Don’t Let Me Steal Your Dream

[I’m taking a blogging break, so this is an encore presentation of a previous post.]

The other day I was talking with @BrianKGardner about the conversations I have with writers and all the emails I send, trying to be encouraging while letting them know their project is not right for our agency, or their writing isn’t quite ready yet. I was explaining that I don’t enjoy being the bearer of so much bad news, and I said,

“I’m not in the business of killing people’s dreams.”

And he said,

“Yes, you are.”

Aarrgghh. That’s not what agents are about. That’s not what I’m about. I’m all about the exact opposite—helping people’s dreams come true. Trying to bring quality books to the world, be a small part in the big process of sharing ideas through the written word. Helping authors get their books to the right publishers, and helping them make good decisions about their careers and their ministries.

But unfortunately, many people’s only contact with me is when they send me their project and I send them back a rejection. To them, I’m just one more threat to their dream. It’s tough out there.

Listen—don’t let me, or any other agent, editor or publisher, kill your dream. Only YOU can decide when or if it’s ever time to set aside a particular dream and follow a new one.

Be strong, be brave. You can do this.

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. steeleweed on January 2, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    >Rejection may kill a fantasy.
    It does not kill a dream.

    Unfortunately, many people don't know the difference – fantasies make you feel good but dreams make you work.

  2. patriciazell on December 31, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >With all the technology around us, writers don't have any excuse not to write. Thus, the real problem with dreams is what are the motives behind them. For me, my motive was to write a bestseller. After attending the Write-to-Publish conference last June, I realized that dream may never come true, so I changed dreams. With some help from Michael Hyatt's blog postings, I was able to launch my own blog in July and now I am writing my book online. What happens in the future is up to God, but now I am happy with my progress. I am writing my book and enjoying it immensely.

  3. Linda Banche on December 31, 2009 at 10:57 AM

    >There are dreams, and then there are dreams. Having a dream of being an Olympic champion is probably unrealistic, but we all can get in shape. I can't tell you how many people come to one aerobics class, then quit because it's hard. I wonder if such a person will succeed at other things, because everything takes work, and a lot of it.

  4. Shmologna on December 31, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >Dream killer! Hope slasher!

    No no. Just kidding. After reading your blog for a while I believe you are sincerely doing your best for writers…all writers…not just the ones you represent. After all, why else would you share so many secrets of the trade if you didn't truly care?

  5. Rachelle on December 31, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    >Good thinking, Steve, but there are already more people who want to be agents than the industry can support. We probably need fewer agents, not more.

    It's not a matter of the number of agents, because if there were more of us, there'd still be the same number of publishers buying the same number of books.

    The important question is, how many books are consumers buying? They're buying fewer, while we're publishing more and more. The number of books purchased by consumers is ultimately what determines how many writers we can say "yes" to.

  6. Steve on December 31, 2009 at 2:44 AM


    I think there's a couple of different things going on here. There are writers whose work actually isn't that good. Maybe they have promise, but they're not there yet.

    But then there are writers whose work is acknowledged by the agent to be good, but that agent can't represent it for whatever reason.

    My question. If it were possible to wave a magic wand and double or triple the number of working agents, would that alleviate the problem of tht second category? Kind of like adding more lanes to a crowded freeway?

    If so, maybe there are practical things that could be done to increase the pool of agents.

    Just a thought,

  7. Stephanie Shott on December 30, 2009 at 10:56 PM

    >The nature of the publishing business places an unfortunate chasm between the author and the agent. We can email a query, mail a manuscript and anxiously await a reply from someone we've never met.

    It's hard to imagine the person behind the desk that evaluates our work. Who are they? Do they think my book is publishing-worthy? Do they think it can minister to others? Are they ultra critical? Do they see potential in my work? Questions that often drive a heart in limbo crazy.

    I appreciate your blog as an opportunity to hear your heart and to see things from the perspective of an agent.

    Thanks for being such a blessing to others.

  8. Anonymous on December 30, 2009 at 9:42 PM

    >Funny thing, Dreams. Some from the Spirit and some form the Flesh.

