Your Questions Answered

questionsHere are some questions I’ve received from readers lately, and my brief answers.

I’m stuck on my second draft. When is it a good idea to bring in an outside editor?

You should bring in an editor when you can’t go any further on your own. Try a critique partner first—it will save you money and help you get your manuscript to the point where the cost of an editor will be worth it.

I have some questions over copyright. I’m working on my manuscript (and have been for several years) but I’m wondering what protection I have if it should leak out online.

1. You own your work without having to do anything specific like registering a copyright.

2. Everyone is subject to plagiarism.

3. My personal opinion is that worrying about someone stealing your work is a waste of precious time and emotional energy. We should all be so lucky as to have people wanting to steal what we’ve written! In fact, your time and energy is better spent working on your writing and getting it published.

How does an author balance the age-old advice of “writing what you love” against writing what the market is demanding?

The secret is to find the point at which your passion meets the market. If no such point exists, keep writing what you love and find the readers who will love it too.

If an author e-publishes first, does that diminish his chance of securing an agent later?

In most cases, the answer is “not anymore.” However, if it’s obvious that the author self-pubbed out of disdain for traditional publishing, then agents will think twice about working with them.

Does winning an RWA writing contest (or any writing contest) pique an agent’s interest when reading a query? Is it worth mentioning?

Yes, a brief mention of any contests you’ve won is helpful in a query.

What is the best way to query an agent vs. a publisher? Are they looking for the same thing?

In most cases, this choice is not available to you. Large publishers do not accept queries from authors, only from agents. If you want a large publisher, then your only choice is to query agents. If you are shooting for a small independent publisher, and you’ve researched the ones who accept submissions directly from authors, then query them instead.

How do you politely ask literary agents whether they accept simultaneous submissions if there’s nothing on their web site to say otherwise?

Almost all agents accept simultaneous submissions; the default position is to assume they do, unless their website specifically says they don’t.

That’s all the questions for today! In the comments, feel free to leave more questions that I can answer on the blog in the new year.


  1. Larry says:

    I wrote a book which is a collection of related short stories. Is it wise to try and publish one story before trying to move forward on the whole piece? Someone suggested this as a way of gaining interest from the agents/publishers?

    Also, does it behoove a new author to stay in one genre rather than persue ideas in various genres (example children’s and memoir)?

  2. The recent Instagram flap got me thinking about how, in spite of “owning our content,” most of us who use social media have agreed to perpetual irrevocable worldwide non-exclusive (etc.) licenses at some point. What should writers know about posting micro-teasers, excerpts or even whole chapters from works-in-progress in spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogs? I assume that at some point, I’ll be asked to warrant to a publisher that the rights they are purchasing haven’t been assigned elsewhere.

    Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  3. Navdeep Kaur says:

    Thanks for all the answers to some of our endless questions.

  4. Minolta White says:

    With self publishing becoming more popular, are agents less discouraged in representing a self pubbed author?

  5. Peter DeHaan says:

    I feel like I just read a week’s worth of blog posts and information all at one time. Bravo!

  6. Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you! Some more questions…

    (1) What reasons might different publishers have for sometimes labeling novels under different genres (on the back cover)? I read two historical novels published by two separate Christian publishers. Both were in the same time period (1800s), and essentially the same genre (faith, hope, love), but one publisher labeled their novel “historical” while the other labeled theirs “romance.” I was surprised (I generally don’t read romance but it read like the historical novels I usually read). Could that be more of a marketing decision than a genre-specific technicality?

    (2) Your previous blog recommends that a writer only submits one MS at a time to a lit agent. If a writer has two MSS in two distinctively different genres (in my case, one suspense, and one historical), do you recommend that we just put our best foot forward and hold back one of the MSS until we get an agent? Or do you recommend querying several agents to see which MS is accepted first, i.e. let the agents decide for us?

    Thank you so much and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  7. I am working on my debut novel and in the process I am in some writer discussion groups on LinkedIn. A question arose last night in the Historical Fiction group that I am hoping you can clarify for me. My novel is about a modern day protagonist contacted by a ghost from 1871 to help her solve a very cold case murder mystery. Now, since this is a historical mystery, could it be considered historical fiction? Some say no, that it would be historical fantasy or paranormal due to the ghost factor. I am a bit confused on this because I was under the impression that historical fiction was based in historical fact, but fiction as far as that it could have happened. This ghost was a living breathing person in 1871. So, how would this type of book be classified? Thanks for your help. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! 🙂

  8. When preparing to attend a large writers conference, is it appropriate to query ahead of time agents and/or publishers you hope to meet with at the conference? Since it’s often impossible to get all your first picks for appointments, this seems a logical way to increase your chances of getting to meet with people you’ve researched and found to be a good fit for you and your work. Is this true?

  9. Lianne Simon says:

    Happy holidays, Rachelle!

    Hope you can find some quiet time with family and friends. Away from the Internet and cell phones.

    You’ve taken on an awesome author. Her book is fabulous. The reviewers love it. But sales don’t materialize. Something’s just not connecting. Is there something more you as an agent can do?

  10. Hi Rachelle,

    Thank you so much for all of your helpful blog posts and for being willing to take more questions.

    Two questions jump to mind:

    1) Are there good or bad times of year to submit a query (same question as prior poster)?

