A Moment of Jen
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Monday, March 03, 2003
posted by Adam at 3/03/2003 12:00:00 PM

"Writing is a racket. Most published authors know other writers or editors. Connections are everything."

Says who?

There's nothing that sets my teeth on edge like reading this kind of misinformed garbage, which appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, in an article profiling Philadelphia author Shawn McBride, who sold his debut novel Green Grass Grace without the benefit of influence or connections or access to "literary watering holes." He just found the names of some agents, wrote a great query letter, got an agent interested, and sold his book two weeks later. An anomaly! A miracle! A Cinderella story! Who'd have ever thunk it?

Except that's how it happens for lots of writers -- including me.

I've written about this extensively in the "For Writers" section on my website, but I think it's worth revisiting, since I'm sure that anyone who reads today's Inquirer and doesn't know other editors or writers, and wouldn't be able to find a literary watering hole with a map and a Sherpa to guide her is going to come away unnecessarily discouraged.

When I wrote GOOD IN BED, I was working full-time as a reporter in Philadelphia. I wasn't hanging out in New York. I didn't know any agents or editors. When I finished the book, rather than asking around and seeking advice from colleagues who'd been published or well-connected college professors, I just got a book that listed literary agencies, picked twenty-five of them that had represented authors like me or books like mine, wrote what I thought was a funny, concise, compelling query letter, and sent it out.

Now, granted, I might have looked better on paper than McBride, who's a former mailman who had never published anything before. I'd worked at newspapers, I'd sold short stories, I'd taken creative writing classes and studied with big-name authors.

But as far as the New York-centric literary world was concerned, I was just another wannabe petitioning for a place in the slush pile. And still, without calling in a single connection, I eventually landed an agent, and a publishing deal. It took some time and persistence, but it happened...and my first book was eventually sold in four days. Why? Because it doesn't really matter who you are or who you know. What matters is that you've written a good book.

Good books get noticed by agents, get purchased by publishers, and find their way in the world. It doesn't matter whether they're written by Ivy League graduates whose fathers run publishing houses or mailmen with notebooks stuffed in their pockets. The myth that you need the right degree, the right last name, and the right connections to get a book deal is just that -- a myth (and one, I've noticed, that's most fervently embraced by people on the outside of the publishing world....the ones, perhaps, who like to think that if only they had the right connections, they'd be on the best seller list, too). Printing it like it's the gospel truth isn't doing readers, or writers, any favors.
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