Update on ICRS

I’ve spent the last several days at ICRS in Denver and like most everyone who attended, I’m exhausted! It’s just like any event where you’re “on” non-stop for 13 hours a day. While it can be a blast, it wears you out!

I’ll spend the next few days compiling my notes from all my meetings and starting my follow up. A few of the projects I’m representing seemed to be pretty popular with the editors so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully I’ll be able to share news of some sales soon!

I had my eye out for trends and was asking editors what they really wanted in new projects. A few things I noticed:

– In fiction, regardless of genre, almost every editor told me they’re looking for strong female protagonists. This is particularly true in historical and historical romance. No wimpy women!

– Also in fiction, they seem to want characters in interesting locations and unique occupations that will add to the story.

– In non-fiction, the platform issue is important to all publishers but they don’t all treat it the same. Some look at platform as the primary consideration; others are more willing to consider an author with a beginning platform if they have a terrific concept and great writing.

– In fiction and non-fiction, many publishers are actively looking to publish more “fresh voices” which means new authors.

– It looks like the CBA is finally opening up to more memoir (catching up with the general market). I had great response to a couple of the memoirs I’m representing, which makes me really happy because I love memoir!

– While the ICRS show (like BEA) is shrinking, the atmosphere seemed really positive across the board. All the publishers I met with are eager to see new projects. While they seem to be acquiring slightly fewer projects than, say, two years ago, they’re still excited about whatever’s next.

– One of the best parts of the show for me was getting to spend time with two of my clients, Suzanne Eller and Deborah Vogts. It’s so fun getting to know these ladies!

Sorry, this is so boring, I’m writing this at the end of four days straight and I’m bleary-eyed! I may do another post of the state of the industry (next week) if I think of some things I missed. Right now, I’m glad it’s over and can’t wait to dive in to my follow-up.

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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  3. Kara on July 20, 2009 at 12:25 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I was wondering if you could clarify a bit on your comment about "also in fiction, they seem to want characters in interesting locations and unique occupations that will add to the story."

    Is it your feeling that "interesting locations" simply refers to within the USA, or is it broader than that?

    I'm asking because I recently had a manuscript rejected by a publisher because while they thought it was "terrific" they passed because they believed the non-US location was too risky in the current environment.

    I'm just in the process of trying to work out whether that is just one publishers view, and others are open to non-US locations, or if it's the majority and I need to do a total rewrite of my book and transplant it into the States to give it any chance of making it 🙂

    Thanks heaps,


  4. Timothy Fish on July 16, 2009 at 5:45 PM


    No, I’m dead serious. Since most of us don’t have the benefit of a slush pile full of examples of what they don’t want and there are so many people waving their arms in the air saying, “pick me, I’ve got a strong female protagonist,” I thought it might be helpful to know if our concept of a strong female protagonist matches with your concept of a strong female protagonist.

    I came up with five possibilities. The first almost doesn’t seem worth mentioning and that is that the protagonist takes a strong lead in the action. That is almost a given, since the whole story tends to fall apart if she doesn’t. Even Stanley Yelnats, who is a wimp, is a strong protagonist if this is the criteria.

    Number two, the woman is hard working. She’s the kind of woman that when you shake her hand it doesn’t fall limp, but you can feel the calluses from her working in the garden.

    Three, she stands up for herself and may be independent.

    Four, she stands out. She is atypical and has something about her character that makes her memorable, even if that is that she is the wall floweriest of all wall flowers.

    Five, she is a woman. This is an all girls club and men are not allowed.

    I considered adding six, she stinks, either because she doesn’t bathe or because she wears too much perfume or something, but that would make it seem like I’m kidding and it would fall under number four anyway.

  5. Karin on July 16, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    >Thanks for sharing your info with us 🙂 May you be blessed with a restful weekend!

  6. JStantonChandler on July 16, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    >Thanks for the encouraging market info. Good to know my strong female protagonist has somewhere to go 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the conference. Now get some rest!

  7. Glynis on July 16, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    >A very positive post, thanks!

  8. Genny on July 16, 2009 at 8:50 AM

    This wasn't boring at all. Thanks for the information and the peek into what's going on in the industry!

  9. Frances Davis, RNC-OB on July 15, 2009 at 9:31 PM

    Boring? Never!

    You said CBA was opening up to more memoir — music to my ears. I had almost decided to just put mine aside and shelve it for awhile, but now I feel hopeful. Thanks for the insight.

  10. Rachelle on July 15, 2009 at 6:26 PM

    >Paul West–
    I didn't say anything about YA in my post. I said fiction editors.

    You're joking, right?

    Anonymous 1:47–
    I have a lovely table of contents on the sidebar of the blog, labeled "Find Posts on This Blog." I've written everything you could ever want to know about platform, under the heading, "Marketing-Platform-Branding." Have at it.

    If your character starts out wimpy, you'll have to work hard to make the reader identify with her and root for her rather than think she's pathetic in her wimpiness.

  11. Paul West on July 15, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    >You said most YA editors are looking for stories with a strong female protagonist. I think that's only because they think boys don't read YA — and I happen to think they are wrong. The reason boys don't read YA is because there isn't any YA that appeals to them.

    Think about it for a minute. Most YA writers are female. Most YA agents are female. Most YA editors are female. Do females have the same interest as boys?

    I think if a YA book can be written that appeals to boys, probably written by a male, boys would read it.

