It Doesn’t Have to be Hot to SELL


Yesterday I said that even if your project isn’t one of those “hot” ones that everyone’s jumping all over immediately, that doesn’t mean it won’t sell. There are plenty of projects that are very strong and would make good books; but because they aren’t perceived as a “sure thing” they simply take longer to find an agent, and often longer to find a publishing home.

I sometimes have a project on my desk that I really like. But as I sit there assessing its likelihood of selling (both to a publisher and to consumers) I shake my head and think, “oh man, I just don’t know.” So I set it aside, wanting to think about it some more. Time passes… I continue staying in touch with editors as always, and I’m always learning more about the market and who’s looking for what. The next time I pick up that project, I might have learned that there are a couple of publishers looking for something similar. Or I may have learned the opposite – that the chances for that project are even slimmer than I thought. Still, I like it and I’m hesitant to say no. I hang on to it, to keep it under consideration.

Now, many agents probably don’t do this, but I know for a fact that most editors do. They have stacks of things that aren’t “hot” but they’re good, so they don’t get an immediate “no.” Those projects end up sitting there a long time.

This becomes obvious to me when I receive emails editors asking about projects I submitted six months to a year previously. Clearly those projects have been languishing in stacks along with other “maybe” proposals. The editor may have some slots to fill and so they’re looking through their stacks to see if they have anything good enough to take to the editorial meeting.

I go through cycles. Sometimes I simply don’t have time for any new clients. Then I’ll go through a phase when I need to refresh my client list, so I start going through the manuscripts I already have.

When I was an acquisitions editor, there were a couple of instances in which I contracted a book a year after it was initially submitted to me by an agent. The timing was finally right.

So, don’t despair if your book is good but not hot. Everything happens in its own time.

What are some of your favorite books that were never “hot” but are still great books?

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. Kira Budge on March 16, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    I’m in the midst of editing a book to begin querying (this is the fourth book I’ve tried this with), and this was something I was on the verge of having a panic attack about. Thank you.

  2. Laptops in pakistan on January 21, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    great post like on facebook fan page Thanks 4 share

  3. Nikole Hahn on January 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    I don’t know how to measure “what’s not hot” except that I have read a lot of good books–some self-published and some traditional. Some might not be a J.K. Rowling, but their writing is good and their stories better. I have a bunch of keeper novels on my shelf, like C.S. Lakin.

  4. Connie on January 20, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Thanks so much!! Those are the exact words of encouragement that I needed to hear today.

  5. Tonya Kuper on January 19, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle! As a YA writer, I needed to hear those words today.

  6. globalgirl on January 19, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    I am attempting to be a YA author and so I read a ton of YA books. I like the paranormal books and they are really hot right now. I find realistic teen novels to be most interesting, like novels written by Sarah Dessen. I just finished “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things” by Carolyn Mackler. It wasn’t a “hot” novel, but it was still interesting and I got to see life from the perspective an overweight teen living in NYC. I like being able to live life vicariously through these realistic teen characters. Book reading teens probably like to identify with teen characters and situations that help them deal with their lives and problems. So I think it’s important for not only teen readers, but all readers to have exposure to a variety of stories and authors, not just the “hot” ones, but also the warm ones as a means of learning about life and oneself.

  7. Reba on January 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    I look at it this way. God is in control and it will happen when He says it will happen….and yes it is hard to wait.
    I have enjoyed many books that were not the ‘hot’ book. For me it was ‘hot’ because I enjoyed it so much I read it a second and third time.

  8. Karen Hooper on January 19, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    A Certain Slant of Light didn’t seem to make the big Hot list, but I adored that story.

    Just wanted to say congratulations on Addison Moore’s big news. That was SO exciting! Love her to pieces and I hope her Celestra series makes it onto my TV. 🙂

  9. Jessica Nelson on January 18, 2012 at 5:46 PM

    I’m so glad you shared this post! Thanks. Most books I read are not HOT but they’re enjoyable, and really, that’s why I read. So the not hot books still fill a void.

  10. Sarah Thomas on January 18, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    This is the most encouraging thing I’ve read in a long time. “Not yet” beats the heck out of “never.”

    I think most of what I read isn’t “hot.” Last year I fell in love with everything Laura Frantz has written. The great thing about discovering an author after they’ve published several books is that you don’t have to wait for the next one to come out!

  11. Sandy Stevener on January 18, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Thanks Rachelle, it’s always good to hear about “the other side” of publishing. It seems so mysterious from this side but things we don’t know always seem mysterious until we learn them.

  12. Kaitlyne on January 18, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    So you’ve made a really great point, which poses another question. Let’s say you’re an author with a full manuscript that has lingered with an agent (or editor) for several months without a word.

    We’re always encouraged to send a nudge as a reminder, I guess with the assumption that the agent/editor was too busy to get to it or had forgotten about it, but do you think it’s more likely that it’s still being considered?

