Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Great Myth

Yeah, this week is going to be filled with wisdom I heard at the conference I attended over the weekend. I hope you read something inspiring.

Today's bit of wisdom happened in a casual conversation I had with Delacorte (Random House) editor Krista Marino (she worked on The Maze Runner and Forest of Hands and Teeth). Suzette Saxton and I were chatting with her about our agents and whatnot and Krista said something like this:

I think that's one of the biggest myths, that you have to have these amazing connections to make it in publishing, that you can't get out of the slush pile. But we see debut authors from the slush pile all the time.

That's not word for word, because I didn't have my tape recorder on me (I don't even own one yet!) and I heard a lot of great things. But that's the general gist.

So rid yourselves of the myth that you can't make it by writing a killer query and a strong story and then persevering.

What do you think? Can you go from no-one-in-small-town-wherever to published author? What do you think it takes to get there?

92 comments:

Deni Krueger said...

I think it depends. Some people are not great at queries, but are brilliant when you read their writing and meeting them in person. For others it's conferences. Still others, it's referrals. So, in a nutshell, I think it's best for each author to choose the avenue that will best show off their strengths and then play to it.

Liza said...

Um, good writing skills, a killer story and persistance?

Deni Krueger said...

Sorry...meet them in person, not meeting.

kimberlyloomis said...

I think it raises an interesting point. There are few people I know who believe connections are all you need to garner interest of an agent, then editor - but I think few would disagree that it isn't advantageous to have that in. Still, that is heartening to hear. ;)

Thanks for sharing that bit, Elana!

kimberlyloomis said...

Oh, and I love what Deni said. I've often wondered if a query is only so-so if the agent (or their assistants) will actually read the sample pages enclosed. Some people simply don't write good copy and this is not necessarily indicative of poor manuscript writing. Given some of the blogs I've read from people in the industry I find it disconcerting to realize how many reject solely upon the query without ever reading any bit of the sample manuscript.

Sheri Larsenッ said...

D'ya hear that?? I was clapping my hands together, *ridding* myself of the myth. Thanks for the advice.

Perseverance and the quest to find out who we are, not just the manuscript we are or want to write. I believe that's a fundamental aspect of breaking free...even from no-man's-land. It will come out in your query and ms. ";-)

Matthew Rush said...

Dedication, persistence, and perhaps a little luck.

Great writing probably doesn't hurt either.

Henya said...

In short: I think you are right. And even if you weren't (which you are), it gives me something to latch on to.

There!
:)

Cheree said...

I think all you need is a fighting spirit (one that won't get knocked down after a rejection), persistence and hard work.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

The three Ps. Persistence. Perserverance and ...Pestering the hell outta ya beta readers to read your material properly. ;)

Tara said...

Your best post ever...no? Most encouraging? Maybe. So hard to choose from your awesomeness :D

Thanks, it really was encouraging to hear this :)

Janet Johnson said...

Actually, this is one of those businesses that I feel like just knowing someone won't help that much. It's all about writing and PERSERVERANCE.

And never giving up no matter how much rejection you face.

Kristi Helvig said...

An amazing keynote speaker at the PPW Conference, author Jodi Thomas, said she was about to give up getting published and happened to be sitting in a cemetery. She realized she was sitting on a square stone, and when she stood up, she saw the stone had 4 words on it: "Triumph comes through perseverance."

She's now a NYT Best-Selling author. :)

Linda Kage said...

Man, I hope she's right because I really love that quasi-quote!! Thanks for passing it along; makes me feel all hopeful and stuff.

Falen said...

god i hope we can rise out of the slushpile. Otherwise i'm just wasting my time here

Yvonne Osborne said...

I hope it's true. I've always thought it to be true. Looking forward to more wisdom. I'm apparently in need of it!

Candyland said...

Persistence is key. If you have the chops and work to make your writing the best it can be, the sky's the limit.
(Was that enough optimism for the day?)

Lisa said...

Perseverance! When you get knocked down by a pesky rejection, you need to be able to get back up, brush yourself off and push forward.

Amalia T. said...

Hard work, some stubborn determination, the awesomest query you can write and a great hook! But also, I think it takes a dash of luck to make it big from the small-town-underdog land. It's like playing the lottery sometimes.

asabourova said...

