Common Questions Answered

Thanks for all the questions you sent me on Friday’s post! I answered most of them in the comments, so be sure to check that out. But there are a few questions that I seem to get repeatedly, so I’m addressing some of them here.

What is the appropriate length of time to follow up with an agent who requested a full manuscript?

Agents typically take a long time to respond to partials. Two to six months is common. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to follow up after two or three months, but you’re likely to get no response, or just “I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.” Personally, I don’t like to make people wait that long for an answer, but I know I have partials that have been in my stack for longer than that. (See my post on A Day in the Life for an explanation of agent priorities.)

What differentiates YA fiction from adult fiction? Is it all in the age of the protagonist/main characters?

Obviously it’s not in the age of the protagonist, since there have been many adult novels that feature teens or kids as protagonists. (To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, or a more recent one would be The Lovely Bones). You should read widely in both categories so you’ll get a feel for the difference. It’s not always cut and dried, but the themes in women’s fiction will generally be more mature, and the voice, even if it’s a young protagonist, will probably have a maturity and sophistication beyond her years.

As you know, plenty of adults read YA fiction, and plenty of teens read adult fiction. Make a decision based on who you’re writing for. What’s the age of your intended audience? Does your particular story lend itself to a YA or adult reader?

How do I decide the genre for my novel, when it has elements of several genres?

It’s time to be practical: Where will your book sit in the bookstore? It can’t sit in more than one section. So pick a genre. And yes, you can say “mystery with fantasy elements” or “suspense with romantic elements” but that first genre you mention IS your genre.

Having trouble deciding on a genre? Sit down with your critique partners and make a decision based on the overall feel of the book. Also ask yourself which audience would more likely enjoy your book: the typical fantasy reader? Horror reader? Romance reader? Don’t be surprised if later, when working with an agent or editor, they advise you to change it. These genre distinctions can be fluid. You just have to pick one and go with it until somebody tells you differently.

I’m writing fiction, but I’m unpublished, I don’t have a platform, I don’t have an MFA, I haven’t been published in literary journals or won any contests, so I have no idea what to write in that last paragraph of the query where we’re supposed to put our personal information. What do I write?

Don’t stress about it. Write a nice closing sentence, perhaps mentioning that you’re a first-time author, or that you read the agent’s blog or you’ve enjoyed a book they represented, and that you look forward to hearing from them, and leave it at that. First time novelists DO NOT need a platform or previous publishing credits to get plucked out of the slush pile.

Will the fact that I don’t live in the U.S. hurt my chances of getting a U.S. agent and/or publisher?

Many U.S. literary agents take on clients from other countries; some do not. The paperwork between countries, when it comes to money and taxes especially, can be a headache and some agents prefer not to deal with it because there are plenty of U.S.-based writers they can work with. But I believe most agents look at all submissions with the same criteria: Do I like this book? Can I sell it?

With non-fiction, this can be more problematic because of the platform issue. If you’re not going to be available in the U.S. to promote your book (depending on your book’s topic, of course) a publisher may not want to partner with you.

What is considered to be “good blog traffic”? How many hits per week or month?

I get this question quite often, and I’m not sure how to answer. Different kinds of writers need different size platforms. If you’re getting 2000 hits a month that’s a good start, especially if you’re a fiction author. But for a non-fiction author, be aware that there are many blogs getting 50,000 to over a million visits a month. Is that the expectation for your blog? Not necessarily, but you need to be aware that these are the kinds of numbers we sometimes see. Bottom line, just keep doing the best you can. It’s terrific to show agents and editors that you have a start on gathering an audience.

Also, keep in mind what Seth Godin says in Tribes: You don’t need an unlimited number of fans; in fact, all anyone needs is a solid base of 1,000 people to have a successful “Tribe.” Those 1,000 have to be completely committed. They totally believe in you, talk about you and bring other people to your books and websites. You can’t count a one-time blog visitor as part of the Tribe. But Seth seems to think 1,000 is the magic number.

Hope that helps! Any further thoughts?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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. Rachelle on March 28, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    >Yes, it's true that most agents are unlikely to take on a previously self-published book. But of course if they absolutely loved the book and thought they could sell it, they'd consider it. They try to make smart business decisions since their livelihood depends on it.

    If your book is getting rejections, I imagine you haven't found an agent who loves it enough to overcome the fact that it's been self-pubbed.

    The words "inevitable bestseller" made me choke on my coffee. There is NO SUCH THING as an inevitable bestseller. If there were, the job of being an agent, an editor, and a publisher would be ridiculously easy, wouldn't it? Just sign up the inevitable bestsellers. No problem.

    Please don't get caught up in what people tell you – people who are not in publishing and know nothing about it.

    If you have a self-pubbed book that has been successful and you want to make the leap to traditional publishing, write another book.

  2. J.L. Penn on March 27, 2010 at 9:08 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,
    I just found out something very disparaging that I would love to have elaborated on by an actual agent. It seems that despite strong sales and critical accolades, agents do not wish to take on books that have previously been self-published. Is that really true? I understand that for ebooks, people who have already purchased will have the initial rights with Amazon, for instance, to re-download, but the book can be pulled by the author at any time. So, why then is self-publishing so taboo instead of being a good test-market of material?

    As much as I do not like the notion that this could be true, it does shed some light on why I have received so many agent rejections for a book that has been labelled an inevitable bestseller over and over again. I shudder to think that I have lost all that potential just for taking the bull by the horns and putting it out there on my own, as my only cheerleader in the beginning.

