Advice from Rachelle Gardner: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012

Rachelle Gardner, literary agent and blogger extraordinaire, was a keynote speaker at this year’s conference and was also available for one-on-one consultations. Upon arrival at the conference, I learned I was scheduled for a consultation with her on Saturday, May 19, 2012, just as I had hoped. Okay, this is getting real.

At the allotted time, I slipped out of Julie Brickman’s presentation on “How to Master Point of View in Fiction” and stood outside the consult area with other writers. I pulled out my business card, query letter and one-sheet. I waited, prayed, and reviewed my pitch. I’m a total geek and had written out a script for my meeting. As another writer waited for his consultation to begin, he passed his manuscript pages around to other writers and asked for input. Please don’t ask me, I thought. But he did. I read his page. I liked it. The distraction helped diminish my jumpy nerves.

I looked up just as Rachelle finished a consult. Here goes. I walked toward her table and she smiled warmly. “You must be Natalie,” she said as she reached out and shook my hand. She handed me her business card and I gave her mine.

I think she said, “So what do you have for me?”

I gave her my pitch. I probably talked too quickly and used my hands too much, but I got my crucial plot points in. I also talked about the issue of child molestation and why it’s important to tell this story.

She’s a great listener—intent but guarded, with a great poker face. Extraordinarily gracious, I think.

She advised that my story was issue-driven fiction, and about half of the CBA market won’t touch it. Her advice: “Don’t focus on the issue as much as the story. Don’t be too preachy.  Tell me the story,” she said. “Go to my blog and read the post with that title: Tell me the story.”

Her personal advice for me: “Finish this story, then send it to me. Then start your next project. Don’t get too stuck on your first story or you’ll get an unhealthy attachment to it and you won’t be able to move on. Start your next project.”

She definitely said, “Start your next project” twice. Remember when teachers repeat themselves? That means it’s super duper important.

She remembers seeing my name among the comments on her blog. (Yey!)  She gave me specific directions for when I’m ready to send her my novel: which email address to use, the subject line, and what to include in the body of the email.

“You might want to write this down so you don’t forget,” she said. “This is very important.”

I was mortified. I struggled to detach my pen from my notebook and scribbled the instructions on a scrap of paper.

I asked her two questions.

“You mentioned that half of the CBA market wouldn’t touch this story. Isn’t it good to have a niche?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s just going to make it that much tougher to sell it.”

My next question was harder to ask. “Would you mind taking a look at my query letter so it’s just right when I send it to you?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Um. Sure.”

I’m so glad I did. [If you’d like to see my query letter with her input, comment below and I’ll email it to you.]

Our meeting concluded with me thanking Rachelle idiotically and profusely. We shook hands. My hands were freezing.

I found the blog post Rachelle mentioned when I got home: Pitching Your Novel. The post features a photo of a woman yawning and this: “One thing I’ve noticed lately in fiction pitches – verbal pitches or queries – is that some writers want to tell all about the theme or the emotional journey of the story, but they have a hard time conveying the actual story.”

Oh, I wish I’d read that post right before this conference. I’m glad I told her what actually happens in the story, but I definitely went on too long about the theme. Argh!!!

It was a milestone. My first contact with a literary agent; one I admire greatly. And an open door to the next step.

All posts from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012: