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?
When 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?