Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Question: who do you have to know around here?

This is what I gather from what I read on the net: It is not encouraging:

The publishing world already has all the agents it needs.
Agents already have all the clients they need. this is just not true
Editors work only through agents, whom they use as first readers. neither is this
Editors do not want to hear from outsiders.
Realistically, therefore, outsiders are just S.O.L. and I don't think this is either, but more on it later
You didn't take rhetoric or logic in college did you? Spent too much time reading novels before breakfast no doubt.

Agents don't have all the clients they need because some current clients aren't going to be publishing books in ten years and agents will still need to make money.  That means that many agents are ACTIVELY looking for the new writers now who will pay the bills in ten years.

As substantive proof of this I refer to you any agency website: make a list of 100 agencies. How many aren't accepting queries at all? I can think of two: Nicole Aragi and ICM.  I didn't look, that's just from memory.

I'm not accepting queries at present but everyone else at FinePrint is. 

I actually buttonholed an agent one time and, without mentioning your name, quoted your advice that knowing someone is not important. She looked incredulous and asked what I thought was important if knowing The Right People was not important and again without mentioning your name quoted your advice to “Just write well, that’s all.” The response?

“Write well? Are you kidding? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.”

I interpreted that as disagreement. Publishing is about Knowing Somebody.

So should I try to raise dodo birds in Alaska instead, or keep writing?

While raising dodo birds in Alaska is a fine skill to acquire (there's a book in that by the way, just in case this novel thing doesn't work out)  let's actually talk about your underlying question: Do you have to know someone to get a foot in the door?

Up till about 8pm Wednesday night I would have said no, scoffed in fact, and read you the list of my clients that arrived over the transom (about 75% of them right now.)

But last Wednesday I had the rare pleasure of attending the Center For Fiction presentation by Nelson DeMille.  He was interviewed by Jonathan Santlofer and one of the questions he was asked was "Do you have to live in NYC to get a foot in the door?" which is akin to "do you have to know someone."

And Nelson DeMille said "yes you do" and I about fell off my chair.  But he made a case for his opinion and here it is:  when you're at the heart of publishing (and publishing is still very much a NYC based industry) you have more opportunities to meet the people who can make things happen for you. 

And I thought of the number of people who've published books recently who have jobs in publishing, or connections to people in publishing, and it's not a small percentage.

So, yes, it helps if you're here. And it helps if you're meeting people who can make stuff happen for you.

And if you want to take that information and use it as the reason to believe you'll never make it, well, you should.  Giving up cause someone tells you it's hard means you don't have what it takes to be a writer. published.  It takes tenacity to make it in this business. No matter who you know or where you live.  If you want to succeed as a writer you must be the kind of person who looks at that long list of things at the top of your question, dusts off the skates and says "I'm going to be the exception to that."

There's a rule about that in fact: Be Tenacious


Elizabeth Lynd said...

Here's what I think, and always have: sure, connections help. Of course they do, if only to get your work in front of the right person. But it still (mostly*) comes down to the work itself, or with non-fiction, the work and the standing platform. But if the work is good, then going through the process, like that 75% of Ms. Reid's clients, will yield results, even if you are, in fact, raising dodo birds in solitary in Alaska.

*all rules are off, even maybe decent writing if you are otherwise famous or infamous, but we won't quibble on this one, surely

Madseasongirl said...

I knew I'd have to be the perpetual 'Little Engine', but it is a bit disheartening to see it spelled out like that, in black and white. THE ODDS ARE NOT IN YOUR FAVOR.

But there is a huge difference between "you have to know someone" and "it helps to know someone". Of course it helps to know someone, and if you thought otherwise, well, maybe you can send a bit of that naivete my way. It sucks. But so does being a quitter.

Will I ever see my name on a shiny, new cover? Maybe in five years. Maybe in ten. Maybe never. But it sure as shit won't happen if I give up now. It helps, but the odds don't have to be in your favor. Hell, just look at Katniss. :)

Anonymous said...

I love the quote, (can't recall who said it) "You can't win if you don't play," which can be flipped on its head to "You can't get published if you don't write." Works for me.

Anonymous said...

