Breaking Into Publishing

Knocking on doorWhen you’re a debut author trying to break in to traditional publishing, one of the most important things to remember is this:

Minimize the obstacles.

You already know it’s not going to be easy to break in, so you want to avoid making it even more difficult on yourself. This is why agents give so much advice on their blogs. Not every piece of advice applies across the board to every author, but we’re trying to help you have the best chance of attracting an agent and publisher.

Assuming you’ve written a terrific book…

What are some possible obstacles to finding an agent and publisher?

  • Manuscript word count outside of acceptable guidelines
  • Not being familiar with how publishing works and consequently approaching it wrong and with unrealistic expectations
  • Wasting your time pitching your book to agents who don’t rep your genre
  • Pitching several books in different genres
  • Not being able to name a genre for your book
  • Having a poorly written book pitch and/or query
  • Not having the right credentials or platform for your non-fiction book
  • Having no social media experience or presence
  • Having an online persona that many people find objectionable (extreme social or political views)

In any of these situations, it’s not that you can’t attract an agent and traditional publisher. It’s just that it could make it more difficult.

The reason I’m pointing this out is because for every piece of advice I give, writers come back to me and say, “But what about So-and-So Author? They did that and they’re published.” All I can say is, yes, there are plenty of exceptions to every rule. But ask yourself: Do you really NEED to keep this obstacle in place, or can you eliminate it somehow, making your path a little easier?

When you read all kinds of rules and guidelines on getting published, don’t take it as “You MUST do this to get published,” but rather reframe it in your mind as “If you can, eliminate this potential obstacle to getting traditionally published.”

Have you encountered any of these obstacles to getting published? What are some others you’ve experienced?


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. This Week in Favs…. | Melinda S. Collins on March 24, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    […] “Breaking Into Publishing” by Rachelle Gardner.  Every aspiring author should read this post and absorb the list of possible […]

  2. Jen Klein on December 9, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    It’s like acting students bringing up that fable (?) about how Brad Pitt dropped out of college and hauled it out to Hollywood when he was something like 19 days away from graduating, and look how great his acting career turned out!

    Yes, but he’s Brad Pitt, people. Brad Pitt.

  3. Jen Klein on December 9, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    It’s like acting students bringing up that fable (?) about how Brad Pitt dropped out of college and hauled it out to Hollywood when he was something like 19 days away from graduating, and look how great his acting career turned out!

    Yes, but he’s Brad Pitt, people. Brad Pitt.

  4. Elanor Lawrence on December 8, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    I’ve heard a lot about this multiple-genre thing, and I was wondering if it applies to YA. Currently everything I’ve written has been YA, but in various related genres, dystopia, action/thriller, time travel, mystery…etc… They all have similar elements, so I’d expect that the same readers would appreciate them all.

    Is this acceptable? If I write YA, can I write whatever YA I want? Or do I have to stay within a specific sub-genre of YA? (like dystopia, for instance) Or can I write several different genres as long as they’re linked and would appeal to a similar audience?

    • Jessi on December 11, 2011 at 1:30 AM

      I’m a young adult who reads a lot of YA literature so I only know what my personal tastes are. I’ll read YA sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, time travel, and that type of stuff but I don’t like reading about the more “realistic” stuff, like dating, or even murder mysteries.
      My guess is you’d want to either stick with the less “real” stuff or stick with the more real stuff. Kids who read thrillers might not be into futuristic type of things and kids who read futuristic stories might not be into realistic things. I’m no expert on this though.

  5. Kathryn Elliott on December 7, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Education is key. My number one mistake, (thus far – I’m human, there will be more), is accepting every bit of blog advice as law, every scrap of feedback as publishing dogma. MS #1 taught me to slow down, take baby steps, and travel the road to SUCCESSFUL publishing with a great deal of research, self-discipline and constructive criticism. (Sounds like a diet?)

  6. Beth MacKinney on December 6, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    I think my only personal obstacles are my own ability to write well enough and the time I can commit to studying writing and the business of writing.

    What I find strange is that I see writers asking the same questions over and over on blogs. I wonder, why don’t they just get some books about writing out of the library and learn these things before they start? Every year I study about six to ten books books on writing craft and writing business. (Lists of books that editors and agents recommend on their blogs are very helpful.) Or there are conferences and online webinars for information.

    No matter how long I’ve done this, and even though I worked for years in the publishing industry, I learn more with every book that I read. With the industry constantly changing, you just can’t have to much information about writing and publishing.

    • Elanor Lawrence on December 8, 2011 at 10:14 AM

      I completely agree! That newbie was me just a couple years ago; I knew nothing about publishing. Still, it really annoys me now when I see people asking questions on blogs like this, especially when there’s a list of ‘helpful posts’ at the side where all their questions are answered. And people who email an agent with a question that has already been answered on the blog? So lazy and unprofessional.

