I follow closely Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents (GLA) Editor’s Blog. I read with interest the recent “Agent Advice” column by GLA contibutor Ricki Shultz (03/28/10). Ms Hawkins answered several questions posed by GLA, which left me wanting to know even more. So I sent Ms. Hawkins a follow-up email, asking if she could expand on her advice. Here is my question and her reply:
L&L: You are quoted as having advised, “‘The author who adopts a learn-as-you-go philosophy runs the risk of making costly, even disastrous mistakes.'” This sounds like death by a thousand pinpricks, something every aspiring author would like to avoid, clearly. Can you shed some light on how a first time author might go about cracking the mysterious, elusive realm that is the publishing industry; beyond reference books, magazines and online resources, are we missing something obvious or not so obvious?
AH: Lisa, I’d actually written an article on this a while ago, so I expanded a bit on your question. Hope you don’t mind.
No doubt about it, publishing is a quirky business, and most first-time authors find the terminology, conventions, and procedures bewildering. Not only is the business quirky, but it also can operate in a non-linear fashion. An author who cruises along with a learn-as-you-go philosophy can get caught short when events take an unanticipated turn.
At the very outset, do yourself a huge favor and spend a little time reading about the publishing industry in general. Trust me; this small investment of time will keep paying dividends at every step of the publication process. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- It will give you a context for assimilating new information and experiences.
- It will inform the many important decisions you will need to make.
- It will help you avoid costly, possibly disastrous mistakes.
- It will endear you to the publishing professionals you encounter.
- It will begin to develop your intuitive sense of what feels right – and what feels wrong.
Don’t rely on internet resources alone. Some writer friendly websites do have accurate, up to date information, but many others perpetuate wild untruths. There are some excellent books on this subject, notably Sheree Bykofsky’s and Jennifer Basye Sander’s COMPLETE IDIOTS GUIDE TO GETTING PUBLISHED and Lori Perkins’ INSIDERS GUIDE TO GETTING AN AGENT. Sadly, the latter is out of print, but it’s worth the effort to find it in a library or to purchase a used copy, since it really is one of the best books on publishing in general. Jeff Herman’s GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS, AND LITERARY AGENTS (most recent edition) is a goldmine as well. The section on agents tells what each individual does and doesn’t represent as well as providing helpful personal information. In the backmatter, there are numerous excellent articles on the business of publishing. These are three books I know to be good, but, sadly, there are others out there that are not.
Some writers’ conferences can be a fine source of information as well. Before you register, check the program to see if there are presentations on the business of writing and agent or editor panels. The Q&A portion of these sessions can be as valuable as the presentations themselves, and these industry professionals are usually open to informal chats as well.
Consider joining your local chapter of Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America or some other appropriate group. You’ll have a chance to meet published authors and to benefit from their experience. A caution, however: Not everyone’s experience is the same, so you’ll need to decide if the information received is relevant to you. Membership in these organizations also give you access to the “members only” sections of their websites, which are also sources of good information.
John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
71 West 23rd Street – Suite 1600
New York, New York 10010
Lisa’s footnote: I am off to the online bookstores to look for these print resources. A big thank you to Anne Hawkins for her time and expertise.