    Rachelle wrote: "But self-publishing is different. This is a business whose bottom line is to make money from WRITERS. And that opens up a whole can of worms, because it's no longer about $20 . . . Instead it's about a writer's lifetime of hopes and dreams. It's about expectations that are often unrealistic. And it's about laying down a chunk of money . . . from hundreds to thousands of dollars, with little chance of recouping it."
    In a former secular perspective, I felt Dreams had to take a back seat to responsibilities and priorities. For the past 20 years or so, I've felt that my Dreams had to be taken to the Altar. If Abraham could raise the knife on his son, surely I can raise the knife on a 100,000 thousand words.
    Sometimes there's a ram in the thicket. Sometimes the knife goes through. But the thing is – it's a very private moment between me and the Lord.

  9. Shelby on December 30, 2009 at 9:20 PM

    >You are a true coach.. you want only the best and that's the best kind.

  10. Tamika: on December 30, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    >Ditto T. Anne! I thank God for the open doors as well as the closed ones. "For I know the plans I have for you, to bring you a good hope and future." I trust my Heavenly Father above all else, to complete the plans He has begun in me.

    I won't be quitting unless He says so.

  11. Sarah on December 30, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    >Within the last several months I have entered (been trying to enter) the world of writing and publishing. Thankfully I came across your blog and have appreciated each and every post. I love your transparency and willingness to be honest about reality yet encouragement despite the hardships of this business. I am prepared for the difficult steps ahead of me, but believe in this dream of mine. Thanks for your words, Rachelle.

  12. TheresaAnne on December 30, 2009 at 2:12 PM

    >I don't consider an agent who turns down my work any more of a dream-killer than the guys I dated and didn't marry. We weren't a real match, but is he or I a dream-killer because we didn't force it? No. Mature adults go on to find someone who is. An agent has to match an author in much the same regard. I don't want an editor to take on my project if that compatibility in project and scope is not there any more than I would want to stay with a guy that told me I was beautiful when he really didn't believe it.

  13. T. Anne on December 30, 2009 at 12:34 PM

    >I believe the Lord's in charge of my path in life so I take open doors and closed doors as guidance from him. I stand by the adage 'I'm not good enough to ruin His plans for me'. Neither is anyone else. No offense taken to rejections.

  14. Marty Coleman on December 30, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    >Unrealistic dreams become nightmares. An agent can help a person know whether a dream is unrealistic.

    Dreams that aren't refined are jagged-edged, rusty blades. An agent can help sharpen that blade.

    Realistic dreams that are sent out into the world are like buckshot. An agent can tell the shooter they didn't hit their target with that one pellet. If they only shot one pellet, then they have 100% failure.
    If they shot the whole round of ammunition and they aimed properly they might hit the target. If not, they should be smart enough to have more ammunition and should try again.

  15. Indigo on December 30, 2009 at 11:54 AM

    >I'm in the process of waiting to hear back from an agent, that has my book right now. My partner asked me an interesting question. He said what happens if you get rejected?

    My response was, I keep writing until I get it right.

    I think when you take that plunge to be a writer, you can't imagine doing anything else. It's in your blood. It's words that riccochet off your brain, leaving you constantly distracted, always looking for a scrap of paper. It's the air you breath…it's who you are. (Hugs)Indigo

  16. Erin McGuire on December 30, 2009 at 11:44 AM

    >I'm an illustrator, not a writer, but a similar thing happens at art school with rejection.

    One teacher had a nice philosophy about the subject. He said that if someone could tell you to stop doing art entirely, and you listened, you were never dedicated enough in the first place. If you really wanted to do this, it shouldn't matter how much disappointment you had to endure to get there.

    Just wanted to share 🙂

  17. lynnrush on December 30, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    >You do not kill dreams, Rachelle.

    Now, if you reject my work and I choose to quit writing, that's on me. NOT YOU.

    Some may blame you, or other agents, but it's all about them and what they choose to do.

