I don’t know how other writers do it, or have done it—sell novels, get agents, all that jazz. All I know is how I did it, so that’s the limit of my knowledge. It’s very possible (very possible) that other writers are smarter than me, more charming and connected, and that they’ve got some secret I don’t. That’s a pretty common fear/assumption, isn’t it, that other people have it easier because they know something you don’t. So, stipulated: Other writers may know something I don’t.
For me, it was all just doing the work. Writing the query letters, mailing out the sample chapters, emailing folks, all that jazz. There was literally no secret to it, no special networking. I never left the house, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t go to conferences, and I didn’t read any books or blogs of advice. I just routinely sent out submissions to publishers and queries to agents, for years.
The Secret: There’s No Secret
That’s anti-climatic, isn’t it? And a bit dull. I wish I could say I had some amazing secret, believe me. But I just sat at my desk every day and wrote, and then sat a little longer and wrote funny, disastrously sloppy letters and then made photocopies of my typo-ridden manuscripts and mailed them out. Later, of course, the ridiculous cover letters became Word documents and the photocopies also Word documents and everything was via email, but it was essentially the same process. And somehow in 1999 this translated into a novel sold to a small publisher and in 2002 it translated into signing with an agent. All it took was a few hundred mailings and a lot of letters.
So, when people ask me for the secret to selling a book or landing an agent, I don’t mention conferences, pitch slams, or publishing events where I bought everyone cocktails, because for me those things didn’t exist. I just did my thing, for years, rinsing and repeating over and over again, until I found My People. My People get my jokes, forgive my typos, and generally think I’m a charming genius instead of a shambling mess. So the sum of my advice to folks who want to traditionally publish is: Find Your People.
Of course, when someone approaches me for advice of this sort I at first act all mysterious and imply heavily that there is a secret that I’ll tell them if they buy me, say, five whiskies. Because I’m an idiot, but I’m not a fool.