      • Beth MacKinney on December 8, 2011 at 1:23 PM

        Hi Elanor!

        That’s the great thing about writing: we ALL started at the bottom at one time or another. : ) I’m so thankful, though, that many great writers have put their knowledge in books so that we get a boost as we go!

        (Oops for my typo “to” instead of “too” Lol.)

  7. Jessi on December 6, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    The political views part is where I think I’d have trouble since I feel I should stand up for my beliefs. What I’m wondering is how careful I should be. For example, I’ll sometimes post political stuff on Facebook, or reply to my friends’ comments on Facebook. I also have a screen name on a few forums and will debate politics there but no one who isn’t a member can see that stuff and it’s a small forum with only a handful of people knowing my real name.
    I’m assuming this isn’t too dangerous since I’m far from being published but I’m wondering how deep do agents dig when it comes to this kind of thing?

  8. […] You should also keep in mind that a book from a debut author that has a non-US setting will find it more difficult to find a publisher. (See yesterday’s blog about obstacles to publication, and my comment about foreign settings, here.) […]

  9. SelinaJ. on December 5, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    Reading the responses to today’s blog post and seeing how many have struggled to get good feedback from their queries, I’m reminded of Kathryn Stockett. She wrote the now bestseller book entitled “the Help”. She got “60” rejections on her queries and was accepted on her “61st” attempt. In the article I read about her attempts she said that corrections and “improvements” were made with every rejection she received. I have since read her book and can see why it was not so readily received, what with the type speech ie. voice she chose to write with for most of the book. I don’t mind saying that I had a difficult time getting into the book. But because I continued to pick the book up and continue reading it, I finally got into it. Point being; if a writer has a story they feel worth writing about….don’t give up. I’ve got one and I’m not giving up on it. We must dare to be inspired!

  10. leisuretime on December 5, 2011 at 9:36 PM


    I appreciate this advice. Is there an efficient method to finding which agents/publishers accept specific genres?

    Specifically, I’m ghostwriting a leadership fable for a CEO. While I was upfront regarding not having publishing experience (I’ve edited for authors who already had pub deals), I’d love to be able to help steer the CEO in the right agent/publisher direction.


  11. Marc Vun Kannon on December 5, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    For me it’s these two:

    Not being able to name a genre for your book
    Having a poorly written book pitch and/or query

    I write characters, and see what they’ll do. They tend to transcend any of the traditional genre categories, and go off in all sorts of directions. I can’t describe most of the books and stories I’ve written. It’s not that I don’t know how to write a query letter, but the synopsis part defeats me every time.

  12. Marji Laine on December 5, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    As far as genres go, (I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post!) would mystery be considered a sub-genre of suspense? Or are they altogether separate? I’m assuming the addition of romance to either wouldn’t change things?

    They seem so close in my mind. Is there a problem with writing both mysteries and suspense, or does that split the audience like writing paranormal and cowboy historicals?

  13. Jeremy H on December 5, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    I appreciate all your helpful blogging and webinars. After looking over several query letters I am convinced that I had a hook, line and SINKER rather than a great hook. I have followed some of your guidelines and rewritten my query. Also, for some time, I was sending my Queries to agents that didn’t represent my genre or age bracket. Again, thanks for all the support.

  14. Diana Harkness on December 5, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Rachelle’s comments are accurate. I presented my manuscript to a seasoned agent who promptly (and accurately) informed me that no publisher would touch it because it fell between two genres. He said to make it one or the other. So I’m rewriting. My question. If I self-publish the original mixed-genre (historical/speculative fiction) manuscript, will it reduce my chances of a publisher accepting the true historical fiction manuscript?

    • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 4:52 PM

      Why not just call it speculative fiction, introduce an element of time travel and have the story take place in the historical setting?

      • Diana Harkness on December 5, 2011 at 5:19 PM

        I can’t make it completely speculative because I can’t pull a historical character completely out of his historical setting. And I don’t want time travel, because if someone today ended up in the ancient world, their character would be completely out of place. What I did was introduce modern technology into the historical setting because it worked for me and for my test readers. But if a publisher won’t publish it like that, I’m content to write historical fiction for that market. However, I like the plot and the historical elements combined with the modern technology, so I’m also content to self-publish that. I simply don’t want the similar self-published novel to be an obstacle to publishing the historical fiction.

        • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 8:39 PM

          Sounds like Alternate History, which is still speculative fiction.

