I had to hear the secret to getting published several times before I believed it.
What can I say? I'm Irish. Irishmen believe in Leprechauns, banshees, and other fantasies, fantasies like the one that publishers recognize and publish good writing when it comes across their desk.
Here's how I always thought it would happen—
I was realistic about it. I'd paid my dues—a news column, public relation pieces, dramas, speeches, short stories, and contests. I'd studied the craft of novels and the approved process of manuscript submission. I'd done my homework.
Here’s how it was supposed to happen. I'd mail my proposal and sample chapters to an acquisitions editor. He’d read it. His jaw would drop. Scrambling from behind his desk, he’d run across the hallway to the senior editor's desk and shout, "You've got to read this!" Together they'd huddle over the manuscript like a couple of teenage girls at midnight outside a bookstore during the latest Harry Potter release.
Not long after that I’d get a call from the publisher.
"Jack? We LOVE your book! Love it! We want to publish it. To show you we're serious, we're willing to give you a $1-million advance." (Okay, so I wasn't TOTALLY realistic about it.)
I'd hesitate. He'd take it as a negotiating tactic.
"Okay, $2-million," he'd say.
Now we all know it didn't happen that way. It rarely happens that way.
That's when I started listening to what I was being told, when I started believing in the secret.
I heard the secret every year at the end of our annual writers’ conference in San Diego. Sherwood "Woody" Wirt, the founding editor of Billy Graham's Decision Magazine, founded the writers’ guild in San Diego and every year he closed the conference the same way. He’d say—
"Writing is a business. And like any business, it's not what you do that counts, it's who you know that counts."
Since no publishers were calling me with million dollar offers, I decided to try it his way.
I started attending writing conferences, not for the workshops, but to meet decision makers in the publishing industry. At one conference I met Linda, an editor at a publishing house that didn't do fiction. But a contact was a contact.
The next time I met Linda at a conference she’d changed publishing houses to one that was starting a new fiction line. And they were looking for authors! Unpublished authors! I qualified. I was as unpublished as they come.
We met. We talked. I pitched an idea. As it turned out, I came away with a contract…not for one book, but four books!
Later, Linda explained to me why the secret Woody shared at the end of every conference works. She said: "If I have two publishable manuscripts, one I got through the mail, and the other from a person I met at a conference, I'll go with the person I met every time. I just feel more comfortable if I've met the author."
Wait! It's gets better.
A few years later, Linda moved to a another publishing house. Now she's me! "Jack, what are you going to do for us here?"
It's not what you do that counts, it's who you know that counts.