Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Today we have a glimpse of my daily mailbag. Er, inbox. The following is an example of some recent correspondence with a writer I didn’t know.

Hi Rachelle. I have a problem and I need your help. I’ve been writing a novel for nine years, pouring sweat, blood, and tears into it.

Recently an acquaintance who’d read my book spoke up in front of 500 people and told them that I am an awesome, talented writer. Several other people have said it was a good solid story.

However, my book deals with topics that are often taboo in Christian writing circles. No one wants to touch it. Also, I am not well known. I get the same story all over the place. Sounds good, but not interested. Nothing else. Agents give me no feedback whatsoever. Who wants to take a chance on a little nobody home school mommy like me?

What in the world do I do? I need to know what avenue to take. If my stuff isn’t polished enough, or professionally written, I can handle that, not a problem. I just need to know what parts of it stink, and what parts shine. Can you help me figure out what’s wrong?

Please help me. I need a breakthrough. There are many reasons I need to be published. I have three children who want to write, and I need to pave the way for them.

You are a brutally honest person, and that’s why I want YOU to help. I admire you for your openness. PLEASE shoot straight with me. I’m desperate for your advice.

Needing an Honest Opinion


Dear Needing,

You don’t need my advice—you need a whack on the side of the head! Please don’t misunderstand, I mean it in the nicest possible way. It appears that you simply need a dose of reality. So here it is.

Everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone has to go through the same agonizing process, sending the queries, getting rejections, desperate for feedback that will help them figure out what’s wrong and why they aren’t getting picked up. You’re not going to solve your problem by writing to me.

If you want to publish professionally, you may need to step it up a notch and treat it more professionally. That may mean investing more money and time. You’re not going to get free writing advice. You can attend writers conferences and workshops. You can read books about the craft of writing (not just about how to get published). You can look into the possibility of working with an editor to determine the issues in your writing. (Many freelancers offer a “manuscript evaluation” that’s pretty affordable.)

There is no magic bullet, there’s no advice I can give you that is somehow different than what I tell everyone else. If you want to get in the game, you’re going to have to keep doing the work.

When you’re getting lots of rejections with no feedback, it usually means you’re not even close. What are you going to do to change that? You can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.

Let go of excuses. (“They don’t like my topic” or “I’m an unknown.”) If your writing is terrific and you’re telling a compelling story, somebody is going to recognize it. Unfortunately in your case, nobody’s even saying “I love your writing but it’s not for us.” So your story is not working, and/or your writing is not working.

Enjoy the praise of family and friends who say they love your novel—but then ignore it and get back to work.

I hope you realize I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m trying to tell you what apparently no one else is telling you, because I believe it’s the only way you’re going to move forward.

You need to write a better book. Somehow, some way. Whether you do it by revising the current one, or writing a new one—that’s up to you. Just get back to work, and get some help.


P.S. I’m not a brutally honest person. Just honest.

P.P.S. Michael Hyatt posted on the same topic today, only his version is kinder, gentler, and much more informative.

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. Susan D. Harris on April 5, 2015 at 3:37 AM

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  5. cindyhan111 on February 26, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    >OMgosh, 75, count them, 76 comments! One has to wonder how you get any writing or publishing done!!! I've not gone through 'publishing seeking', but will make note for when I do! thank you!

  6. Catherine H on February 13, 2010 at 5:14 AM

    >Wow, just reading this has made me realize how many others are in the same boat. Take the advice and run toward the goal!
    This post by you Rachelle was the one that made me join the blog. I've spent the day surfing all your posts and have learned more in one day than I thought possible!
    I'm excited to be embarking on the journey of understanding the publishing industry.
    Note to Needy – it doesn't matter that you have a finished manuscript, (so do I – how many others out there???!) it seems us authors all need to have some understanding of the industry, along with our craft. Thanks R for helping us get there!

  7. kanishk on January 13, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    >I can relate to the desperation voiced in that email. But, at the same time, I feel like going through the process of rejection after rejection, and then finally having your work accepted is part of what makes it all worth it.