  15. P. J. Casselman on December 5, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    I wrote my first novel and thought it would be simple to get it published. Man, was I naive. I knew nothing about the publishing business. Websites helped like Ms. Snark helped, but did not tell me what I was personally doing wrong. Query after query came back (if they came back) with a “your book seems interesting but,” response. Even those in the genre were unwilling to read a single page. I kept changing my queries, but to no avail. There was a wall of literary agents before me, sucking the life out of my dream.
    It was not until Mark Gilroy kindly explained the situation to me that I began to understand the situation. He never read my queries, but simply told me that first time novelists rarely do well in the market. Only by creating the irresistible would I be published. My second novel was just that, I thought. A modernization of Ruth. How easy would that be to sell? Every woman loves Ruth, right? I hit the same wall. No agent would even read a page. I became angry. “What’s wrong with these people?” I thought. “Don’t they know a good book when they see one?”
    After much prayer and soul searching, I came to a place of understanding. There are thousands of authors trying to sell their novels. Mine is just one more in a barrage that pelts agents daily. They are humans standing before a mountain of works, each one written by a person created in God’s image. Why should my book be published before theirs?
    I self published and started creating an online presence. It’s so relaxing to just write and not worry about it anymore. I am now a cheerleader for others who want to get published. Sure, my books have only sold a few hundred copies, but some hearts have been touched.
    Sorry for the novel. You asked! 🙂

    • David Todd on December 5, 2011 at 3:24 PM


      Amazing how similar our stories are. After coming to the same conclusion as you about the utter futility of breaking into the market, I chose e-self-publishing (and POD), and feel much more relaxed about the whole thing. My first short story is up, my non-fiction is up, and my first novel is not too far away.

      And your “few hundred” copies is a whole lot more than my 26.

      • P. J. Casselman on December 5, 2011 at 4:31 PM

        David, hang in there! The great thing about self-pub is that we have plenty of time.
        On a side note, if you have a Christian book, why not check local churches for bookstores. If they have them, see if they will sell yours at cost. You won’t make money, but your work has a good better chance of getting to the public.

    • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 4:49 PM


      I had similar thoughts when I wrote For the Love of a Devil. Everybody is amazed by the story of Hosea, right? Who wouldn’t want to read a modern version of it. And recently, I have considered taking on the Ruth, but I’ve backed away from it because I feel that I should focus more on writing for men. The story of Hosea is very much a man’s story, but when I look at Ruth it is primarily about Naomi and God providing for her when it appeared she’d lost everything. But don’t you think the theme of Ruth is so fitting for this? Naomi thought she’d lost all hope of having children to carry on her line and yet God found a way for David and Jesus to come from her line. We may look at the books we create and it seems hopeless, but God may yet turn them into something great.

      • P. J. Casselman on December 5, 2011 at 5:06 PM

        A very fine reminder. Thanks Timothy!

      • Iola on December 5, 2011 at 10:19 PM

        Timothy – The book of Ruth has been fictionalised before, but always (as far as I know) from the point of view of Naomi and/or Ruth. What about Boaz? Why did he marry Ruth? Where did his sense of honour come from? Did he love her?

        • Timothy Fish on December 6, 2011 at 12:27 AM


          I’m sure someone might want to explore that and it would make an interesting story, but it isn’t the story that I would write. My approach to writing a story like that is that I take the existing story, and have characters live it out in modern times. It takes some expansion to bring it to book length and that requires some artistic license, but I stick firm to the original theme. Since the Book of Ruth is about Naomi, I think trying to explore Boaz as a character would require a change in theme.

  16. Heather Gilbert on December 5, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    I think you learn what to do/what not to do with each successive book. Even if you write what you like, it might not be what the publishing industry wants, so agents can’t take you on if they know your stuff isn’t going to fit in a niche the publishers want.

    I found out my first novel (a NaNoWriMo) was too short for paranormal fiction at 50,000 words. I then found out my second novel (historical fiction set in Viking times) wasn’t going to be easy to “break in” with, because Iron Age isn’t as hot as Tudor. Also, it was set in Newfoundland and Greenland, which is NOT the United States of America (also an easier sell). Although I knew exactly what genre each book fell into, I didn’t know what was hot/popular/acceptable for the publishers.

    This time, I’m writing something that will fit all the criteria I’ve missed before. It’s discouraging, yes, since I think the other books were great. However, I have the comfort of knowing that when Vikings rise again, I have a book that’s ready-to-roll with a little more editing. I think it’s about fitting into the parameters of what’s selling to get that debut novel in the door.

  17. Industry News–December 5 » RWA-WF on December 5, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    […] Literary agent Rachelle Gardner advises authors to minimize the obstacles when trying to break into traditional publishing. […]

  18. Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    My one big weakness is probably in the area of not being able to name my genre. It’s easier, I think, when you set out to write a book within a particular genre because you know there are certain things that readers expect, but if you’ve already written the book, it is diffcult to place it because there is always something to disqualify it from any genre.

