Personalized Publishing Advice: Where to Get It?

questionsBlog reader Stefne Miller wrote me:

Part of the bonus of having an agent is the ability to sit down with someone and track a course for the writer’s career. The writer gets a professional opinion about what’s in their best interest and plans for the future can be made.

For someone like myself who wasn’t able to find an agent at the start of my writing career, I am at a moment in my journey where I need to figure out some long term plans. What’s possible? Is the platform I’m building and the work I’ve done enough to try the traditional route again? Should I even do that? What’s the best route to take? Should I change directions, or give up all together, etc? You get the idea. And while I can read a lot of blogs and do research on the internet, none of the information is going to speak to my situation specifically.

So, the question that many of us might have is: are there professionals out there that writers can hire to do the business/ career decision portion of an agents job? Are there people that, for a fee, will look over a writer’s work, experience, platform, awards, etc. and help determine where they are and what possible steps they should take? My goal is to find someone who knows what they’re doing and can objectively give me advice. Do you know anyone in the industry who offers this service?

My answer:

Yes, there are publishing consultants and others who help writers. Many of them function as freelance editors in addition to general consulting, so you can start by looking at the websites of the freelance editors I list on my blog. (Click on Popular Posts above.) You can also start asking around – you can be sure many writers have worked with consultants. This is one of the reasons networking is so important! You might find a good recommendation.

Mary DeMuth and Erin Reel are both good candidates. They’ve written guest posts for me and know their way around the industry. You can contact them directly.

There’s a difficulty with this, though. It’s hard to find someone you can  trust to know what they’re talking about in a consultancy like this. You need to be satisfied that they have their finger on the pulse of the industry. Read their blogs and make sure you get a good feel for how savvy they are. (Anyone can call themselves a consultant, right?)

An agent is able to give this kind of guidance for several reasons: Not only do they know the industry, but they know you and are familiar with what you want and where you want to go. In addition – and this is a big difference between an agent and a one-time consultant – an agent doesn’t get paid to simply give advice. Rather, they only get paid when you get paid. In other words, the agent’s own livelihood is tied to the quality of the advice they give you. So they’re highly motivated to seriously think through your options, your body of work, your platform and personality, and advise you in a direction that will lead to success.

However, an agent’s advice isn’t necessarily self-serving. I’ve advised several clients to take certain books to small indie publishers (very little money); I’ve advised others to take certain books to self-publishing (without my involvement, financial or otherwise.) I try to advise each client based on what their goals are, not on what will make me the most money.

In any case, be sure to do your homework before you hire a consultant! Make sure they not only know the industry, but they take seriously the need to get to know you and your body of work before giving you any advice.

Hope that helps!

Q4U: Writers, have you used anyone in a consultant role? How have you managed to get the guidance and advice you’ve needed so far?


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!


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  6. Roslyn on July 12, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    My sister and I have been blessed to work with Janis Whipple. She has taught at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference and she has spent years editing. She is a wealth of inspiration and offers solid writing advice.

  7. Kristen Johnson on July 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    I guess I’d call my critique group my consultant team. We have one published, award-winning author among us, who has her own editing business, so she’s a great one to ask about the industry and who’s who. My other crit partner knows people as well, so we help each other out in that regard, even aside from the writing aspects.

  8. Catherine Johnson on July 12, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    I’ve been very lucky winning critiques from established authors right when I’ve needed them. I have a critique group for picture books and a beta reader for chapter books. Hubby thinks I’ve spent enough already on books etc. With the advice I get from yourself, Jody and Kristen, I don’t feel the need for one at this time. I’ve just made a huge decision on one of my projects and now I know where my strengths lie, hopefully things will move a little quicker.

  9. Erin Reel on July 12, 2011 at 2:41 AM

    Thanks for the kind mention, Rachelle!

    Ok, folks, I have to jump in and add my two cents. If you consider hiring a literary consultant, like me, make sure they have a strong background as an editor with a reputable publisher, or as a successful freelance editor or they have strong experience as a reputable agent with a track record of successfully shaping and placing the work of their clients.