    Work from home India

  8. Anonymous on January 11, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    >Many of you have not shown the wisdom to abstain from continuing to be brutally honest with your own opinions. My gosh! "Needing" is still in the freakin' room. Three or four responses to Rachelle's post are fine but after that is ridiculous. I guess many of you just needed to be heard…hhhmmm I guess I just needed to be heard also… where is my own wisdom.
    Chris Medina

  9. Kim on January 11, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    >I absolutely hate that "she's down so let's give her an extra kick" mentally from commenters. Right or wrong, the original requester was seeking help from an agent because she probably just didn't know where to turn. Yes, there are workgroups to join, other places to seek help. Can't you just say that rather than including your insults? Perhaps she simply didn't know where to turn. If you Google anything, you're going to get a ton of conflicting information.

    So now, she received not only an unnecessarily harsh response, but the posters are trashing her as well. Sit back and take a look at yourselves before you throw your damned stones.

    BTW…since I know it's coming from someone. No, I'm not the author of the letter nor do I know her. But I hope some legitimate help comes her way.

  10. Horserider on January 8, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    >Great advice Rachelle 🙂

    Also absolutewrite.com has a lot of awesome advice for everyone, published and unpublished. I'd suggest joining it and reading everything you can that's there.

    “I have three children who want to write, and I need to pave the way for them.” Do you? Both me and my mom are writers. Neither of us are published, but I have queried before. In fact, I think that if both parents and children are writers and the parents are published, the children are going to feel pressured to be published as well. Writing is about writing for yourself first and everyone else second when you start out. Because if YOU don't want to read your story, no one else is either.

  11. ElanaJ on January 8, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    >From someone who's queried two novels:

    This is beyond true. My first novel was nowhere near being ready. I got rejection after rejection without feedback.

    My second novel also received it's fair share of R's, but almost every single one came with feedback. I was thisclose.

    And then I finally made it. Why? By working hard, learning more, doing better. It's the only way.

    Thanks, Rachelle!

  12. ElanaJ on January 8, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    >From someone who's queried two novels:

    This is beyond true. My first novel was nowhere near being ready. I got rejection after rejection without feedback.

    My second novel also received it's fair share of R's, but almost every single one came with feedback. I was thisclose.

    And then I finally made it. Why? By working hard, learning more, doing better. It's the only way.

    Thanks, Rachelle!

  13. Anonymous on January 8, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    >Marla–$200/hour for a critique? That seems quite high–and charging for time rather than length seems unorthodox?

  14. Mira on January 7, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    >Rachelle – I very much appreciate the honest response – it's so much easier and refeshing to have clarity. It takes integity and courage to tell someone it's most likely their writing, but it's so helpful!!

    Needing – thank you for letting lots of folks benefit through your letter. Lots of us have that same question – ALL THE TIME. 🙂

  15. Don Follis on January 7, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    >Honest words, Rachel. I don't write books, although I have written 500 religion columns for a newspaper. When I started writing it the editor said, "Everybody wants to be a columnist, pal. Send me 3 columns and we'll talk." Well, ,I sent him my first one and he liked it. We were off to the races.

    I like the immediacy of seeing the column in the newspaper religion section on Friday, although I hate it when I don't have an idea for a column. "Well written," my wife said to me the other day. "Dumb idea."

    I take a middle-of-the-road approach and often make people really think … at least that's my hope. But I live in a college town and not everyone likes it, and sometimes say so. One guy told me he puts my column at the botton of his bird cage every Saturday morning. Oh well. It's his newspaper.

    The other thing I like about having an 850-word column is that it goes to 50,000 subscribers on Friday. Hard to imagine that any book I write would go to more than that.

  16. Rowenna on January 7, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    >@Aimee re: annon at 5:32–you're totally right. It's not only impolite to question others' money situations, it comes off as clueless to those who are in the tight spot you don't believe exists. However, there's a second side of the "no such thing as free" coin–spending time. And though it's often harder to cobble together websites and library books, it doesn't cost anything but reduced sleep or pulling back on other activities you enjoy. Not that spending time is always easy–working parents, you have my admiration if you're also writing and researching your craft and the business!

  17. phundamental on January 7, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    >Thanks Rachel, I'm back at it!

