In the coming weeks, there are several things I’d like to do on this blog. One is to dispel a few myths, another is to do a few interviews with successful authors, yet another is to answer your questions (email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org), and finally I’d just like to do the occasional rant…or encouragement…or whatever comes to mind.
I have several people in mind for interviews and I promise one real soon. But today I want to offer the first myth we should dispel. And this will be one that may draw some criticism from my editorial colleagues, but that’s okay. It might make for a lively discussion.
The myth is that you should never break rules in how you approach editors or try to have your work seen. Like all myths, there’s a grain of truth to this. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t be rude, pushy, or deliberately do something you know will rile an editor. However, that does leave some room for BENDING the rules WHEN IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE. (By the way, this is not an invitation for you to flood me with queries and proposals with a note saying, “but you SAID we should break the rules sometimes!”).
Breaking the rules efficiently largely has to do with your attitude. Politeness goes a long way. Several years ago I was eating at a restaurant several hours from home. A writer I had met at a conference recognized me and approached me and we began to talk. We had a nice conversation and I invited her to submit her manuscript to me at a later date. Was that pushy of her? Would you walk up to an editor in a restaurant and start off with something like, “You probably don’t remember me but….”
Some authors are too scared of offending an editor and would likely pass up that opportunity. Frankly, I was impressed that she remembered me. It was a divine appointment (though we did not end up publishing her novel).
Occasionally I get a phone call from an aspiring author. This is one of the worst rules to break, unless you have built a relationship with the editor and will keep the call short. I say that, and yet my favorite acquisition in all my years as an editor was the result of someone essentially making a “cold call” to Harvest House asking to “speak to an editor.” Dumb, dumb, dumb. And yet, when I took the call I found myself inviting the author to send me his self-published novel. Two weeks later when I read that novel, it was the first book I’d read in a long time that, as soon as I turned the last page, I wanted to start reading it over. Again, it was a divine appointment. (We did end up publishing his book. At one point I’ll dispel the myth that you should never consider self-publishing).
Another divine appointment happened when our company’s president ended up sitting next to the husband of a would-be author on an airplane. As any good spouse of a writer would do, he made a pitch on behalf of his wife’s book. We later published that book and it sold well. It was yet another divine appointment.
I’ve written several books of my own and my first major breakthrough was a divine appointment that resulted from me breaking a rule. I was an aspiring writer with only a few magazine articles to my credit when out of sheer desperation I chose my top six favorite publishers and simply wrote a one-page letter to each one with my qualifications and my query: did they have any books for which they needed a writer? I prayed, put the six letters in the mail and waited. Of course, I knew it was not kosher to approach publishers this way….but I was, as I said, desperate.
Little did I know that a couple of years earlier I had interviewed a woman for a magazine article who was now an editor at my number one publisher of choice. NUMBER ONE! She remembered me and responded to my letter and within a month I had my first book contract. I did two books for that publisher and both remain my bestselling books yet.
Now please hear me when I say this is not meant as an invitation to break the rules. I’d rather you see it as a call to watch for divine appointments. Unique ways to get a hearing with an editor. It’s a matter of learning how to balance action with humility. When to step out without being obnoxious. (Believe me, I could share stories of broken rules by would-be authors with whom I’d never want to publish).
I hope this advice helps you. But as I said, please don’t see it as an invitation to call me tomorrow or drop by the house for a friendly chat. And remember, not all editors are the same. Some editors may deeply resent even the slightest bending of the rules. Others, like me, are a bit more lax. We want to find really good writers and sometimes that means accepting a divine appointment we weren’t expecting.
Let this blog then be an invitation to pray for God to set up a divine appointment in His own way. Don’t let it be an excuse for acting unseemly.
If you have a story of a divine appointment that may have bent a rule or two, but which resulted in publication, send it my way and maybe I’ll do a blog of your responses. And if an editor reads this and wants to share a story of when an author bent a rule with you and yet it turned out to be the right thing to do, send it along. (Email them to email@example.com)