    I became a literary consultant a few years ago after spending several years as a Los Angeles based literary agent. I chose to make the switch to consultant because I LOVED helping my clients work through their manuscripts, loved editing and really loved to help build author platforms for new writers who didn’t have one but had a great idea for a book. This is the stuff that takes a tremendous amount of time – time that few agents can afford to spend while trying to make deals and make a living for themselves and their authors – they generally need material and authors who are ready to rock (but of course will spend that extra time in development). And the other piece of it is that it’s considered highly unethical for an agent to charge for any developmental services, period.

    What I appreciate about Rachelle is that despite the many changes in publishing these last few years, she’s focused on the job in front of her – finding great authors and selling their books – the process is still the same despite the “new challenges” you hear about. There have always been challenges for writers. Rachelle is one of those wonderful, reputable and patient agents with strong professional integrity that will keep the role of the agent going strong. Plus her blog is one of the best!

    Just do your research, writers, know your rights, follow your gut and always ask questions. Good luck!

  10. Gillian Marchenko on July 12, 2011 at 12:33 AM

    So far I’ve spent my money on editing and head shots and most recently, a professional website. I am not against hiring a consultant if need be, but I agree with another comment, I am finding lots of information on line and through blogs like yours.

  11. Nikole Hahn on July 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    I follow the blogs. Learn from agents and editors and other writers. I haven’t even considered using a writer consultant. Budget is a little tight. That’s why I’m glad there’s blogs to follow.

  12. Peter DeHaan on July 11, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    Ten years ago, when I began publishing magazines, I hired a high profile consultant to guide me on some start-up issues. His rates were high ($200 an hour) and he demanded payment in advance.

    I prepaid for 3 hours. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, I realized that he had not kept up with the industry. His advice was at least 10 years out of date. Even as a novice I knew he was giving me obsolete counsel.

    If I hired any consultant again, I would first seek personal recommendations from others who I knew and would insist on an initial no-obligation session to make sure we were compatible and that the consultant could actually help me.

    • Neil Larkins on July 11, 2011 at 11:56 PM

      Ouch! That hurt. Done that too, though not wth writing.
      I’ve written a few things and have distributed them to friends and family asking for comment. I get no feedback, even from those who say they will. Don’t know what to think about that. My lovely wife gives me feedback, though I don’t exactly trust it. She says I shouldn’t listen to what anyone says about my writing, that I’m a good writer. I shouldn’t even be seeking advice. I shouldn’t be reading all these blogs and forums either. Just makes me discouraged, she says. So…whadya gonna do?

  13. Zan Marie on July 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I haven’t paid a consultant, but I did take advantage of a free coaching session from Charlotte Rains Dixon in June. The results were marvelous. Not only did Charlotte help me handle my pesky inner editor, I got a nifty little story of out it. I submitted it to a magazine last week.

    If you’re interested, Charlotte’s website is

  14. Maril Hazlett on July 11, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Yep. I definitely believe in consultants in general (well, I effectively am one).

    However, as you note, one must be unbelievably careful in picking who is right for you. Ie, a person with a background primarily in fiction might not be right to advise you on a nonfiction project… but then again, they might be. Depends. Ask right up front what their strengths and limitations are. How they answer this question can tell you a lot. And if they think they have no limitations, back away. Also, the person needs to have the guts to tell you what you DON’T want to hear. If their assessment all sounds too sunny and perfect, consider questioning it.

    Things I happily pay for: I absolutely need an editor (who is not myself) to help lift my writing from first draft quality to something readable. When it comes to marketing, etc., those services also require the advice of experts.

    Working with outside experts, versus (or in addition to) working with agents – it really, really, depends on the project, and your goals. A lot of the niche stuff I work on is not necessarily right for an agent or a traditional publisher. The distribution model isn’t right, the timeline and turnaround isn’t right, and there’s just not enough potential income in this particular content to serve the agent-publisher model well. Plus, I know the audience better than they do.