    If so, could it actually harm an author to ask for an answer now as opposed to just waiting to see what happens?

    Also, I’ve got to say this encouraged me a lot. I’ve been in this position before, taking longer to hear back than expected, and had always assumed it was an automatic negative. In other words, that the book languished because it wasn’t interesting enough to entice anyone.

    You hear so many stories about sales being made quickly, and I’ve even seen agents say that if a book didn’t sell in two months it’s likely not going to, which is just very discouraging even when you’ve had nothing but good feedback in return.

    You give me hope that there might still be a chance out there. 🙂

  13. Kristin Laughtin on January 18, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Then, of course, some books that nobody thought would be hot gain a lot of momentum and end up tremendous successes. The trick is to be prepared for anything, and perhaps not to let initial judgments color your perception of what’s possible for your book.

  14. melanie on January 18, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I quite enjoyed the Sophie Katz mysteries by Kyra Davis. Can’t even always find them in the store.

  15. joan Cimyotte on January 18, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Besides my guilty pleasure of Jack Reacher, I don’t usually ready buzz books.

  16. Ruth Douthitt on January 18, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I think “The English Patient” sort of sat there until it won some awards and then became an Academy Award winning movie, but I could be mistaken.

  17. Diana Dart on January 18, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    Is it strange that certain authors and genres are always “hot” for me, regardless of how the general market views them?

    Take Jack Whyte, for instance. I rapidly devoured each of his books soon after they were released, and they now sit on my bookshelf waiting for a second (or third) read. He’s not a “hot” writer, but his stories speak to me and focus on ideals, time periods and characters that never fail to intrigue me. The same could be said for Sharon Kay Penman (historical fiction for mom) and Charlie Higson (action-packed YA for my boys).

    I’ve yet to read the Twilight series, John Greene, the Shack or the Help. Maybe I’ll get there, but only if my hot authors/genres cool off 🙂

  18. Janet on January 18, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    I Am Legend. If I’m not mistaken, the book wasn’t picked up by a publsiher for something like 15 years. I suppose it took that long for its time to come. IMHO, it’s one of the best paranormal/supernatural books out there.

    When I get frustrated with the process, I think about the patience it took for that author to get published and I realize that my time WILL come.

  19. Dean K Miller on January 18, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    Exactly true, as I found out with my first article that was published. It sat on the editors desk for 13 months before he contacted me. What a surprise that was.

    Even so, I still have a difficult time putting submissions/queries out of my daily processes. Sometimes we just want an answer, but I’d rather wait longer for the one that says “Yes!”

  20. Joe Pote on January 18, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    You know, I think what I like best about “hot” best-sellers is that they sometimes introduce me to a really good author.

    For example, if it had not been for “1776” and “John Adams” I might never have found David McCullough. turns out McCullough has written several other books, which have not been considered as “hot,” but which I like even better.

    In “The Great Bridge,” “Pathway between the Seas,” and “The Johnstown Flood,” he provides very detailed factual engineering assessments in novel-style prose, which I really enjoy reading.

  21. Ann Bracken on January 18, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Thanks so much for this post. Every insight into how the process works is invaluable.

    What I’m enjoying right now is Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius by Dava Sobel. It’s a wonderful narrative on how the problem of determining longitude was solved, but rejected because it didn’t come from one of the ‘great minds’ of the day.

  22. Theresa Froehlich on January 18, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    It seems that this is somewhat like a matchmaking game. It’s about matching timing – editor’s readiness, available marekt niche, and other factors.

    When a writer sees niche in the market, the editor doesn’t always see it until later. As a writer who wants to tap into the market before it becomes saturated,I’ll soon have to decide how long I should wait before I consider self-publishing.

    Theresa Froehlich
    Certified Life Coach

  23. CG Blake on January 18, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Rachelle, thanks for sharing your perspective on this topic. It’s helpful to writers to hear an agent’s view. I’m a poor judge of what’s hot. To me a well crafted story that has memorable characters and a plot that moves me is always hot. I blogged about my favorite books of 2011 and I found Jennifer Haigh’s “Faith” to be by far the best book of the year–much better in my view than some of the hyped books published last year. I suppose in the end it’s a matter of personal taste.

  24. Marielena on January 18, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    There’s an editor’s timing. And Divine right time timing. Somehow both mysteriously play into the process. When it was being shopped around, “The Help” certainly wasn’t hot, and now. Well.

  25. Timothy Fish on January 18, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    That’s a hard question for me to answer because many of my favorites are not hot right now, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t at one time. Take The Pilgrim’s Progress for example. It isn’t hot right now and about the only time you hear it mentioned these days is when some Christian author wants to claim his book something special, but at one time there were few educated Christians who hadn’t read it.

    Then there is F. H. Arnold’s Not My Will. I don’t know if it was ever hot (back in 1946), though it continues to sell, and with good reason. This book ought to be required reading for any novelist who wants to write for the Christian market.