Out of sheer orneriness I've just re-upped my membership in the Flat-earth Dodo Bird Society, whose credo is: Tell a good story, tell it well, and ye shall be noticed eventually.

Tanis Mallow said...

Also: make a concerted effort to meet people in the industry. Social media makes this easy peasey. Or better yet, meet in person. I've met a ton of fab industry people (including a certain shark) at conferences, workshops, book readings, crashing parties, etc. Okay maybe not that last one but you get the point.
With a little effort you can be one those writers who knows people in publishing.

Anonymous said...

Anything worth doing is something that has "bad odds."

Plus this isn't the lottery, so odds aren't relevant. Yes, 1 in 100 writers get published (or whatever the statistic is), but the majority of those writers aren't very good or they're submitting to the wrong place.

And honestly? Every writer I know who writes well enough to be published is published (or has sold something that will be published). Some have "only" published short stories, only a fraction of them are wealthy, but they're all published.

If you're not getting stuff published, there are only two reasons, neither of which have to do with living in New York: either you're not submitting or your stuff isn't good enough.

The path to publication is straight forward but difficult: improve your writing, keep submitting, and stop looking for excuses.

Eric Steinberg said...

I've a brother-in-law who is and has been for a long time an aspiring actor (hopefully some day, one who "makes it"). Now acting is a tough gig that makes the publishing industry look kind. Not only is it about who you know, but also what you look like. At least we don't have to send headshots with query letters.

Queries and the slushpiles they land in are almost entirely about the writing. Afterwards if an agent likes the work and googles a prospective client, who they are may help (or hurt), but mostly, I think (at least for fiction) it's the writing.

Colin Smith said...

Would I have an advantage if Janet Reid was my sister-in-law/cousin/aunt/best-friend-in-the-whole-world? Of course! I'm sure she would be inclined to look at my work and talk about it over Thanksgiving dinner, or while recovering from Christmas beverages.

Does that mean she'll automatically like what I write and become my agent? I hope not! Knowing the "right people" may help get your work in front of people who can advance your career. But if there's any integrity in the publishing industry, it won't help you if you can't write.

The rest of us who don't live in NY, or who aren't related to the best agents in the country, just have to work that bit harder. So what's new? No-one said this gig was easy. :)

emaginette said...

I don't know if I'll be represented by you or someone else, but it will happen one day.

Great Post!

Anna from Shout with Emaginette

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

...and that was the day that Janet Reid's inbox was flooded with out-of-genre queries from people claiming, "I took your advice. After reading your submission guidelines, I decided 'I'm going to be the exception to that.'"

Chloe Neill said...

I didn't know anyone. I don't live in New York, or anywhere near it. I haven't attended writing conferences in my genre, and I don't have an MFA.

I submitted to one publisher, got dumped into the slush pile, got pulled from the slush pile. Got a contract, got an agent. This was six years ago. Thirteen books later, here I am.

Still working. Becuase that's what ultimately counts--the work, and can a publisher sell it.

I knew no one when I submitted. Undoubtedly it's a rare thing, to be pulled from slush, but it clearly happens.

My advice? FOCUS ON THE WORK. If the work isn't good, if there's no hook, knowing all the people in the world won't help you. If the work is good, it might.

But if the work is good, knowing someone isn't the secret code required to get published.

Elissa M said...

All these comments have nuggets of truth.

Whenever someone says they're going to quit writing because it's too hard to get published, a little voice in my head says, "There's someone who never wanted to be a writer; they just wanted to be published."

Cindy C said...

Knowing someone is helpful in any job/career, but rarely is all you need. When I work with students on cover letters I always ask, "Do you know anyone who works at the company?" If so, you're crazy not to mention that.

But just knowing someone at the company won't get you a job--it might move you to the top of the list for an interview, but you still have to bring the talent and skills the company needs.

And if you don't know a soul at the company, you can still get an interview by writing a great cover letter and having a resume that fits the company's needs.

Unknown said...

Well, after having read your article, It came to my mind that I can improve myself by reading you. Because they have all the qualities they should to be read, to make you a good writer perhaps.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It wasn't until recent years that I concerned myself with the niceties of book published. I'd made gestures at journals with my short stories, and merrily played around with novels in the unabashed manner of somebody who is singing alone in the car. Because I was. (Yeah, I'll say it. "Don't Stop Believing" is a favorite. Apropiè, n'est-ce pas?)

