Dear lovely reader,
There is a myth about publishing, that it is an insider’s club, that the people who get published do so because they are friends with this author, or went to school with this editor, or have an uncle who knows a lawyer who knows an agent. I admit that before my debut novel was picked up by Little, Brown & Co. I worried I didn’t have enough “connections.” I have lived all my life in Alaska, and the closest I had ever come to New York City was to visit my grandparents in Buffalo, NY.
But I have discovered something very exciting along the path to publication — you can start out with no connections whatsoever and, if you’re willing to reach out to others in the writing/reading world along the way, they’ll often extend a hand to you.
When I attended the Kachemak BayWriters’ Conference in Homer, Alaska, several years ago, I couldn’t have been more utterly disconnected from NY publishing. I went to the conference with my mom, Julie LeMay, who is a poet, and she prodded and encouraged and, actually, insisted that I set up a meeting with the New York literary agent presenting at the conference. I had never met a New York literary agent before, and I wasn’t finished with my novel. But I signed up to meet with Jeff Kleinman and gave him my pitch. By the end of the conference, he had offered to represent The Snow Child.
I was thrilled, and a little overwhelmed at this turn of events. Normally I wouldn’t have done such a thing, but I reached out to John Straley, then the Alaska Writer Laureate and one of the biggest names in Alaska’s writing world. He has numerous critically acclaimed novels, and was a lead presenter at the conference. I had read his books, but he didn’t know me from Adam, as they say. Yet, when I asked for help, he extended a hand. He sat down with me at the conference and calmly said “Stay calm.” Several months later, he read my early draft for me and gave me his thoughts and recommendations. This was my very first introduction to the “inside circle” of the publishing world — authors helping authors, readers and writers and book lovers joining forces.
Later, when the owner of Fireside Books casually mentioned to Andromeda Romano-Lax that I was working on a novel and had an agent, Andromeda showed the same kind of generosity and comroaderie. She is an Alaskan writer who has numerous books with major publishers, including The Spanish Bow and the upcoming The Detour. She invited me to guest post on the blog 49 Writers, and agreed to read The Snow Child and endorsed it, even though she must get an overwhelming number of such requests. We regularly “talk shop,” and I am always grateful for her advice and experience.
But this was just the beginning. You know the quotes from big-name authors on book covers? I, too, assumed that they came through insider connections — the same agent, the same publisher, the same MFA program. Not for me. I cold wrote to my favorite authors, explaining how much I loved their books and asked them if they would consider reading my novel. In the case of every endorsement I got, from Robert Goolrick, Sena Jeter Naslund, Robert Morgan, Melanie Benjamin, Keith Donohue, and Ali Shaw, I had absolutely no connection or inside track. I just wrote a letter and said “please,” and they each extended a hand to a fellow author.
I can’t describe how grateful I am to all of these people for being so generous with their time, experience, and credentials. And now I know — the myth, at least in my case, is not true. You don’t have to be an insider with New York connections. You just have to be a writer and book lover who is willing to reach out.