  18. Katie Ganshert on January 7, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    >Such true words. So many of us want an Easy button in this writing journey. I know I do! Wouldn't that be cool? But the truth is, this journey takes time, sweat, perseverence, hard work, money, etc. etc..

    You should so totally start an advice column. Oh wait…you already do that here. 🙂

  19. Aimee LS on January 7, 2010 at 1:24 AM

    >Anonymous 5:32 – I'm guessing you've never been in a position to genuinely 'not afford' things you know would be useful for your personal development or achievement. If I knew you personally I'd warn you to be careful using such flippant words as those in this economy.

  20. Jennifer Gerhardt on January 7, 2010 at 12:54 AM

    >My mom and dad think I'm great. So do some friends from church. And when everybody's telling you you're great you forget that everyone you're hearing from is either related to you or barely passed freshman comp (or didn't pass freshman comp).
    It's one thing to be talented among people who aren't. When I need a healthy dose of reality I open up C.S. Lewis or Dostoevsky for that matter. Humbling.

  21. Abiding Branch on January 6, 2010 at 11:44 PM


    Your name was difficult to write with one "l" mine is with only one.

    Thank you for spelling this out so clearly. It is a considerable amount of help and expertise you have given here and I will mark your post along with Mr. Hyatt's which I had read and followed his lead to you!


  22. Lucy on January 6, 2010 at 10:45 PM

    >I'm quoting you, here, Marshall, as this is an interesting question.


    "One thing stood out for me, in the original letter: 'my book deals with topics that are often taboo in Christian writing circles'

    "Am I missing something here? Has she tried submitting to non-Christian (i.e. non-religious) agents?"


    I'm guessing that this is probably a book that deals with subjects controversial to Christianity, and at the same time is so strongly Christian in tone and content that it won't easily find a general audience. An agent can't fix this problem; regardless of any editorial concerns that are present, this is a marketing issue.

    Almost the only way to work around it to a publishing contract and a general audience is to A)Hone the stuffing out of your writing skills through feedback and education options suggested above, and B)Learn how to reach outside of yourself to reach your readers where they are at. That may mean making changes to the way you tell the story, and learning to assess your own work from multiple perspectives. No salesperson makes the same pitch to a group of brain surgeons that he'd make at a clown college. That goes double for storytelling.

  23. Crystal Posey on January 6, 2010 at 8:52 PM


  24. Joanne on January 6, 2010 at 8:38 PM

    >Work ethic, passion, a great story, drive. Lots of drive. Simple qualities that really add up to success.

  25. patriciazell on January 6, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    >When I first started writing way back in the early 1990's, I read somewhere that a person isn't a good writer until he or she has written 1,000,000 words. I believe that. I have had all kinds of writing experiences since I began (from commercial work to graduate coursework to a biweekly newsletter written for my high school staff) and every one of them have helped me hone my craft. I think we can get so caught up in getting our books published that we don't pay attention to improving our writing skills.

  26. Jemi Fraser on January 6, 2010 at 8:24 PM

    >I'm surprised if she knew enough to contact you, she didn't know enough not to contact you… if you know what I mean!

    Most people who've visited your blog & done any amount of research would know a lot better than this. I hope!

  27. Anonymous on January 6, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    >THANK YOU! This is the blog every writer needs to read. Especially those folks who BRAG about their 100+ rejection while insisting that all that is needed is perserverance. Also those folks who claim they can't afford conferences. All businesses require investment.

  28. Anonymous on January 6, 2010 at 7:28 PM

    >Oh, and you weren't brutally honest. Far from it. Brutal honesty would have meant laughing out loud at this letter and the serious naivete of someone who thinks they can guilt-trip an editor/agent into looking at his/her work (I'm doing it for the children/homeless/retarded dolphins).

  29. Anonymous on January 6, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    >I need to be a chef so my children can become chefs someday. Does that sound ridiculous? Well so does this writer's comment that she "needs" to be published so that she can pave the way for her children. I see this on forums all the time. Excuses about why people absolutely need to be published. I'm doing it for my grandma, who's 96. I'm doing it in memory of my dearly departed friend, who would want this for me, I know she would. I'm doing it for my cancer-stricken best friend. Excuses intended to make the reader feel pity and – what? – give the writer a helping hand?

