Before the hounds start baying for blood, let me say that my post at the start of the topic is from my thoughts and reasoning. I do not claim omniscience. I do not have forensic evidence, so don;t get all legal. If you do not agree with me, then post it. It's a discussion!

In 2004, after 13 years of hard work, I sold my first novel. Today, I have one on the street, and two more under contract. I am writing new ones too.

Along my journey from wannabe to published author, I had joined groups, attended conferences and workshops, joined and quit Internet listserver groups. I met a lot of authors with many books in their writer's resumé. I became friends with a few of those successful writers, to the point where I asked them for help with publishers and agents. While each had their own technique of dodging the question, they all succeeded in letting me know that I had to help myself. That was two years before I sold my first book.

I discussed my frustration with my good-buddy Pat O'Connell, who was at the time, the President of the Maryland Writers' Association, and had one action adventure novel under his belt. Pat knew I was a scientist specializing in modeling, simulation, and analysis, so he challenged me to figure out why those authors would avoid providing direct help to a writer hoping to get published.

After a few months, an ancient memory clicked. It helps to have a photographic memory. In seventh grade, the science teacher regularly showed films of scientific experiments and we discussed them.

The one I had recalled filmed a dozen fertilized chicken eggs that were divided into two groups. Six were the control group in the incubator, and six were the experimental group. The control group were left alone to hatch. The experiment group were closely monitored for hatching. When an experimental chick had pecked a tiny hole through the shell, the scientist used tweezers to peck and prick the shell from the outside, thereby helping the chick to hatch.

The hatched experimental chickens received a small band around their foot with an "X" on it, while the control group hatched chickens received a small leg band with the letter "C."

Both groups were released into a "barnyard" area, where they could scratch for food and socialize. Within a few days, the control group chickens had doubled in size. The experimental chickens displayed slower growth. Only one experimental survived to adulthood, and it was scrawny compared to the other chickens.

The moral of the filmed story is that if we help chickens hatch, lessening the struggle they have to get out of their shell, then we are actually hurting their chances for future survival.

It is the same with writers. If someone short-cuts the process from unknown to getting an agent or selling a book to a publisher, they may be limiting the author's chances for survival as a new author.

If a new author doesn't have the stamina and force of character to break through the shell, to breach the barriers erected by the gate-keepers of the publishing world, then they will be handicapped with a lack of self confidence and stamina needed to bring attention to their just published book.

If they did break through on their own, then they will have an increased force of will, built from the calisthenics needed to break through the barriers in publishing. They will have what it takes to begin the newbie author task of going from unknown to selling 5,000 or more copies of their first novel. They will be more likely to be able to break through the barriers for getting into newspapers, on the radio, and perhaps interviewed on television.

So, if someone asks me for help getting published, I may help with their writing craft skills, story structure and arrangement, and how to prepare a good submission packet, but I will not take steps to short-cut the process of them breaking through the publishing barriers on their own.

I do this so that they can grow, and increase their chances of surviving the first book hurdles. If their first book doesn't do well, publishers may not offer a second book deal. They must be strong to pass the first book challenge, and that starts with being strong enough to pass the getting a contract stage.

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Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, you;re right. For the author, it seems that the writng life requires a lot of internal strength as evidenced by perseverance.

If you are lucky enough to have some super agent pluck you from obscurity and place you at a house that will throw their weight behind getting your books on the shelves of every outlet of the big chain stores, then good for you, and take it. If that doesn;t happen, don;t be depressed. It only happens for a very small few.

My recommendation fits with everyone else;s: collect rejection slips like they are tollbooth tickets on your journey. They mark the passage time, and the accumulation of experience.

Write a lot. Some folks spend a lot of time refining and rewriting one book, others move from one project to the next. One writer I know wrote and wrote, and it was her 15th book that sold. It doesn;t matter which you choose, as long it is YOUR choice.

You will have your breakthrough when you are ready, and you have matured along with your work product. At that point, you will be ready for the next step after getting published, namely promoting, which some folks think is a dirty job, and should not be discussed in public.

Blessings on your path,
I agree to a certain extent that writers need to find their own way, yet a great many successful authors attribute their success to the generosity of others who have already been there. Networking is crucial to the business. When you write a book you're on your own, but if you want it to go out to the public, you need feedback. The best way to get it is through critiques by other authors and writers' groups.

Also, some agents or publishing houses are closed to submissions except for people who attend conferences. Many agents/publishers want referrals by other authors before they'll look at your book.

When we do get that contract, we need to know where to turn for blurbs. We need to know how to get reviews, booksignings, where to go for advertising material. The best way to learn these things is through published writers.

