Sometimes Reality Bites

*and Sometimes the Fish Do

I had so much fun reading your responses to Friday’s blog post. I think my favorite sweatshirt saying was, “Jesus loves me. Everyone else thinks I’m a jerk.” It was fun learning a little more about each of you. Thanks for contributing!

I apologize if you’re getting tired of my blogging about my family and our Rocky Mountain adventures. You can click away if you don’t like it… but if you want to hear a “big fish” story, read on.

Last week, we were out on a pristine mountain lake doing some trout fishing. Okay, the family goes fishing while I sit on the shore and read. But anyway…

My husband takes the kids fishing occasionally but they don’t normally catch anything worth keeping. So this time they caught a nice-sized trout, took turns reeling it in, then commenced screaming and shouting because they were ridiculously excited about the catch. Finally! All the work had paid off! All those hours sitting on the edge of a river or a lake, or sitting in a little canoe, finally resulted in the prize. A fish! They decided they wanted to keep it and have it for dinner.

But then reality set in. Because what happens next? Obviously the fish has to be gutted. Brian took out his knife and did the deed. Off came the head. Slit went the fish’s belly. Guts everywhere.

Never have I seen two girls run so fast or scream so loud. They wanted nothing to do with that part of the process.

Are you sensing where I’m going with this?

You may spend months or years writing your books and searching for an agent and/or a publishing contract. One day all your hard work will pay off and you’ll land that big fish. The prize! But you’d better be prepared for what comes next. It’s called reality and it doesn’t always live up to the fantasy.

Your project might be gutted just like that fish, and there are plenty of other parts of the process that are unexpected: Your life doesn’t change overnight. You may not be able to quit your day job. You have to work hard to market your book. Once you’re published, it still takes work to get published again. Sometimes you’ll look around and see fish guts everywhere and wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?”

I just want you to remember there’s a lot of gritty reality that will happen after you land your big fish, so try to prepare for it.

The good news? Well, I cooked the trout over an open fire at our campsite that night and we all enjoyed it. A great ending to a process that was partly exhilarating and partly traumatic.

And when you see your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I think you’ll say the same thing.

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. Kerrie on August 4, 2009 at 5:56 PM

    >Great analogy.

    You could say looking for an agent is like shopping for a new bra. The process is often frustrating, mind-numbing and makes you want to curl up in a corner of the dressing room. But then–you find the perfect one and it lifts your spirit and provides great support.

  2. Rebecca LuElla Miller on August 4, 2009 at 3:31 PM

    >Great stuff, Rachelle, from the family time to the analogy.


  3. Terresa on August 3, 2009 at 7:17 PM

    >I like the "guts everywhere" part. We just went fishing last week and my daughter caught the only fish. We had daddy clean it out for us.

    Excellent thoughts of reality vs. fantasy.

  4. Jeanette Levellie on August 3, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    >A friend of mine who has published two books and ready to sign a contract for the third recently told me, "It just gets worse."

    But I can't not write. Words are my guts.


  5. ginny martyn on August 3, 2009 at 3:59 PM

    >Nice segue, you’re a real pro…oh, wait you really are.

  6. Kat Harris on August 3, 2009 at 3:51 PM

    >LOL! Your analogies never cease to amaze me.

    First it was comparing Idol to publishing and . . .fish guts?

    That's classic. I love this blog!

  7. Jessica on August 3, 2009 at 3:37 PM

    >Oooh, great tie-in! I love my hubby's fish but I stay away from the cleaning. Yuck! LOL about your girls. πŸ™‚

  8. Richard Mabry on August 3, 2009 at 3:10 PM

    >"The sea was angry that day, my friend, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli." No, wait, that was Seinfeld, not Steinbeck.
    Anyway, great fish analogy. In the final analysis, no guts, no glory.

  9. M. Dunham on August 3, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    >Rachelle, I love the post.

    There are so many writers I talk to who talk about how they'll stand by their story as-is, and if the editor wants to change it or the title, they're walking. The fantasy of their book doesn't jive with the reality of the publishing world, and there's no good way for lil ole infamous me to show them it's never personal – it's the reality of business.

