Answering Some Questions

I have an agent and a novel currently out on submission. The agent asked if I had anything for her to look at. I sent her another manuscript. She sent a two word rejection: “Not unique.” This tells me she didn’t read it because it has a number of unique plot twists. My question is, as a client aren’t I entitled to a full read, not just a quick flip through the first few pages? Also, shouldn’t she have read enough to offer suggestions?

1. All agents are different, so maybe she’s not the type who gives editorial input.
2. An agent generally only needs a few minutes to determine if they like a project. For a current client, yes, they probably should spend a little more time. If they like it, they’ll continue reading. I wouldn’t say you’re “entitled to a full read” unless your project is good enough that a full read is merited.
3. If she said it’s not unique, maybe she’s right. The bigger question is whether you trust her judgment.
4. Just because your book has “a number of unique plot twists” doesn’t mean the book itself is unique. If you didn’t grab the reader in the first few pages, you have a problem.
5. Your agent may be short on the interpersonal skills, based on the two word rejection. But she may just be too busy selling books to spend extra time on books that she can’t sell. Bottom line, you will have to decide if she’s the agent for you. You may not click with her style-wise, but try to determine if she sells books and if she knows what she’s doing.
6. Personally, I don’t work in the same way your agent does. If someone is my client, I want to help them develop their writing career, so I’m not going to simply send a 2-word rejection, and it doesn’t seem like the way to treat a client. BUT, that’s just my style. An agent’s style doesn’t say anything about the relative success or effectiveness of their author representation.

I noticed that you, like a lot of agents, do not represent Christian fantasy or sci-fi. Why? I read it and so do all of my friends. Also, it seems to me that when a sci-fi/fantasy book makes it to market, it does well. So, I am confused.

1. I don’t represent it because I don’t usually enjoy reading it. Like I’ve explained before, it’s crucial for me that I genuinely stand behind the books I represent. I can’t fake it. I’ve gotta like what I represent. Fantasy is just not my thing.
2. If you and all your friends love fantasy/sci-fi, maybe some of you should consider becoming literary agents!
3. Christian publishers backed away from fantasy/sci-fi because it wasn’t selling as well as their core genres such as historicals and romance. But they are looking at it again, in a limited way.
4. I actually do have one fantasy author on my client list; and as time goes by, I may change my stance and include more. But for now, please don’t send me those queries!

Do you ever pass on something you like (not love) just because you have so much in your inbox? If you had less coming in, would you be more likely to work with a “like”? Do you have a slow time when you receive fewer queries?

Of course, it’s a numbers game sometimes. The more submissions I get, the more choosy I can afford to be. In last month’s 600 submissions, I probably liked at least a quarter of them. But I really can’t sell “like” these days. Publishers are getting so many submissions that they, too, are looking for projects they can “love.” If I had fewer projects coming in (I mean A LOT fewer) then it’s possible the bar might drop, but just a little. As far as whether there is a “slow” time… I haven’t been doing this long enough to know. My experience has been a steady rise in the number of monthly queries.

When you’ve exhausted every avenue in CBA, do you ever go over to the general market?

Whether we approach the general market is not usually determined by whether we’ve “exhausted” CBA. I normally make a plan from the beginning, deciding whether to target CBA, ABA, or both. The only time we go to ABA after “exhausting” CBA is if my responses from CBA publishers indicate a clear reason it’s not right for CBA, and if the project truly does lend itself to ABA. Selling in the general market is not a last resort, it’s part of a strategy.

I would love wisdom on children’s books. It seems most agents don’t represent children’s books at all. Thoughts and advice, please!

Many agents don’t represent children’s because it’s a specialized market. Each of us has our areas of expertise, and some agents specialize in children’s books while others don’t. Over time we may develop more and more knowledge in certain areas and be able to expand our repertoire of genres we represent. (I am working on expanding my knowledge of fantasy/sci fi as well as children’s.)

Children’s books are notoriously difficult to sell because (1) too many people are writing them, and (2) many writers think they’re easy to write, which isn’t true. It’s difficult to write a good one; so most submissions aren’t really very good. That’s another reason many agents don’t represent children’s.

Andrea Brown is one of the most successful and well-known literary agents in the country, and her agency represents children’s books exclusively. Here is an excerpt from an interview with her:

Most new writers think it’s easy to write for children, but it’s not. You have to get in a beginning, middle and end, tell a great story, write well, not be condescending—all in a few pages. Also, the best children’s book writers are not people who have kids, but people who write from the child within themselves. Most new writers are writing material that would have sold for kids of the 80’s, but not for kids of the 21st century. The voice sounds dated or too adult. You have to write challenging material for the kids of the next century. They are smart and savvy. They won’t bother with books that don’t excite them. I hate to sound negative, but most people are wasting their time and postage trying to get published. They world doesn’t need another rhyming tooth fairy story or alphabet book.