  19. Michelle DeRusha on December 5, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    I made the word count mistake. When I first queried Rachelle, my ms was 25,000 words over the suggested word count for non-fiction. I just thought every word was that important. 😉 Then I smartened up and snipped it down to an appropriate length. I definitely think it helped me land representation.

  20. Janet on December 5, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    I SOOOO apologize. I posted my comment before reading the others. How embarassing for me to have posted a question you have already answered.

  21. Janet on December 5, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    I have a question for you on the point of pitching different books in different genres. Does this mean one should not pitch the same literary agent or the same publisher with books from different genres?

    I have a narrative non-fiction memoir that combines my personal experience of surviving and recovering from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm with factual information related to the condition and offers suggested resources. I also have a WIP paranormal mystery novel and plan to continue writing fiction. Should I refrain from pitching the fiction until after the non-fiction has been published? I have a small local publisher who primarily does non-fiction, coffee table books and a few books of poetry who is interested in handling the non-fiction and I was considering seeking a literary agent to represent the fictional works.


    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 4:06 PM


      First, read all my posts on memoir:

      Then read my post tomorrow about writing in multiple genres. Good luck.

      • Janet Bettag on December 5, 2011 at 9:42 PM

        Rachelle, thank you for being kind enough to reply to my comment. I have taken your advice and followed the link you provided to your previous posts and found them quite informative.

  22. Debby Hunt on December 5, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    This information is so powerful. I have been writing for some time now and I need to know everything about publishing. Thank you so much.

  23. Paige Kellerman on December 5, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Hi Rachelle,

    Thanks for the great post. I write humor, and you’re right, the more I look into it, the more important I see having a great platform is. I have a question that’s a little off topic though. I’m going to be querying agents soon, and some of them want the first ten pages of the MS pasted into an email to them. Does this usually include the cover page or no? I can’t seem to find the answer, and don’t want to look unprofessional by sending the wrong thing.

    Thanks again!

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 4:04 PM

      Paige, just focus on what’s important. Try not to sweat the small stuff. Try to think things through, and use common sense. Why does an agent want manuscript pages pasted into the email? Because they want to see your actual writing. How does a “cover page” help? It doesn’t.

      Furthermore, in email, how can you even have a cover page? The agents are asking for your manuscript pasted right into the body of the email.

      So: write your query. End the letter with, “Below are the first ten pages of my manuscript.” Then put your signature, contact info, blog links, etc. Below that, paste in your pages. It will look something like this:

      Paige Kellerman
      my blog URL
      my website URL
      my Twitter
      my phone number



      Chapter 1

      Once upon a time there was a writer querying an agent……

      You get the picture.

  24. Brandi on December 5, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    Actually, I received this e-mail today. I sent this publisher a query last week!

    “Hello Brandi

    Is there perhaps another blog associated with your author name? We’re finding only sparse entries.”


  25. TC Avey on December 5, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    I originally sent out my query (which I thought was great) only to set it aside and look at it later (after receiving rejections)and find I could have made it better. I have now worked on it and believe it to be much much better, but I think I blew my chances with some really great agents.
    Do you think I can re-query them with my new pitch?

  26. Adam on December 5, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    Thanks for the bulleted perimeters and for, once again, reminding us that writers need to bring more than just a story to the table.

    Everything in life has both guidelines and exceptions…the former being MUCH more common than the latter. I fail to understand why some aspiring authors seem to believe there should be no “rules” to follow.

  27. Karen Boncela on December 5, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Hi Rachelle,
    I’ve been checking out the info that you post for quite awhile now. Just want to say thanks for soooo much insight and knowledge about the whole writing and publishing journey.
    The new pictures you’ve posted of yourself are great! You look beautiful!

  28. Kurt Corriher on December 5, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    All of the comments are helpful and certainly true. Nonetheless, some of them are dismaying to say the least, particularly the requirement (and it IS a requirement) of today’s publishing industry that every book fit neatly into some “genre.” I learned that when I stepped outside the norm and wrote a literary mystery. Got lots of nice comments that always ended with some version of “wouldn’t know how to market it.” It’s dismaying because it has killed innovation in the American novel market, and my fear is that such thinking will, over time, kill the market itself. The publishing industry is stuck in a deadly rut of its own making. I think it’s the product of ever larger (and thus ever more bureaucratic and inflexible) houses, combined with the panic mentality spawned by shrinking margins. It’s understandable, but if it doesn’t change, it will likely prove fatal to American literature.

    • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      I’m sure we would all like to write just whatever came to mind, stick it out there, and have someone buy it. But with a million books being published every year, readers need a way to sort through the pile and find the books they want to read. Maybe the current genres are the best method, but they are better than nothing.