    On the topic of eating what you hunt…My family is full of hunters, and it was pretty normal to see a deer hanging over a gut bucket as a child. If I hadn't grown up used to that, I probably would have run screaming even faster than your kids. πŸ™‚

  10. Rachelle on August 3, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    >Beth, what's your twitter name? You can email me if you want.

  11. Beth on August 3, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    >Great analogy. Loved it and glad you and your family had a well-desrved vacation.

    On another note, I've been missing your tweets (loved them) and when I tried to look you up, I discovered I've been blocked. πŸ™

    Oh, my. What did I do? I'm a very good person, mother and even a step-grandmother — not to mention a writer of women's fiction and contemporary romance.

    It's got me bummed. I was going to query you this fall. Does this mean I shouldn't???

  12. Kim Kasch on August 3, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    >Great analogy.

    Dad used to take us camping all 9 of us. He'd go hunting and fishing – had to find a way to feed all those mouths.

    And if you think watching a fish get gutted is bad – well . . . there was a reason I became a vegetarian.

    Had to go back to being a meatetarian though – became too anemic. Not so EZ to just be cheesey πŸ˜‰

  13. Billy Coffey on August 3, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    >As someone who knows full well how to have a project gutted, it's actually not that bad. Much better than the alternative, in fact. Who wants guts in their feast?

  14. Rose McCauley on August 3, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    >Hooray! A fish tale that is not about the humongous one that got away! I loved the analogy, and am in the process of gutting my story to get it ready to cook up and serve it to some readers. Rose, who would also be reading on the shore while my family fished!

  15. JennyMac on August 3, 2009 at 1:08 PM

    >Love the analogy. Very insightful and oh, so true. My dusty manuscript at this point not even a worm on a hook. LOL.

  16. Heart2Heart on August 3, 2009 at 12:47 PM


    Great story. I too love catching the fish but hate taking them off the line and cleaning them. I guess that is why we have hubbies! Some jobs just call for that level of skill.

    I love how you tied this to writing. It's something we don't often take into consideration but it's part of the process. The end result much like that delicious fish is the flavor of having your book finally published.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  17. Lisa Jordan on August 3, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    >I hope you don't stop sharing stories about your family. They seem wonderful, and these inside glimpses into your life make you so much more approachable.

    My hubby is an avid fisherman. When I go fishing with him, I have my paper towels and hand sanitizer and do the catch and release thing because one time he told me, "You catch 'em, you clean 'em." Uhhh, not this chick. I'm so with your girls minus the screaming part.

    The analogy is a great representation of the publishing world. Sometimes when an editor or agent doesn't bite, you may need to change the bait.

    This also reminds me of Jesus saying "come follow me and I will make you fishers of men." If we are obedient to His leading, then He will open the doors in His time.

  18. Cheryl Barker on August 3, 2009 at 11:19 AM

    >Great analogy, Rachelle. Puts the publication process in terms that really helps enlighten (and prepare!) us even more. Thanks for sharing your big fish story πŸ™‚

  19. Lea Ann McCombs on August 3, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    >Nice analogy! It could apply to just about everything we think we want from having kids to buying a car. The worst part about dreams is that they tend to ignore the ugly side, and everything has its ugly side. Especially gutted fish.

  20. Camille Cannon Eide on August 3, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >Gutting a book IS bloody. (You CAN wash your hands when you're done, you know.) I must say it helps when your agent or editor takes up a knife and gives you a hand. When I've finished cleaning and filleting my ms, I hope to have ten times the book I started with. And be a better writer for it.

    Saw this English proverb today: "A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner." There must be a fish analogy in there somewhere…

  21. Patricia Stoltey on August 3, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    >Fish guts? Perfect. The girls are like those of us who want to scream and run away when anyone mentions promotion or booksigning.

  22. Peter P on August 3, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    >Great analogy, Rachelle.

    I think the fear of gutting the fish has been holding me back from fishing somewhat.

    Just last night I decided though that I was going to have to get my rod out and do the deed though. You can't go to all the trouble of buying the gear and then not use it!

  23. Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way on August 3, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >Oh my word, what a great analogy!

    In the end, I guess it's really all worth it. Even if the bits in the middle weren't quite as glamorous and problem-free as many anticipate. Your blog is really preparing me for reality after that big day comes. Thank you!!

