Rachelle Gardner, a former editor, is a firefighter’s wife, mom to two girls, and a certified bookworm who loves coffee. She’s a literary agent with WordServe Literary and mentors writers through her blog.
Welcome, Rachelle. Thank you for participating in our Consulting With the Specialists column. Let’s get to know you a little better. Why did you switch from being an editor to being an agent?
As an editor I was working book-to-book, but as an agent I can build long-term relationships with authors, working with them over the course of several books and helping them build their careers. I like the interactivity of being an agent — I get to work with people, as well as with words on the page. I get the best of both worlds as an agent. In addition, I love the business side of publishing, so agenting is perfect for me in that regard.
Do you consider potential clients if referred by current clients?
Yes. Many of my clients are well-connected in the writing community and they tend to bring me the best new clients.
When should a writer consider querying an agent?
The soonest you should consider it is when you’ve written a complete book (for fiction) or a proposal and three sample chapters (for nonfiction), and it’s edited, polished and the very best it can be. It’s highly unlikely your work will be polished enough without having another set of eyes on it besides yours, so it helps to work with a critique partner or a group before getting ready for submission.
That’s the minimum requirement, but people rarely get ahead when they do the minimum! Your odds of success will be enhanced if you’ve done a lot more writing than that one book so you’re an experienced writer; and also if you’ve spent time (months, hopefully) studying the publishing industry by reading blogs and websites and becoming active in social networking.
I understand reading tastes are subjective, but what do you look for when reading queries?
I look for a writer who has done everything I just said in the previous question. I look for strong, polished writing that doesn’t appear amateurish. I also look for an idea that intrigues me, but it’s impossible to define what this means because I often don’t know it until I see it. It’s like shopping for a new dress for a special occasion. You begin by knowing the general shapes, styles and colors that suit you … but then you’re open to what’s available in the stores. You may end up with a dress that exactly fits your preconceived notion going in, or you may end up with something surprisingly unique, but perfect.
What are your pet peeves as an agent?
I don’t think in terms of pet peeves. I have things that bug me, but I tend to get annoyed and then get over it — I don’t dwell on the negatives. I guess if I had to name something, it’s that agents are fair game for writers to criticize and unload their frustrations on. Some writers are discouraged and angry, and they love to place some of the blame for that on agents. The truth is, agents didn’t create this challenging publishing environment. We work within it the same way writers do, and experience the same frustrations.
Many writers participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a rough draft in 30 days. As a former editor and a current agent, what advice would you give writers as they revise those manuscripts?
Well, there are entire books written about editing, so I won’t go into detail. The main thing is not to rush it. Enjoy the luxury of not having a deadline. Once you attain your dream of publication, you’ll have deadlines and this can be incredibly stressful. So when you don’t have a deadline, take as much time as you need to make it perfect. One other thing: Get help. Don’t edit in a vacuum. Join with a critique partner, trade NaNo manuscripts and offer each other editing help. Finally, when you’re editing, don’t just look at words and sentences. Look at the overall structure of your book, and also look at it scene-by-scene. Before you fix words and sentences, you have to make sure the “bones” of the book are in place.
Describe your ideal client.
Someone who’s a good writer, has a good understanding of the publishing industry, has realistic expectations — yet is able to remain positive despite setbacks, is persistent in the face of challenges, and most of all, is a good communicator. I am not a mind reader and I really need my clients to talk to me about what’s going on with them so that I can address their needs.
How do you guide your clients through the revision process?
It’s different with each writer. Occasionally I’m heavily involved in revisions and I give detailed editorial notes. Other times I act as a cheerleader and encourager. One of my biggest jobs is calming writers’ anxieties and letting them know that the difficulties they’re facing are a normal part of the process.
Do you read all of your clients’ manuscripts before submitting them to editors?
Most of the time, yes, but occasionally there are exceptions for various reasons.
How much editing and revising do you do for your clients? Do you do it for each manuscript?
It’s impossible to quantify. “Each according to their need” is a good way to put it. But I have to make decisions. If the editing required is simply too much for me to handle given my workload, I may ask the author to hire an outside editor before submission. However, some manuscripts don’t need any editing prior to submission.
Describe your typical day.
One of the things I like most about being an agent is that there’s no such thing as a typical day. It’s difficult to plan a day or a week because the nature of the job is to be responsive to others and to rapidly changing situations. In a typical day, I’ll spend several hours in what I call “client care,” which is generally responding to e-mails from clients and publishers, as well as taking or making phone calls and sometimes having meetings. Other times I’m preparing projects for submission and getting them submitted to publishers, or following up on submissions. I may be reviewing or negotiating contracts. Every day is different.
Our thanks again to Rachelle Gardner for participating in our column. For more information about the writing and publishing industry, visit Rachelle’s blog, CBA Ramblings.