      • Kurt Corriher on December 5, 2011 at 11:58 AM

        Just to clarify: I’m not talking about authors just writing “whatever comes to mind.” I’m talking about true innovation and creativity which has been part of every dynamic and productive literary epoch. Combining traditional genres in new and exciting ways, for example, is one classic method of renewing and revitalizing a fading literary landscape (cf. John Gardner’s THE ART OF FICTION)…but it’s not possible in today’s AMERICAN publishing world. European publishing, generally speaking, seems more open to fresh approaches than are we, and I suspect that’s one reason their industry is still relatively healthy.

        • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 1:39 PM

          It still amounts to the same thing. With whatever you write, if you don’t have the means to get it in front of the people who want to read it, it won’t sell. Genre’s help people find you.

          • Kurt Corriher on December 5, 2011 at 2:25 PM

            Obviously whatever an author produces has to be made available and visible to the reading public. But I’m not convinced that it can only be done within the rigid confines of currently defined genres. I think that an absence of imagination and will in the publishing industry is part of what’s driving American readers–who are sick of seeing yet another in the endless stream of legal thrillers–into other media and other markets. I entirely agree that writers have to bow to the realities of the publishing industry. No alternative. But I also believe it’s primarily PUBLISHERS who are defining the American book market, not readers. There are many examples of books that were rejected by dozens of publishers as “unmarketable,” only to become wildly popular when they stumbled onto some back-door entry into publication. William Kennedy’s Pulitzer-prize winner, IRONWEED, comes to mind, but there have been a number of others.

        • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 3:56 PM

          Kurt, I strongly disagree when you say it’s not possible in today’s publishing world to be creative and innovative. Books are constantly being published that break molds and startle us with their creativity and vision. If you’re not seeing them out there, then I wonder how hard you’re really looking for them.

          One of my favorite sayings is “argue for your limitations, and they’re yours.” I believe that if you continue to believe this way about publishing, and believe that there’s no place for you because you’re extra creative and innovative and tend to write outside expected genre lines, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          But you could choose instead to write such a good book that agents, editors and readers all say “Genre be damned – this is a stunning book!”

          This is how the amazingly original books get published. They’re so good that people can’t put them down, regardless of genre. If editors/agents are still telling you “Great book, but I wouldn’t know how to market it,” then you’re just not there yet. Either your book isn’t quite awesome enough to transcend genre necessities, or you haven’t found the right agent; most likely some combination of both.

          I’d recommend you stay persistent. Don’t give up with the excuse that the whole publishing industry sucks. You won’t get anywhere that way. Press on.

          • Kurt Corriher on December 5, 2011 at 11:16 PM


            Your point that perceptions have a tendency to become realities is well taken. I’m aware of the danger, and believe it or not, I DO try to avoid it. On the other hand, one should not be blind to realities either, since we have to live with them, good or bad. And I think there’s some value in offering thoughts that might give some publishing folks a moment’s pause. Certainly they should not remain utterly above criticism, right? I do, incidentally, have a novel published in 2002 (hardback) and 2005 (paper). And, yes, I got it out there by sticking strictly to a recognized genre, in this case the commercial espionage thriller. Fun to write, and I believe it’s a good read, but it’s not all I want to do with my writing.

  29. Diane Yuhas on December 5, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Rachelle, I want to write a book that is based on my life, transformed by God. Because some life-defining moments involve others, I am reluctant to use true identities. I plan to tell my story using fictional names and locations, etc. My question is: Does this make the story a work of fiction or nonfiction? I want to write it as non-fiction because it is true, but I don’t want to embarrass or hurt any of the people in my life. PS: As you’ve probably guessed, this is my first book.

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      Diane, read some good books on writing memoir before you go any further. You may want to start with the posts I’ve written:

      • Diane Yuhas on December 5, 2011 at 11:39 AM

        Wow! Thanks for that link. I always prefer to learn all I can about an idea well before putting loads of work into it. My blog may prove to be the better platform, after all. Thanks for getting straight to the point.

  30. Harriet Parke on December 5, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Rachelle: I can’t thank you enough for your advice. I put all your advice into my “Favorites” and re-read them when I need encouragement and motivation.


  31. Melinda on December 5, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    Thank you for these great tips….I have been trying to get a literary agent for some time….I have 4 books published but my dream is to get into the big publishers…I write mystery novels and the one I am currently working on is going to be a series…..So I will keep trying to get a literary agent because to me every writer needs one


  32. joan Cimyotte on December 5, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    I do take your advice. I would know nothing about the business if it weren’t for you and Nathan Bransford. My biggest obstacle is myself. Making a living and holding down the fort seems to take a lot of my focus. Oh and then those doubts that sneak in. My biggest obstacle is myself.

