Friday, November 27, 2009

Rerun: I'm Your Sister's Bikini Waxer's Ex-Boyfriend's Dry Cleaner. So You Won't Mind Doing Me a Favor.

I just found out my cousin is close friends with a high-ranking editor at a major house. As an aspiring author, I'd love to believe this could be useful one day, but I imagine there are a bajillion writers within a few degrees of every editor. How do you feel about friends and friends of friends in search of book deals? Is it business as usual, or is it all terribly awkward? Is there anything you wish authors knew about networking in publishing?
Everyone in publishing (and especially in children's publishing) accepts it as part of their job that friends of colleagues, second cousins of friends of colleagues, and hairstylists of second cousins of friends of colleagues will use their "personal connection" to force an editor to deal with their manuscript (rather than an editorial assistant or intern). We don't accept it cheerfully, but we accept it. The world is all about relationships.

We also know that a personal connection is no guarantee at all that the manuscript will be better than the usual run of slush, and indeed it's often worse-- because the people who try this end-run are usually the rank beginners who not only know nothing about the industry, they also come with a bunch of wildly wrong assumptions about it.

Now, I'm not assuming you're one of these people. They don't find their way to my blog, because they don't see why they should be interested in publishing before they get published.

But you should know that it is through this lens of apprehension and mild resentment that your manuscript is likely to be read. If it's simply terrific and grabs the editor from page one, then your road ahead may be clear and golden. But if not, the editor may only read the couple of pages that will allow her to write a letter that shows she did look at the manuscript before rejecting it.

Now, I know, sometimes it seems like there aren't hurdles in your path to publication as much as mountains. I know, following the rules of submitting to publishing houses and agents sometimes seems like an enormous waste of time. But breaking the rules is equally so.

I post about the slush to try to convey to people why there are so many roadblocks set up in the way of hopeful writers: because many hopeful writers are simply delusional about what might get published.

It's like there's a mob of thousands outside your office, and you know from experience that a good half of them are loonies. And a spare few are people you would be thrilled to work with. How do you sift through them? Ask the crazy people to raise their hands? Ask the "good writers" to raise their hands?

No. You're going to have to interview them each in turn, and it's going to be a lot of work. And it doesn't help that there are a few of them waving their arms and calling, "I knew your ex-manicurist's rabbi!"


Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago, a friend told me that her weekend-house neighbor was an agent and that I should contact the her. I did, and I've been published ever since. I wouldn't have been published if I hadn't had this personal "in." More recently, I had a children's book published at a major house because a friend used to be an editor and knew an editor there AND knew that what I'd written was what she was looking for. That's important - use contacts only if the contact is appropriate for your work! And when you do send your ms, treat the editor professionally and with many thanks!

Michael Reynolds said...

Oh, so it's okay to give us way too much information about your sister.

So, does she have a boyfriend? Is she into old bald guys? How about old, bald, married guys?

Kate said...

"I knew your ex-manicurist's rabbi!"

LOL! Well, shortcuts are a lovely fantasy anyway. Thanks for the kindly worded reality check.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Michael, I do know someone who likes old, bald, married guys. But the distance thing is a problem. When will the old, bald, married guy be in NYC?

Anonymous, focusing on appropriateness is good advice.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ea? Are you turning your blog into a "seeking to have an affair" personals site? That's a little creepy--you might want to lay off the Jack Daniels for a while! ;)

WV: Ablere- a Latin word meaning "to cleanse"?

jeanne said...

We have a close friend (a close friend of my husbands' to be exact) who is high up at a major NY publisher (not an editor, but a big shot in the publishing process nonetheless).

I have to say, I am extremely hesitant to give this person anything to pass on to an editor, even though this person has made the offer to do so. well, to be honest, I did give this person something once but the editor on whose desk it ultimately landed was made redundant, probably before he or she even took a look. I was actually relieved to hear it.

I'm so cautious about stepping on toes or crossing boundaries, probably to a fault. I absolutely suck at networking.

Errant Knave said...

Re: the slush. I have a sheet at work that says: "Slushpile: Looking for a needle in a field of haystacks, and having to tell each stalk that it's not the needle you're looking for."

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I'm a old married bald guy to... Don't know where you live, but we could share gas money in transit to N.Y. City. (I am city phobic however - if I hyperventilate in the caverns of New York, hand me a paper bag)... PLEASE!

Pic here:

Haste yee back ;-)

Michael Reynolds said...

Relax, Dierdre, she's just toying with me.

(Note to self: convince Harper I need to go to NYC.)

Kate Harper said...

I really enjoyed reading this piece!

Mark said...

It seems to me any serious aspiring writer would seek to be judged by their writing alone.

What dignified writer is proud to say "I got special attention because I knew an editor?"

I'll fail on my own merits, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Someone said to me at a dinner party the other night (an out of work journalist): I'm about ready to pitch my book idea to publishers, or possibly an agent.

GAH! I wish I could send that person here, but they don't think they need this info!

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