Whenever I (or other bloggers) write about marketplace realities in publishing, there are always a wide variety of responses, ranging from pragmatic acceptance to mournful disappointment to angry lament. My observation – and I could be wrong – is that the sad and mad responses are from writers whose passion for being published burns hot and bright, and whose publishing dreams have not yet been fulfilled. This is completely understandable, and I feel for you.

Many writers ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover. Many of you are nursing life-long visions of walking into Barnes & Noble and seeing your book on the front table. This business is all about our dreams, isn’t it?

I understand that. I am an absolute book-lover from childhood. I love books and bookstores, I love talking about books, I love spending Saturday afternoons reading books (not that I’ve been able to do that lately). I’ve written several published books, and edited many more. But what I don’t have – what I’ve never had – is a burning desire to see my name on the cover of a book. And I guess that’s why it’s easier for me to see publishing as a business.

Many agents and editors I know are also authors. But for most, the desire to be successfully published isn’t what drives them. For them, it’s more the overall love of the entire book world, and gratitude at being part of it. Being a published author is just one aspect of that.

Publishing professionals – those who run publishing companies, those who edit and acquire books, those who represent authors – are on your side. By recognizing this as a business, they are not somehow evil, they are not somehow taking away from the beauty and purity of your art. They are, in fact, rooting for you, wanting you to show up with a wonderful book that others will enjoy reading. They have to look at the marketplace realities make decisions accordingly. They have to separate themselves from the emotion of it all and make plans and choices they hope will ensure the ongoing health and success of the publishing and bookselling industry.

We want to help your dreams come true. And everything I say here, everything I write on this blog, is with that goal in mind. All of the editors and agents who share their thoughts online are doing it with the same intent: to have dialogue, to keep communication open, to de-mystify publishing, to help educate and enlighten writers, to encourage them. I hope in some small way this blog accomplishes those goals. And I hope we can somehow move beyond that subtle “us-versus-them” mentality (writers vs. publishing professionals) and keep moving ahead with the goal of getting good books published, and getting people to read them. We really are all on the same side.

Of course, I have dreams too. I dream about seeing my clients’ names on the covers of books. And while publishing is a business for me, it’s the best kind of business, because I get to help others realize their dreams. What could be better than that?

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/gXndgCS-CGo

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. Lisa Littlewood on October 27, 2018 at 5:53 AM

    I appreciate your business sense in what can feel like the wild, wild west of publishing. We (as writers) are often more emotional than others, which is what makes us sensitive and in tune to be able to write about the world around us, but can also mean that we don’t always see the more logical business side of things (or want to see it!). Reading this was like an encouraging reality check (: Thank you!

  2. Jo Ann Alo on October 24, 2018 at 6:24 PM

    Love this post. Very helpful. It’s good to be reminded that we’re all in this together. Thanks for writing that so well, Rachelle.

  3. Misty on October 24, 2018 at 4:23 PM

    I love this! Thank you for sharing your heart while trying to bring together a community.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on October 24, 2018 at 4:14 PM

    I’ve had the experience of having my name on the cover of a boo, I’ve done signings, and I’ve seen it on the front table at Barnes and Noble.

    That was cool. I treasure those memories.

    But writing is about communication, and not achievement. I don’t know how many copies of ‘Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart’ have been sold; the publisher went out of business, and their records and royalties!) didn’t reflect anything rational. (It’s available again, on Kindle; I got the rights back.)

    But I do know that my blog, on dealing with terminal cancer, has had over a quarter of a million hits, and through the comments, I know I’ve made a difference in the lives of those who read it.

    That’s the measure, to me, of a writing career.

