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"You Have To Know Someone..."

So. I tend to lurk at the occasional writing board here and there. Probably more than I should, too. And one thing constantly comes up (and surprises me!) when people say, "Well, that agent took on XYZ because of their industry connections!" or "That book only sold because he *knew* people!"

And I thought this was puzzling. Because as genre writers, well, it doesn't hurt to have a platform, but it's absolutely not required. And I thought of all the authors I knew that recently sold (or had been selling for a while) and the vast majority did not have 'industry connections' to get in the door.

So I thought I'd ask the pool here - published authors, did you have an 'in' to the industry? Agented people (sold and unsold)? Anyone else that wants to respond? I'm curious to see the feedback and to see if it swings in favor of 'had connections' or 'did not have connections'.

And to play devil's advocate, I know we have one or two people in the group that did have industry connections (I'm looking at you, Anton Strout!) that are also published - be it as agent, editor, marketing, etc. Was it easier for you to get in the door with your fiction? Or is it harder to be taken seriously once you know everyone on the business side of things?

- Jill Myles



( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 11th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
I didn't have an "in"-- but I guess in a way, I made one by attending lots of writers' conferences, joining groups like Sisters in Crime and RWA and getting to know as many authors as I could. All of it was useful in finally getting published.

Feb. 11th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Joining groups is a great way to get an 'in', now that you mention it. I know RWA is really really helpful if you are looking to get published in romance.
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I knew no one. Zero. And I'm only just now starting to meet people, but I still managed to get published.

Feb. 11th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Same here! :) And yeah, you do start to meet a LOT of people when your book gets scheduled.
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
this may get lengthy....
I had a very...unusual route to publication: I started as an editor in the field (in 1990) and sold my first piece of short fiction in 1997. Got my first serious writing gig because my boss came to me with a "problem book" and asked if I'd be willing to ghost-write some of it.

But when I sold my first original novel (Staying Dead) it wasn't because the editor was a friend of mine -- she'd already rejected another proposal, and the book she fell in love with had been passed on by five other editors elsewhere, some of whom were also friends of mine (and still are). A good editor looks at the material, not the relationship.

As to being taken seriously...

Okay, true story. Flesh & Fire is coming out in October from Pocket. The editor, Jennifer Heddle? Was once-upon-a-time my assistant at NAL/Roc. You think I get respect? Not. A. Chance. (to be fair, I give back as good as I get).

The only place I see connections really coming into play are anthologies. There are a few anthologies I got invited into because I was friends with the editor -- and the invites disappeared when I was no longer friends with that editor. "Invite-my-buddies-to-play" has always been a theme with those projects...but as nepotism offenses go, it's pretty minor.

Feb. 11th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Re: this may get lengthy....
I'm so glad you replied! I knew you were an editor before, so I have to admit I was curious about your path.

It makes sense that editors would be looking at the project instead of the person. I think I was more curious if there was an initial 'double-take' when your name comes up.

And that's a good point about anthologies. I never noticed that before, but it makes sense.

- jill
Re: this may get lengthy.... - suricattus - Feb. 11th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: this may get lengthy.... - irysangel - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
I sold my first short story knowing absolutely no one who wrote professionally. (Had a memorable conversation with a friend about that, too, at the time. "They don't know me, so they probably won't buy this," I said. "Yeah, you're probably right," she said. So not helpful!)

Some of the anthologies after that, like suricattus says, did result from talking to people, but not all of them.

Found my current agent through cold querying, too--I knew her books but we'd never met--and she sold Bones of Faerie to an editor I'd never met either.

So while connections can help along the way a little, I still think ultimately it really is about the work, with a side of luck and timing for good measure. (But the work is the greater of these, by far.)
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
I think you are right. I think that's why I find it so bizarre that everyone thinks that we are all connected BEFORE the contracts instead of after. :)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Well, see, there you go. :)
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
This is a subject I am passionate about, because the "in" myth burns my ass. I knew no one in publishing before I got an agent, and still knew no one when I sold my first book. Many authors I am now friends with were also signed by their agents via the slush pile. They too didn't have blurbs or other author endorsements on their manuscripts when their agent shopped their book to editors. Having an "in" might be wonderful, if you're one of the few people lucky enough to get one, but it is NOT necessary. Aspiring writers trying to break into publishing are far better served by spending their time polishing their book(s) and querying widely, not networking.
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it kind of drives me a little bit crazy when I hear, "Wow, you must really know someone in the industry!"

Ranks right up there with "You write romance? You must have a wild sex life."

The answers are always "Nope" and "Ew?"
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
My first publishing credits came from being a lowly convention attendee. I went to a panel of anthologists and after the panel I told them I'd love to submit if they were ever taking openings. They asked me to send something along when one of the anthologies was running short, and that's what got me published in the first place... not my connections.

That said, being in the business on the publishing side, I think I have a better grasp of what I need to do to keep relevant with my writing and promotion, rather than many I see missing the mark when it comes to promoting themselves or writing books so niche that even their niche can find them out there. So my business savvy do help with that!
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
You know, that's a really good point. Being in the market really helps you KNOW the market inside and out, but it can't make you publishable if you still suck, right? So you have to have the chops, and the business end just helps things.