    2) When providing information on your platform in the proposal, is your ability to guest post on blogs with significant readership relevant? Or should you only present the numbers of your own platform? I am sure you shouldn’t mix the two, but I was wondering if an agent would be interested to see information on relationships with other bloggers who also have good platforms.

    Thank you so much!

  11. Rhonda Brooks says:

    Merry Christmas! I was wondering about the post Christmas submission. I have read that January presents a flood of submissions for agents. Is it better to hang back a couple of months and let “The Pile” return to normal? Or is anytime the right time if it’s something like? Thank you!

  12. Sharon says:

    Merry Christmas, Rachelle~
    I had a sit-down with an editor at a Christian writers’ conference about a year ago. The editor handed me her business card and asked that I send her a few chapters and synopsis, which I did a month later (after some last-minute polishing). (She further suggested I consider this MS as the first in a series.) It has been a year, now, and I’ve not heard from her, though I’ve sent two subsequent emails asking confirmation that she received the requested materials. Should I assume rejection at this point? Would a phone call be tabu?

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      A submission, two follow-ups and no response = rejection. And yes, sadly, a phone call would be completely out of line. Move on!

  13. Thank you Rachelle. It’s good to be reminded of rulings and to learn more.
    I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  14. James says:

    Morning, Rachelle! I was curious to know whether publishing experience in a completely different field might help or hinder an author, or whether it has any measurable impact at all. For example, I published a hardcover sports book in 2008 and have switched gears to fantasy writing.

  15. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, Rachelle. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us and making the agent part of the publishing industry seem less distant-and in most cases; more hopeful.

  16. Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

    I heard you. “Large publishers do not accept queries from authors.” However, at writers conferences, editors sometimes ask for a proposal. If an editor interested in a manuscript, is it easier for the author to get an agent? (For this reason, I’ve made editor appointments at conferences, but maybe I should change my strategy and seek an agent first.) Thanks for answering all the questions here. You’re so helpful!

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Roxanne: Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends on the situation.

      I do think it’s a good idea to meet with editors at conferences. If they request your work and then they love it and want to publish it, they’ll recommend you get an agent and then of course it will be easier.

      Reality check: Probably 95% of the time when an author tells me an editor requested their material at a conference, it doesn’t lead to anything because the editor ends up passing. So it’s risky for me to move forward based on “an editor requested it.” I still have to read it myself and judge whether it’s something I want to take on.

  17. Beth says:

    I recently read that getting my MS copyrighted before querying will make it harder for me to get a publishing deal later and is a turn off for agents/publishers. Is this true? I know you’re not supposed to mention it in your query letter. Unfortunately, I got mine copyrighted shortly before read this. Have I ruined my chances at a traditional deal? I only did it because I’ve been getting full requests from small presses with whom I’m not familiar (I ended up not sending to them anyway).

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Where could you have read something so silly? And who advised you to get your manuscript officially copyrighted? It’s unnecessary. You own your work. When you publish with a publisher, you will still own the copyright. This whole thing is nonsensical to me.

      Bottom line: It’s unnecessary to get your manuscript copyrighted prior to publication. But if you do, you haven’t harmed your chances of publication, you’ve probably just wasted a bunch of time, money, and mental energy.

    • Else says:

      Just don’t mention the copyright thing in your query letters. The issue, as I understand it, is that if you make a fuss about how you’ve had your work copyrighted you risk coming across as either paranoid (you think the agent or editor will steal your work) or not very knowledgeable (you don’t know that that’s not how things are done).

      Not saying you ARE either of those things, you understand. Just that that’s a way the copyright-registration thing could work against you. Of course, your work is automatically legally your own from the moment you write it.

      • Beth says:

        Thank you, Else. You both made this newbie feel a lot better.

      • Copyright: I believe there is one simple step that everyone should take…save an early version, with a date, forever. If an issue comes up several years later about your WIP or MS, the early copy can be used to prove you started the work on that date. If all you have is recent copies, courts may question who had the text first.

  18. Kevin says:

    How should you query or pitch a manuscript that deals with a potentially controversial topic (i.e. religion, sexuality etc.)

  19. When considering an author for representation, does that author’s blog and/or website influence your decision?

  20. You mentioned in an old post that when you call an author to discuss possible representation, you ask if an editor has seen the manuscript – and you hope they haven’t. I’m curious why you feel that way.

    • Anne Love says:

      Me too, because I’ve had one editor ask for it not caring that I had no agent, but I was hesitant to do so without one. Yet another editor who said she was interested and couldn’t or wouldn’t look at it until I had an agent.

      Fairly confusing to this newbie! I took the third road, just wait for God’s timing and keep writing. But I want to be more prepared for this answer at the next ACFW.

    • Jeanne says:

      I’d be interested in knowing this too. 🙂

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      I’ve blogged about this before. It’s not about “whether an editor has seen it.” The concern is whether any editors at publishing houses have seen it and passed. It hamstrings the agent. I can’t sell your project if too many publishers have already seen it. They won’t want to look at it again. I’d like to go into the relationship with all my options open. (It’s hard enough selling a book to a publisher without having additional obstacles in the way.)

      • Thank you for answering my question, Rachelle. I can definitely see why it is advantageous to have a manuscript that hasn’t been viewed (or more importantly, rejected) by publishing houses.

        If a manuscript has been rejected by publishers, would that hinder your decision to represent the author?

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