    Everyone wants a helping hand. But the hard truth is, the only help that's actually going to help is refining your manuscript. Enough with the excuses and put in the hard work.

  30. Amanda-Lee on January 6, 2010 at 6:38 PM


    I love your blog…because you are honest, i first started reading a couple of months ago when i thought "hey!!! this will hard but worth it" i thought i had it all figured out but your blog helped me to take the proper paths…im now putting my writing up for scrutiny by a community of writers…and one of the who reads my work just so happens to be a former editor 😀

    Because of your blog opening my eyes, my writing has improved dramatically, i have more than just one "big story" going so that if people dont like the first 4 they might like the 5th.

    I love your honesty and i love the fact that your not afraid to pour sugar over everything you say.

    Thank you 🙂

  31. lynnekelly on January 6, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    >I've seen some great books that authors worked on for 10 years, especially if they had to do a lot of research, so the time spent on the book didn't bother me so much, but hopefully the writer has worked on other projects too. I have a feeling she's pinning all hope on this one book, though. Like someone else mentioned, I was confused about the concern that a Christian publisher wouldn't pick it up because of some of the content. That seems easy to solve– don't target that market. If I write a thriller, I'm not going to submit to an agent who takes only romance novels. Find agents who represent the genre you're writing and submit to them when the manuscript is ready. I'd echo the advice others have given about finding a good critique group (if the writer hasn't done that yet); if you can't find one through writer's groups in your area, you may find one online. Other writers can give you feedback about your story to help make it better, and give advice on who to submit to.

  32. Rosslyn Elliott on January 6, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    >One of the things I really like about you, Rachelle, is that you can be direct while still understanding why people may send you what appear to be "stupid" questions. I'm a firm believer in the fact that there are no stupid questions, just uninformed ones. It just makes it more difficult for you, as a very busy agent, that many people don't already know the answer to "Needing's" questions. So I appreciate the time you spend trying to help people out, even when they inadvertently make your life more difficult by flooding your email inbox.

  33. Nicole O'Dell on January 6, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    >Why does "He's just not that into you!" come to mind? 😉

  34. Phyllis Zimbler Miller on January 6, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    >Needing an Honest Opinion —

    When many people who read my novel manuscript said they liked it but there was something missing, I bit the bullet and paid a great deal of money for a consultant to figure out what was missing. What he figured out was simple but brilliant — and worth every penny.

    Then when I met resistance from agents who said NY editors wouldn't publish such a story (four new officers' wives during the Vietnam War) I decided to bite the bullet again and self-publish.

    At the same time I submitted the manuscript to the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — and MRS. LIEUTENANT was chosen a semi-finalist.

    And from that moment on I was off and running to blog, learn Internet marketing, etc. and to share what I've learned with others.

    There's no free lunch.

    Good luck,
    Phyllis Zimbler Miller

  35. Indigo on January 6, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    >Sometimes you have to be brutally honest to get the point across. I've seen far too many people looking for a quick fix or hoping to bypass the hurdles everyone else has to jump. If you want it bad enough, you'll do the work to get there.

    Wonderful advice. (Hugs)Indigo

  36. myimaginaryblog on January 6, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    >Yesterday I told my husband that my avid reading of editor and agent blogs lately has whet my appetite to maybe, possibly try writing actual books (rather than remaining a prolific writer of facebook status updates). He said, "You'd better hurry if you want to publish before Mabel." Mabel is our nine-year-old daughter, who's already done things in her short life that neither my husband nor I have ever tried. She doesn't need us paving her way, she just needs us to get out of the way.

    My alternate comment would have been:

    "I need to be a celebrity to pave the way for my children to be celebrities."

  37. JoanneFrench on January 6, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    >It takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything. So, if she put in 2hrs a day over the last 9 years (which is generous for people raising three kids)that comes to 6570 hours (give or take). She's about 4,000 short.

    Frankly, 10,000 hours on one project would not make you a writing master. It only makes you a master of that one project.