    However, I have different projects in the pipeline. These are in different formats and will appeal to different audiences. They are also out of my niche, and I’m frankly not at all the best judge of their income potential, or what development/ sales approach will work best for them. So, yeah. For those, I am going to approach an agent who knows how to handle those formats and reach that audience – and knows which publishing route would work best.

    At any rate, no agent, no consultant, can ever do all the thinking and decision-making for you. Guides are one thing, and good ones are a blessing and worth every penny, but no one can be your mom in business. You really do have to take on ownership of these decisions yourself. It would be nice to just get to write all the time, but.

    I babbled. Sorry!

  15. Katie Ganshert on July 11, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    Stefne’s question is exactly why I think agents will always be invaluable. A one-time consultant just doesn’t know a writer like an agent does.

    It’s one of the reasons I so badly wanted an agent. For direction and guidance whenever I might face important forks in the road. I wanted someone who would help me choose my path wisely. Thankfully, I found my guide. 😉

  16. otin on July 11, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    To tell you the truth, you have been about the best guidance for me so far. I have learned quite a bit here.

  17. Nancy Kelley on July 11, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    I started by putting my own finger on the pulse of the publishing world, as much as possible. I read every blog I could find, followed agents and editors on Twitter, and did Google searches for further information.

    Once I’d reconnoitered the landscape, I sought out authors who’d self-published in my genre. I asked them what worked for them and what didn’t. By limiting myself to authors within my genre, I believed their experiences would be fairly similar to what I could expect.

    I haven’t hired a consultant, and I don’t intend to. That’s not to say they don’t have a place; I simply believe I’ve gotten the best advice available to me already.

  18. Pen and Ink on July 11, 2011 at 3:53 AM

    My critique group has given me the best advice so far.

  19. Beth K. Vogt on July 11, 2011 at 2:17 AM

    The year my nonfiction book came out was the same year that I struggled with an extended illness. I certainly hadn’t planned on that! In an effort to improve sales and build a stronger platform, I contacted Rob Eagar of Wildfire Marketing ( I signed up for a mentorship and found it extremely worthwhile. Rob and I worked on everything: my brand, my website,how to prepare for radio interviews, how to write a press release and more.
    It was time and money well spent.

  20. Elizabeth Michels on July 11, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    I have found that fellow writers are a great resource for industry advice. Let’s face it, in searching for an agent we all drink up every tid bit of information we come across. So, any writer out there who is activly seeking publication is going to know just as much as a consultant that charges a fee. Although, at the end of the day I trust my own research and my gut instincts for the direction of my writing career above any advice. I know my writing and my goals better than any friend or consultant. I suppose you could say I use the method of guessing, praying, crossing my fingers and knocking on wood..geez this is all going to be easier when I finally get an agent!

  21. Amber Argyle on July 11, 2011 at 1:11 AM

    I don’t know what the answer is. I had an agent and it did nothing for me. So the key is to have a great agent.

    Most of the helpful advice I’ve had is from other writers that have been down the road I’m headed. David Farland has been a huge help to me. As have some others.

  22. […] View article: Personalized Publishing Advice: Where to Get It? | Rachelle Gardner […]

  23. BJ Pramann on July 11, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    I’ve started talking to an editing company that focuses on self publishing, but doesn’t require any sort of ‘package’ to just be hired for editing. I’ve had some of the best advice for my book that I’ve ever had, from them, and they didn’t charge me for it.

  24. Michael J. Coene on July 11, 2011 at 12:07 AM

    I’ve found the best critics are friends and family who have nothing to do with writing whatsoever. After all, these are the kinds of people who are going to be actually buying and reading your work.

    Personally, I like to give my work to a peer I only know just well enough to trust–like a co-worker or something. Since they’re emotionally removed, they’re more likely to give honest criticism. Make sure you can trust the person, though.