Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Build Relationships With Key Editors

A number of times throughout these entries on The Writing Life, I've mentioned the importance of building and maintaining relationships with key members of the publishing community. It's not an easy business to understand. On the surface it seems straightforward. You want to get something published, so you write a query letter or a book proposal and send it off to the editor. Eventually the editor responds that they love your idea and you get an assignment or a book contract. I've simplified the process and it can happen that easily but often the process is much more involved and complicated with many twists and turns. Often these twists and turns involve relationships. While there is a science and form to writing a book proposal or a query letter, there is also a subjective element which none of us can pinpoint for you.

Each of us are looking for a connection or someone to champion our materials through the process. That champion can build enthusiasm for your work as an author and guide you through the publishing process. A week ago I was crammed on an airplane for over four hours going from Phoenix to Newark, then on into Manhattan. Whenever I travel to the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference (at least once a year), I always make a point to plan an extra day in New York City. If you have ever traveled to New York, you know it's not an inexpensive place to visit and why would I build such extra time? It has to do with my commitment to build relationships with various editors. The payoff from that relationship building often isn't immediate but a gentle and slow process which may take years to mature.

Late last week, I took some time to think about the various submissions for Whalin Literary Agency which are ready to go out to various publishing houses. In light of these publications, who could I meet in New York City and work on my relationships? I made a series of phone calls and emails. Not everyone was available. One company was involved in a sales conference and unavailable for even a few minutes. Another editor works at home every Wednesday and would not be coming into the office. I managed to line up several brief meetings in different parts of New York City for last Wednesday.

If you don't know it, one of the most economical ways to get around New York is on the subway. You have to determine if you are going uptown or downtown on the island then catch the right train and get off. I am constantly asking directions but I managed to reach each of my meetings in a timely way. For about $25 anyone can purchase a seven day unlimited metro pass. It allows you to enter and leave the subway as many times as you need to do so over a seven day period and in my view, it's a bargain for transportation.

My first appointment of the day was at HarperCollins, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York. The security in recent years has grown increasingly tight in such places. I checked in at a desk in the lobby and the person verified my meeting with the editor. They gave me a visitor's badge and sent me to the reception area on the third floor. This editor actually worked on the fourth floor and she walked down to meet me and escorted me to her office. For about 30 minutes we talked about books, the state of publishing, her work in particular and I gave her a bit more background about the particular project that I was pitching from the agency. If you are looking for specifics here, you aren't going to find them--but you can gain a bit of my preparation and relationship building during the meeting.

My next meeting later in the morning was at another publisher right down the street from HarperCollins at 1230 Avenue of the Americas. When I got to this publisher, there were several flags on a pole from about the third floor and the inconspicuous words on marble columns in the entry way that read, "Simon and Schuster." As with the previous publisher, I had to check in with someone in the lobby who called upstairs. They also scanned my driver's license and issued another visitor's badge. This time they sent me to the 14th floor. I have known this particular editor for several years as he participated in a panel which I organized for the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I kept track of his movement from his previous publisher to Simon and Schuster. We spent a few minutes catching up and he told me about the types of books that he wanted to acquire and edit. Like the last editor, it amounted to about a dozen books. The typical acquisitions editor handles about a dozen projects each year. This editor showed me an embargoed book where he had been the editor. He was protective of this title so I barely got to hold it for a few minutes before handing it back to him. An embargoed book is where the publisher has restricted the release to a particular date before it will go on sale and be available to the public. This editor's author appeared on Good Morning America today so I know in the last week the embargo has been lifted. My meeting was another good session and in particular I pitched several projects from my agency. For one of my pitches, this acquisitions editor took my hard copy and piled it into his stack of material "to be read."

This second editor knew a great deal about New York City and recommended that I experience the shops below Rockefeller Center. I followed his guidance and after the session, walked below ground to the ice skating rink which is often shown on television. It was fascinating to see people ice skating on a sunny day in New York.

I've just described my morning meetings and my afternoon was equally packed with several other sessions with editors and in editorial offices--naturally riding the subway in between to reach these locations. As far as the results from these sessions, the verdict is still out. The wheels of publishing often turn slowly so it may be a matter of weeks or months before I can point to concrete results from these sessions. I will follow-up and continue building these relationships. I've detailed these steps so you can do likewise. You never know where these relationships will take you. I have great hopes for the projects that I pitched and the authors that I championed.

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1 Comment:

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Kristi Holl Left a note...

Fascinating to read "a day in the life of an agent." I like your emphasis on relationships and the realistic time it takes to build ones that are meaningful. It takes patience at every step of the game!


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