    Glad to discover this blog. Great advice all around.

  38. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary on January 6, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    >Great advice, as always, Rachelle!

    Also, I wanted to chime in that I highly recommend the Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook. I think it's the closest thing out there to being able to sit down with an agent over a cup of coffee and say, "OK, why isn't my book working?" I really can't recommend it strongly enough.

    Thanks again, Rachelle!

  39. Suzanne Eller on January 6, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    >Your honesty is the best thing about you. Love this post.

  40. Tina on January 6, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    >Sounds advice. There is no easy route. No magic pill. Like Mr. Hyatt, I'm going to bookmark this to share with aspiring writers.

  41. Christine H on January 6, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    >By the way, you CAN get free writing advice. Blogs like this one are chock full of it. As is Nathan Bransford's, Ray Rhamey's "Flogging the Quill" website, a variety of query and first chapter critique websites, and so on.

    I would invite the author of the letter, and anyone else who's interested, to my blog called the Writer's Hole, which is basically a hole to crawl into when you're feeling frustrated or discouraged. I also am a mom without funds for conferences and such. I would love to be able to spend money on learning my craft from professionals, but it just isn't possible right now and I really don't think it will be any time soon, so I'm learning all I can online and trying to keep the faith, and encourage others along the way.

    Links to my blogs are on my profile.

  42. Joylene Butler on January 6, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    >Needing is one lucky writer. I received a similar letter many years ago from the publisher of a top Canadian publishing house who encouraged me to keep writing. The letter was handwritten. I'm still not sure what he saw, but I'm eternally grateful that he took time to single me out. Even back then I understood the implications. He did me a favour by not taking me on; I had too much to learn at that stage.

    Today I'm self-published and have a 2nd novel to be released next year by a small publishing house. I'm thinking about searching for an agent soon, except I'm not prepared for the inevitable rejections. I've got enough to wallpaper our ensuite, but who likes wallpapering?

    Does that mean I'm settling? Maybe. But winter is tough enough without putting your ego out there so every agent in N/A can stump on it. Ouch.

  43. Josin L. McQuein on January 6, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    >A lot of the things the author who sent that letter said are the same things that fill the "recommendations" for vanity publishers.

    "I need to get published."
    "My book is too controversial."
    "I'm a nobody, so no one will take a chance on me."
    "I've never been published, no one will take a chance on me."

    And of course, there's the turning the whole thing around so the author foists all of her hopes on an agent who doesn't represent her – asking for services that agent has no obligation to provide – and calling it her last chance. That way, if she still doesn't get published, it's not her fault. (The whole "I want YOU to help".) Aside from being rude (and yes, I think the all caps shouting made it rude), it's just another crutch.

    Author, if you can send an email to an agent, you can do on-line research. You can find places on-line that give solid information about the writing process. You can find writers' boards (Absolute Write is a great one) where you can ask questions and get feedback from people who don't know you.

    Please listen to the people who have said 9 years on one book is too long to hold your focus that way. It may take years to write that book, but work on something else while your opus simmers. You might find that changing focus to another project gives you insight into your current one.

    And for your kids' sake, take the pressure off of them. Write for yourself, because you love it or because you believe you have something to say. The hard fact is that better than 90% of books never get published, even though the author poured themselves into them. Don't give your kids a 90% shot of feeling bad that you didn't achieve your goal.

  44. Donna Maria @ Indie Business on January 6, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    >Rachelle: I'm new to your blog and am glad I found it. I hope Needing reads this and is encouraged to create his own new opportunities using tools that are available — blogging, social networks, podcasting, FaceBook and more. While talent and heart are needed to accomplish all goals, including becoming a published author, today, they are just the tip of the icebert. You have to create your own opportunities today, and once you've done that, people will be far more likely to partner up to help you create new ones that are win/win for all involved.

  45. Kristi on January 6, 2010 at 11:20 AM

    >Enjoyed the post! I think as a writer we've all been there!

    Most of us probably just research a bit more before sending such a letter in! Or possibly are more self-aware.

    At any rate – enjoyed the great reminder and we all just have to "keep on keeping on", right? If you enjoy writing and have a passion for it, is there really any other choice?

  46. Julie Gillies on January 6, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    >I'll be sharing this post with others, Rachelle. I'm frequently approached by people (with no publishing history) who have written a book and assume all they need to do is stroll into a publisher's office somewhere and drop it off…then wait for their royalty checks.

    Thanks for the wake-up smack!

  47. Christine H on January 6, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    >Our writing is a product we are trying to sell in a public marketplace. The market rules. If you are writing something that is taboo and submitting it to a Christian publisher/agent, you're just asking for rejection.

    You can self-publish and have copies for your kids to read if you want to. I have a friend who did that and sold some copies to friends and fellow bloggers as well. It was a great experience, and she is quite happy with the result, working on a second book.

  48. Jessica on January 6, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    >Hmmm, well, I've never thought you were brutally honest, but I cut my teeth on Miss Snark. *grin*
    Interesting e-mail and solid response.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  49. Joshua on January 6, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    >This was most excellent. I've been working at it for a while now myself, but perhaps it's my background in theatre that makes the rejection or lack of feedback tolerable. I sent it out and kept changing it. Sent it again and changed it again. My first step is this: if I'm not happy with it, how can I expect someone else to be? I follow that up with, "Okay, it's at a point you love it, but would someone who doesn't know me care?" Then another revision. Constantly striving to make it better, that's my game.

    And hell, even if it's just for my kids to read when they're older and it only gets passed through the family, I can live with that.


  50. Timothy Fish on January 6, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    >Marla Taviano,

    I want to laugh, but somehow I missed the joke. I think any of us here would have a hard time passing up an opportunity to edit someone’s manuscript for $200 an hour.

  51. Carolyn V. on January 6, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    >Great advice. It's true – we are all in this boat together.

    Don't forget a critique group, especially if she is new in the writing world. Critique feedback can help shot one in the right direction. =) Thanks

  52. DebraLSchubert on January 6, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    >Wow, Rachelle, talk about hitting the proverbial nail on the head! You told her everything she needs to know to truly make a difference with her writing and mover her potential career forward. Research, attend conferences, network, and most importantly, write more. This post is just one more example of why you're a much-respected and successful agent. Great job!

  53. Jamie's Foggy Musings on January 6, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    >As a writer, she's obviously not a professional, or she'd have researched and known, you don't ask agents to read your work and give you an opinion to tell you which direction to go. When you contact an agent, you should already be WAY past this point.
    Writers be professional, go to conferences, read about craft and publishing. If needed, pay someone reputable to read your work and tell you the truth.
    You wouldn't apply for an engineering job without the proper training and education, think of writing the same way.

  54. Miss on January 6, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    >Fantastic response. I don't know if I would have had such patience and gentleness in my response. Well done.

  55. Michael Hyatt on January 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    >I love your honestly, your tone, and your advice. I am going to bookmark your post and send it to people like this who query me.

    It is pretty funny that you and I wrote on identical topics today! Mine is called So You Can’t Seem to Land an Agent—Now What?

  56. Daniel F. Case on January 6, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    >Good advice, Rachelle.

    One of the most critical turning points in my still-not-published-but-closer-than-I-was journey was the conference when an editor sat down with me and told me the honest, brutal truth about a non-fiction book proposal I'd been pitching for nearly a year:

    "Great proposal, great concept, and I like your writing style–but you're never going to sell this. You don't have the right letters after your name to be an authority on this topic, you don't have enough platform, and you don't have any publishing history. If the writing is stellar, you might sell it with only one of those problems, but not with three. You're wasting your time trying to get an agent to represent you with this, because they're looking for slam-dunks and this is nowhere close."

    He went on to explain possible options if publishing that book was important to me. He told me the truth. He was honest without being ugly about it, just like Rachelle's response.

    It was at that conference that I stopped trying to sell what couldn't be sold, and after seeking some wise counsel switched my focus to fiction writing and began focusing on learning the craft. I've grown so much since then, growth I'd have never experienced if that editor hadn't told me the honest truth.