  33. Lisa Hall-Wilson on December 5, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Thanks for this list. The advice I keep hearing repeated that feels like an obstacle is I can’t write for both the ABA and CBA. I can leave one for the other, but not publish in both markets at the same time 🙁

    • Iola on December 5, 2011 at 10:07 PM

      Lisa – that depends on genre (again). I can think of several authors who write for Harlequin Sweet (ABA) and for their CBA Love Inspired line as well.

  34. Robin Gilbert Luftig on December 5, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    Awesome blog topics.

    •Not having the right credentials or platform for your non-fiction book

    I am writing non-fiction and have a degree from ‘school-of-hard-knocks’ regrding my platform. It’s difficult to be taken seriously. Any suggestions?

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 11:05 AM

      Robin, obviously some topics require, or at least sell better with, the right credentials. Others don’t. But with non-fiction, you want to ask yourself:

      Are you working in the field of whatever your non-fiction book is about? Do you have a go-to blog on that topic? Do you speak to audiences about the topic? Have you published magazine, journal, or online articles about it? Do you belong to organizations based around it? Do you have degrees or letters after your name certifying you in this area?

      Basically, have you taken steps to try and become a “go-to” expert in this topic?

      (This doesn’t apply if your non-fiction is memoir.)

    • Timothy Fish on December 5, 2011 at 11:38 AM

      I have degrees and experience that make me a computer expert, which basically means I have a good idea of just how much I don’t know. I find it comical sometimes when I hear some people talk about computers. They believe they know what they’re talking about, but they don’t. Given several years of college and some work experience there’s no reason why they couldn’t learn, but they haven’t learned it yet. I’ve seen that in other fields too. There are people who write books because they think they’ve learned something new from the school of hard knocks, but the experts know that these people know very little.

    • Iola on December 5, 2011 at 10:09 PM

      Robin – check out The blog author has just published a book off the back of the success of this blog (Saving Savvy). The book (IMO) is pretty average – nothing really new to speak of – but she got it published no doubt partly because of her blog following.

  35. David Todd on December 5, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    When I began my first novel, I did so in a fit of creative passion. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but I certainly began by creating, not by studying the market or how to be published. I finished the book in January 2003 (thought knew some rounds of editing were needed), knew I had to find out how to get it published, so in March 2003 went to my first writers conference. I learned it was too long at 155,000 words, in a dead genre being Bible-era fiction, and in a less preferred voice (first person). Three strikes and you’re out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any way to chop 60,000 words out of it or change the voice, so it sits unpublished. But I guess most people’s first novels sit unpublished, so I’m in good company.

    When I shifted to non-fiction, I wrote what was in my heart and on my mind, an historical/political look at US history. I gave no thought to platform; I just wanted to write what was on my heart. So I have a completed book for which I have no credentials to write other than being a lover of history in a civil engineer’s body. And it crosses non-fiction genre lines, so there’s two strikes.

    And don’t get me started about my completed poetry book.

    I just can’t seem to hit it right. Aren’t there millions of other people out there who like more or less the same kind of books that I do?

    • P. J. Casselman on December 5, 2011 at 5:04 PM

      David, I have always enjoyed Robert Schuller’s words that are so applicable here:

      “When faced with a mountain, I will not quit! I will keep striving until I climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine, with God’s help.”

      To these words, I say: “Write on, brother!”

  36. Marielena on December 5, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    My question is the same as Linda’s. Why is pitching several books in different genres an obstacle? Specializing? Branding? What?

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      Marielena, see my answer to Linda.

      Bottom line: think about your audience. If you write in multiple genres, you’re writing to multiple audiences. Rather than building and growing your audience with each book, you’re starting from square one and trying to attract a whole new audience with each book. It takes too much time and too much money. All the work you did building the audience for the first book only serves that book; then with the next book you start all over with zero audience built up. From a publishing standpoint in terms of investment and return, it doesn’t make sense.

      In addition, most people simply do not have the time in their lives to do enough marketing and social networking in ONE genre, let alone more than one.

      It’s lovely to have interest and talent in many kinds of writing; and MOST writers are this way. However, being able to SELL in many genres is next to impossible.

      • Jack LaBloom on December 5, 2011 at 11:42 AM

        I am so glad I read your post and your reply on multiple genres. I guess I’ll have to choose between my suspense/thriller novels and my humorous romances.

        It may appear otherwise, but I am being serious here. I really enjoy writing both, but your advice about focusing on one genre makes so much sense.

        In my case should it be one or the other, or is there a genre that allows the two to be combined?

        • Iola on December 5, 2011 at 10:04 PM

          Jack – how about romantic suspense? It’s my personal favourite genre, and is even better with a bit of humour to take the edge of the suspense.