  5. Paul McDermott on October 24, 2018 at 3:42 PM

    Hi Rachelle!
    Since I (recently) stumbled across your blog I’ve enjoyed reading it (and agreed with MOST of what I’ve been privileged to read) 🙂
    I can ‘connect’ with yur idea of Dreams – I have the tag line “Wordsmith and Dreamer” on my Business/Calling card!
    Here in the UK there has been a definite move towards smaller publishera (who will often ‘double’ as Agents for a small number of writrers with whom they establish a CLOSE and mutually respected relationship, almost like dealing with a close family member.
    This IMHO shows the truth in the old saying “Small is Beautiful” rather than a Writer committing him/herself to a Biiiiiiiiiiig “famous name” Agent/Publisher.
    Thanks for your encouraging words!

  6. Jeff on October 24, 2018 at 11:57 AM

    If publishers and agents are “clients” to the author then why do they take practically everything the author makes on a book for the rest of his life and beyond? When I hire someone to do something for me, I pay them, and they are done. I don’t give my gardener 15% of my house for the rest of his life.

    You’re lucky if you get a $2,500 advance these days and 12% on the sales. After the publisher has taken their cut, used your cut to pay back “the cost” and then given the agent their cut. All of whom may, or may not be stealing from you for years without you knowing. (Google Fight Club Author).

    And that’s IF the almighty arbiters of taste and decorum decide you’re “good enough” to publish. Because Snookie is a genius literary talent and ’50 Shades’ should replace Shakespear in our schools.

    The truth is, it is a business. The publishers and the agents have turned it into a ruthless business where the person with the drive, determination, and skill, who has worked their ass off their entire life, are paid the ABSOLUTE LEAST amount of money. And ONLY if they turn over all their rights to their work for the rest of their life +70 years.

    Yeah, you really sound like you’re on our side.

    The truth is, they are dying. No one needs them anymore. Consumers vote with their dollars and The Standard(TM) they always claim they are protecting doesn’t exist. Readers want good stories. They read them by the thousands. Sure there’s competition, but that’s true in every business. Worried you won’t stand out? Worried you don’t know how to market? Don’t worry, neither do the publishers. The only books they market are the ones they know will be hits. Unless your name ends in King, Patterson, or some famous person/politician, you won’t get marketing dollars.

    The rest of you will be pushed out at a discount, where your “deep discount’ clause will kick in, and you won’t get a cent off that sale in Costco. Then after they have your idea, they will refuse to publish your second book because “it didn’t meet expectations.” Which it never was going to because they didn’t spend any money marketing it, they gave it a crappy cover and put it in the wrong genre.

    And once you’ve learned this lesson, you will go out and try to self-publish, only to get hit with a cease and desist, because the supposed ‘liberal’ New York state allows the Big 5 to put “non-compete clauses” in their contracts. Which will usually be used to forbid you from ever writing in your genre again, since the contract lasts for the life of the author +70 years.

    If you think any of this is hyperbole or made up, it isn’t. Everything above has happened to hundreds, if not thousands of authors who’ve gone the trad pub route. The publishers lie, cheat, and steal from the very people who keep them in business, and if you complain, they kick you out and never let you in again.

    If your goal is to be in B&N (you know, before it goes out of business) then, by all means, be a slave. Which is exactly what you are if you sign a publishing contract. If your goal is to be a working author who brings joy to people’s lives with your imagination and sweat if your goal is to be an independent business person who makes more than enough money to provide for themselves and their family doing the thing they love? Then go indy.

    The only way to fail is to quit. Persistence is success. Isn’t that what the publishers say every time they reject a perfectly good book? Try again? Except when you try again you build your own audience, your own bank account, your own experience. No one can take it away from you.

    I’d rather be the master of my own raft than a rower on a slave ship.

    • Jeremy Kester on October 24, 2018 at 1:23 PM

      To see this as the first comment is gold.

      I do not for one second doubt that what Rachelle is saying here is false in any way. I believe that all agents/publishers/[enter traditional-publishing required entity here] want all the writers to cross their path to do well. They want those dreams to come true for all the writers. I have no doubts about that.

      Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that it is indeed a business. And like all businesses, it has good sides and bad sides. It has portions that have been corrupted and components that are nothing more than carry-over from bygone eras.

      In many ways, were it not for places like Amazon, Smashwords, D2D, and the like, where independent publishing became more accessible, stepping away from the vanity-publishing days of yore, the “business” practices of these publishing houses may never have been exposed. (I see echos of similar situations in music, TV, movies, etc).

      Then, we do read things about like what happened to Chuck Palahniuk and MANY other authors like him and wonder just how corrupt is this industry?

      Again, I have no doubts that Rachelle is genuine. There are many people in every industry that want the best for everyone involved. Unfortunately, the reality is that it is a business and like all businesses, they want to protect the bottom line, their balance sheets. Writers have found themselves on the wrong side of that equation. And yes, maybe by our own naive understandings, letting our own egos drive the decisions to publish and not question these things in the past.

      I agree. I’d rather publish on my own, taking full ownership of my little sinking, shoddy raft, than be a rower on a slave ship, or even a deckhand of a yacht.

  7. Dreams - Agents - - The Passive Voice on October 24, 2018 at 1:15 AM

    […] Link to the rest at Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent […]

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  9. Christine on May 7, 2008 at 1:38 AM

    >Thanks for that Timothy. A publisher is not a boss but rather a client of the author.
    A good way to put it, I will add this to my notes.
    regards Christine

  10. Rachelle on May 6, 2008 at 8:24 PM

    >Christine Jones, please email me. rachelle AT wordserveliterary DOT com.

  11. Timothy Fish on May 6, 2008 at 6:27 AM

    >If I might comment on what Christine said, from the publisher’s point of view, the writer provides a service while it is the publisher that produces a product. One of the big problems with the publishing industry is that there is a lot of work being done without compensation. A publisher is not a “boss” but rather a client of the author.

  12. Christine Jones on May 6, 2008 at 1:31 AM

    >Hi Rachel, firstly, I wish to say that agents do work hard for writers. You mentioned, ‘Publishing professionals recognize this as a business’. Many writers I have spoken with have not seen themselves as self-employed and running a business with product. Having done a business course, it was put to me that if self-employed businesses were all run in the manner to which writers do, most would go broke. Bombarded with questions, regarding writing and publishing led to research and myself asking further questions.

    The writer creates a product. Without marketing, the masses don’t hear about it. Even as a published author, one cannot expect to sit back and leave it solely to a publisher to market the product. People purchase products. If a product is no good, people soon get to know about it and avoid the product. Writers present their product to an agent, this one person rejects it and on they go to the next, until accepted or give up. This method does not prove the product is no good. The writer may have a best seller on their hands, yet can go through countless agents who reject them. Take J K Rowlings and other best sellers, how easy it would have been for them to have given up and the world miss out on great books. How many best sellers have slipped through reputable agents hands? I am curious to know how an agent deals with such a loss when a best seller was in their hands and they rejected it.

    It can take months to get a response from an agent if any. I have read where agents also don’t like a writer simultaneously submitting manuscripts to a multitude of agents. Considering there are numerous agents, to send out 3 to 4 queries per year could take you a lifetime to be accepted, even with a great product. Some agents respond very quickly, having not the time to look at a writer’s product considering their workload. Is this considered a rejection?

    I hear writers say you have to pay your dues and self publishers are not real authors. Did a multitude of rejections make J K Rowlings a better author? Just because a writer is traditionally published does not mean their book will appear on a store shelf. There are thousands of titles added to just Amazon each month. My research into this had storeowners telling me they cannot possibly place a copy of every title on their shelves, preference given to well known authors.

    Some writers have said they would rather self publish and make a little money than nothing at all. My research showed that not one reader cared whether a book was self published or traditionally published. If it’s a good book, they spread the word. They also thought it ridiculous that agents would not consider taking on self-published authors and that those who would not review such author, discriminating.

