This is a modified version of the interview conducted via e-mail by Pat Stoltey, originally published on May 3, 2011
CIR: One of the agent's who took pitch appointments at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold 2011 in Denver is Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary Group, representing both fiction and non-fiction.
She’s looking for mainstream commercial projects for both the Christian and general markets. In non-fiction and memoirs, she looks for authors with established platforms, strong marketing hooks and an understanding of how to use social media. Non-fiction authors must have a book proposal and three sample chapters to be considered. She’s also seeking all kinds of fiction, and authors must have a completed manuscript to be considered.
CIR: Rachelle, thank you for agreeing to this interview on Chiseled in Rock blog. Since CIR is closely related to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and since you’ll be a guest agent at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference in Denver in September, we’re interested in learning more about you. I’ll begin with an off-track question: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
RG: At times I wanted to be a psychologist; other times I wanted to be a screenwriter or movie director.
CIR: How and when did you decide to become a literary agent?
RG: I decided in October of 2007 after several years of being an editor. I felt like being an agent would give me more opportunity to engage with writers on a more long-term basis, helping them not only with their books but with their entire careers.
CIR: Tell us a little about WordServe Literary Group.
RG: We have two agents (Greg Johnson, the founder, and me) along with an administrative assistant (Cathy) and our fiction specialist, Sarah, who reviews incoming submissions and helps me with other fiction-related projects. (Note: since this interview, a new agent, Barbara J. Scott, has joined WordServe.)
CIR: Does your group’s Denver base cause you any problems with access to the New York publishing houses?
RG: Well, we don’t have lunch with editors every day. But we get a great response from editors, whether they’re in New York or not. I think the main thing that matters is if we’re bringing them quality projects or not, and of course that’s what we always try to do.
CIR: How and where do you find most of your clients?
RG: Mainly through referrals from current clients and others in the business; conferences; queries.
CIR: What are your personal and professional expectations when you attend a writers’ conference?
RG: I always hope to be able to help as many writers as possible through both advice and encouragement. I hope to have a good time networking with writers, editors and agents. And if I find a writer I really want to represent, I consider it a bonus.
CIR: What do you find most aggravating at a conference?
RG: I am generally pretty easygoing at conferences and don’t get bugged easily. I know it’s hard for writers sometimes—they may feel nervous and uncomfortable around agents and editors. So I try to go easy on them!
CIR: Do you have any advice for authors who have 8 to 10 minutes during a pitch session to sell you on reading their manuscripts?
RG: Treat it as a conversation, not as a “pitch.” Remember, the agent sitting across from you is a person. Begin as you would any conversation—with an introduction and by putting your project in context. You’ll want to say hi, give your name, etc., and say something like, “I’m writing a paranormal romance targeted at the teen market. It’s about…”
CIR: When you invite an author to send a partial or full manuscript after a query or pitch session, what do you want to see on that first page? What turns you off?
RG: I want to see your best work. What turns me off is obviously bad grammar or typos, or entry level writing craft mistakes.
CIR: As a rule, do you inform an author when you reject a query or submission?
RG: On queries, I try to always respond, but it’s not always possible. Our agency policy states that if you don’t hear from us in 60 days, you can consider it a pass.
CIR: If you’re interested in an author’s manuscript but feel the work needs additional editing, do you provide that service?
RG: I can’t answer that question in a global way; it’s entirely dependent on the situation. There are cases where I believe someone is a really great writer and just needs some help polishing a book before submission, and in many cases, I’ll offer to rep them and then do the necessary editing.
CIR: It was pretty hard to find questions to ask that you haven’t already answered on your excellent blog at Rants & Ramblings: On Life as a Literary Agent. You also have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps other social media venues as well. What is the minimum amount of social media exposure you recommend for authors who are ready to submit their work to agents and editors?
RG: For a fiction author, I hope that they at least are familiar with Twitter and Facebook, and maybe have started a blog, even if they haven’t gotten it going yet. Fiction authors need to realize that their platform won’t sell their book, but once they’re repped and especially once they get a contract, they’re going to have to work to help sell their work, so they need to know what this means.
For non-fiction authors, a pretty good sized platform is required. Either they’re well-known in their field, or they are a speaker who speaks in front of large audiences once a month or more, or they’ve got a blog with 50,000 hits a month (this is an arbitrary number).
CIR: Thanks again to Rachelle Gardner for answering our questions. In addition to accepting pitches at the conference on Saturday morning and participating in an agent panel on Sunday morning, Rachelle also conducted a three-hour workshop on Saturday afternoon (September 10th): From Proposal to Publication (and Everything in Between) "An overview of the publishing process, including how agents work, what publishing contracts look like, and what to expect when working with a publisher."