Determination, hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes... I'd like to think that's what will get us through. Of course, I'm sure it helps to know the right people. Thanks, though, for the quote... made me yell "Yeah!" and hit the WIP that much harder. I needed that. :)

JoLynne Lyon said...

I'm really encouraged that you heard Krista Marino say that. I don't know the secret, but I plan on working as hard as I can, as smart as I can.

Kelly said...

I sure hope you are right! I'm just starting to work on my first novel (only about 3000 words done- really just started!) but I'm hoping that in a couple of months I'll have something worth reading and hopefully one day worth publishing!

Eric said...

It boils down to what I've always believed. You need to write well. Period. Whether it's a query letter or your manuscript, poor writing cannot be overcome by a great personality or the best connections.

At least I hope this to be true, since I am seeking to improve my writing daily.

Alissa said...

Write a good story, and the rest will take care of itself. That's my philosophy anyway, and so far it's been working out pretty well.

Elana Johnson said...

Eric, I so agree with you. Good writing and storytelling trump all.

And of course, perseverance.

I ate some Dove dark at the conference and the wrapper inside said, "Perseverance is a synonym of victory."

How true is that??

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

One of my near and dear CPs was found in the slush pile, so yes, it can and does happen. :)

Tess said...

No tape recorder? Sheesh! And you call yourself an author ;)

and .. yes, it does happen. but, I think it is a longer road. I was pulled from the slush 4years ago and that editor sat on it and did 'uncontracted revisions' for two years before getting laid off. It wasn't wasted time because I learned so much, but it wasn't the best use of my time, either.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

Talent. Dedication. Perseverance. Good storytelling. Smidgin' of Luck. Chocolate and Coffee are all elements of being successful...oh, I forgot - Produce something the MARKET WANTS!!!

These are not necessarily in the order of greatest importance - but perhaps, on second thoughts the order changes daily.

THANKS FOR THE POST!

MissV said...

I think it takes a little talent, a lot of patience and a super-sized portion of persistence.

Looking forward to hearing more about the conference. Living vicariously through you over here...

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Yay for the slush pile! Without it, we'd have no hope. :)

Karen Lange said...

This is encouraging, thanks!

Talli Roland said...

I definitely think it can happen. You need a good concept and lots of hard work, but it *can* happen.

Christine Fonseca said...

I agree - good writing and perserverance wins out every time

Slamdunk said...

Yes, I think it can happen--having "thick skin," appealing writing, and creating opportunities for yourself would be some of the strong factors in play.

Kelly said...

That is good to hear. I will keep refining my craft and perservering!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

It's great news that we CAN be pulled from the slushpile, but it's always going to circle back to quality writing eventually. THe best way to get there is quality edits. :-)

Steena Holmes said...

Oh I'll get there alright ;) I know I will ... I have the passion, the determination and I will not give up my dream. Plus there's no way I've eaten all this chocolate while editing for nothing!

Terri Tiffany said...

A great story!

Shari said...

I don't know what it takes to go from no one to published author. I'm still trying to figure that one out. But I very much appreciate that there's still hope!

Scott said...

Don't you have a smartphone with a voice recorder? C'mon, Elana, 21st Century. Ha!

Thanks for breaking that myth all to pieces. There is hope!

S

Andrea Cremer said...

You speak the truth. I was pulled from slushy peril by my amazing agent. I had no connections. At all.

Great post!

Krista said...

PASSION. Passion, passion, passion. Learn everything you can, and be humble.
Passion.

Jennie Englund said...

I adore Krista Marino.

I think she's smart, savvy, and really real.

Lucky you for "bumping" into her.

Christina Lee said...

YES!!!!!!!!!! At least I want to believe!

JEM said...

I think everyone starts nowhere, even people with great connections. You have to build those connections. And every great author was once a debut author no one cared about, even Stephen King.

Thanks for the inspiration, Elana! Looking forward to more conference gems over the week.

Liz Czukas said...

connections surely won't hurt you, but you're right, the tales of success from nothing are what keep us all going. even the best connections in the world won't get a boring story, poorly written into print.

thanks for the food for thought.

- Liz

Toni Sciarra Poynter said...

It depends on the house policy as to whether "unsolicited" (i.e. unagented) submissions will be considered by the publishing house, and whether, therefore, the slush pile submissions get read. If the house policy is "we don't accept unsolicited submissions," then you should not be surprised if there is no response or a form decline.

Toni Sciarra Poynter said...

It depends on the house policy as to whether "unsolicited" (i.e. unagented) submissions will be considered by the publishing house, and whether, therefore, the slush pile submissions get read. If the house policy is "we don't accept unsolicited submissions," then you should not be surprised if there is no response or a form decline.

lisanowak said...

I sure want to hope so. That's how Christine Fletcher did it. I got my own agent the hard way, so I know you can at least get that far without connections.

Jana Hutcheson said...

I left you an award on my blog today (I know you really needed another one.) Anyway, this one is for being a blogger who inspires and encourages others, and I couldn't think of anyone who deserves it more. Thanks!

Shannon said...

I absolutely believe it's possible. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.

Theresa Milstein said...

I know it can be done, but I just have to figure out how to get there.

Tracy said...

I believe good writing and a brilliant idea will eventually raise the cream to the top.

Toni Sciarra Poynter said...

Tracy - very true re idea/writing quality being paramount. The corollary to that is finding others who will properly value our work, which bring us full circle to the importance of finding and marketing ourselves to agents, publishers, and our readers. Work of quality deserves notice! Good luck to us all...!

Michelle McLean said...

I think connections definitely help - but there are soooo many examples out there of people with no connections, just average joes who wrote a book, queried, got rejected, and finally found success. Didn't John Grisham once sell self-pubbed copies of one of his books out of the trunk of his car before finally getting some attention? J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer....I could be wrong but I don't think they did anything different than what most of us are doing. And look where it took them. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the encouraging news. I think a really good story and perserverance are critical. Not giving up is the key.

arlee bird said...

It's like most any other occupation. Knowing people certainly can't hurt -- connections can get you past closed doors. But aside from talent and self-confidence it's like everyone else has been saying: perserverance, persistance, hard work, and positive outlook. Some creativity in marketing and innovative self-promotion also can help.

Lee
May 3rd A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

Katie Ganshert said...

I think it's possible, but I also think connections make everything go a heck of a lot quicker! (and that's still slow as molasses, considering the industry we're talking about here)

Jen said...

I think if you take the time and the work that is required to make your idea brilliant that anything is possible. Take the criticism and information and choose what you think is best, send out query letters, recieve rejections. One day you will receive the acceptance and that will be the day you know you did it!

Until then enjoy writing and help support others along the way!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I certainly think it's possible. Of course, wouldn't want to rely on just that!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I've been told by so many that know of my long struggle to become published, "Why don't you just quit? It's been so long."

Quit? Anyone can quit. Not everyone can continue to struggle on. If you do not believe in your writing enough to grow, to learn, to persist, why should any editor or agent.

Besides, I've won. I've lost. But I have never quit. It's a Lakota tradition.

So those of you reading this, don't give up. That very next agent that you query tomorrow might be the very one to say "Yes." Don't leave the movie before the credits roll.

You never know. Roland

B. Miller said...

I think it takes hard work, dedication, and above all a positive attitude! The Universe will reward your efforts, you just gotta be patient!

Thanks for sharing these tidbits... looking forward to reading what else you learned at the con!

Jayne said...

It is encouraging to think it can happen. You hear so many horror stories about the slush pile that you come to believe that no one ever reads them, and if anything they are just a handy place to rest a cup of coffee. But really I think if you write a strong story with a sparkling query, then good things will one day happen. :)

Laura Marcella said...

Absolutely, I think we all can make it! I've heard so many true stories of writers making it out of the slush pile that I've never believed that myth. People who think you can't get out of the slush pile just don't want to work hard enough!

Carolyn V. said...

I believe you can. It takes hard work and determination, but it can be done. =)

L.T. Elliot said...

Yes, it can and does happen. And maybe, just maybe, it can happen for me too.

paulgreci said...

I think it's possible. I think it takes persistence both in terms of putting in the hours and in pushing yourself to improve. And, not giving up!!

Bish Denham said...

That is a hopeful message. I believe it can be done as is done. It may not be very often, but lightening can strike twice in the same place.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

Almost forgot Elana,

WHADAYA mean you haven't got a voice recorder - YET?

Now....didn't we discuss that a while back over at Casey's???

TUT TUT!

Kat Harris said...

