There’s a persistent myth, I think, that getting published is all about who you know, that you’ll never sell a book unless you have a personal connection to someone in the publishing world. But it is a myth—I promise you, it’s a myth. If getting published was really all about who you know, I would have been published YEARS before I actually was.
I do have connections to the publishing world. Many of them, in fact. My father was an author when I was very small, and published several novels. My mother was an editor with a (now extinct) New York publishing house. And let me here and now confess that when I was 21 years old, just out of college and desperately hoping to become an author, I had no real scruples about using those connections. I tried it. My parents contacted old friends among the literary agents crowd and helped me craft query letters. But here’s the thing: it didn’t help. At best, it got my manuscripts read, led to some requests for the first 50 pages of my books. But I simply hadn’t written a publishable book yet, and the answer I always got back was a polite but regretful “no thanks.”
When I finally had the manuscript for Twilight of Avalon finished and was ready to start the agent querying process yet again, I was completely exhausted by even trying to contact people my parents knew. I happened to be reading a book by Margaret George at the time, and thought, Margaret George writes historical fiction somewhat similar to mine, I wonder who her agent is? A visit to her web page, and I had her agent’s email address. I sent him a query letter describing my project, he asked to take a look, and later signed me as a client. Three months later, we had a three book contract. At no point in the process did who I knew even remotely enter into play—and you know, I’m much, much happier with the accomplishment than if any of my connections had somehow led to a book deal.
A publishing world connection might get your foot in the door, might get you a reading and possibly even some useful feedback. But that’s all. And that really is good news: that it’s still ultimately far more about what you write than who you know. So if you don’t have a useful aunt who happens to moonlight as a literary agent, don’t worry. Just focus on writing the best story you can, on crafting a sparkling query letter that will best catch an agent’s eye. As Jane Yolen, one of my favorite authors, wrote, “Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.”
Image by *lardicil.