Thursday, June 23, 2016

Who You Know

An essay by Kameron Hurley about why relationships matter in the publishing business:

Hard Publishing Truths

She describes how a multi-layered network of personal connections led to the publication of her first book. The most brilliant novel ever written won't get published if it never gets seen by the right editor.

Other things being equal—a choice between two stories of similar quality when there isn't room for both, for instance—it makes sense for an editor to choose the one by an author whose name recognition will attract readers. Many academic journals practice blind reading of submissions, with the author's name unknown to the acquiring editor until the decision is made. While I understand the sound reasons for this custom, I don't think blind reading is always appropriate. Sometimes the identity of the author IS an important factor in the decision whether or not to publish. Given two equally good articles on a certain work of literature, for example, wouldn't the one by a recognized authority on that work be legitimately of more interest to the journal's readers than one by a novice critic?

I've had my own peculiar experience with blind reading by a fiction publisher. After I sent the sequel to one of my vampire novels (which had won an EPPIE Award) to the publisher, it languished unread in the slush pile for months, because the company had adopted the policy of stripping author names from submissions. When I finally queried about the sequel's status, and the chief editor realized what had happened, they quickly accepted the book (and dropped the blind-reading procedure).

My first published novel, SHADOW OF THE BEAST, got into print partly because of a personal connection. The head of a commercial design company, a devoted horror fan, decided to start a small press publishing horror novels. Some years earlier, he had edited a high-quality vampire fanzine, which printed a couple of my stories. Therefore, when I submitted my werewolf novel to his new venture, he knew me and was predisposed to favor my book.

Odd circumstances led to the inclusion of my story "Prey of the Goat" in THE SHUB-NIGGURATH CYCLE, a Lovecraftian anthology from Chaosium. The story had previously been tentatively accepted by Lin Carter (no relation) for his "Weird Tales" anthology series. The series ceased publication before it got around to my piece. After Lin Carter's death, the editor of THE SHUB-NIGGURATH CYCLE, who'd acquired copies of the unpubbed works from the Weird Tales anthologies, phoned me out of the blue to ask permission to include my tale. One moral of this incident: Be sure people can find and contact you.

Of course, such connections work only if the book or story itself measures up to expectations!

Still, Hurley makes very good points about the "meritocracy" illusion that if one writes a good book, the rest will automatically follow. "But writing a good book is no more a magical recipe for success than ‘working hard’ is a guarantee one will retain gainful employment. As in any industry, there are simply too many factors at play."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. The headline for this entry should be "WHO KNOWS YOU" -- it does not matter who you know, but it does matter who knows you (or at least your byline). But yes, every towering publishing success, especially the ones where a new byline slams out of nowhere and wins all the awards in sight, are the result of cultivated layers of contacts.

    That's why LinkedIn is such a success -- not because it creates those associations, but because those who don't have them want them.

    1. Yes, I agree, Jacqueline. There is, of course, nothing wrong with taking advantage of the social contacts one has to advance a literary career. The question for most of us is: how do we get the right people to know about us. We already know about them, but that does not help.