There are some authors and illustrators whose work is in constant high demand and publishers are always eager to receive their next idea. Having a track record of moneymaking successful books is a big plus, but what other factors make a publisher want to work with an author or illustrator?
Obviously, talent is one criterion, and possibly the ability and willingness to help promote books – but there is no doubt that publishers like and prefer to work with ‘nice people’.
‘Nice people’ are open to suggestions from editors and discuss these amiably.
Nice people deliver work on time, every time – even better, long before deadlines.
Nice people are helpful and they don’t phone every day to check on progress.
Nice people respond promptly to requests and are courteous – they are friends.
Let’s suppose that an editor receives and likes stories or book ideas from two different unpublished creators, but can only has room on their list to publish one of them. If one writer or illustrator is someone the editor thinks would probably be ‘nice person’ to work with, and the other is unknown, whose book is most likely to get published?
So, how do you get a good reputation and an unfair advantage before you’ve had a book published?
1. Write. Learn your craft as best you can. Complete something – even if it still needs improvement.
2. Have some totally professional looking business cards printed – not things with streaks and perforated edges. Dress professionally. Look and behave like a professional.
3. Create a website or maintain a blog, or both, and consider producing a newsletter on any topic that interests you. The latter is not essential, but if you have a lot of happy subscribers/readers it can be advantageous.
4. Contribute to Yahoo and similar forums on writing for children and learn from them. Keep all your posts positive. Never criticise a publisher or editor anywhere on the internet – your comments can be found.
5. I never talk about a book’s rejections - not by name, anyway. If a publisher reads these (and they might!) they’ll have pre-conceived negative feelings about it when they receive it for consideration “...It’s done the rounds and nobody likes it – so I probably won’t either”.
6. Go to book launches, meetings and festivals and take opportunities to meet other creators of the same standing as yourself and with a positive outlook – you’ll become a ‘family force’ and be able to help and inspire each other.
7. Listen to people around you at events. Ask questions – people like to know you’re interested in them and to talk about themselves (but you’ll probably avoid people who ramble on and on, so don’t you ramble on, either. When you speak, have a pre-rehearsed and interesting short and snappy ‘elevator pitch’ describing what you write about, or your latest work in progress or finished story, to tempt further conversation and enquiry.)
8. If you meet or are introduced to well published creators, realise that they probably have friends around them that they like talking to. Don’t barge in or be pushy – they are probably tired of people wanting to get something out of them. Just try to come over as a natural and genuine person. But you can offer to promote their work on your blog – become a helpful friend in any way you can think of - with no immediate ulterior motive. Later, they may give you advice on work of your own. ‘What goes around, comes around’. (See 1 – make sure you have something to talk about.). But have no expectation.
9. Connecting meaningfully with one or two people for a significant amount of time is probably more useful that flitting around trying to network with everyone present at an event.
10. Research presenters at conferences that you will attend. Gain industry knowledge and do research on the internet, by visiting bookstores, reading and examining books in libraries to discover what each publishing house is currently publishing, and who the key personnel are – the editor, art director, publisher ...even the sales reps. Yes, the sales reps have a say at meetings that are held to decide which books get published. Find out who has been involved in the production of books that have won recent awards. Congratulating people is always a good conversation starter. You will be recognised as someone who is professionally involved in the industry.
11. Discover where these people hang out professionally – Facebook, LinkedIn, SCBWI Conferences etcc. Listen, to start with. Learn a little about them and their hobbies, and their partners and children.
12. Be helpful. Contribute to forums the ‘important people’ frequent. Your writing will be read. They will form an opinion of your writing skill before your ms hits their table or you meet face to face. They will already ‘know’ you ...however you portray yourself.
13. When attending a conference or talk, try to ask a sensible question that many people are likely to want answered. Start by standing up so you can be seen and give your name. You will be remembered if you later meet face to face, and by other attendees.
14. Using your research, when you meet an ‘important person’, you can start with something personal – “How’s the house renovation going? Did you find time for much surfing this year – what are your favourite spots?” Many editors appreciate a break from people asking about publishing. But have your ‘elevator pitch’ or ‘sound bite’ ready in case you’re asked what you are writing – and after replying, ask if you may send it to the person when it’s completed/been given one more edit and tweak. If they seem very friendly, you can then smile and ask if you can be cheeky and put ‘Requested’ on the envelope and in the cover letter, or if you should just send it for adding to the pile. Give them a business card – they may visit your website. Having your photo on the card may remind them whose it is and encourage a visit (Make sure your site/blog is worth visiting ...memo to self – mine needs an update.)
15. NEVER EVER try to give an agent or editor a manuscript at an event – it’s incredibly unprofessional ...you’ll be remembered for the wrong reason, and editors and agents talk socially to each other, even if their businesses compete.
16. NEVER EVER send gifts or imagined spin-off merchandise with a story.
17. Can you imagine being an editor or agent at an event, with a stream of unknown people coming at you from all directions and introducing themself, hour after hour? It’s not surprising that they like to talk to those people they know well. You’re likely to get a much more relaxed reception if one of their friends can introduce you (see 8) – especially if they can say “Hi Mary, I’d like you to meet my friend Jackie. She’s takes a lot of natural history photos, just like you do.” ...and you’ll immediately have a connection. It will be a relief for them to talk to you.
18. It may well be the case that the person has a full list of clients or is not accepting any more manuscripts at this time, or not in your genre. It doesn’t matter! See 15 – industry professionals talk to each other. Be a nice person. Comment on their Facebook page. If you share a common interest, once or twice a year (not every week!), send a postcard of a surfing spot you’ve enjoyed if you are both surfers, and say “You’d like it here!”. Keep in touch ...gently. If you are an illustrator and the person has children, send each child a small picture – not a full-scale artwork that’s taken a month to produce and an obvious bribe to make the person feel indebted to you. If you meet at another event, they may introduce you to one of their own friends in the industry, or you may produce something more suited to their requirements in months or years down the track.
19. After an event, thank people – even if you didn’t meet them. “Many thanks for all your organisation of the YYY event – it was most useful.” “Many thanks for coming to the YYY event and all the insider info that you shared.” Or if you did meet: “I really appreciate the time you spent talking to me at YYY and the ‘top tips’ you gave us all. The place I was telling you about is called ‘Mandy’s Point’. I’ve enclosed a photo. I hope our paths cross again.”
20. Briefly mention your connection in a cover letter for your story manuscript:
Dear Ms Person,
Thank you for your most useful talk at the YYY event and answering my question about word counts. It was wonderful to meet and chat socially afterwards.
The enclosed 600 word story has been written for children aged 3-5...
I hope you will be recognised as a ‘nice person’ ...someone who is ‘normal’, professional, friendly but not pushy, creepy or overly generous, someone easy to talk to, someone who listens and is likely to understand what is required if asked to do something or consider making changes, someone who is unlikely to be demanding or shout down the phone, who appears efficient and is likely to make deadlines, someone it will probably be a pleasure to work with for book after book after book.
I hope you will produce many books that are successful for publishers and for yourself.