You Don’t Need a ‘Name’ or ‘Influence’ to Get Published and Paid
Why your chances of making it as a writer are as good as anyone’s.
Editors are not your enemies
Despite everything you may have heard about secret cabals of editors and covens of literary agents — the so-called “gatekeepers” of the printed word — a more egalitarian meritocracy than the world of writing and publishing doesn’t exist. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who,” doesn’t apply.
Have you ever heard of me? Have you heard or seen me interviewed on Radio or TV? Nope. Do you recognize my face from the glossy magazines? Nope. Have you ever run in to me at a writers’ conference or a masterclass? Well, maybe, but I bet you didn’t know who I was.
Do I have any “inside contacts” in the publishing industry? Yes, I do. Does that make any difference to the quality of my writing or my chances of getting the next piece published? No, not really. How could it?
But despite not having a “name” or any special “influence,” I make my living as a freelance writer. While the lion’s share of my output is non-fiction, commercial writing (articles, features, and blog posts) I also write and sell fiction. And you can, too, if you wish. It’s of no direct consequence who you are, where you’re from, or how you live.
All editors want is top-quality writing
If you want to make it as a professional writer, all you need is a modicum of talent and a lot of hard work and determination. Although, if you have both, you’re already leagues ahead of the competition. Talent is ubiquitous. Hard work and determination are almost as rare as a pork chop at a Bar-Mitzvah.
Exceptions — such as the catastrophic celebrity biography, or the dreary latest novel in a series past its best, which will sell on account of the author’s name alone — shouldn’t blind you to the general truth that you don’t need either a name or influence to get published and paid.
You need only write something enough people want to read and write it well. Then send it to the agent or publisher who best serves the readers who will love and appreciate your work.
Agents and publishers of all stripes rely on only one thing for success: sales. They plow capital into the industry with a keen eye on the return they’ll get from the investment, regardless of their passion for literature, good storytelling, and the art of language.
If an agent were to represent an author because she’s a friend rather than because she can write damn good copy, she’d soon claim on her unemployment insurance. Likewise, a publisher who signs a publishing contract because she wants to return a favour to an old pal with no talent as a wordsmith, risks both ridicule and significant financial losses.
Agents represent work they think they have a good chance to sell to publishers and publishers buy work they believe will sell to readers.
Editors care about their readers and so should you
And readers? Well, they call the shots. Without readers, the whole industry, mainstream and independent, crumbles to dust and blows away on the wind. When an agent or a publisher reads your work, she’s not thinking about you. She’s thinking about readers.
And that’s why it makes not a jot of difference who you are. The work is all that matters. Is your submission something enough people will be happy to pay out their hard-earned dollars to read?
Think about the last paid article, feature, or short story you read on or off-line. Why did you read it? Because it was entertaining, or informative, or useful, or all three. But it was more than that; it was entertaining, informative, or useful enough for you to pay for it. And that’s what agents and editors look for in the work submitted to them: something people will pay to read.
Now think of say, the last dozen articles you’ve read and enjoyed. Can you remember the names of the authors? How about the last twenty or thirty or fifty articles?
You the writer don’t really matter. It’s the reader who matters.
I’ve heard would-be writers bemoan this truth. But I don’t understand why. It’s wonderful news. Because it means that if you, perhaps as a new writer or one trying a different genre, send work to the same agent or editor as a well-established “name” in the industry and your piece is head-and-shoulders above hers in content and quality, it will be you who gets the publishing deal.
So, don’t worry that no one knows who you are. And don’t imagine that an editor rejected your work because you’re not “someone.” It’s not true.
Research, write, polish and submit your best work
Write your best work and send it to your chosen agent, editor, or publisher in full confidence that if it’s good and saleable, it will get the attention it deserves. Keep writing, continue to improve, and aim to do the best you can every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Getting your work paid for and published needn’t be as hard as you imagine. It’s not as tough as getting picked for a team in the World League. In the publishing game, anyone can be on the team. It’s a level playing field. So, get out there on the sandlot and go slap some taters.
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