NETWORKING CAN GIVE YOU AN EDGE
by Talia Vance
The single most important factor in getting published is the work. No matter who you are, who you know, or where you come from, a great book at the right time will get published, right?
That’s the mysterious and elusive nature of publishing. It’s a subjective business, and often times there is no clear rhyme or reason to why one manuscript gets published, while another, of equal or even better quality does not.
I want to qualify this post by pointing out that I didn’t know the agent I signed with before I queried her. I didn’t know anyone who knew her either. She picked my book straight out of the slush pile. I think the vast majority of writers find agents this way. And, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of book deals do not involve personal connections. This leads me to conclude that networking is not mandatory.
Still, while it’s true that you don’t have to know people in this business to get an agent or a book deal, a positive experience with an agent or editor can tip the scales in your favor when it’s a close call. I am living proof.
I had some connection to each of the two editors I work with before we sent Silver out on submission. I met Brian Farrey, acquiring editor at Flux, at my local SCBWI conference in Spring 2010. I had just signed with my agent, and was working on a significant revision before going out on submission. I had submitted the first fifteen pages of my work in progress, the manuscript that would become Spies and Prejudice, for a critique. At this point, I had never met an editor.
The night before the conference, I received an email from the organizers, reminding me not to commit conference faux paux like following editors into the restroom or handing them a writing sample.
“Do people really do that?” I asked my husband.
“They must, or they wouldn’t need to send the email, right?”
“I hope I don’t do something stupid.”
My husband smiled. “Don’t worry. You’ll probably have editors chasing you down.”
I laughed, but I was still worried about embarrassing myself somehow.
The next day at the conference, I was walking down the hall, oblivious to the world. I was vaguely aware of someone calling “Talia!” but I didn’t turn around, because I was not used to be called Talia in real life (Talia is a pen name I adopted for my work).
Finally, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around to come face to face with none other than Brian Farrey. I nearly fell over.
Turns out that Brian had read my 15 page sample, and really liked the voice. He asked me to send him the entire manuscript as soon as it was ready. I told him that I had just signed with an agent and that we would be going on submission soon with a different book, and he told me to have my agent contact him.
And, a week after we went on submission, Flux made a multi-book offer on the series.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Because of the interaction at the conference, Brian already knew he liked my writing style and was interested in seeing the manuscript. My agent and I made sure Brian was on the list of initial editors we submitted to because of his interest. It was an opportunity that I might’ve missed if not for that interaction.
I have to admit, the best part was coming home from the conference and telling my husband that a editor did chase me down in the hall.
My other publisher is Elizabeth Law at Egmont USA. I made sure that Elizabeth was on the initial submission list for Silver, because I “knew” her from Twitter. As I was revising Silver, I would post updates on the #amwriting hashtag. One day in May 2010, out of nowhere, Elizabeth Law replied to one of my tweets: “Everything you post about your WIP makes me want to read it. Shirtless guys in opening scene, and lots of dead bodies.”
WHA?? Yeah, it freaked me out a bit. In a totally good way.
I started following Elizabeth’s tweets, and participated in a few #AskYAEd chats. I loved that Elizabeth seemed so willing to share information with writers, and I could tell that she really loved books. Just before I left for a trip to NYC, I saw her tweet about an off-Broadway musical she enjoyed about Andrew Jackson. As it happened, my husband and I had been joking about writing a musical about James K. Polk (don’t ask) and I tweeted Elizabeth to find out more about the show. I ended up getting tickets, and when I returned from my trip, I tweeted her again to tell her how much I enjoyed it. This small interaction may not seem like much, but we had connected over an unusual show, and that sealed it for me. I knew I wanted to work with Elizabeth if at all possible.
Flash forward to the submission of Silver. Elizabeth read it and liked it, but was on the fence about it because Egmont already had a healthy amount of paranormal on its list. My agent of awesome knew how much I wanted to work with Elizabeth, so she sent her the first 50 pages of Spies and Prejudice and asked her to read them before she made a final decision. Two hours later, I was on the phone talking to Elizabeth about the direction I planned to take Spies, and an hour after that we had an offer, not for Silver, but for Spies. Elizabeth took a chance on a debut author with an unfinished manuscript. This was an unusual situation to say the least. Elizabeth acknowledges that while she loved Spies, the factor that pushed her over the edge was that we knew each other from Twitter. She even tweeted about it!
So yeah, I do think networking matters. While a relationship alone won’t get you a book deal, it can tip the scales in your favor. And In this business, we need every edge we can get!