Before TWO WRONGS by Morgan Mandel was published, I had no idea of the extent of marketing involved. I figured out some of it on my own, but learned a lot from fellow chapter members at Chicago-North RWA, and from various e-groups, such as Murder Must Advertise and from panels at Love is Murder and Dark & Stormy.

Sure, you can go it alone, but when your prize possession, your book, is at stake, you want it to get all the chances it's entitled to. Also, once you've been through the process it's only right to pass your information along to others. Most authors I know are only too glad to help their competition, which makes them, as business members, very unique.

Morgan Mandel
I did say that I would help folks on their writing craft. That includes the critiques, et cetera you mentioned. I regularly offer those types of services (for free) to writers I know who have not yet made their first sale.

I see I never specifically stated what I woun;t do. At the top of that list is call an agent, editor, or publisher I might know and plug your book. I believe each writer must make their own breakthrough. If they do, they will "own" the experience, and they will grow as a person.
Describing to an aspiring author how a draft could be improved is advice.
Rewriting it for them would be like helping the baby chick get the
shell off. So, yes... the teacher can teach the principles, but the
student must write their own story, making their breakthrough to
finding their own writing voice.

I still think that the aspiring writer must make their own "cold calls"
to agents and editors. That should help get them over their shyness,
which they need to have dropped before they start marketing their book.

That's what I think. If you think differently, great! The world is big
enough to allow for our separate views, and others. If you wish to
prove me wrong, to force me to recant my beliefs, I will become less
interested in this debate.
I somewhat agree with what you're saying, but this is a relationship business. Trying to succeed in private rarely works well.

But I completely agree about asking others to help you find agents and publishers. Getting published an individual journey in so much as it seldom follows the path for everyone. There's no magic number of rejections before you get an agent or publisher.

But if you go to conferences and participate on listservs and writer groups, do so as a fan not an aspiring writer. The authors who are there did not go for your benefit.

Read as many books and author interviews as you can. See their struggles and learn from them. Submit to agents and publishers that actually work with your genre and follow their guidelines. Learn, learn and then apply it.

But that said, if you go to conferences, participate on listservs and writer groups then you will get to be known, sometimes for the wrong reason.

For example, John Doe goes to a conference and annoys everyone he can in his unrelenting in-your-face quest to get an agent or publisher. Author A goes home and meets with his agent. Agent asks how conference was. Author A tells agent that some annoying person named John Doe was harassing everyone. A week later agent gets a submission from John Doe. Agent tosses package.

But it works the other way as well. Jane Doe is on a listserv where she has built a solid reputation as a respectful person who adds value to conversations. She has a blog but talks about all kinds of things besides writing. And when she does discuss writing, she never slams agents or publishers. Agent A, who reads the listserv, gets a package from Jane and remembers that she is an interesting person. Agent A checks out Jane's blog and sees Jane's posts and thinks this might be someone that Agent can work with. Agent opens the package with interest.

Be out there but don't expect others to help you and also realize your actions will help or hinder you.
My reason for ducking the publisher/agent question is that most of what I'm handed isn't very good--which puts me in the position of wasting time I really didn't have, reading something that wasn't very good; after which I then have the dilemma of either making myself look bad to my own publisher or agent (because I handed them crap) or having to tell someone their book isn't good enough.

Since I'm not about to do the former, I'm forced to do the latter. After having already wasted time on it.

Saying no up front is the only sane, practical way to avoid the problem. In my view, you may be finding too-complex explanations for what's actually a pretty simple dynamic.
I don't know. First, I think it's almost impossible to make it in this business without help of some kind, and probably a little bit of luck. That help may be nothing more than finding an agent and/or editor who really loves what you've written.

I've given some thought to this subject as well. I want to give help to would-be writers because it's been such a hard slog for me to achieve success and I've treasured any kindness given me along the way. But I do think you have to guard your capital. Namely, it doesn't help to introduce someone to your agent or editor if their skill is not yet up to snuff. At that point, I would still offer critiques or encouragement, but even here I have finite time and energy. Friends have precedence, then very talented strangers.
I suspect you're way over-thinking this, Newt. I don't think there's either an analogy or a system that works for describing what is both an individual journey and a communitarian process.

My experience has been that I've found certain authors I knew to be very generous with either their time or their advice, or both. I've asked exactly *two* authors for agent referrals, and being familiar with my work, they gladly referred me to his agent. The fact that nothing came of those referrals is no one's fault (I'm not about to bad-mouth agents here), any more than the fact that I turned down an offer of representation from an agent who didn't feel like a proper fit for me (referred TO me by a friend, as opposed to vice-versa) is mine.

I've also met authors I wouldn't ask to cross the street to spit on me if they saw that I was on fire.

