Do you remember how you landed your first real job? And did you use the lessons learned (or should have learned) from that experience when, as a writer, you queried agents and publishers?
It’s been more than forty years, but I remember graduating from college, and with great trepidation embarking on the journey to find a job –not just any job, but one that would allow me to venture from the comfort of my parent’s home to live on my own and, even better, leverage what I’d spent four years studying. With the naiveté of a 22 year old and brandishing a newly minted diploma, I perused the Help Wanted ads, and did a few interviews. After letting me flounder for a time, my wise parents recognized the dark clouds of disappointment assembling overhead and interceded, calling an acquaintance who worked at the local bank. Two weeks later, I reported for duty as an Administrative Assistant in the bank’s Trust Department.
I spent thirty years in the corporate world and held seven jobs, each progressively more challenging and rewarding. All but one of the seven moves was made with the help of a contact. The one exception was a job I secured after responding to an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal and perhaps twenty or thirty other classifieds. I didn’t realize at the time what a long shot that was–reading later that something like ten thousand people respond to each help wanted posting.
Toward the end of my career, life had changed. There was this thing called the Internet and on the Internet an organization called Monster.com that purported to be a marketplace for employers and job seekers. Just post your resume or respond to a job posting and voila, you’d find a job! I tried that once or twice but without so much as an acknowledgement, much less a job offer.
So, you might ask, what does this have to do with the world of writing? Let me explain.
Knowing that I wanted to try my hand at writing, shortly before retiring I attended writing seminars and conferences and joined a local writers group while also reading everything I could about writing, editing and publishing.
The first piece of advice offered on how to get published was to query, query, query. Some spoke of having queried for years, some even decades before being published. The second piece of advice was to develop a thick skin–don’t take those rejections personally, just take a deep breath and query some more.
With a completed manuscript in hand, I started querying. I sent out a dozen queries and received about a half dozen rejections. Fine. I was prepared for that. But, as I was compiling a list of a second batch of agents and publishers to query, that little voice in my head asked if this was really the best way. After all, hadn’t I succeeded in landing jobs through personal contacts, not through a tsunami of resumes?
I stopped querying and focused on building face to face opportunities. About two weeks later, at a writers conference, I attended a lecture by the CEO of a “small press”. He mentioned his interest in military stories. As it so happened, I had compiled a collection of short stories, some of which were military related. I stood in a sizeable line of people after the workshop and when it was my turn, introduced myself and mentioned my stories. He invited me to share a sample. After reading the story I sent, he said he was interested in seeing more. Unfortunately, I had committed to those who had shared their stories to (self) publish the collection by the end of the year. Nevertheless, six months later, I ran in to the same CEO again, and by this time I had a manuscript for my first novel. It too had a military connection–though a slim one–but that delicate thread and our previous conversation were enough to restart the conversation. And, like they say, it’s a small world. He had worked at one of the same corporations I had, and his wife hailed from Evansville Indiana where my novel was set.
So, was this an accident? Divine intervention? A perfect storm? I think not. It was a matter of making a personal connection, keeping my ears and eyes open to mutual interests, and persevering. It goes without saying that there has to be a good, well written story at the heart of the matter. But, past that, I am a firm believer in identifying and exploring connections and never giving up.
My advice? Invest in making personal connections. And don’t say you don’t know anyone in the business. If that’s the case, get involved: join a writers group, attend book festivals and signings, and be an active participant. And never give up.