My debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter, has been out in the world now for about six weeks. So it’s early days yet in the grand scheme of things, but far enough into the process that it’s time for me to address a question I’ve been asked for years now. And I always promised myself I’d answer it as soon as I felt confident in the answer.
Is it who you know?
Are connections and friends and favors so key to publishing success that if you don’t have someone helping you behind the scenes, you shouldn’t even bother trying to get published in the first place?
After all, you hear so many stories. You read interviews with authors who say “Well, I wrote this book, and my brother’s girlfriend/ cousin’s maid of honor/ wife’s sister is a literary agent, so she helped me sell it to a publisher, and now I’m all set.” You see novels by celebrities (“by” celebrities, I suppose) on the shelves and you burn at the perceived injustice. You hear that someone knows someone knows someone and that’s why they got a leg up somewhere along the way.
So is it true? Is it who you know?
I have to say this: I have friends, acquaintances and relatives who bought my book, suggested me for conference panels, asked me to read and sign at bookstores, hosted my guest posts on their blogs, and posted reviews online. Fellow authors I knew graciously offered to blurb The Kitchen Daughter, mentioned my book to bloggers and reviewers they knew, and interviewed me on their own websites when the book came out.
But here’s the thing: I have way more people I DON’T know who have done all those things and more.
And here’s the other thing. “Know” doesn’t mean what it used to. With social media and online writers’ communities like Backspace — or, for that matter, here at Writer Unboxed — we are all connected in a nearly infinite number of ways. So if someone on Twitter offers to interview me on their website, I may not know who that person is, but chances are that we share some connection, online or otherwise. Is that interview because of “who I know?” Mostly no. A little bit yes. It’s nearly impossible to know for sure.
Similarly, I had never met my (wonderful) agent when I queried her, but I had seen her speak on a panel at a conference, and mentioned that in my query. Is that a connection? Kind of. Would she have taken on my book just for that? No. She turned down the first book I sent her after that conference, and she was not alone in that, believe you me. Referrals and endorsements get a lot of chatter online but neither is a golden ticket, and you can chart your path to success without either.
Favors exist. Of course. Friendships exist. Of course. But they don’t control publishing in its entirety. Every day, blind queries to literary agents lead to manuscript requests, just because they love the idea. Every day, reviewers devote scarce column inches to books by people they’ve never heard of before, just because they love the book.
It isn’t who you know. It’s what you do. You are in control. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, I know. But you can grumble about an impenetrable favor-based system, or you can jump in and learn and do, and you’ll be better off for it.
I know I am.
(Image by Dr. Keats under Flickr Creative Commons license)