proposal be reviewed?

  8. Cheryl Barker on August 13, 2008 at 9:40 AM

    >Rachelle, just wanted to say “thanks” for taking the time to answer our questions. You answered one of mine today — I appreciate your help!

  9. Courtney Walsh on August 13, 2008 at 8:46 AM

    >Oooh, good questions. I’m also wondering what genre(s) do you see queried most often?

    And are you reading through TONS of say, inspirational women’s fiction queries wishing SOMEONE would send you some good historical romance or some other genre that you would like to see more of?

    Thanks so much for answering these questions! It’s so helpful! Who would I have my morning coffee with if you stopping blogging? 🙂

  10. Jennifer F. on August 13, 2008 at 7:01 AM

    >I think I might have asked this before (sorry if it’s a duplicate!) but I am just dying to know: if an author has a blog or some other kind of website, what kind of traffic would it need to have in order for you to consider it a decent platform?

    I’m sure that can vary a lot by the author’s genre and audience, so here’s a specific example:

    Let’s say you get a query from an author interesting in writing a book targeted at Christian women, and she tells you that she has a blog that is read by Christian women that gets 15,000 visits per month and has 500 people subscribed to her site’s feed. Is that:

    a) not impressive at all,
    b) a good start but would need to be grown quite a bit more to be a good platform,
    c) a good platform,
    d) a great platform.

    Many of us have blogs, but have no idea to what extent we should emphasize it when querying agents since we don’t know if they’d consider our traffic impressive or sad. 🙂

    Thank you SO much for taking the time to answer our questions. It is very much appreciated.

  11. Yvonne on August 13, 2008 at 6:31 AM

    >Do you think a series of books and sequels are usually weaker in content and quality than single stories?

    I’ve noticed that many of the new books for 12-14 yr. or young adults are a part of a series. Do you suggest this?

    If so, should I be working on the sequel before the first book is published?