    The Lamp by Jim Stovall is a great book, but the movie is better since it is just like the book but with moving pictures.

    In non-fiction, Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism edited by David L. Allen, is a much better book than the title implies. I love it because it gave me a renewed appreciation for John 3:16.

  26. Joanna Aislinn on January 18, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    One of my most recent reads sat really well with me: Louise Shaffer’s LOOKING FOR A LOVE STORY.

    Thanks for sharing some of the ‘inside workings’ of your profession, Rachelle. Definitely helps to have a clue as to what the agent/editor has to deal with at his/her end.

  27. Jessica Kent on January 18, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    Your post reminds me of many of the classics we have today (I’m specifically thinking of poor Thoreau with his attic full of Walden!). Many of those books were not hot at the time, never sold through their first printing, the authors died penniless, etc. But they have been the books that have stuck around and influenced our literary, and mainstream, culture. In that there is hope!

  28. carol brill on January 18, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    some of these go back a while but I loved, loved, loved, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Also high on my list, The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond, all of Adriana Trigiani’s books especially Queen of the Big Time, The Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken and all Diane Mckinney Whetstones books. For YA/middle grade Matthew Quick and Patricia Reilly Giff

  29. P. J. Casselman on January 18, 2012 at 6:58 AM

    My daughter’s favorite series, which was heavily “borrowed” by Rowling was “The Worst Witch.” It was never a hot series, but they were very good books. My son loved “Five Yard Fuller,” which was a fun book about a hillbilly football player. The book is a great read for early teen boys. I really enjoyed “Heroes Die” by Matthew Stover, which is Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Unfortunately, that genre is labeled as no-so-hot by agents, even though Showtime, HBO, and Cinemax all created fantasy series due to its strong popularity.
    In the Christian market, there’s nothing like Bodie Thayne’s books, which are not hot, but just great reads.

  30. Mercey Valley on January 18, 2012 at 3:20 AM

    This post was really insightful and helpful because it makes a lot of sense as to why people on both sides face the wait. Getting an agent (or even a look-in) is exciting, yet the timeframe of the wait can be less than fun 🙂

    Am loathe to put here the names and titles of the hot vs the goodish, but safe to say the bigger names are bigger for a reason. I did not love The Secret Life of Dresses while I was reading it, but it was a nice walk through the park when it was done. Where I live, people raved about it and the cover was cute. However I also bought High Heels to Tractor Wheels and LOVED it, and by contrast the cover was pink writing on a white background with a black stiletto (super plain). Not so well known but this lady is taking the world by storm. It was a GREAT story.

  31. Joseph Ramirez on January 18, 2012 at 3:13 AM

    I really loved THE LOSER’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE by A.E. Cannon. So. Dang. Funny. Sweetness on the light side – a good pleasant read.

  32. Cossette on January 18, 2012 at 2:51 AM

    I wonder, if a writer sends in a project which then languishes for six or so months, will the writer know what is going on? Suppose they try to ask for a follow-up from the agent/editor? Do they assume it’s a rejection, or have they been told that they are still under consideration.

    Just wondering what this would look like from our angle.

  33. Lisa fender on January 18, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    Sometimes they aren’t hot for years, such as the game of thrones, and then they catch on. I am writing a YA and love it! It’s exciting and fun to write and I can see it in a movie! I am hoping that it will turn out to be hot one day!

  34. Jessie @ Blog Schmog on January 18, 2012 at 2:17 AM

    Last year my favorite books were all over the board in the “hot” department.

    I liked The Help. So did half the world so it actually took me all year to pick it up because I’m usually not with the masses on these things.

    I also liked Book of Days, Jim Rubart.

    Then The Jihad’s Messiah by Nick Daniels. Small publishing house, less known than the 1st and different in his approach to the “rules” but I’m glad I read it too.

  35. Dominique on January 18, 2012 at 1:57 AM

    Great post. It’s always nice to hear how things work on the other end of the equation. It’s nice to know there’s hope for the stuff that isn’t the “in” thing.

  36. Brandy Vallance on January 18, 2012 at 1:19 AM

    It’s always great to hear what it’s like on that side of the desk. Your consideration for writers shows through in this blog post. I decided a long time ago to enjoy the journey of publishing. I’ve made so many great friends and had wonderful conversations along the way. Some of my fondest memories will always be the late night critique groups and the times we were able to laugh at ourselves. In a lot of ways, this journey has been the making of me. And timing IS everything. Not just for the manuscript, but for the writer too. 🙂 Thanks for posting.

  37. McKenzie McCann on January 18, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    These days the only ‘hot’ ticket items seem to be YA paranormal romance and John Green.

    I really liked “I Am the Messenger,” by Marcus Zusak. He got a lot of attention for “The Book Thief,” but he’s written other books that are just as good.