Saturday, December 1, 2012

Getting an agent: Schmooze or you lose


"It just so happens I have my manuscript right here!"
I frequently get contacted by people who want to know how to get published. They figure there must be some trick of the trade, some wisdom, that I can impart. A winning query letter. A perfect pitch.

The nasty truth is that getting published is basically about connections and luck. (Just type “how I got my agent” into a google search and you'll see what I mean.)

This is how I got published. I wrote a book. Then, not knowing a thing about how to get it into a publisher's hands, I called a former boss of mine who was the editor of an academic journal. One of his friends happened to have a sister who was a publisher. The friend made a call to his sister as a favor to my former boss. Then the publisher called me. “What have you got?” she said. I described the book, and she said, “I'll send you a contract.” That was it.

This story may fill you with self-righteous indignation and/or despair. After all, if you haven't been published, stories like mine will just piss you off. But wait, there's more.

My publisher turned out to be a dud. But, several years later, when I had written a work of fiction and had mailed out hundreds of query letters to agents who replied with one-sentence form rejections on coffee-stained paper (they aren't even doing that anymore), it dawned on me that my publisher had used an agent to sell my book to a second publisher. Voila! I already had an agent.

I called the agent and informed her that she was my agent. She seemed to believe me, because she said, “Send me your manuscript.” And, after a couple of years, my novel got published.

That is also how my second, third and fourth books got published. No query letters, no agent's “auctions,” just one phone call to the right person at the right time.

This is how the entire system works. You don't get an agent by sending out query letters. You get an agent by knowing a guy who knows a guy who can hook you up. That is also how you get a manager, and a publisher, and an editor. It's a sad fact of life – but getting your work into print is all about who you know.

Don't jump off a bridge – yet. You can meet people in the industry rather easily.

There are numerous conferences and workshops that are attended by agents and writers. Go to one and talk to them. Join writers' groups and talk to other writers. (Don't even think of cold calling editors. I did that once. It surprises me that I am still alive.) Get out there and meet people, physically, in the flesh. Let them know you are a real human being. You never know. Some of them may like you.

Below are some good sites for finding appropriate conferences (research them carefully!). Please read Foliolit's article on conference etiquette first. It's got some wonderful tips.

Now, get out there and schmooze!

Must-read article on etiquette at conferences.

Agent Query's excellent list of conferences.

Shaw Guides provides a great list of conferences with detailed information.

1 comment:

  1. The above "take" on how to get published is, tragically for some of us, absolutely correct! Indeed, it is through relationships (not going to use that now worn-out, way-over-used term, "networking,") that ANYTHING gets done in this world. That is why "transparency" in government has caused so many problems, particularly in international diplomacy. THE way the world works is "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine," or the reverse.

    I say "tragically for some of us" because those like me--and I KNOW that I am not alone in my personal situation--expatriates from whatever "developed" country, living in essentially "third world" nations on a beggarly small, fixed income are in no position to do the traditional shoe-leather and travel things mentioned in "Getting an agent: Schmooze or you lose." I cannot afford to fly around the world to conferences and conventions, and there are NONE where I live. If there are any successfully published English-writing-and-speaking authors in the Philippines, I have yet to hear of it, and just knowing a name does precious little good. One has to be in a place where rubbing elbows with potential contacts who have anything to do with anything remotely associated with published writing is POSSIBLE.

    I used to be a professional entertainer (singer, musician, songwriter), and came VERY close to Waylon Jennings recording two of my songs. For those who do not know who Waylon Jennings was, look him up in Google. Suffice it to say that at one time he was THE name in country-western, and crossover music. It was set up for him to do two of my songs on his next album. HOWEVER, he did not have his own sound studio at the time, but rather used that of Tompall Glaser, another once big name in country music. That had a spat, and Waylon picked up his toys and went home to set up his own studio. In the shuffle and confusion plans for the next album got delayed, and then ditched. Jennings' next album came out about six months later than had been originally planned, with ALL NEW AND DIFFERENT MATERIAL--which did not include my two songs.

    In the article above "luck" is credited with much of the success writers find in becoming successful authors, and I would go as far as to say MOST of their success is due to it. It is that way in ALL artistic endeavours. Of course it helps a great deal if someone is good at what they do, but there are myriad someones who are good, in every artistic field. John Sebastian wrote a song in which there is a line that goes something like (not exactly, mind you) "there're 13,000 guitar pickers in Nashville, and ever one of 'em's just as better'n me." Well, the same is likely true of writers, painters, dancers, and, and, and so on ad infinitum.

    Agatha Christie (THE most read author, ANY genre--save the Bible--on the planet) had tried every publisher she knew to try (and this was back in the day when writers could submit type-written, full of typos and misspellings manuscripts to publishers, not needing an agent!), with one left. Well, that one took her on, and the rest, as they say is history. Similar tales, with variations, are true for Tom Clancy and others. Out of the thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, of writers and self-published authors (like me) in the world, only a FEW are at the right place, at the right time, with the right person, and even THEN, success is not certain. There are too many mediocre to bad, but monetarily VERY successful authors out there for the talent and perseverance factors to be a significant determining, uh determinator?! Sort of something like the now former governator of California!

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