Do you need contacts to get published?

It’s a common complaint. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Or – when it comes to getting published – it’s not how well you write, but whether you have contacts in the industry. But is it true?

Alone in GeometryWhen I first started getting published, I had no contacts whatsoever. I sent an article to a magazine on spec, and they quickly made an offer. I tried another magazine, and they bit too. Then, armed with possibly too much confidence, I approached a book publisher. Just one! Happily, they accepted my proposal, and I went from being an aspiring writer to a published author with far more ease than I expected. Then – joy of joys – other publishers started approaching me and asking me to write for them. Horray! I was in!

But … this was non-fiction. I’m learning that getting novels published is far more difficult and takes much longer. I’m not sure why. It’s probably because there are so many people clammering to write stories, but I don’t really know.

What I do know, however, is that having contacts doesn’t help much. It hasn’t helped me, anyway. What tends to happen is you just get a politer ‘no’ than you would otherwise. Which isn’t surprising. Publishing is a business, after all, and the main goal is to make a profit. A publisher isn’t going to take on an author simply because someone recommends them.

It helps to know how publishers work. More than one person has to okay a proposal. The initial reader has to like it, or it ends there. Generally, the commissioning editor, marketing manager, and the boss all have to agree. Having someone arguing your case helps, but it’s certainly no guarantee.

There is one way that contacts might help, however. Many publishers don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, preferring only to deal with agents. A contact might get your manuscript through an otherwise closed door, but that might be as far as it goes.

In publishing, you make your own contacts. By submitting quality work and meeting deadlines, you get known. Last year I re-approached one of my former publishers and mentioned that I was at a loose end. A 6-book deal (non-fiction) followed within days. You can imagine how good that felt 🙂

So for me, the only contacts that mean anything are the ones that I have personally been able to cultivate. Having someone else speak highly of me hasn’t gotten me anywhere. How about you? Do you have any thoughts or experiences that you’d like to share?

Photo credit: tochis / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 comments

  1. Interesting balance of considerations here. (I mean from the point of view of what a publisher must factor in before making any decision to green light.) I know of one western Sydney based non-fiction crime writer who has published several books on high profile Australian crimes and who told me that his publisher would still be reluctant to support him publishing his first novel. My sense is that fiction (particularly the first book of original fiction) is considered more of a gamble than non-fiction by publishers. My guess is that this is because the market reception to the new work is less predictable for the publisher. (A well-written novel could be received coolly, for example, while a poorly written one could just so happen to trigger a fad or sensation.)

    Importantly, however: None of this is to say that writing fiction is a hopeless quest. Nor that quality writing does not matter. J K Rowling’s success, for example, was not a matter of mere fortuitous timing or market titillation luck. The quality of her prose and storytelling mattered too.

    Steven Fernandez

    • Thanks Steven, for sharing your thoughts! I agree, non-fiction is less of a gamble. People often buy the books for the info contained, rather than the author’s name. Much simpler 🙂

  2. I cannot agree more with you, Stella. Exactly the same here in the US. It is also easier to break through with non fiction. It doesn’t mean that writing non fiction is easier than fiction, but there is a need and less writers. Your journey is impressive and I’m happy for you to read about your 6-book-deal. How cool is that! Talking of non fiction I am once more considering the revision of my personal narrative (France to the US). We’ll see if it’s easier to sell! Nice to read you again, Stella, and to see you so busy.

    • Thanks, Evelyne. Being busy is great! I think your personal narrative would make great reading, and I hope you give it a go.

  3. shinyoliver

    No experience yet, aside from my really quite good writers group. I’m in a similar research stage.

    I’m thinking the necessities are changing these days, though. The age we live in requires different things from us than times before now have required.

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