    There are also costs involved that don’t need to be incurred in this day and age. Many agents still want manuscripts and even query letters posted instead of submitting through electronic methods, which is better environmentally and quicker.

    I personally find it strange that writers are out looking for agents than the other way round. In a business, you produce your product and market it to the masses, who pay you for the product. A writer produces a product and has to search the world for that one person to accept it, who has to find another to get it out to the masses. Writers appear as employees rather than the boss of their business. A writer is self-employed, so why is it that agents and publishers do not have to go through the rigmarole of applying to authors to fill these positions like other staff in a business?

    Would it not be better for writers to self publish and if accepted by readers, be approached by agents and publishers with their credentials to see the book out to a wider audience? After all, it is readers who make or break a book.

    I would love to hear your stance on this.
    Best regards Christine

    • Jody Hadlock on October 24, 2018 at 2:17 PM

      Agents absolutely do NOT mind writers submitting to multiple agents at the same time. I just got back from a conference where the agents on various panels made that point.

      • Jeff on October 25, 2018 at 9:15 PM

        Go to the websites of agents and look at how many say don’t do that. It’s a lot. Not all of them, but enough that you will run into it. I don’t suggest you do business with agents who do that since it can take 6-12 months for you to hear back from them. But yes, some agents ABSOLUTELY do that. I’m glad you have met some that don’t, but don’t mistake your experience for everyone’s experience.

  13. cballan on May 6, 2008 at 12:23 AM

    >Henry David Thoreau
    “I have learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

  14. everythingbelongs on May 5, 2008 at 9:57 PM


    I realize your blog is geared towards the fiction writer. As a non-fiction oriented writer and a pastor, it seems to me that I have a series of thoughts or messages rumbling around in my head that will burn me up until I write about them. Also, I have a story to tell that is unique to my context or my community. All that to say, its really really not about me. It’s about what is happening around me and I’m just paying attention and writing it down. The fact or chance that my name might get put on the cover at some point is secondary. Maybe that should be true for the fiction writer too.


  15. Kim Kasch on May 5, 2008 at 9:32 PM

    >I love reading your blog – it’s always positive and uplifting. Who wouldn’t want to hang-out (even in cyberspace) with someone who wants to help other people reach their goals and achieve their dreams?

  16. josette on May 5, 2008 at 9:02 PM

    >I just wish there was a way to tell when your work isn’t ready or good enough to be published. I know its not an agent’s job, but I think the most depressing part of this is not knowing should you be submitting. I have had an agent read my whole novel and say that he wasn’t going to accept it, but that he really wished I would find a home for my work. Well, is that a form rejection or encouragement? Anyway that’s my pity party rant.

  17. Timothy Fish on May 5, 2008 at 8:43 PM

    >Isn’t the writer’s dream really for people to read his work? Seeing one’s name on the front of a book in Barnes and Noble may be part of that, but don’t we really just want people to hear what we have to say?

  18. Yvonne on May 5, 2008 at 7:04 PM

    >Words have always been facinating to me. I knew these words could be arranged to make the reader feel happy, sad, frightened, etc.

    It wasn’t until I was a teenager, that I realized that I could write words to convey my emotions. I also saw the healing effect of untangling the problems of your life by putting them into a poem or story.

    It was nice to occasionally see something I wrote printed in a yearbook or the local newspaper, but I never dreamed I could write a whole book…until a couple years ago.

    The collection of character sketches and funny incidents that I had accumulated over the years came together in a whole story, a novel! I then decided that I wasn’t going to be one those people who ‘think’ about writing a book. I was going to pursue this dream as far as it would go.

    As I pass each milestone, the dream gets brighter and brighter, and hopefully, someday I will be able to share my story with other kids who are facinated with the power of words.

  19. Debbie on May 5, 2008 at 6:21 PM

    Those folks at Writer’s Digest knew what they were doing when they chose this blog as one of the best. You never let your readers down and you never fill your blog with fluff and guff. Thanks for your dedication. Hope you have a great week.


