You do have to be entrenched in this world to get to where you want to get. The writing always has to be good. That is a given. But good writing on its own is not enough. Even great writing isn’t enough. At the simplest level, that’s obvious: write better than Shakespeare and it’s of no use whatsoever if you don’t show it to anybody. Naturally, we all do a little more than that. But it’s not just about talking to people; it’s also about talking to the right people.
If I’m honest, every bit of writing I’ve had published has been as the result of a tip-off. Sometimes it’s been because of something that everyone has access to – such as an article in Writers’ News. Other times, it has been through the recommendation of another writing friend and sometimes because I’ve rubbed shoulders with the right people. Often, it takes years to percolate.
Here’s an example:
I’m putting together a proposal for a text book. I have targeted one particular publisher because I consider them to be friendly. They have also published quite a few books which influenced my academic career. I’ve met the appropriate editor on several occasions, and significantly, five years ago, dined with her most evenings when we were at a conference together. She has constantly invited me to write something for her.
Well, now I have an idea that I think may suite her company. However I’m also aware that when I first knew her she was very new at her job. Now she is an experienced, confidant editor. I can’t really pull any strings. I just need to submit like anyone else and hope that she recognises my name and puts me at the top of the slush pile if the script eventually comes her way.
Except there is a fortunate question that needs to be asked. My book doesn’t quite seem to fit the series they describe yet I do know that they publish this type of text. I email my contact, asking if she is the editor to whom I should send my work.
Just a few hours later, I get a response. Yes, indeed, she is my chap. She even sends me some specific guidelines for text books. These are not on their site. She seems pleased to hear from me and indeed remembers me even though I am now at a different institution.
Of course, it is not yet definite that she will accept my proposal. It still has to be excellent and even then may not fit in with the sort of book they currently want, but I’m in with a fighting chance: I have the specific guidelines that will help me to make my proposal more fit for purpose. Without my contact, I may never have known about those. She also already knows that I am reliable.