    Is there any silver lining or way around it? If I pulled the book and retitled it, would that make a difference?

    Thanks in advance for your insight!

    -Jenn (J.L. Penn)

    • Alok on May 22, 2012 at 11:34 AM

      I love the addition of pecaehs! I went and bought some frozen diced pecaehs (our dollar tree carries them! whoo hoo!) because now I want to make a peach cobbler. Mmm! This looks great Faye! Glad you girls are feeling better!

  3. Tina Roberts on March 17, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    >Thanks Rachelle, I spent quite a long time on your blog today, looking at various links. Your post was very helpful, and your links are great!

  4. T. Anne on March 15, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    >I really enjoyed the Q&A's. You did fantastic job of keeping up with everything. Thank you!

  5. Anonymous on March 15, 2010 at 8:44 PM

    >Many people dont know many lives they touch by just taking a few minutes each day to update thier blog.

    This blog has been great in helping me be a better writer.

    A heartfelt thanks for all ur efforts.


  6. Carol Bruce Collett on March 15, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    >Thanks for all the great info. Since I'm in the beginning stages of planning a blog, I found the comments about blogs particularly interesting.

  7. Mira on March 15, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    >Great information here, thanks for taking the time!

  8. gael lynch on March 15, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle! The bottom line…just keep plugging along, right? Your responses are specific and so very helpful!

  9. Dana Bryant on March 15, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    >Rachelle, thank you once again for being specific. A tribe of 1,000 as a base does not seem out of reach and unrealistic.

    One step at a time, I will get there. You always keep me hopeful.

  10. Walt M on March 15, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    >Love the "tribe" concept. Will have to think about that one.

  11. Jason on March 15, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    >Timothy, gosh, that's really funny.

  12. Tamika: on March 15, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    >Thanks for taking the time Rachelle!

    God bless.

  13. Timothy Fish on March 15, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    >What amounts to “good blog traffic” is such a hard thing to define. When I was first developing our church website, I paid close attention to some of the websites for other churches in the area. The webmaster for one of these churches had posted their web stats, so I took a look. It was disheartening to see how many more hits they were getting than we were, but when I did a little more analysis, I realized that while they were still getting more hits than we were, the majority of their hits were because they had posted pictures of several events, one of which was of a pool party their ladies group had had. Most of the hits they were getting were for phrases like “pictures of pool party.” I don’t recall there being anything particularly inappropriate in what they had posted, but I figured it was better not to try to compete with a website that was getting its traffic from men who were getting their kicks from looking at women in bathing suits. It isn’t as easy to track, but I became less interested in the number of visitors to our site and more interested in how many people visitors come through our door and say they found us through the website.

  14. Tina Roberts on March 15, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I am now working on my fist few pages to make sure they shine as much as possible. I have read and reread HOOKED by Les Edgerton, The first Five pages by Noah Lukeman, Get Known before the BOOK DEAL by Christina Katz, so I am trying to apply the lessons from those book to my manuscript and platform. I look forward to sending you a query very soon.

  15. Rachel on March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    >Very interesting, as usual. Thanks.

  16. Nicole L Rivera on March 15, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    >Thank you for the advice. I have been stressing about getting my blog followers up but it's good to know that they fact that I am really trying counts 🙂

  17. Mari-Anna Frangén Stålnacke on March 15, 2010 at 6:33 AM

    Thank you so much for being so generous and available for your readers. I've come to think of your way of being a literary agent as ministry. There is no other way I can explain your willingness to answer all of our questions and serve us with such a big heart. Thank you & God bless!

  18. Krista Phillips on March 15, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    >Loved readying all the Q & A's from Friday and today! Thanks for taking the time to do that!!! Very insightful.

  19. Cecelia Dowdy on March 15, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    >I'm writing fiction, but I'm unpublished, I don't have a platform, I don't have an MFA, I haven't been published in literary journals or won any contests, so I have no idea what to write in that last paragraph of the query where we're supposed to put our personal information. What do I write?
    >>>You might want to mention any writers associations in which you are a member. I still mention RWA and ACFW in one of my closing paragraphs when I submit to editors and agents – even though I'm published. (I mention my publishing credits in the first paragraph.)

  20. Melanie Avila on March 15, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    >I really appreciate the YA vs women's fiction question. I'm working on my WF wip, but one beta reader decided my novel is YA because one POV is a teenager, then kept complaining that the voice sounded too mature. I am taking her comments into consideration regarding voice, but it didn't feel right switching JUST because of the protag's age.

  21. Jessica Nelson on March 15, 2010 at 5:45 AM

    >The tribes thing is really interesting. Didn't know that about the one thousand. Thanks!

  22. Sharon A. Lavy on March 15, 2010 at 5:13 AM

    >All the questions answered were helpful. Thanks.

  23. Nishant on March 15, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    >Two of the questions/answers were particularly helpful.
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  24. Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist on March 15, 2010 at 3:48 AM

    >I am struggling with the genre question. It seems like my novel sits between commercial and literary fiction. What is that? If it only had a female protagonist, I could see it being in women's fiction. But there are three main characters and two are men. Does that automatically exclude it from women's fiction?

  25. Dorothy Dreyer on March 15, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    >Thank you for this post, Rachelle. Two of the questions/answers were particularly helpful. I've been waiting for an agent with my full to get back to me, but it's only been a month. So I guess I have a longer wait than I thought ahead of me. Also, I'm American but I live in Germany (hubby is German), and I was interested to read that some agents wouldn't want to deal with the paperwork between countries.
    In any case, very informative post—thanks again!