  12. Anonymous on July 15, 2009 at 5:07 PM

    >Timothy – I'm blessed with a Royal Flush. By title they are:
    * Wife
    * 2 Daughters
    * Sister
    * Mother

  13. Timothy Fish on July 15, 2009 at 3:00 PM

    >Silly question here, but just what exactly do you mean by a strong female protagonist? Off the top off my head, I came up with five different things it could mean and there may be more.

  14. Carrie Turansky on July 15, 2009 at 2:57 PM

    >This was helpful and encouraging, not boring at all. Thanks for giving us an inside look at the trends you see.

  15. Anonymous on July 15, 2009 at 2:47 PM

    >I want to ask a stupid question. I've heard you write a lot about "platform," but I'm not sure I totally understand what it means. Do you mind explaining it further?

  16. Elise M Stone on July 15, 2009 at 12:25 PM

    >This was great news for those of us writing strong female protagonists in interesting locations – at least I think my location is interesting and I've been trying to remember not to make my MC wimpy. And looking for new writers? Yahoo! Thanks for the update.

  17. Rebecca Knight on July 15, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    >BOOYAH! I happen to have a strong female protagonist, so this news is happy :).

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I've really enjoyed following your tweets while you were there. It's so cool that you share your industry experiences with us so we can learn what it's like.

  18. Jeanette Levellie on July 15, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    I am excited that editors are interested in fresh voices, which is anything but boring!

  19. lynnrush on July 15, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    >Whoo-Hoo. Thanks for sharing, Rachelle.

  20. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on July 15, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle!

    If this post was written when you were totally exhausted in the middle of the night and still be as relevant and well written as it is, then all I can say is "WOW!"

    I am amazed that you continue to be excited after four gruelling, demanding days of a national conference. For me, that is like being ready to run a 5K race the day after you finish a marathon! It has always taken me several days to decompress before I am able to put my thoughts on paper.

    Thank you for letting us in on the cutting edge of publishing.


  21. Dara on July 15, 2009 at 9:40 AM

    >Also in fiction, they seem to want characters in interesting locations and unique occupations that will add to the story

    Yay! Perhaps my book will actually stand a chance when the time comes 🙂

    BTW, the entry wasn't boring at all 🙂 Very informative!

  22. Rachel Hauck on July 15, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    >Great stuff!

  23. Rachelle on July 15, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    >Okay, I wasn't fishing for compliments when I wrote the post last night! I was seriously having a hard time keeping my eyes open, sooo tired and wasn't sure if my post was even making sense. I was dead asleep about five minutes after finishing it. I'm better now.

  24. Teri D. Smith on July 15, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    >Great to have you back and to hear some of the upbeat news of the industry.

    I'm even more excited about my strong female protagonist with an unusual hobby.

  25. Katie Ganshert on July 15, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    >I didn't think it was boring! Knowing what editors/agents are looking for never hurt anybody! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  26. Cindy on July 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM

    >This is not boring at all. It's great to hear what new trends are coming about! Thanks for sharing.

  27. David A. Todd on July 15, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    >No strong male protagonists? What about wimpy male protagonists? Maybe I'll have to figure out how to write from a woman's POV.

  28. ginny martyn on July 15, 2009 at 8:08 AM

    >BORING? You just said they are looking at NEW AUTHORS-that's the best news ever! HOT-Diggity-DOG!

  29. Rachel on July 15, 2009 at 7:57 AM

    >Not boring a-tall. Interesting.

  30. deb on July 15, 2009 at 7:55 AM

    >May I add to the gushing grateful group !
    Your words teach and encourage .
    Thank you so much.

  31. Chatty Kelly on July 15, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    >Glad you enjoyed and I can relate to the tiredness, in as much as that is how I feel after a writers conference.

    Thanks for keeping the blog posting during your busy time.

  32. Jessica on July 15, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    >It's not boring at all! I like hearing about what editors want. LOL!

  33. Christa Allan on July 15, 2009 at 7:13 AM

    >I appreciate your energy and your passion for your authors and this business.

    I also appreciate your family for supporting you so you can support us!

  34. Anne L.B. on July 15, 2009 at 6:57 AM

    >Rachelle, it occurs to me that you're never boring, whether to clients or other readers, because you're consistently relevant.

  35. Krista Phillips on July 15, 2009 at 6:43 AM

    >I didn't find that boring at all, great information and very encouraging!! Now go get some sleep!

  36. Anne L.B. on July 15, 2009 at 6:15 AM

    >I can't imagine that your clients would find this post boring in the least. Thanks for the update.

  37. Sharon A. Lavy on July 15, 2009 at 5:58 AM

    >Question: Thinking about the power of myth here. Is there still room for a heroine who starts out wimpy, gets some backbone as her character arc and then saves the day, or reaches the goal etc.?

  38. Megan on July 15, 2009 at 5:36 AM

    >not boring at all!
    very insightful:)

  39. Jill on July 15, 2009 at 5:05 AM

    >Thanks for giving us some ideas on general direction for the industry.

  40. Sharon A. Lavy on July 15, 2009 at 4:40 AM

    >Not boring at all. Thanks for the peek into the ICRS and for sharing the trends of the publishingindustry you picked up.

  41. writer jim on July 15, 2009 at 1:27 AM

    >That looks like helpful and encouraging info for many writers. Thanks