  37. Marleen Gagnon on December 5, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    I have my word count within the preferred number for my genre.
    I adhere to the philosophy expect the worst and you’ll be happy when it’s better, so I think my expectations for publishing are reasonable. It’s extremely hard work.
    I do my homework when pitching to an agent to make sure they represent my genre so I’m not wasting their time.
    I’m focused on writing one genre and in that genre only one sub-genre.
    I know what genre my books are.
    I believe my major problem is the pitch and query. Although my query is getting better through studying agent blogs, I freeze up when pitching face to face. I am so shy I forget everything, so I write it out and read it. The agents I have met at conferences have been wonderful and understanding of this problem.
    I don’t write non-fiction.
    I do facebook, twitter and have a blog and website.
    Controversy, you can’t please everyone all the time, so somewhere along the way I’ve probably said something people don’t agree with. However, I believe in treating people the way I want to be treated and that is with respect and courtesy. Anytime I post something I keep that in mind.
    Thanks for this post to make me focus on what I still need to work on.

  38. Stephen H. King on December 5, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Nice list, Rachel. As many of the commenters above have already point out, you can make a blog post about each of the items in the list.

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 9:58 AM

      With 1000+ posts already, you can be sure that there are already numerous posts on every topic listed here.

      • Stephen King on December 5, 2011 at 10:42 AM

        I know that; I’ve been following and complimenting your blog for months. I didn’t mean to imply that you should create a NEW blog post, only that each topic merited its own. Sorry for my inexact wording. That said, some topics (especially #2 in your list) probably deserve refresh time and again.

        • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 11:00 AM

          I agree!

  39. Lance Albury on December 5, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Biggest obstacle for me is all agents say publishers aren’t interested in foreign settings. Everyone I mention this too thinks it’s crazy, but it’s reality.

    Yes, I know this sentiment doesn’t seem to match with what sits on bookstore shelves, but it’s what I’ve been told time and time again. It’s as if once you’ve been published, they’ll look past this “rule.”

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 9:57 AM

      Lance, when you hear guidelines like this, try to think it through and ask yourself why it might be true. In this case – as in many situations – it has nothing to do with what the publishers or editors want. The publishers might love foreign settings, but having tried it before and seen that those books don’t sell as well as their U.S.-based stories, they’ve decided not to pursue foreign settings from new authors. It’s purely a sales-oriented decision based on experience.

  40. Deborah Serravalle on December 5, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    The list makes sense as does your approach – if you have an obstacle in place and you can eliminate it, why not!

  41. Susan Foy on December 5, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    When I first started writing in the 90’s, the social media experience wasn’t even an issue. So I’ve gone glibly on my way, thinking I was doing everything right, and now I suddenly discover that if I’m not blogging, tweeting, etc., no one will look at me. This is a whole new world that I have to learn about and I’m not even sure how to begin. 🙁

  42. Patti Mallett on December 5, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    Thanks, Rachelle! Great post, as always!

    The Social Media point is the one that hit me hardest. I can’t remember your feelings about personal blogs. Do you think they are a must for aspiring writers?

    I have an active FB page, often using it like a blog, and I do a fair amount of Tweeting. Is that enough of a presence?

    Thank you! I greatly value your opinions.

  43. carol brill on December 5, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    conflicting advice has at times been an obstacle for me. For instance, last summer at a workshop an agent suggested we need to identify at least 3 genres our novel might fit in our query. I know plenty of novels can cross-over between genres – forcing 3 feels like a stretch.

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 9:52 AM

      Carol, I know conflicting advice is annoying and confusing. I blogged about it once, basically saying, take everything you hear into consideration and then use your own wisdom to figure out what to do.. I think that’s what you’ve already done with this genre issue.

      Identify at least three genres your book could fit? That’s just boneheaded as far as I’m concerned. If your book naturally fits several genres, fine. If your book is one genre, it’s one genre and that’s it.

      • carol brill on December 6, 2011 at 8:07 AM

        Thanks Rachelle and Else – you both validated my feelings and thoughts. Funny, that I learned a long time ago about considering and using wisdom about writing critique from other writers. Didn’t occur to me to use the same approach with agent advice.
        thanks for good advice. carol

    • Else on December 5, 2011 at 10:47 AM

      Carol, that sounds like some pretty bad advice you got.

      I have a manuscript I’ve never been able to sell, because it’s in two genres. Only two, mind you. My regular publisher wouldn’t take it, and no one else would take it, and they all cited the same reason:

      It’s in two genres.

      Sure, stories that cross genres get published. This one certainly didn’t.

  44. Julia on December 5, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    Really appreciate this post! Getting a draft ready to query, and it’s very helpful to have this quick list of possible obstacles as a check list!