Then I realized that no, book publishing isn't really like Emily in the L.M. Montgomery books, and no dotty old uncle of mine is, on a fluke, going to send a manuscript of mine in an old cracker box to some hotshot publisher of books in New York City, with great success. There is a process. There are query letters. There is knowing people.

While I live in New York, I do not live in New York City. I've been trying to put resources like Twitter to good use, and read agent blogs voraciously, and, of course taking the advice of La Sharque (which sounds like some delightful Cold War master and apprentice style introduction to The Spy Game™).

Is this good enough? Once I have a decent query letter and a manuscript which has had eyes other than mine upon it, we'll see.

Eileen said...

Just chiming in to say (9 books later) when I queried my agent I was an over the transom slush pile find. I didn't know anyone in publishing. Would knowing someone make the process easier- indeed. Do you have to know someone? No. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Keep trying.

Bill Scott said...

Currently in Mexico, sitting at a bar, drinking way too much, and writing. It's raining whores and guinea pigs, and I've no umbrella and a poor sense of direction, so while my filter is still in customs I thought I'd weigh in.

At times I think I'm the shit. At times I think I'm shit. I continue because I like to plot. My brain is twisted and stories come out knotted, in a good way, like a sugary cinnamon pastry with a creamy heroin center. I look back at my first novel and I'm embarrassed. I rushed in to querying. I rewrote it several times and it got better, but it was still three floors below street grade.

So. Take a step back from your baby. Slap it, tell it sucks, and give it a makeover. (Please don't slap a real baby.) If it's good someone will take it in.

Bill Scott said...

Please, ignore my lack of punctuation in the above post.

Morgyn said...

Miz Shark, if always swimming (seeking new fishies/authors), here's one no one's asking.

Your fishy went NYTBS. You only ate 15% of your fishy. Over the transom comes another fishy that really reads like your golden fishy. Not in the sense of derivative, but at the gut level. And same species/genre.

Are you the right shark for the newbie fishy?

OK, let's lose some of the Piscean nonsense. Does an author who has the same heft as Suzanne Collins query Suzanne's shark?

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post! I needed this boost after getting a rejection this week. Thanks for the info and inspriation!

Tracy MacDonald said...

This post is why I adore you, and because you recommended SEND. It's one of the best books I have ever read.

The Writer Librarian said...

Fully agree with Colin and others. One of the things I've learned is that there is no formula for any of this. None. Zip. Mistakes are a helpful and necessary part of a process that requires learning by doing. But at the right time, the right connections can definitely help too.

Unknown said...

As great as NYC and New Yorkers are (and I'm not being sarcastic, some of my favorite people live there :) ), having books only from NYC authors would be bad for publishing. Sometimes people want to read about dodos in Alaska, which most New Yorkers probably don't have much experience with.

Additionally, I live in the DC area and a couple of weeks ago ran into some acquaintances at a bar. My husband and I chatted with them and a friend who was visiting them. When my husband mentioned I recently finished a book and was querying, the acquaintances' visiting friend was like, "Oh, my mom is a literary agent." Her name was familiar and I had queried her (and been rejected) on my last book, but hadn't approached her on this new one. With the son's permission, I queried her the next day with a "I just had the pleasure of meeting your son last night..."

I got a full request.

You can meet people who can help you or connect you anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Two big sighs from me.

One to lament that there's yet another person for whom the word "whom" is dead (sorry, can't help myself - call me old fashioned and please don't take it personally), and the other because with stories like that, an aspiring author from the most isolated capital city has even less of a chance of being published. Good thing my writing is so good - but then again, everyone thinks that, don't they? ;-)

Love the great advice on this blog, gold for someone like me who is absolutely green when it comes to approaching agents and editors. Thanks, and keep 'em coming!

CarolineFrye.blogspot.com said...

I have always heard, write what you know and write it well. Also, it doesn't hurt to be socially active on your blog and in forums. Remember that old saying, it's not what you know, it's who you know? I truly believe it is well worth a writer's time to invest in meeting new people and making friends.
But, sometimes I think getting published all boils down to pure luck--being at the right place at the right time.