  20. Robbie Iobst on May 5, 2008 at 4:09 PM

    >Rachelle, Your blog is proof of your dedication to the writer who dreams. I love reading your posts and gleaning what I can handle. For me writing is a lifetime love so why not get better and better and hope for the best and deal with the not so best. Rejections happen. I am glad I read this entry a week before CCWC. When I go to the conference I can once again remind myself that the editors and agents are for me!

  21. Joseph L. Selby on May 5, 2008 at 4:07 PM

    >While your post is absolutely correct, there are those of us out there that never get tired of seeing our names in print. Kevin Smith said it best, I’m a credit whore. I never get tired of seeing my name. Now, if I don’t make the cut, it’s not a vast conspiracy, but I haven’t gotten tired of seeing my name yet, and I don’t think I ever will. 🙂

  22. david fry on May 5, 2008 at 1:51 PM

    >It is the transparency of those who love the industry such as Rachelle, and Michael Hyatt, that give credence to the following: “They are, in fact, rooting for you, wanting you to show up with a wonderful book that others will enjoy reading.”

    That is exciting, encouraging, and altogether real. I can get behind that kind of attitude and I feel blessed for having heard it.

    Gratitude, expectations, and perspective have been mentioned and each feeds into the process. At the end of the day, we are responsible for ourselves and how we choose to respond, all the while trusting in the ‘Audience of ONE’ to guide us for his glory.

    I am grateful to Rachelle and Michael for sacrificing time and energy to share it as it is.

    As a friend of mine likes to prod me … “Continue with vigor!”

  23. G.G.Elliott on May 5, 2008 at 11:49 AM

    >The writers who will be successful are those who are more concerned with the quality of what goes onto the pages inside the book than fulfilling their “dream” of seeing their name on the outside.

  24. heather on May 5, 2008 at 11:46 AM

    >You said, “it’s more the overall love of the entire book world, and gratitude at being part of it.” I couldn’t put it any more perfectly. I fell in love with books and characters the day my parents read me my first book. I’ve been writing since I can remember, and now, to say that I’m a writer–that in itself is a dream come true. To spend my days with my characters and stories awakens this sense of awe and wonder at God’s grace.
    Recently, someone asked me about my goals for my writing this year. I couldn’t answer because I was thinking in wrong categories: queries? agents? contests? word counts?
    When I got home, the question resonated: what is my goal? I substituted “dream” for “goal” and everything fell into place. My dream is to discover what makes a book great–what makes books such as Water for Elephants and Nobody’s Fool and Digging to America rise above the rest? What makes the characters become a part of me? What makes the prose melodic? What makes the anticipation so palpable you have to remind yourself to relax your shoulders at the end of a pericope?
    My dream is to discover that and apply that to my art.

  25. Pam Halter on May 5, 2008 at 10:58 AM

    >Unfortunately, the idea that editors have this mysterious power over writer’s lives is sometimes emphasized by the editor themselves. I have a friend who got a rejection after 14 months and after the editor saying she intended to offer her a contract.

    The reason for the rejection? The editor “heard” my friend had a bad marriage and “thought” she would be difficult to work with.


    Anyway, I believe those of us who love books and great stories will continue to write and better ourselves through conferences, workshops and crit. groups. We write because we can’t stop writing. We write because the story must be told.

    Thanks for giving us the chance to get better through your blog, Rachelle. I join everyone else in appreciating your time and knowledge.

  26. Catherine West on May 5, 2008 at 9:39 AM

    >Great post as usual. However I have to say, having been that writer wannabe with stars in her eyes not so many years ago, I’m not sure those who are starting out in this business will fully realize how difficult it is until they’ve been at it a few years and received more than a few rejections. Dreams are wonderful, but not always immediately achievable.