    One of the lessons I've learned that "Needing" may need to take to heart is that there comes a time to stop working on a project, put it in the drawer and move on to a new story. Some stories just don't work. Some stories are too close to your heart to work. Some stories need to be put away until you can look at them objectively and edit them with your head instead of your heart. After nine years, maybe it's time to put it aside and start fresh.


  57. T. Anne on January 6, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    >Don't lean on praise from family and friends. It's not usually coming from a place of knowing and understanding the business end of publishing. Plus, are built in cheer leaders really where you want to look for an honest opinion? It is tuff out there. Rejections do hurt, and so does the wall of silence that often goes along with them. But it's not impossible, that's why we're all still here trying.

  58. DeadlyAccurate on January 6, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    >You need to write another book. In nine years I've written nine books. Each one has taught me something for the next one.

    You're beating a dead horse to a bloody pulp, and I bet when you finish the next one, you'll look back and be able to see things you did wrong with this one.

  59. Marla Taviano on January 6, 2010 at 10:03 AM


    I'd like to offer to critique/edit her work for $200/hour. Feel free to pass along my info.

  60. KT on January 6, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    >Thank you for posting this. I think it's a great lesson for all of us first-time wanna-be writers.

  61. RussWrites on January 6, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    >Great advice. The goal of getting better is what drives me to sit down and move my fingers on the keys each night.

    No matter how good a manuscript I think I have, or am told I have, I want to be a better writer than I was yesterday. So I sit and write some more.

  62. Fawn Neun on January 6, 2010 at 9:41 AM

    >Definitely agree on all points, but also agree with Marshall posted above – has she considered trying agents and publishers who don't specialize in Christian fiction? Even non-believers often enjoy a positive, spiritual story. Small presses are an option as well.

    Nine years seems rather excessive, has this person considered writing another book? A different one?

  63. GunDiva on January 6, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    >A dear friend of mine, a NYT best seller (long list, not the short one as she's prone to point out) read one of my works a few years ago. She was brutally honest and it was hard to hear, but I'm a much better writer for it now. She cited specific examples of how I could strengthen the characters and why my readers would rather kill of the main character than read one. more. word. It was the best thing that happened to my writing. Family, you gotta love them, just can't give you the same insights and they don't want to hurt your feelings.

  64. Tami Boesiger on January 6, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    >I love it, Rachelle. This is why people write to you.

  65. Shmologna on January 6, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    >Right on

  66. abouttothunder on January 6, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    >Thank you for sharing that, Rachelle. It isn't harsh,and it's a good reminder for a lot of writers. One of the best things an agent ever did for me was to tell me that my writing wasn't up to snuff. It stung, but now I'm moving forward with learning the craft and joining a new critique group. I do not need to be published. I will enjoy the journey.

  67. Matt Mikalatos on January 6, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    >Love the post script. I wrote a novel, a screenplay and countless chunks of novels (okay, not countless, but several) before writing something worth publishing.

  68. Timothy Fish on January 6, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    >Nine years?

  69. Rowenna on January 6, 2010 at 8:22 AM

    >I popped in to the comments to say the exact same thing that Aimee said about crit groups. Acquaintances who read your work and praise it are not the same as a critique group who can offer solid suggestions about what's working and what isn't. In a critique group, you've given everyone permission to jump on anything in your work that doesn't shine–friends and family often don't feel that they have that permission, and if they aren't writers themselves might feel that it's not their place to criticize (after all, they haven't poured hours upon hours into writing a manuscript, have they?).

    One other point in regards to the letter's lament that the book included taboo topics that Christian publishers won't touch. It might sound mean, but this might not be the book you'll get published on. Write another one, and another after that. If even you as the writer have doubts about this one getting published because the market won't take it, there's probably something to that. Pour your energy into something else and maybe come back to it someday when you have a fresh perspective. Plenty of writers have "drawer novels" that never reach publication–even published writers.

  70. Scott on January 6, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    >Honesty is the best policy! I'm sorry, but your response made me laugh . . . which is a good thing the first thing in the morning especially w/wind chills in the single digits. Is it summer yet?

    Great advice also. Thanks.


  71. lynnrush on January 6, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    >I'm glad you shared this letter with us, and your response. I know Needing is really wanting to get pubbed, heck a lot of us want that too, but it doesn't mean we all will.

