Markets & Manners: Tips for Writers
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.
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.