The Horse's Mouth
This is the last in a series of posts about being an editorial intern at Knopf/Random House Canada. My aim is to provide publishing tips to emerging writers through an insider’s view of the industry.
I don’t think there’s a need to worry about the publishing industry if you haven’t spent years reading widely, taking classes, submitting to literary journals, and working on your craft. That said, there are many ways in which emerging writers can increase their chances of scoring a publishing deal. Straight from the horse’s mouth—my colleagues at Random House of Canada—here are some tips:
1) Be part of the literary community where you live. I heard this advice from editors as well as from Random House marketing types. Attend readings and launches, volunteer for literary journals and festivals, and get to know other writers. While a high tolerance for solitude is part of the job description, successful authors also need to go out in public occasionally.
When I first moved back to Toronto, I found the literary community pretty intimidating. A good way to get started is by attending the events of writer friends and small presses you admire and, of course, buying and reading the books. If you don’t have many writer friends yet, you can join a book club or take a writing workshop, volunteer, or start your own reading series or magazine. Writing reviews—either for a blog or for a print publication—is another good way to support your local writing community and get to know writers and publishers. There are lots of reasons to develop relationships with other literary folk (personally, I don’t feel I could survive without these friendships) and publishers take note of young writers who seem to know everyone.
2) A friend of mine used to have a note taped to her bathroom mirror: “Gratitude and generosity.” After she passed away, many of her friends have made this mantra their own, and I find it useful when thinking about the kind of writer I want to be in the world. Nobody wants to work with a dick. Don’t be one.
3) Save the hard sales pitches for your query letters once you’re ready to send out your book. I saw plenty of these letters when I interned at Random House, and agents don't hold back. While it may seem embarrassing to sell your own work, remember that if you don’t yet have an agent, no one is going to do it for you. This means putting your biggest accomplishment to date in the first or second line of your email, not burying it in the fourth paragraph. In addition to providing a brief (and enticing) description of your book and a short bio, when querying agents or publishers it’s a good idea to compare your work to some of their authors, to show how your book fits with their interests. And if you have any praise quotes (e.g., from reviews, contests, senior writers), be sure to include them. Although you never want to oversell your work in a query—by saying, for example, “This novel will sell more copies than the Bible!”—you also don’t want to be shy about your accomplishments.
4) Various Random House folks recommended that I set up a website and join Twitter. I always figured I could worry about such things after signing a book deal, but it was pointed out to me that publishers consider a writer’s platform before signing them. Social media terrifies me, so it was exciting when, at a recent literary festival, an intern recognized me from Facebook and said she thinks I’m hilarious. Me?