Writers often come to me with this complaint: ‘I’ve spent two years sending my book to agents, publishers, or producers, AND I’M GETTING ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. I GET A FORM REJECTION. OR NO ANSWER AT ALL. I’M TIRED OF IT.’ Confession: I’m tired of it too.
Where does the writing land? It’s called the slush pile. Every agent, editor, and producer has one, a whole wall of manuscripts, about to topple, waiting to be read. Here’s a promise—they’re not going to be read. Ever.
Good talented people aren’t getting published because they’re going about it the wrong way.
The right way? Writers must make connections. You say you don’t know anyone in publishing? I offer one response: Why not? Meeting editors and agents is part of your job. As much a part of it as the writing itself. Be bold!
How do you make the connections you need?
1) Did you go to college? Take a creative course? Get a writing degree? Undoubtedly at least one of your instructors, or another in the department, has published or knows someone who is publishing. Ask for a reference to an editor. If the editor of ELLERY QUEEN gets a letter or phone call from someone he knows, he will probably read the story himself. If not, it soars, like a paper airplane, into the slush pile.
2) Does your city or state have a writers’ conference? Most do. Go there. You will meet professional writers, and very likely agents, editors, and producers. Pick out the ones who publish, or produce, the kind of thing you write. Find them in the bar and ask for a quick word.
Be prepared. Have a three sentence summary of your story or concept ready to light up their eyes. When they express interest, ask if they’d read a few pages. When they say ‘Yes,’ hand them a treatment and several chapters.
These people will remember you, your alertness, your look of energy and intelligence. They’ll read your pages, very likely right there during the conference. After a few days, you may get an answer. Even if it’s no, it’s likely to be helpful. You’ll a good reason for the no, and will learn something. Keep up the effort and you’ll get a Yes.
3) There are scores of writers’ conferences. The big ones usually have loads of agents and editors in attendance. Get out there and work the crowd. If you don’t drink, head to the bar, anyway. This is the place meetings happen with the pros and with future colleagues.
4) One conference in particular, Thrillerfest, is set up specifically for writers to pitch their projects to editors and agents. It’s in New York every July, so flocks of publishing pros attend. They simply sit at a table and interview one writer after another. You have a time limit to make an impression.
A student of mine went to Thrillerfest with an excellent pitch of three short sentences. She left with about fifty requests to see chapters or the full manuscript. She found a publisher, and the book will be launched next week. (Many people who attend don’t write or publish thrillers. It’s about getting together.)
The Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference, in Colorado, has the same set up on a smaller scale. Do what works for you
5) The best route of all: Study lists of agents (such as the membership list of aar.org) and see which agents handle what you’re writing. Then write them personal letters, with chapters attached, tell them you want to come to New York during a certain week to find an agent you would feel compatible with, and ask for an appointment for a personal talk. Each agent will be greatly impressed. Eventually, you’ll end up with, say, five to seven appointments in five days. And very likely, one will be someone who thinks you’re on the ball and will want to represent you.
Wait! You say you don’t have the time or money to chase around to writers’ conferences? I suggest re-thinking. Like the law and medicine, writing is a profession. Years of apprenticeship are required. Making contacts? Required. Getting references, required. If you want to succeed, make up your mind to put in a lot of effort. For a lawyer, a talent for arguing is not enough. Credentials and contacts are part of the deal.
Bottom line: Want to be a professional writer? Take a deep breath and avoid the slushpile!
How did you land your agent?
About the Author:
Meredith Blevins is a fifth-generation Californian. She grew up in Los Angeles, and spent her adult life in Northern California. Her fantasy was to write for The National Enquirer and run away with the Gypsies. Instead, she attended college in California, worked as a music therapist, wrote textbook articles, and, following a circuitous path, became a financial columnist. She was an active member of the American Assn. of Business Journalists.
With a push from her family and husband, writer Win Blevins, she made the switch from non-fiction to fiction. Her first novel, The Hummingbird Wizard, garnered praise from the likes of Tony Hillerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Clive Cussler, Loren Estelmen, and Tim Sandlin.