    So, as you tell us to be strong, be brave. You can do this. Right back atchya.

  18. destrella on December 30, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    >You have a job to do, so sometimes the answer has to be no. If that dream is truly in someone, no amount of "no's" will kill it. :O)

  19. Marla Taviano on December 30, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    >I'm absolutely not letting go of this dream. Looking forward to giving it another go in January!

  20. Kayeleen on December 30, 2009 at 10:26 AM

    >This is very timely for me. Just yesterday, I got a negative response to my manuscript and the first thought was "why am I even writing?" After a night's sleep and a little perspective, I can step back and not internalize it. I have a ways to go, but it's my dream and it's worth it.

  21. Dominique on December 30, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    >Agents can only crush your dreams if you let them. The rejections aren't personal, and they aren't the end all and be all of the universe. Take them for what they're worth, then move on.

  22. David Fields on December 30, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    >First off, I think the comments about the economy were off-topic here; unnecessary.

    However, while I agree with you that your purpose is to help writers to produce the best they can, the style of rejection (and I'm not talking about you in particular, since I haven't submitted anything to you) can be very depressing. Most rejection letters simply come across as, 'Go away, kid, you bother me.'

    I realize that you can't give every applicant a personalized letter on how they can improve; that's a serious drain on your time as you're effectively offering first-edit advice on something you may never handle in the first place. Unfortunately, the recipient of a rejection, no matter how carefully worded, still seems to come across badly. In my own case, I received a rejection letter on one occasion that commented on the visual style of writing and suggested I submit it to a graphic novel publisher. It took me 20 years to realize that the editor wasn't insulting me. Regretfully, I no longer have that original manuscript. A clean rewrite today might succeed where it failed then.

    The point is that the perception of 'dream busting' is what Mr. Gardner was emphasizing. Agents have to look at thousands of submissions to find maybe one that can sell without much work. The ones that need reworking have to be rejected. How that's done is up to the individual, but the more time spent explaining why it's rejected means less time available to work with the ones that are accepted.

  23. A. Grey on December 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >I want you to know that you making the fact that you don't WANT to crush dreams, a very big point to me (an author sending out to agents now, and getting rejections, along with some requests) really helps. It REALLY does. Thank you. 🙂

  24. Mira on December 30, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    >Wow, Rachelle.

    This is a wonderful post, and a wonderful follow-up to yesterday's post.

    Thank you!

  25. Joanne Sher on December 30, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    >I had to laugh at the beginning – but it is true. We are the only ones who kill our own dreams. I promise IF I query you, and IF you pass on my MS, I will not blame you 😉

  26. Bonita on December 30, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    >Thank you!

  27. Jessica on December 30, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    >I'm not sure it's wise for anyone to blame someone else for killing their dreams. Lots of people can make us feel like our dreams are worthless or silly, but only we can kill them (or allow them to die). I remember this post. It's a great one!

  28. Sharon A. Lavy on December 30, 2009 at 6:18 AM

    >Rachelle you are not the killer of dreams. You are a refiner. And it is up to the dreamer to keep going, or not.

    Thank you for your thoughts today.

  29. Andrew on December 30, 2009 at 5:23 AM

    >Your dreams are in your own hands.

    Your perception of reality is in your own head.

    If your dream is to share your writing, you can publish on Kindle for free.

    If your dream is hitting the big time with a novel, go to law school instead. You'll make more money quicker.

  30. Ellen B on December 30, 2009 at 5:12 AM

    >Anonymous – when you're dead.

    The economy can't stay like this forever. Keep trying. Yes, reality does get in the way, but all you can do is make sure you're still there, still writing and still trying when reality gives you a break.

    I really hope it works out for you.

  31. Anonymous on December 30, 2009 at 2:10 AM

    >The reality is that the economy has affected everything. Earlier this year, I almost signed with an agent and had to pull my full ms. from quite a few more. Now agents won't bother to even e-ject the exact same ms. and query. No matter how hard you pursue your dream, reality often gets in the way. At what point do you give up and face reality?