    It all comes down to putting things in perspective, doesn’t it? When ‘the dream’ took first place in my life, everything else suffered. I pursued it with too much fervor and too little prayer and every rejection hurt like a fourth degree burn. Thank God for His wisdom in taking writing away from me for a few years. When I came back to it, I knew it was His desire for me, and the ultimate goal of being published became less important – my only goal is to remain in HIs will and if that leads to publication, great. He has blessed me for that obedience.
    I think the misconception that editors and agents are these mysterious demi-gods who hold the keys to the future in their hands doesn’t really go away until you meet a few in person. You are right, everyone in the publishing business wants to see the dream of a new book come to fruition. Yet it’s not always an easy process – well from what I’ve heard and experienced firsthand, it’s hardly ever easy.
    Blogs like yours are going to go a long way in helping those new writers no doubt, but only time and experience and more than a few knocks on the head will bring the reality check they don’t know they need. I’m just sharing my own experience and not everyone may be as stupid as I was, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how I got to this point in my writing journey but it would have been nice to have had a little more direction.
    Sorry for the long post but I have a heart for new writers who go to bed dreaming about seeing that book cover with their name on it. It’s not wrong. Honestly, I still have that dream too. Dreams keep us going when we want to give up. It is great to have that dream, but without help from agents, editors and writers who have many years experience behind them, it’s going to be very difficult to see it become reality. I thank you again for this blog – it may just save a few newbie writers some of the angst that I and others like me went through because we just didn’t know any better.
    Thanks for living your dream, Rachelle, and helping others live theirs!

  27. Lea Ann on May 5, 2008 at 9:30 AM

    >I may be harsh-sounding here, but the limited amount of exposure I’ve had to this whole book-publishing world is that many of the writers doing the majority of the grumbling haven’t written anything publishable yet!

    I once worked with a writer(I use the term loosly) who moaned and bellyached about how she was a “slave to her craft” and people just “didn’t understand writers,” etc. But I had to edit her garbage! She couldn’t put a decent sentence together!

    I think to many people, being a “writer” is only that–a dream. They love the sound of it, the idea of hwat they think it means. But they are not willing to get down in the mud and learn the art of writing so others want to read it. No college, no workshops, no training. Just the sheer thrill of complaining that it is somehow everyone else’s fault that their brilliant genius is so misunderstood. I don’t consider them writers.

    What a soapbox! 🙂 Hope that isn’t a sign my kids are in for it today! LOL

  28. Anonymous on May 5, 2008 at 8:13 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle!

    I often meet writers who think the publishing industry is somehow out to get them, that editors and agents are a vaguely defined enemy. And I know many, many writers who refuse criticism and angrily bristle at the idea of rewriting their books at the behest of an editor.

    I can only say this: my experience has taught me that agents, editors and publishers want and NEED writers to succeed. If someone shows up with a promising manuscript, a killer work ethic and an open mind, the industry will find reasons to cut that writer slack. Finding a talented unknown writer with a good book is like striking oil in this business.

    I think writing is a deeply personal, solitary journey. It’s a long walk you must take in the dark with nothing but faith to sustain you. I understand the invisible pressure that builds up. No one on the outside can see how treacherous this path can be, how very difficult it is. So when it comes time to release the work, it’s like a dam of emotion bursting, one that can sweep away even the work itself.

    I think it helps to view the writing as just one step. After the writing is done, the road turns, we pivot from the moist darkness of our imaginations to the reality of daylight and scrutiny. That’s when, like parents, we must responsibly raise up our manuscripts from little piles of words to mature books. And just like parenting, it takes a thick skin.


  29. Anne L.B. on May 5, 2008 at 7:38 AM

    >Rachelle, your blog has literally changed my life because it has provided a concrete education on the publishing industry I want to be a part of, opened my eyes to the realities of that world, and helped me see that if I believe God’s given me a message to share in a book, it will be impossible to do on my own and has to be His work.

    Thank you.

    P.S. I know my name has to go on the cover, but it really is about Him.