#Connections in Publishing

#ThingsWritersSay: "I wish I could meet an agent or editor in real life; that way I'd have a foot in the door for traditional publishing."

Did I fool you with my use of a hashtag above?  Apparently they're useful, and I'm doing my best to learn how they work.  I think I've got it down.  I love how modern I sound.  (According to others, use of a semicolon destroyed the modernity of the hashtag.  Oops.)  Hashtags aside, we're talking about publishing this month.  I'd like to talk about the above statement.  It's now below as well.

"I wish I could meet an agent or editor in real life; that way I'd have a foot in the door for traditional publishing."

Let's split it into two parts: the wish and the reason.  The wish, I think, is good-- and because of that, I'd like to share a couple of ways to befriend agents and editors without coming across as the slobbering amateur.  The reason, I think, is bad-- not because putting your foot in a door really hurts (which it does), but because connections do not a book deal make.

I wish I could meet an agent or editor.

Good wish.  Agents are experts in the business of publishing as well as reading, and they often have interesting takes on books and things they'd like to see in their to-read pile.  It's important not to focus on their to-read desires and try to write for the market, of course-- that makes a lot of stress for you without much promise.  The market can and does change over the course of a week, and even the best of us can't write, edit, submit, and publish novels in that space of time.  Trying to mold your WIP to whatever genre or form an agent thinks is selling well, that doesn't work.

But agents are more than their to-read piles.  A relationship with an agent is a long-term thing-- it's very seldom insta-love-your-book-I'll-buy-it.  Don't see an agent as a direct, quick path to publication that you have to seize in the next five minutes.  Through talking with an agent, you'll realize how agents work; how their enthusiasm drives their business, how queries and pitches catch or lose their interest, and how the agent/author relationship works.  Also, when an agent raves about a book they just read?  Read it now.

Editors are slightly different, but the same rules apply.  You don't walk up and shove your book in their face.  Don't expect them to buy your book immediately.  Keep it simple.  Learn about the things they look to fix in manuscripts, so you can fix them yourself.  Learn what makes them excited and why.  Learn from them, don't see them as one of those slot machines where you put in a pitch and get out a book deal.  That's always when things get...

#Awkward!  (Nope?  Okay.  I'll keep trying.)

Here's a great rule of thumb for talking to people in the business without shoving yourself down their throat (it also works for talking to anyone, if you struggle with that sort of thing): start the conversation by asking, "What are you excited about?"

Usually they're excited about books, but you never know.
This opens an enormous door.  Agents and editors will be most excited about the book they just found, or the book they worked on that's about to be published, or the book that just got published that's getting them money.  They're going to start talking about themselves, the books they like, and the business they have running.  That is exactly your goal.  Be interested in what they have to say, because all of it is important.  Eventually, they'll ask you about your stuff.  Time for your pitch.

Wrap up the conversation by focusing again on them.  Ask for advice, or ask about a book that hits shelves soon, or whatever you want-- just don't push them.  You've made your pitch, they've said something nice about it (hopefully they've asked for something more), and that's all they can do for now.  Your goal is to finish the conversation as their new friend, not as the writer who tried to negotiate a ten-book series before their sushi arrived.

#ThatsHalfOfThePost!  (I'm not getting better at this.)

I'll have a foot in the door.

Now we see the reason for wanting to know an agent or an editor.  If I know one or both, it's basically a free pass to publication, right?  Inside tips, query-free submissions, and if they reject me, I can pout at them for not being a good friend!  Right?  ...Right?

That is not the relationship you want to cultivate.  When you meet an agent or an editor, you're doing something many amateurs never get a chance to do-- you're lucky.  Don't destroy that fragile thing with READ MY BOOK PUBLISH MY BOOK DO IT DO IT.  Yes, you now have an acquaintance that makes things happen in the publishing world, but it's like any other business.  Bribery doesn't work.  Blackmail doesn't work.  And would you want someone to publish a manuscript of yours that still had glaring mistakes in it?  It's not fun, but rejection does have a refining effect.  Although you have a happy new friendship, it's wise to think of the business side of that as any other business relationship.  You won't get a handout, and you don't need one.  You're good enough to get published without charity.  A little independence and pride in this area won't hurt.

Now, that doesn't mean ignore the business aspect.  But knowing an agent or an editor does not equal getting published.  It does not mean you're eventually going to get published.  I met an agent briefly back before the army-- then I ate my spinach, crashed a plane, and woke up with one Hydra of a hangover.

#IUnderstoodThatPopeyeReference!  (Yes, he was around in those days, although I only found out about the spinach thing recently.  Also, hashtags working?  No?  Okay.)

It takes a bigger superhero than I to track down a publishing contact ninety years after I last saw him.  Also, you can probably tell I didn't get anything published back then.  I'm trying again now, but although I've met an agent or two, I'll say it again: knowing an agent/editor does not mean instant publication.  It doesn't mean eventual publication.  It is no guarantee of anything.

That sounds harsh.  I apologize.  Knowing an agent/editor has incredible value to someone just learning about the market, revision strategies, and networking.  It teaches lessons you can't learn anywhere else.  It just doesn't guarantee publication.  Having a connection in the publishing world is valuable, but your writing is far more important.

That's what I want you to take away from this.  If you want a career as an author, writing will get you much farther than anything else.  I keep saying it, but here it is again: practice.  If you know thirty agents but haven't finished a story, it doesn't help.  If you've written fifteen separate novels, revised four, and queried three, you have more of a chance of publication than someone who wrote one novel and refuses to query unless her agent/editor contacts request it in person.  If you're good at chatting people up but can't deliver on paper, you need more practice.  If you're good at your job and persistent, you will get published.

Connections are useful, but they aren't everything.  Make sure you focus on your writing, and make your connections count as relationships rather than as name-dropping opportunities.  You'll be great.  I believe in you.  I'll leave you with a final hashtag as a hint.



1 comment:

  1. The last one was perfect, Cap. ;-)
    The rooftop gif is marked wrong! It should say "BUCKY! GIVE ME BACK MY FREAKING NOTEBOOK!" Also, if Bucky really steals your notebook, maybe offer him cookies to get it back, since apparently he likes them? (I'll bet he's a sucker for oatmeal raisin ones. Everyone is. Except my five-year-old sister, but she's weird. In the I'm-a-little-girl-and-rather-odd way and not in the I-have-superpowers-and-I'm-not-afraid-to-use-them way.)
    I want to become an editor, actually. So I'm hoping to start by becoming a beta reader for some people... that should teach me some of the basics. Sometimes I learn by watching (I really do--there's no logic to the less-experienced people's actions, but I see what the more experienced ones are doing and copy them), but some of the time I just have to jump in and learn by attempting it.