  24. JStantonChandler on August 3, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    >Brilliant analogy! I am enjoying your family vacation posts. I get to take a vacation vicariously through yours!Thank you for sharing! And thanks for reminding me that just because I'm ankle deep in fish guts, doesn't mean I'm not making progress πŸ™‚


  25. Sharon A. Lavy on August 3, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >The most interesting preachers and teachers take an event from life to make a point.

    Point taken.

    Thank you

  26. Cindy on August 3, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >Ahh…fish guts. That's an interesting way to put it. It's a good analogy, though. Many times it's hard to see past catching the big fish but it's good to be aware of what comes next. Thanks for the post!

  27. Reesha on August 3, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    >The same can be said for many things in life. Great analogy. Thanks.

  28. Katie Ganshert on August 3, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    >Halarious. I can picture your two girls running away. I had to gut a fish once…it was gross. Not nearly as fun as catching it and eating it.

    Great analogy.

  29. Christa Allan on August 3, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    >No guts. . .no shelf.
    Got it.

    As always, thanks!

  30. Marla Taviano on August 3, 2009 at 7:23 AM


  31. Vonnie on August 3, 2009 at 7:00 AM

    >Ha Ha Ha !!! I love the fishing story!

    Thanks for preparing us for what comes next. I'm not sure how I'll react when I get there, but I'm not turning back. I'll just grit my teeth and keep going.

  32. Richard Mabry on August 3, 2009 at 6:37 AM

    >Thanks for putting this so plainly. There's plenty of stuff we don't want to think about or experience associated with the "glamour" of being an author–but it's worth it all.

  33. Chatty Kelly Combs on August 3, 2009 at 6:37 AM

    >"And when you see your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I think you'll say the same thing."

    Fish guts are gross, but I love a happy ending! πŸ™‚

  34. Krista Phillips on August 3, 2009 at 6:31 AM

    >Excellent analogy. I'm with your girls… I would have run too. Obviously I won't be QUITE so squeamish when it comes to editing my book, though. It's one of those necessary things that makes a book BETTER. (I guess some would say gutting a fish to eat it makes it, uh, better?)

  35. CKHB on August 3, 2009 at 5:57 AM

    >Anyone who skipped out on the "family camping tales" in fact missed a smart publishing analogy! Anyway, we like hearing about your personal side in addition to your professional side. We really do.

  36. Gwen Stewart--Singer-Scribe on August 3, 2009 at 5:09 AM


    What a lovely post, and a gutsy one too. (that was a horrible groaner…everyone together now…ugggghhh. Heh.)

    My champagne wishes and caviar dreams lasted about as long as it takes to drink half a flute. Few authors are pubbed and even fewer make a living at it. The percentage that make millions and go on Oprah are miniscule. That doesn't discourage me though; I love to write, so I'll keep writing. I haven't landed a contract and gutted a book with an editor, but I've carved writing time out of sleep and leisure time, and I've tasted the discouragement of being a tiny bitty fish in a great big pond. (Man, I'm just rife with the groaners today. I'll excuse myself from your lovely blog now…heh.)

  37. Jill on August 3, 2009 at 4:59 AM

    >Great analogy! I abhor the fish guts (my husband and sons do a lot of fishing), but the end result is always worth the effort.

  38. Roxane B. Salonen on August 3, 2009 at 1:40 AM

    >Please, don't stop bringing your "real" life into this. This was beautifully told. I love the way you can connect family life with the writing/editing/agenting life. And why not? They are all a part of you. And what a perfect way of reminding us of what is so true. I wish I'd have read this prior to my books becoming published. I would have been much more realistic about everything. That said, your ending is also very true. There is nothing so satisfying as having broken through, working with an editor, and seeing that book in print!

  39. RefreshMom on August 3, 2009 at 1:36 AM

    >"A great ending to a process that was partly exhilarating and partly traumatic."

    Truer words were never spoken! The journey to publication is definitely both.

    I haven't seen the mountain variety of fish-guts since I was a little girl, but I've seen more than my share of the publishing variety. But unlike those early fishing trips with my own dad, I keep coming back for more of the other kind. I guess you learn to live with the guts after a while.