Sometimes conversations with other writers are somewhere between enlightening & terrifying … bc clarity can be like that. This is an industry that doesn’t have a clear path (no internship or necessary coursework or degrees) OR a lot of job security. It’s also a changing industry. That means that if this is YOUR business, you need to think like a business owner.
When I started writing with the goal of publication (not so very long ago), it was 2004. Ebooks weren’t a thing. YA wasn’t this explosive thing it became. Hell, urban fantasy wasn’t even the explosion it became. Things change.
YA & UF exploded … which changed the market expectations.
Then Kindle & iPad changed things.
Then Indie publishing changed things.
There will be other changes too.
What doesn’t seem to change is the hush-hush parts. The things I’ve learned about agents, editors, editorial directors, book buyers, and publishers’ boiler plate contracts are almost all via other writers. We talk. We talk a lot.
I use the internet, conversations with writers, notes from conferences, and interviews to research. I keep a constant, updated list (in a notebook in my house) of editors I would or would not like to work with, of what a particular imprint does well or fails terribly at doing, of what agents are solid or impressive or only in it for the contract but not the career. It’s not all writ in stone. I’ve had people rave & rant about the same editor or agent. I make note.
When I switched agents, I knew exactly who my top pick was (Merrilee Heifetz). I emailed only her. She convinced me that I was right… but if she hadn’t, I had a list to email next. I still do. I keep a list. Even though I am VERY happy with my agent, I keep that updated list. I share it with friends privately.
I keep other lists too. I have an ongoing dream editor & publisher list.
When I sold my middle-grade, I had one very specific request of my agent “Call Megan Tingley.” I’ve talked her repeatedly at conferences & was impressed by her business sense & assertiveness. I wanted her as my publisher for this. Several years later, I still believe that was the right choice. My agent talked to others, but it was Megan who bought the series. She came in with a savvy offer and did so with cunning timing. If I hadn’t already known she was my pick, I would’ve been irritated with how neatly I’d been trapped … but that cleverness was exactly why I wanted her. I wanted the cleverness on my side, so it worked out perfectly.
Same thing with my picture book. I knew it was Nancy Paulson I wanted. This was the right style for her imprint, & she impresses me with her taste. I’ve follower her on Twitter for quite a while. She’s smart with literary sensibility, selecting books that are carefully curated & evoke her passion. I wanted that for my picture book bc of the type of book it is. Again, Merrilee included others (only 2 this time) but it was Nancy who replied in less than an hour & said yes. I was giddy.
There are other things I monitor, of course … contract terms that are worth discussions—and it’s not always our agents who point those out. It’s up to us to communicate with other authors & do our research.
One of the biggies that burns my temper every time is this subversive disempowering idea that finding our agent or editor is “like looking for a marriage partner.” No. This is a CAREER, not a marriage—no matter how many sweetly spun discussions talk about finding your agent or editor as if it were a “love match.” This is a business. That editor & agent have a lot of other clients. If it were a marriage, it would be one where the author is part of a harem … expected to offer obedience & monogamy while the editor or agent is enjoying the rewards of the rest of the harem too. So let’s drop the “marriage” comparisons when we talk about editors & agents. We’re businesswomen & businessmen, not harem girls :)
I happen to think very highly of all of my editors, my publishers, my former publishers, and my agent. I’ve adored some of my publicists, foreign editors, subrights division, and … well, about 95% of the people I’ve worked with in my career. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t doing JOBS. This is a business. Books are bought & sold. They may be our passions when we are writing, but once we hit the point of selling them, we must switch gears to think about the business part because I can guarantee you that the agents & publishers & contracts dept & editors are thinking that way … and we WANT them to (once we get past selling & contract negotiations!!!) because if they are on our side, we stand better chances of succeeding in the marketplace (see yesterday’s blog for my examples there).
Talk to other authors; do research; make notes. Stalk folks on Twitter, in interviews, in their publications, via their authors, on forums, & listen at conferences. Think business, not harem.