Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
You might not think of yourself as an authority, but lots of other folks do if one thing is true of you: You’ve published a book.
With one book under your belt you can get workshop gigs at writers conferences; write blogs on how to get published, how to find an agent, and how to write well; speak at conventions that center on your book’s topic; hang out your shingle as a free-lance editor or book doctor.
I’m regularly stymied by how easily some authors slip into the role of expert based on their having “broken the code” to getting published. They don’t seem to realize that, while they worked hard to reach the end of the rainbow, a tremendous number of factors happened to align for them: They wrote the right book at the right time; they found an agent who knew how to sell such a book; and publishers were looking for such a book.
What I’m saying is that it takes more than talent to land a book contract. There’s some sort of alchemy at work, too. We would say that it’s God, others would it attribute it to luck or fate.
If you’re published, remember that understanding publishing and the art of writing is a life-long learning experience. You never arrive regardless how long you work at it. That doesn’t mean you never have insights that can help others, but surround yourself with those who can help you to discern when you should stretch yourself by offering aids to fellow artists and when you should resist the urge to be placed in the position of an authority because you’re not ready for that role.
If you’re unpublished, don’t imbue undue authority to those who haven’t earned it.
I read a blog post (on the Writers Digest site no less) in which the writer’s sole qualification for writing the post was that he had published one book. His topic was on what to look for in an agent. Most of his points were accurate and helpful. But then he suggested you find an agent who will negotiate your book contracts with an emphasis on what’s important to you: foreign rights, film rights, or free copies for the author.
That sort of emphasis is naive. I’m hard-pressed to think of any novelist who doesn’t think his or her book would make a great movie, but the truth is, novels are much harder to place with a film maker than nonfiction. So, if an author sets out to find an agent well-connected in the film industry rather than one who is most capable of landing a book publishing contract, a secondary issue has turned into a primary one, based on unrealistic expectations.
The blog post writer then goes on to say that those looking for an agent should find one who has a special interest in what your book is about. For example, if you’re a young mom writing about insights on how to raise children adopted out of foster care, you should find a young female agent who also has adopted children. Um, agents can’t specialize in such a specific issue but must, of necessity, have clients writing about diverse topics and for diverse audiences. How many slots are there for such a book in all of publishing? Very few.
It, of course, wouldn’t make sense to approach an agent who didn’t enjoy the genre or category you’re writing in, but that agent wouldn’t want to represent your project either. Agents self-eliminate if your idea doesn’t intrigue them and make them enthusiastic about representing it and you.
We agents spend lots of time and energy telling you what to look for in an agent; there’s no need to turn to the guy with one book to his credit to figure it out. The same is true for any other publishing advice he offered; consider the source.
Have you ever been dubbed an authority, although you knew that wasn’t true? How did you handle that?
When someone offers writing or publishing advice, how do you decide if that is a person who really knows?
What do you do if you receive contradictory advice?
As a side note, later this week I’m heading to Mount Hermon Writers Conference where I will be, yup, you guessed it, speaking as an authority.
How can you decide if someone is a publishing authority? Click to tweet.
If you publish one book, are you an authority? Click to tweet.