    Nice advice, Rachelle. Spot on.

    Hang in there, Needing. Press on and take Rachelle's advice, she will never steer you in the wrong direction.

    Aimee LS—You're so right. Crit groups are so very important to a writer's growth.

  72. Alisa on January 6, 2010 at 7:35 AM

    >"There are many reasons I need to be published. I have three children who want to write, and I need to pave the way for them."

    Wow. The truth of the matter is, nobody needs to be published. I'm sure most everyone reading Rachelle's blog wants to published one day (or already is), but nobody needs to be.

    Of course we all think we have some great, mind-blowing work that if only someone would take a chance on it, it would change the lives of so many!

    But I think all writers, at one point or another, need to gain a little perspective. To say that you need to be published because your children want to be writers…well…you don't need to be published to pave the way for them.

    My dad loves to write stories. He's not published, but it was his love of writing that encouraged me to be a writer. The fact that he wasn't published didn't deter me. It just gave me all the more incentive to take the steps needed to make my writing ready for publication (such as taking writing courses, etc.).

    I can relate to the desperation voiced in that email. But, at the same time, I feel like going through the process of rejection after rejection, and then finally having your work accepted is part of what makes it all worth it.

    Would it really mean as much, be a true representation of all your hard efforts if you just got a "lucky break" from an agent or publisher?

    Is that really the lesson you want to teach your kids? That writing and publication aren't about hard work and faith in God, but about desperate emails to agents?

  73. Krista Phillips on January 6, 2010 at 7:28 AM

    >Ahhh, great reply. Probably hard to hear, but much needed to that person.

    I agree with others, I'd much rather honesty. I can get over the sting, then make my stuff better… rather than having a false sense of hope.

  74. Stephanie Fey on January 6, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    >That wasn't a reply, that was medicine. She should print it offf and rub it all over her body, liquidise it and then drink it!

    Have I taken this too far? Do you get the point?

    Some people, however, can't read labels, so they don't know the difference between something that will help them and something that will kill them.

    So, the question is: did the person who received the reply feel that she'd been killed, or cured?

    Steph Fey x

  75. Shelby on January 6, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    >Reall?! Strange, on so many levels. Shows what I know.

  76. Jody Hedlund on January 6, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    >Wow, Rachelle. Love your honesty! So, I've said that before! But I think we get so much praise from our friends/family, that we need someone to just tell it like it is.

    In my blog post today, I'm sharing ways to have a successful querying process and it hits on some of the things you mentioned.

  77. Marshall Buckley on January 6, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    >One thing stood out for me, in the original letter:
    "my book deals with topics that are often taboo in Christian writing circles"

    Am I missing something here? Has she tried submitting to non-Christian (i.e. non-religious) agents? It struck me as odd that, given the supposed subject-matter, she would query an agent/agency that specifically states it deals with Christian authors.

  78. J.d. Smith on January 6, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    >For years I felt entitled with my writing."I am a great writer." My friend once told me perception is reality. It's amazing how often I see that phrase now. My perception was not the right one. We can have pride in our work and we should. But that does not mean our writing is ready, readable, and enjoyable. It will never be perfect. I enjoy the process now. It's empowering to see every critique, every effort at sharing, even every effort at writing anything. I have grown to love the process of learning everything I can to be a better writer. Learn to take it as a step and not a step back.

  79. Aimee LS on January 6, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    >Ouch! (But that's a good thing).

    I would own the 'brutally honest' tag with pride if I were you Rachelle. Just because something is hard to say, or hard to hear, doesn't mean it shouldn't be spoken. Good advice that cuts deep will leave a lasting impression. She'll thank you for it later when it's spurred her to success.

    I'll be praying for "Needing"

    PS – "Needing" – if you're reading this: I'd highly recommend finding a really good, full manuscript critique writing group. There are several online that require an admissions application. But if your writing is good enough you'll get in and they'll tear your manuscript to shreds for you – turning it into gold when you've picked yourself up off the editing floor. Readers who don't know you will separate the chaff from the wheat in your writing…

    Keep going. Humility works.