Tag s | Book Business

It’s Not What You Know; It’s Who You Know

It is usually said by someone who is not progressing as quickly as they would like in their career. It applies to writing for publication as much—or more so—as in other endeavors. You’ve heard it often: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

It may sound cynical. It may be discouraging. You may not want to believe it. But it’s true.

To some, of course, that means everyone else gets the breaks. Chelsea Clinton’s books (yes, she has published more than one) may be works of genius, but everyone knows she wouldn’t have stood a chance if her name were Chelsea Gunderschmutz. The same goes for Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, the daughters and granddaughters of former presidents who wrote a book about, well, being sisters.

So those of us who aspire to and work at being writers and authors but don’t know anyone powerful or famous should just give up, right?


The cynic can feel perfectly justified in saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

But so can the optimist. Because the same general sentiment can be expressed like this: “Christian publishing, like the rest of life, is all about relationships.”

That is one of the many reasons I attend as many writers’ conferences as I can, and why I encourage writers, both aspiring and accomplished, to do so. There, an aspiring writer will meet other aspiring writers, as well as authors, agents, and editors—and many of those will become friends. Some will become close friends, and lifelong friends. And some of those people may someday teach, inspire, and even open doors that you never would have imagined opening to you.

Back when the dinosaurs were still dying out, I was assigned a roommate at a writers’ conference. Dennis and I hit it off immediately, and stayed up talking words, books, and movies (well, him mostly) until 3 a.m. We’ve been fast friends ever since, and he still does most of the talking. But over the years he has also introduced me to many other friends and invited me repeatedly to teach courses in his professional writing program.

Many years ago, I met an editor named Steve at a writers’ conference. We became friends (I was willing to overlook his flaws). He later became an agent, and still later became my agent. And still later, I became an agent in his literary agency.

A few years ago, I was renewing fellowship with my friends Michelle and Edie at a writer’s conference when one or both of them told me of an online job opening for a blogger. They recommended me to the editor (I think), and I got the job. A paying job. For actual money.

So go ahead. Tut-tut and say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” if you like. But writers, agents, editors, and publishers happen to like working with people they know, trust, and like—which is why “Christian publishing, like the rest of life, is all about relationships.”



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Your Money is Your Business or Keep a Lid on How Much Money You Make

How much should author friends reveal to each other about contracts or other business dealings when they have business with the same publisher?

I think it is a huge mistake to reveal the amount of your advances to other authors. This is similar to finding out the salary of the co-worker in the office cubicle next to yours. When I was a retail store manager we had major problems when salaries were revealed, a near fist-fight between two people who had been friends.

Money is viewed as a measure of worth; i.e. a measure of the worthiness of your work.

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Six Questions for a Literary Agent

1. What should a client expect from you as an agent? That I will work hard. That I will keep on top of the ever changing marketplace. That I will maintain my integrity as a businessman of honor and honesty. That I will protect your interests. That I will tell you the truth, about the industry, about your writing, about your ideas.
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The Curse of the Writer

Speaking from an agent’s perspective…
I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Almost every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent severely doubts themselves at some point in the process.

Doubts occur in the midst of creation.
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives.
Doubts occur … just because…

It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.

Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a grump, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately was very normal.

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Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Every year Beloit College creates a “Mindset List” which reflects the culture that the incoming Freshman class have grown up experiencing. It helps their faculty know how to relate to these incoming students. Click here for this year’s Mindset List.

I download this list every year and read it with increasing wonder at the speed of our cultural changes.

The college graduating class of 2014 was born in 1992. Think about that for a second. If you are a writer, you can no longer assume that your audience will understand your cultural references. In a mere six years, today’s 18-year-olds will be adults…possibly with families and jobs and children…they will be reading your books and articles.

And you will only be six years older than you are now.

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Retail is Dead! Or is it?

You’ve read the news. This calendar year bankruptcies or total closures were announced by Toys R Us, Gymboree, Bebe, American Apparel, Guess, Rue 21, The Limited, Gander Mountain, Vitamin World, and Family Christian Stores. Sears and Kmart announced last Friday that they were closing another 63 stores in January, on …

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Deadlines Are Friends, Not Nemeses

When is your next deadline? What? You don’t have one? Why not? Aren’t you a writer? I know some writers create fine prose or poetry without deadlines—I just don’t know how they do it. “But,” you may protest, “I don’t have a contract yet. How can I have a deadline?” …

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Be Published? or Be Read?

Is your goal “being published” or “being read?” What pieces of writing and publishing advice do professional agents and editors wish would go away…forever? I asked that question of some of my friends in the industry (yes, I have friends, and most are much smarter than me). The last two …

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Vocabulary Word of the Day: Bifurcation

Some words are specific to a certain field of endeavor and some are flexible, used to describe something in a variety of arenas. One such word is our vocabulary word of the day: bifurcation. Simply, it involves splitting something into two distinct parts. The prefix “bi” indicates two, so it …

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