subscribe: Posts | Comments

Markets & Manners: Tips for Writers

6 comments

Last month, I mentioned buying a Writer’s Market as a first step to making money as a writer, and this month I’m going to expand on that tip a little.

But first, a cautionary tale.

A few years ago, I met an artist (we’ll call her Kelly) who was working on illustrating a children’s book written by a friend of hers. Being fairly new in town, I decided to invite a few women to lunch to get to know them better.  One of these was Kelly; another was a writer we’ll call Maureen, a published non-fiction author.

A few weeks after the lunch, Maureen called me up and hesitantly asked me if I knew that Kelly had sent her an email asking to be introduced to her agent.

Mortified, I assured her that I did not know she’d done this, and that I would let Kelly know that this wasn’t appreciated. (I realized that she must have used the email address from the group email I’d sent with details for the lunch.)

I called Kelly and gently told her that this was out of line on a number of levels.  First of all, I know a bunch of writers, personally, and I would think long and hard before I ever asked any of them to introduce me to an agent.  Generally that’s the type of thing that’s offered, not asked for.  It’s professional etiquette.

Secondly, Kelly and her friend were novices in the publishing field.  They had no idea where to start or what to do.  During the conversation, I gave her a slew of advice.  She was interested in children’s book publishers, so I directed her to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Editors).  I told her about the Writer’s Market, a great resource for beginners, since it offered a lot of “how-to” information (writing query letters, time management, negotiation, pitches, etc.) as well as resources on actual markets.  I mentioned my writing group and Romance Writers of America, great women and a good place to learn more.  I told her to do a little research and learn a little bit about the business before she approached anyone in publishing for advice, but especially people she barely knew.  It’s just polite and professional. (And by the way, did I mention it’s never really appropriate to ask anyone to introduce you to her/his agent?  Especially if you barely know them.)

Kelly was offended by my advice and encouragement.  She told me that in life, you were supposed to share knowledge and contacts, and if Maureen and I weren’t willing to do this, it was because we were mean-spirited and greedy.

I was so stunned by her reaction that I ended the call quickly, and it was pretty much the end of that relationship, too.  She couldn’t get over how un-generous I was, and I couldn’t get over her interpretation of what I thought was professional guidance, especially after I’d also given her tons of information that I’d been gathering for years through my own research, connections and experience.  She didn’t value any of it at all, and meanwhile was caught up in how uncharitable Maureen and I had been for not helping her more.

Wow.

I hope you’ll take my advice and encouragement in a better spirit.  The Writer’s Market is possibly the best book you could pick up if you’re looking to make money through writing.  It is approximately 1,000 pages of industry contacts, information, resources, how-to’s and markets for writers.  It gives you the names of magazines, editors, agents, contests, trade journals and a priceless glossary for beginning writers and beyond.  If you upgrade to the Deluxe Edition, you’ll have access to even more resources at writersmarket.com

I also hope you’ll remember that any information anyone – especially published authors – shares with you is a gift.  It’s one less thing you need to research yourself or learn the hard way.  Generally any contacts writers and authors have gathered through their careers, they’ve created through their own writing, their own personalities, and/or their own experiences.  While networking is important in the industry, it really comes down to the work – the writing.  If someone wants to be your advocate and introduce you to someone who’s going to give you a leg up, yay for you – but it’s not yours for the asking.

Some simple tips to success:

Pay attention.  Listen.  Write. Be gracious and kind.  When you find friends in the industry, hold onto them.  It makes for a more fun ride.  Write.  Learn.  Don’t ask for anything from anyone, but if someone offers (and I guarantee that’s far more likely to happen if you don’t act as if you’re entitled to it), accept with grace and gratitude.

Write. Write. Write.

Bobbi Dumas loves good writing. Of all kinds. She also loves romance, a mesmerizing story and the company of friends. When she’s not in the virtual world or one of her own making, she can usually be found in Madison, WI with her husband, two boys, and a clan of great writers she feels grateful and honored to know (some of whom you get to meet here, too). Lucky you!
  1. As the editor of Writer’s Market, I just wanted to say thank you for the shout out for the book. It means a lot.

    Also, thank you for sharing that story, which is unfortunately more familiar than it should be. You did the right thing by offering your advice over your contacts.

  2. Hi, thanks so much for the comment! I love Writer’s Market and think it is the single best initial resource for starting any kind of writing career.

    Yeah, I’ve had a few examples of “those stories”, as have many of my friends, so I thought I’d put it out there. That one was particularly stunning.

    All the best – feel free to tell people about the How To Write Shop – lots of great stuff here! ;o)

  3. I don’t mean any offense here, but your shock at Kelly’s attitude betrays the length of time you’ve spent living by one set of rules. To someone outside the publishing industry, her response is not shocking at all. In many other fields, your response would be the shocking one. I’m a scientist, for example, and if I asked a colleague to introduce me to someone important to their career, it would be VERY poor form for him to say “No, and in fact it’s rude of you to ask.” I understand your perspective AFTER you’ve explained it, but I also understand hers. Maybe you should re-evaluate your perspective in light of her experience in another arena of life. Cheers!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Mel. I think the point is, I told her gently that her behavior was inappropriate in this world – that those were “this world’s rules” and she responded by getting angry at me for this world having these rules. In a world such as yours, and hers, I can understand why she would feel like this world was strange, or unfriendly. But she broke a rule in “this world” and I let her know, kindly, that she’d transgressed, and had offended a published author, and she was very rude to me. I still believe she was ungracious. I’m sorry you disagree.

  5. I like to help people as much as possible and I’m often asked to hand over my media contacts. This requests usually comes from novices, people I don’t know well and/or the brassy & the bold. For example, my contacts at Fox and Friends.http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=53brww0aN8A
    Producers, editors, agents, speaking event planners and others give us proprietary information to
    include their contact info. I would never dream of jeopardizing my future opportunities in a field by revealing proprietary info. My agent also knows that if I send someone to him (at a writers conference or via his website) I will tell him ahead of time. Once, he had a writer at a conference sit down for a 15 minute appointment and the writer announced (without my permission) that “Ellie Kay has sent me to you and recommended me.” My agent said, “Ellie wouldn’t do that without letting me know ahead of time. This means you’re not telling the truth and this interview is over.” A cautionary tale indeed!

  6. Wow, Ellie! Thanks for the comment. That woman defines brash!

    Great segment, and thank you for your work supporting our troops.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>