I wonder how many times JK Rowlings was rejected? You never know…..

Last year my daughter did a report on JK Rowlings. According to her research, Ms. Rowlings never got rejected because she sent out ONE manuscript to ONE carefully selected agent. That was all it took. Great writing + page turning story + doing your homework = history.

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. blue on October 7, 2008 at 3:27 AM

    >You should check out Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks.
    There’s lots going on too:
    This Month Storybox has guest illustrator Helen Oxenbury featured.

    There’s a Readathon happening in UK and Ireland –
    There’s a Ghost Drawing competition in AdventureBoxBooks assiciated with the Polka Theatre ( )

  2. Anonymous on October 6, 2008 at 9:22 PM

    >Honestly I haven’t read many of the classics (I think the closest thing I have read to a classic would be ‘Of Mice and Men’, and that was only for an English class), so I’m a little bit ignorant when it comes to them. Prehaps the issues are still revelant?

  3. Yvonne on October 6, 2008 at 6:31 PM

    >I understand that the classics were written during a different time, when the style of writing was much different.

    But…why are they still popular? Why are some of the older books coming back? (Jean Stratton Porter, Horatio Alger, Elsie Series, etc.) I still say there is a market for new ‘old fashioned’ books.

  4. Timothy Fish on October 6, 2008 at 6:17 PM

    >Some things to think about when comparing the classics to current novels, the publishing industry used to be very different than it is now. Some of Charles Dickens’ work began as serials instead of as complete novels. Today, we aren’t just competing for publication, but against television shows, movies, video games and other forms of entertainment. We need less description for many things because people have seen more things through television and the Internet. Also, many of the classics addressed political issues of their day. Though the author may have been a skilled writer, it is the impact the novel has had on our culture that qualifies it as a classic.

  5. JC Lamont on October 6, 2008 at 4:25 PM

    >The article I read was talking about CBA affiliated bookstores. I’ve no idea which ones are or aren’t, and I’m sure not all have that policy, but many do. The point was that it doesn’t help an already unnoticed genre if Christian stores don’t carry it on policy, regardless of it’s sales.

    Rebecca — what’s the name of the store, I’d love to know if they have any here on the east coast

  6. Chatty Kelly on October 6, 2008 at 2:44 PM

    >As usual, great information. I love coming to this blog, because not only is it informative (which I need) but it is interesting (so I actually like reading it).

    So thanks!

  7. Rebecca LuElla Miller on October 6, 2008 at 2:30 PM

    >And from what I’ve learned recently, one of the reasons behind the low sales of Speculative fiction in the CBA is due to Christian bookstores not stocking the books due to policy.

    JC, I think it depends on what part of the country you live in. Here in SoCal, I have little trouble finding fantasy in Christian book stores. Recently, I went into one that had their fiction section divided by genre, and they had a very nice section for fantasy/science fiction/allegory (which did not include the books aimed at the middle grade or YA market. Those were elsewhere).

    My guess is that there are a lot of readers who don't know Christian fantasy or sci fi exists, so they're not looking for it. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited for the Motiv8 tour underway right now–8 Christian fantasy authors speaking and doing book signings from Canada to San Diego.

    The other issue is that there are so many sub-genres and so few works published by the CBA. If you are a fantasy fan a la JRR Tolkien, then the supernatural suspense of, say, Frank Peretti may not satisfy your reading needs. But there are not a lot of choices yet.

    A surprising number of CBA houses is publishing fantasy–Thomas Nelson, B&H, Harvest House, AMG, Zondervan, Bethany, Strang, WaterBrook, NavPress, and possibly others. But more typically each has their one fantasy author. So even though more fantasy is getting into print, it's not to a point where readers have anywhere close to the options they have in other genres.


  8. Anonymous on October 6, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    >I saw JK Rowling interviewed with the woman who “discovered” her. The young woman was in a typist pool at a big publishing company that had rejected the manuscript. The young woman handed an agent the manuscript rather than throw it into the trash as she’d been instructed. The agent contacted JK Rowling.

    Rowling sat in this interview and listened to this version of the story without correcting it, so I assumed it must be true.

  9. lynnrush on October 6, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    >Thanks for the honesty, Rachelle.

    I can see why the project must strike a personal chord with the agent. I mean, the agent is going to be working long and hard with the author to fine tune, sell, and negotiate….so they have to have passion about that which they represent.

    I was reading JC’s comment…and I, too, wonder how many of the “classics” would get rejected by today’s standards. Very interesting.