  45. Nancy Kimball on December 5, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    The online persona is the one I see as a problem I don’t struggle with. I say don’t because I’m aware it’s an obstacle from the agent/publisher side but that’s not enough incentive to tone down who I am as a writer and a person on my blog. What troubles me is how one would define extreme. Of course most extremists don’t think they’re extreme.
    Cruella Deville didn’t see anything wrong with a coat made from puppies. When I first read an earlier post dedicated to this particular issue, I almost pulled a banner and link from my blog. Ultimately I decided not to, because I couldn’t in good conscious do it knowing the only reason was because it might make it easier to get published.
    The same way I wouldn’t want an agent to do anything they couldn’t feel good about, I can’t either. That minimizes my pool of potential representation I’m sure, but will just make it that much sweeter when I finally overcome it. And if I don’t, then I haven’t written a strong enough manuscript in my opinion.
    I’m grateful you raise the issue, because I’m sure some writers may not feel the same as I do and it’s always best to be informed. I believe that with all my heart, and it’s why my hot pink banner stays right where it is on my blog.
    Now word count, that’s another story altogether. It’s listed first for a reason. That one I wish I’d known about before I wrote an epic 112K word historical as my debut novel. Right now I’m writing one that will be an easier sell while the first one sits patiently on the hard-drive. I do want to be traditionally published, but not enough to feel I sold myself out to do it. Word count I can give on, but not being less of who I am on social media.

  46. Linda on December 5, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    Would you comment a bit more on #4 please? I have never thought of publishing in different genres as being a negative. I would like to know more.

    • Rachelle Gardner on December 5, 2011 at 9:44 AM

      Linda, I can hardly even begin to address this here, as I’ve addressed it many times before, in great length, as have most other agents on their blogs. In any case, #4 above says nothing about “publishing” books in different genres. It says pitching books in different genres. As in, you send a query letter pitching more than one book in more than one genre. That’s usually going to get rejected.

      I have a post coming this week on writing in multiple genres… watch for it!

  47. Iola on December 5, 2011 at 3:36 AM

    Lindsay and Ennis re word count:

    I was looking at this a few weeks ago for a friend, and found that some publishers actually include this information on their websites. For example, a Love Inspired should be 60,000 words, a Love Inspired Historical is 75,000, a typical Christian fiction is 90,000 and womens fiction can go up to 100,000-120,000 words. But there are exceptions – I recall reading that The Historian is over 400,000 words, despite being a first novel.

    I have no idea about non-fiction, but I assume that it too is related to genre.

    And it seems to be generally agreed that the official word count is what Word tells you it is – actually counting the words (or using the old formula I learnt in school about an average of x words per line and y lines per page) is not required – even if that would give you a more favourable result!

    • EnnisP on December 6, 2011 at 2:48 AM

      Thanks for the info Iola.

      I am so new to this I wasn’t aware word count was limited but I guess it does promote concision.

  48. EnnisP on December 5, 2011 at 2:39 AM

    Acceptable word count?

    I’ve read through several pages and posts on your site, Rachelle, but don’t recall reading anything on “word count.” Did I miss it? Can you provide a link? Is it just for fiction or for non-fiction also?

    I do appreciate your quick hit info style. Makes it easy to find stuff.

  49. Marja Meijers on December 5, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    Great post Rachelle, you call for efficiency and a professional approach, which is no more than logical 🙂 But oh, I remember the 1st manuscript I sent in… I was so excited, so full of zeal, I didn’t know anything about rules and regulations and guidelines… makes me blush when looking back, but I didn’t give up.
    Your blog is a great resource.

  50. Nancy S. Thompson on December 5, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    Even with eliminating all these obstacles, my chances of being published are stratospherically thin, but at least I know I’m doing all I can to turn those odds in my favor. Having blogs such as this help me steer clear of pothole-loaded roads that lead to frustration & heartache. I’m learning. And I think I can even FEEL myself getting closer to my next goal. It’s all about baby steps.

  51. Olivia Newport on December 5, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    When people approach me about publishing I always send them to your blog. It answers to many questions, with a balance of reality and grace.

  52. Lindsay Harrel on December 5, 2011 at 12:54 AM

    Rachelle, thanks for this post. I love lists, and this one is very helpful.

    Question: Is there a comprehensive list somewhere on acceptable word counts for a genre (especially women’s fiction, which is what I write)? I wasn’t sure where to turn to find industry standards.

    Thank you!

  53. Yvonne Osborne on December 5, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Genre definition can be difficult for me but I did get my word count into an acceptable range. Who can afford to count on being an exception?

  54. Angela Quarles on December 5, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    Thanks for these tips, great to keep in mind as I work this month on perfecting my query and my A List of agents to query. I think many times people love to point at the exceptions as an excuse, when they should look at it as an exception (as you point out)

  55. Kathryn @ Clean Teen Fiction on December 5, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    Thanks for these great tips! Following these tips will help me feel more confident when I’m ready to break in to publishing. I love getting “insider” information.