Good timing. It also takes that. (Or so I've heard.)

Mary Aalgaard said...

Anything is possible. I like watching Biography because many of the famous people didn't start out famous. Some even started out with really tough circumstances. Julie's husband in Julie and Julia said it best, "Julia Child wasn't always JULIA CHILD."

Sandy Shin said...

This message leaves me hopeful, as my own writing is the only factor I can control.

Angie said...

I really like hearing that from a real New York editor. It gives me hope. Even though I'm not really submitting to big New York editors or even agents at the moment. I know both Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells were pulled out of the slush pile before they even had agents! That just makes me happy.

Mary Campbell said...

I'm hoping I can go from small town nobody to big time published somebody. What do I think it takes to get there? A sprinkle of talent. A dash of spunk and a whole pot load of hard work. Of course writer friends and mentors that encourage us along the way helps too.

Kimberly Franklin said...

I think it takes lots and lots of hard work. And possibly even your sanity. But once you get there it will be so worth it!!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Thank goodness for that myth buster. I think it takes much heart and a WHOLE lot of sweat!

Jemi Fraser said...

I hope people make it out of the slush pile! That's my plan! :)

Sara B. Larson said...

People do make it out of the slush pile - but it is rare. Rare, but possible. I love Krista though, isn't she so cute? Was she wearing cute shoes again? She had the cutest shoes at the BYU conference last year. Anyway... don't mind my random tangent. I have this thing about cute shoes...

Jonathon Arntson said...

I sure as hell hope you can go from small-town-wherever to breakout author or however you said it because I live in a tiny town in a state so not in the realm of publishing and no one here reads. Okay they do, but not, like, good stuff. And so I am hanging onto a threadbare little dream that I can write a book or two or three or can I go Lowry here and write a million beloved books and maintain my small-town-middle-of-nowhere status? Because I'd sure like to.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Also, I sorta missed the point that the breakthrough query was the point of this post...yeah, when I get to the query, you'll know E. Oh will you know.

Angel-Star said...

i read don't give up until you have queried 50 times...even then it might be your letter...not your idea, or text. i hate that most agents (email queries) don't even respond! it's discouraging after awhile...i am on query number eleven...

Write Chick said...

Hey, it was great meeting you at the conference. You were my boot camp instructor (in case you don't remember me--which you wouldn't from my picture). Your query class and insight into my writing seriously changed my writing. So thanks! And now you have another blogstalker. :-)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

It was great to meet you at the conference! I think she is right. My book was pulled out of the slush pile. It happens, and I'm proof. :D

Annette Lyon said...

Jumping out of the slush pile definitely happens, but connections certainly can't HURT--and they can help. No reason to ignore either side of the equation, since you never know where your personal break will come from.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Elana, I need your advise. Walter Knight, a friend who visits on my blog, referred me to Penumbra Publishing.

I checked what I could. It seems to be basically a small e-book publisher. I think I would have to market my novel from them myself. That seems ineffectual.

I have hopes of getting an agent. I have two full manuscripts with two agents and two partials with another two agents. I would like an agent and a print publisher for my book.

What do you know of Penumbra Publishing? Thanks for listening, Roland

Jojomama said...

That's a relief to hear! I was at the conference and enjoyed your class. I really hope that my writing and query will do the trick! (=
http://jostorm.blogspot.com/

Lynda Young said...

I think it takes an amazing amount of work and perseverance

Solvang Sherrie said...

I sure hope it's possible because that's me, small town and all!

Melissa Sarno said...

I completely agree. At least, I have to, because it's my dream to make that happen. I think you need to tell a good story and work hard to get it into people's hands. Easier said than done I guess :-)

Terresa said...

I think it takes tons of perseverance and determination to get there. And writing practice, Every Single Day.

I think it's completely possible to come from nowhere and hit it big in the publishing world.

Palindrome said...

I think it takes a little bit of luck and a lot hardwork and persistence. Confidence is always good. And you have to have a unique voice, I think that's what's getting published nowadays.

Don said...

I believe that great writing is what gets you accepted, but my experience is that great writing requires great connections. It's not likely that a person who doesn't make an nurture connections - at least with other writers - will ever have their writing become great.

To put it another way, just about all of the quality that may or may not be in my writing has come, in large part, from things I learned through the connections I have made.

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