One More on Connections

June 10th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

The Reading Experience has posted additional thoughts on the state of publishing today. For us, it’s often a bleak and cynical world — then someone we know receives a call from an editor, and we rejoice because, despite the odds, the system works. There is no straight line from talent to publication. It’s often a combination of drive, timing, connections (yes), storytelling ability (which is not the same as writing talent), writing talent (which is not the same as storytelling ability), the state of the world, even coincidence (which should never be underestimated).

We said before that this is a subjective business. It only takes a trip to a bookstore to see the parallels between readers and editors. Each person gravitates toward a favorite genre, but is sometimes drawn to something different. This may lead to a purchase or it may lead to a mental note (must think about this, must look into this, didn’t I hear something about this). As noted above, a variety of factors drives a person to the cash register (or contract).

We’ve written about authors who are breaking the traditional publishing mold. Each has a reason for choosing alternative methods of publication. Methods include electronic publication. Self publication (sometimes in conjunction with e-pubbing). Blogging. Giving work away. Mixing and matching traditional and alternative publishing methods (i.e., Cory Doctorow). This is in part a reaction to the corporate mentality pervading big house publishers. We think it’s also a way of exploring the boundaries of a world so long dominated by the print model.

However, and it’s a bit crass to admit this, many of us are looking for some sort of financial reward for our work. We know (or should know) that it won’t be much, unless that luck thing kicks in. We have dreams and aspirations (find us an author who hasn’t fantasized about seeing his or her book in print, in a store …). There is a sense of familiarity and safety in traditional print publishing. Therefore, the game must be played even if we don’t like all the rules.

One possibility that none of us has fully explored is the idea that talent and connections can (and maybe should) co-exist. In the dreaded day job, we were forced to accept (only with evidence we couldn’t dispute) that marketing does work. As we are advertising-blind, it was a surprise (no, really — we cannot understate our shock). Listen to what editors and agents have to say: far too many submissions cross their desks every day. It is nearly impossible for any human being to afford each story with the care and attention it deserves. Think about your average day at work — the distractions, the post-lunch drowsiness, co-workers, meetings…editors and agents are plagued by the same nasty things as any other worker bee.

The business part of writing requires that, among other things, authors submit work to be considered for publication. Queries, follow-ups, rejections, resubmittals, etc. are all part of the process. Why can’t the business aspect of our job also include developing relationships with editors and agents, building connections? If the marketing rule of five is accurate (and, scary to believe, it appears to be), then it makes sense for an author to make contact with his or her targeted editor or agent as often as practicable (without crossing the line to stalker)? Drawing a circle back to Sarah Weinman’s original thought, the process of selling a book (actually, licensing a book) to a publisher is similar to a job interview. The best candidate is not always hired — sometimes for reasons that escape logic. Likewise, the most talented author isn’t always contracted — again, sometimes for reasons that escape logic.

Publishing is, in part, a game. Some of us play very well; most of us don’t because we’re not wired that way. But we think it’s shortsighted for anyone to enter this business without some understanding the rules (or even some understanding that the rules aren’t written in stone). Writing is an art; publishing is a business. A strange and not-always-logical business, but once balance sheets and financial statements enter the picture, that’s what it is.

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • Kevin Wignall // Jun 11, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    I’ve been following this discussion and commenting upon it (in fact, it was a comment of mine that Sarah used as a starting point), and I think you sum up the arguments really well here. You’re right to say it’s a game, and like any game, the more you find out about it, the better your chances of winning… but the dice still have to be on your side.