An Embarrassment of Riches

Wow, that was an amazing discussion yesterday on the writer’s passion. Thanks for contributing! If you haven’t read all the comments from yesterday, you really should. They offer an incredible amount of invaluable advice and encouragement.

And speaking of passion! It’s showing up in my inbox in the form of queries about 10 to 20 times a day. That’s a lot of book ideas. I’m always so impressed at the sheer number of people who have gone to the trouble of writing books, putting together proposals, and querying agents. I guess I should be used to it by now, but for some reason I’m continually surprised. Sometimes while I’m working at my computer and I see them popping into my email box, usually 1 or 2 an hour, I just think to myself, Another! And another!

It’s truly an embarrassment of riches. Every single query that gets to my inbox represents someone’s passion, their heart and soul, their hard work, often years of their life. Each one could possibly change lives or inspire or entertain or teach… or all of the above. There is unlimited potential to change the world in my inbox everyday! I am humbled and awed at the privilege of being the recipient of such treasure.

Thank you to all of you writers who put yourselves out there, make the effort, follow your passion, and pursue that publishing dream. I admire and salute you.

But… (don’t you hate the but?) …there’s a downside to this, unfortunately. It’s the vast quantities of queries. The route of traditional, royalty-paying publishing has become very much a numbers game. Whether an agent or publisher says yes or no doesn’t only depend on your own project; it also depends on all the other projects on the desk or inbox at the same time, i.e. your competition. The bigger the stack, the higher the odds.

You’re not writing and submitting in a vacuum, as you know. You’re putting your work out there against everyone else’s work. Each agent has limited client spots. Each publisher has limited (and shrinking) book slots. Everyone has to make tough decisions, especially on the projects they really like. That’s when it’s hardest, because we often have to let go of projects we think are really good, in favor of ones we think are better or more saleable for some reason.

We all have an embarrassment of riches on our desks, and the more we have, the smaller the odds of any certain one being “picked.” Maybe your project is good; maybe it’s even great. But how many other great projects are on my desk? You really can’t do anything about this aspect of publishing. Neither can I… it’s out of our control! You have to just keep trying. Keep pressing forward. And remember that if you’re getting enough rejections to wallpaper your office, it may not be strictly about your work not being good enough. It could just be about the very high odds, the sheer numbers of people competing with you for slots.

Because of this, tomorrow I’m going to spend a little time on the blog pondering the future of publishing. The good news is, you have lots of options for getting your work published!

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. Rosslyn Elliott on February 4, 2009 at 10:30 AM


    Don’t get snarky with me, young man!

    There would be a significant difference between the kind of agent/publishing advisor I’m talking about and a traditional publisher. But for me to discuss that difference necessitates a discreet rant, so I just sent you a Facebook friend request.

  2. crt on February 3, 2009 at 6:18 PM

    >I don’t think self publishing is ever going to loss it’s stigma.

    Simply because to self published books don’t have to meet the same type of standards as going through the regular route.

    When I go the bookstore I general choose books that have went through the regular publishing houses rather then self-published one. Just because the regular published ones should be a lot more polished.

    It’s kind of like musicians. Anybody can make their own music and put it on a CD and sell it. While it might sound alright, it’s probably not going to sound as good as someone that has worked hard to get in to the industry and get a record deal. The second will also have professionals helping them to make their music sound better.

  3. Timothy Fish on February 3, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    >an agent responsible for overseeing the process of selecting cover designers, copyeditors, etc

    Believe it or not, there is something like that what already exists. The big fancy word for someone who does that is publisher. There’s no reason why a publisher can’t become a literary agent and a literary agent can’t become a publisher. There are plenty that have swapped between those roles, but we aren’t going to see the responsibilities of those roles change. I will go as far as to say that I don’t think we will see many authors, who are selling a significant number of books, maintain both the author role and the publishing role. There just isn’t enough time in the day to keep up with both.

  4. Rosslyn Elliott on February 3, 2009 at 12:17 PM

    >Great question, Katy. I’ve pondered the same thing myself: is it possible that agents might eventually become partners for both traditionally-published and self-published authors, while continuing to take the same commission and hold the same high standards? The only problem I foresee is that in self-publishing, it would be a lot easier for con artists to claim to be agents. Also, it seems to me that being an agent for self-publishing would involve very different skills: an agent would have to be a general “publishing advisor,” overseeing the process of selecting cover designers, copyeditors, etc.

    If agenting the self-published were ever to become common, it would make agenting even more entrepreneurial than it is now, because the agent would be sharing the risk with any self-published clients to an even greater degree than they now share the risk in traditional publishing.

    But I’m blabbing about this topic on the blog of an actual agent! Rachelle would probably have a much better idea of whether it would be feasible, advisable, or profitable for an agent in the brave new future to take on successful self-publishing authors as clients.

  5. Katy McKenna on February 3, 2009 at 11:55 AM

    >I’ve wondered about how the role of agents will evolve if traditional publishers purchase fewer titles and self-publishing/POD becomes more acceptable. If an author were to bite the bullet and self-pub and do really well in sales, would her agent then step in and try (again) to sell the now-proven title to a trad publisher? The folks I know who have self-pubbed hire marketing people to help them, but I’m not sure what the agent’s role is. No matter what happens with my book(s), I hope to have a long and happy relationship with my most excellent agent….. 🙂

  6. T. Anne on February 3, 2009 at 11:15 AM

    >I wonder if self publishing will ever lose its stigma. Maybe in the not so distant future most of our purchases will be made for our Kindle or it’s like counterpart… if so self publishing to an e-book on a site like Amazon might offer self published books more of an even playing field. With sites like Author buzz on the rise, publicity might be at our fingertips for a nominal fee. So I guess it will all boil down to quality and the stranglehold of quantity as far as the number of slots a publisher has to offer authors won’t be such an issue.

  7. Cindy on February 3, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >It used to sort of depress me when I thought about all the other writers out ther vying for the same coveted title as me–new PUBLISHED author. And when I got a rejection, I’d wonder “why someone else over me”? (This was before I became a Christian, of course). But now, not that being a Christian has solved all my problems, I love to see other authors out there with the same passion as me. I love your take on it that some of those projects (even the rejected ones) might be able to reach someone, somewhere, someday. And that’s good! God knows this, therefore (though rejection is hard) the future still holds many possibilities. If we do our jobs and work hard and write from our hearts then our projects will work out how they’re supposed to when they’re supposed to.

    Thanks again for your post, Rachelle!

  8. Dara on February 3, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    >Thanks for the post! I’m interested in seeing what you’ll have to say this next week. I wonder–are you going to talk about self-publishing? I’m not thrilled about ever going that route, but I’d be interested to see what you would have to say about it.

  9. Kim Kasch on February 3, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    >I wrote an article on this a while back for Writer’s Journal, called Submission Block. If I had known how many talented writers were submitting, I probably wouldn’t have sent anything out. Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss.

    Thanks for the Blogalyzer-that was fun! It said I’m an Artist 🙂 I like that title better than so many.

  10. Marla Taviano on February 3, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    >Great post! Encouraging and depressing all rolled into one! 🙂