  10. Lisa Jordan on October 6, 2008 at 8:43 AM

    >Oops, I meant to say in my post, “She’s right.” Not write…sheesh

  11. Lisa Jordan on October 6, 2008 at 8:42 AM

    >Every writer who is passionate about his or her genre will defend it to the death…well, maybe not to that extent. 🙂

    A few years ago, I was at a family reunion and a cousin asked what I was up to. I told her about returning to school, my job, and my writing. She scoffed and said, “Anyone can write a romance.” I was so offended by her comment and stewed about it for a few hours. Finally tired of listening to my whining, my husband said one of the smartest things to me, “Lisa, she’s write. Anyone can write a romance. But, not everyone will be able to get that romance published.” No wonder we’ve been married 19 years. He’s my voice of reason when my feathers get ruffled.

    No matter what your genre, you need to be passionate about it in order for the reader to be passionate about it too.

    Regarding children’s fiction–I’m an early childhood professional who appreciates well-written children’s books. Children learn more in their first five years of development that shapes who they are to become later in life. Providing them with high quality literature opens the doors for a love of learning. I’ve worked with children for over 10 years, but I do not feel qualified to write children’s literature. I agree with Rachelle that many writers think it’s easy, but their writing does come off as condescending. Stepping down from my soapbox… 🙂

  12. JC Lamont on October 6, 2008 at 8:38 AM

    >As to no new classics being written, we are screamed at from every how-to-write book and writing class, that we can’t write like that anymore. We’re told readers don’t want chunks of descriptions, in-depth character backstory, long transitions, etc. Tolkien and Dickens would be rejected by today’s standards. So if we ever want our mss to see the light of day, we play by the rules and hack our stories down to the bare bones of page-turning action.

    Ok, I’m done venting now, lol.

  13. JC Lamont on October 6, 2008 at 8:33 AM

    >I was going to respond to the fad comment, but I see it’s already been done. I would like to add The Chronicles of Narnia to the list, as well as Pilgrim’s Progress. You could also go all the way back to Homer if we’re including speculative as a whole.

    And from what I’ve learned recently, one of the reasons behind the low sales of Speculative fiction in the CBA is due to Christian bookstores not stocking the books due to policy.

  14. Anonymous on October 6, 2008 at 8:24 AM

    >I saw Rowling on The Rosie O’Donnell show a LONG time ago. She talked about how much it cost to run a copy of a full manuscript and how she had only had enough money to get so many copies made. She sent them out expecting them to be returned if rejected and how angry that made her that the weren’t. She was down to one copy, and that is when she sold–or maybe got her agent.
    It was kind of funny to see someone who had already made millions on the books still be that upset over those unreturned manuscripts.

  15. Anonymous on October 6, 2008 at 8:05 AM

    >Hey, Rachelle … about JK Rowling. I don’t know if this will help anybody (although it sure helps me), but while she might have gotten representation with one query, I have read in many places that the first Harry Potter book was rejected by a dozen publishers, including many of the big names in the industry, before it was finally bought by a very small publisher for a very small amount of money with a very small press run. It wasn’t until she had a proven track record of sales in England that Scholastic bought the book at auction in the US.


  16. Yvonne on October 6, 2008 at 7:59 AM

    >Touche, Timothy…but I don’t think those were as common as sci-fi is today.

  17. Timothy Fish on October 6, 2008 at 7:55 AM

    >Science Fiction is a fad? Not to come across as a Science Fiction activist, but Science Fiction has been around for a very long time. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells was published 113 years ago in 1895. Mark Twain’s fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court was published a few years before that.

    In no genre can we say more clearly than in Science Fiction, “if we keep doing this, this is what will happen.” Doesn’t Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 clearly show us the problems of censoring people’s thoughts?

    No, Science Fiction is no fad, but that isn’t to say that Christian Science Fiction doesn’t have problems. I have not read the bulk of Christian Speculative Fiction, but much of what I have read has missed the boat, which is a shame since Science Fiction is such a powerful tool to do what we should be trying to do with all Christian fiction.

    Richard, you can blame me for the rain. I’m the one who prayed for it and I enjoyed the rumble of thunder when I woke this morning.

  18. Richard Mabry on October 6, 2008 at 7:05 AM

    >Thanks for your honest answers. But I could have done without hearing about J K Rowlings’ track record: one manuscript, one agent, no rejections. Hey, it’s raining here and it’s a Monday. No need to put me into complete clinical depression. : )

  19. Yvonne on October 6, 2008 at 6:46 AM

    >Rachelle, as usual, your answers reflect your honest character. I like how you show us what we face, but yet give us the challenge to try harder. I want to know the difficulites, so that I can overcome them.

    As far as Sci-fi and fantasy, I think it’s fad or phase of society. I think historical fiction, adventure, romance, mystery, biography, etc. will always be read.

    I think there is a lack of new wholesome literature for children. The old classic ones, such as Heidi, The Little Princess, and Misty are still being reprinted because they are solid good writing. Nothing new really compares to them.