Makes sense. So, does this mean you're going to give us pointers on how to stay out of the nichiest niches? ;)
(no subject) - antonstrout - Feb. 11th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - irysangel - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Feb. 11th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - antonstrout - Feb. 11th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Feb. 11th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jer_bear711 - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - antonstrout - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jer_bear711 - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jer_bear711 - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
I knew no one. WL was picked out of slush by an agent (several agents). It was rejected by a couple of agents. The editor who bought it wasn't someone that my then-agent knew either. That agent cold-called Anne. None of my blurbs or reviews post-release were from authors I'd met. No ins anywhere from this corner . . .

Likewise, when I queried Merrilee (my new agent) I didn't reference any authors who might be able to recommend me to her. I sent her the same sort of formal letter as I sent the first agent--my name, my book titles (with only the fact that they'd "had positive reception in the market" as a modifier), & that I was seeking an agent.

Feb. 11th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
That's interesting that your then-agent did not know your editor. It's almost a double "Not-In" (does that make it an out?).
(no subject) - melissa_writing - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - irysangel - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
I had no connections to anyone in the industry when I got my agent and sold my book. :)
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
I'm starting to wonder if it's less common to have the 'in' than the 'out' (does that even make sense)?
(no subject) - kellymeding - Feb. 11th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dawn_metcalf - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - irysangel - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
I got an introduction to my agent through a friend, but that didn't sell her on my books. It only greased the wheels on her looking over my query a little faster. I also have a friend who's an agent and he helped me line edit one of my books, but he didn't take me on because he doesn't rep that genre--so knowing people may pave the way a little but it won't sell an agent or editor on a project...the writing has to do that.

Feb. 11th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
All true - thank you!

(And he must be a good friend if he line-edited you! I know if someone asks me to line edit, I usually break out in hives) ;)
(no subject) - yasminegalenorn - Feb. 11th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
For almost fifteen years, I've known some of the most powerful and successful editors in the YA field, along with marketing directors, booksellers, power librarians, and authors. When I started submitting novels, I had to get in line just like everyone else. I cold-queried and signed with an agent who had never heard of me, and she sold the novel to an editor who had never heard of me. Having industry connections probably helped with the post-signing panic that most of us feel, but it did *nothing* to get my novel published.
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
Oh...no post-signing panic was probably an immense blessing. I can't imagine. Mine involved lots of hysterical crying (and not of the good kind).

Actually, that pretty much describes everything in between 'signing' and 'publication' - hysterical crying.
Feb. 11th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
I had a lot of industry connections (as in knowing a lot of people, not necessarily having any influence) due to the first round of my writing career, but when it came to this round, after a long dry spell, I ended up with an agent I'd never met and she sold to an editor I'd never heard of.

My "connections" mostly mean I have people to talk to at cocktail parties. They've done nothing for my actual career.
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Connections are great for parties, in other words, but not so much for sales? Makes sense. :)
Feb. 11th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for bringing this up!

I've never bought into the "in" myth, but I have a hard time arguing it when my only examples are just my friends. A verbal list is never going to hold up like a link to this post.
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
I know! So far it's pretty heavily skewed to one side, isn't it?
Feb. 11th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
Add me to the list of those who got an agent/publishing contract without knowing anyone. The closest I come to an "in" was that my full was rejected by one agent who then passed it along to my now-agent, because she thought he'd love it. She was right; he did. And with absolutely no connections (beyond the fabulous editors my agent knew), my debut sold at auction in a two-book deal.

The thing about the whole "connections" myth is that it always seems to come from very new writers. At least, from one of the message boards Jill is referring to, it comes from either new writers or very frustrated writers. The former is easy to understand and easy enough to correct. The latter, though...there's not much you can say to someone who's queried for years, accumulated hundreds of rejections, and since they can't get published, lash out with any reason they can come up with (which is usually a variation on "it's them, not me").
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
See, that's why I'd be a good risk for an agent...I'm well aware it's me and willing to take orders to fix it.
(no subject) - irysangel - Feb. 11th, 2009 08:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymeding - Feb. 11th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
I know people. I've been taking part in a usenet group (rec.arts.sf.composition) and hanging out with writers and some of them have Names.

Nobody cares. I'm certain it has shaved a number of years off my learning curve - I'm growing faster as a writer, and I'm much more aware of how professionals act and what being professional and taking this gig seriously entails, but I yet have to write a book that not just gets praised but which appears as if it can be commercial.

Rejection is hitting everybody. Just the other day a reputable, well-established agent complained that editors are turning down books for 'not being big enough.' If this happens to the professionals and experienced writers, then why would the personal reccommendation from insiders make a difference? A reccommendation from the same kind of people _who are being turned down because the market sucks_?

And if every industry professional were to put forward one writer of their circle every month... where would the capacity to publish them all come from? And why would being so-and-so's neighbour/best friend produce a commercial book?

No, the myth of 'you have to know people' doesn't seem to be borne out by reality at all.
Feb. 11th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I think in order for a non-sales person (non editor/agent) to help things, they have to really go to bat for the author/book and really go out of their way to get it under people's noses.

And I could be that so many careers are so fragile at the moment that no one wants to do so. Or that it's so hard to get those initial relationships that we're exceedingly protective of them.
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