I’m so pleased to bring you this Living Legends interview with Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent with Books & Such. Rachelle started blogging back before it was cool (I started after that) and has served thousands and thousands of writers over the years. She also has written her first ebook, with more to come. I encourage you to check out her blog at www.RachelleGardner.com.
OK, let’s dive into the interview. I think you’ll enjoy hearing from Rachelle.
Rachelle, lay it on us: What sort of author do you love to work with, and what sort would you prefer not to work with?
This is a difficult question to answer because I work with many different kinds of authors, each uniquely individual, and I’m sincerely excited and grateful to be working with each and every one.
That said, I most enjoy working with authors who have a strong work ethic and are serious about their writing careers. It’s helpful when authors have both big dreams and realistic expectations. I like it when authors are well informed about publishing through reading blogs and/or attending conferences. I find authors to be happier with their publishing journey when they trust their own instincts, trust their agent, and are open to discussion at every step of the journey.
As far as what sort of person I’d prefer not to work with, I admit I have a hard time with people whose visions of publishing are pie-in-the-sky and people who come into it with the baseline assumption that their book will “be a bestseller” or “become a great movie.” Everyone has dreams and goals, which I encourage and support, but it’s easier to work with people who are also humble to some degree.
Could you orient us to the kinds of books you’re looking to represent?
In nonfiction I’m drawn to books that encourage readers to look at life and Christianity through a different lens, to question their assumptions. I like books that present ancient truth in a fresh light—in fresh language that reaches today’s audiences in a way that older books might not.
In fiction I enjoy a wide range of genres. It just has to be an engaging, page-turning story.
You’ve been in publishing for a while now. What are the trends that you find most interesting or challenging within our industry?
I’m enjoying the trend toward memoirs in CBA, and I’m very interested in the trend of books that are more “progressive” or outside the previously rigid boundaries of evangelical publishing.
The most challenging trend is the low cost of ebooks, potentially lowering readers’ perception of the value of a book. It makes it increasingly difficult for publishers, authors, and agents to make the necessary revenue to keep doing what we all do.
Could you talk about the role platform plays in publishing today? How important is it as you shop proposals to different publishers? What advice do you have about building a platform?
People should be aware that “building a platform” isn’t something you can make happen in a few short weeks or months. Generally a platform takes two to three years to grow to a significant size.
Ideally platform grows organically out of who you are and what you do in life, especially for nonfiction authors. It’s best if your book grows out of your platform, rather than trying to write a book full of great ideas and build a platform from it. This means you need to get out there and establish yourself as an authority on your topic. Become a “go-to” person on the subject. Have a blog, a Facebook page, and other social media sites that suit your topic (such as Pinterest). You might write articles or guest posts, or speak to groups. This is how you build a platform around your area of interest; then you can create a book for the audience you’ve already gathered.
For fiction authors, it works differently. Prior to being published, you’ll still want to find ways to build a following, but your main priority is working on your writing.
Here’s a reader question: Where do you start if you don’t have the funds to do all the following that need to be done: blog makeover, taking craft courses, attending conferences, having professionals edits?
Always go back to the main thing: your book. If it’s not publishable quality, then your first priority is to get your writing up to par. Start with no-cost options like critique partners and books on the craft of writing; then figure out if your money is best spent on an editor or a conference. Only spend money on an editor if you are committed to using it as a learning experience—not just paying someone to fix your work. Your goal is to eventually be able to show a complete manuscript that is top-notch without having been edited. You can get there by learning from your editor.
As far as the other costly necessities, they’re secondary to getting your work up to a publishable level.
Another reader question: At what point or for what kind of contract/advance would you recommend an author switch from self-publishing to traditional publishing these days? It seems like the only ones really getting a raw deal these days are traditionally published mid-list authors, who seem to get lost in the middle with no advances and no promo or platform help. Can you give your perspective on this?
I think it’s counterproductive to try and address a question like this in a generalized manner. I have these conversations with clients all the time – that’s why they have an agent! There are no generic answers. It totally depends on the author and what their experience has been, and what their potential is. It also depends on the author’s own values and priorities.
The important thing I’m trying to get across here is that people are always looking for easy, one-size-fits-all answers, but in many cases they don’t exist. You have to look carefully at your own situation to make these decisions.
If you had only one piece of advice for a writer who is just getting started, what would it be?
Understand that this is a process and a journey.
It will most likely take longer than you think.
Success may look different than you originally anticipated.
Keep your mind open to all the opportunities out there.
Don’t believe everything you hear—do your best to seek reputable, qualified sources for your information.
That’s five things, sorry!
Uber blogger and literary agent legend Rachelle Gardner on platform, industry trends, and more . . . <Tweet that!>
Do you have questions for Rachelle? Leave them here, and they may turn up in a future blog post at RachelleGardner.com.