I met the editor who offered me my first book deal on a Listserv. I met a lot of other neat people that way. Going to the cons was a natural next step in the process: I got to meet some of these folks in person (and they got to meet me and realize that "acerbic" can frequently come across wrong in an email exchange.;), and made still other friends. The first con I attended was Bouchercon in Vegas a few years back. I felt like I had come home. If you know the feeling, you know what I'm talking about.

I've never schlepped my work at a con, and I've never had someone schlepp their work *at* me. I've had people schlepp their work *to* me at writers' conferences, but those are different, and I was a panelist, so it's understandable why people who were new to the industry would try that out on me.

I guess the long and short of it is that there's no one-true-way, and I also reject your theory of publishing darwinism. The good stories don't always sell themselves, and the bad authors do sometimes get published. If an editor and an editorial board can come together and agree that they can sell your book and make some sort of profit while doing it, you're going to get published, period.

How you get your work noticed is really up to you. If you can accomplish it by being a grand-standing jerk (I've seen it done. The guy who did is either a lucky, drunken nut, or a marketing genius, or a little of both), and you can live with yourself, great. If you do it in front of me, I probably won't bother with your book, though.

Everyone has to find their own way, here. I've found the majority of the authors I've met wound up asking me about my work after we'd talked about any other number of things. These folks have also tended to be generous with their time and their advice. I try to do the same when I meet people who haven't published anything, or who are looking to take that "next step" in the process.

So be interesting. How's that for a survival skill?

Your Mileage May Vary-

"I've also met authors I wouldn't ask to cross the street to spit on me if they saw that I was on fire..."

"I've never schlepped my work at a con, and I've never had someone schlepp their work *at* me...."

"How you get your work noticed is really up to you. If you can accomplish it by being a grand-standing jerk (I've seen it done. The guy who did is either a lucky, drunken nut, or a marketing genius, or a little of both), and you can live with yourself, great. If you do it in front of me, I probably won't bother with your book, though."

When people are only out for #1 it's a real turn-off. I feel you're echoing in part what Evil Kev's getting at, and my own philosophy: Be part of the community.

I do end up on the receiving end of offers/requests all the time. I know how hard it is for new authors, but I have a real appreciation for how people carry themselves. Nobody is entitled to a hand out or an endorsement.

"The good stories don't always sell themselves, and the bad authors do sometimes get published."

Yes, this is true.

"Everyone has to find their own way, here. I've found the majority of the authors I've met wound up asking me about my work after we'd talked about any other number of things. These folks have also tended to be generous with their time and their advice."

That goes back to the beginning - being part of the community. If you take time to get to know people they'll be more likely to take an interest in you and dispense advice.

I had a situation recently where someone sent me an email. The subject line was "Free Advice?" and the person went on to talk about their accomplishments and how they know a good story from a bad one, blah blah blah...

It came off as arrogant and invasive. Now, in this case, the person had a bit of a rep with me (although I don't know them), and they've earned their rep through their behaviour over the past several months. I do have to respect the audacity that goes with emailing someone, insulting them (which they did to me in this email) and then asking them for 'free help'. That takes some balls. I'll give them full points for honesty.

My 'free advice' was to be part of the community instead of an arrogant jerk. Okay, not worded quite that way. I personally hate asking people for 'favours' and usually try to only ask people I think won't take offense and trust that they can say no and I won't take it personally. If someone says they have a 'no blurbing' policy I won't ask them - I think that's rude.

I was out for dinner at a con with a number of readers who had an interesting discussion about their disgust on seeing reciprocal reviews by authors posted on lists and what appeared to be the exchange of favourable blurbs. I've seen some of those reciprocal reviews, I know what they're talking about.

And I say that as someone who had a hard time getting blurbs, getting reviews and had essentially no publisher support behind them. But if this is all about whoring yourself and just sucking up to people who can do something for you my future is definitely no cons. It's easier to ignore pushy emails than people who get in your face and I am perfectly happy to read what interests me and decide what I'll review and who I'll interview myself. People get on my radar with their work, not their marketing gimmicks - that's just a way to turn me off.
I think it makes sense.
I'm kind of surprised at your comment about authors not providing direct help to other writers. I have found the mystery community to be nothing but helpful, supportive and encouraging. Every writer I know has a story about someone who went out of their way to do something nice for them when they were getting started. I've never asked for an introduction to ANYONE, nor did I ask for blurbs, so maybe that side of things has passed me by. But I know people who have been introduced to agents and publishers by other writers. And people have done some lovely lovely things for me (including giving me the unasked for blurbs. Barbara Seranella was the first one to give me a blurb and she handed it to me in person at a convention. I didn't even know she had read the manuscript.I cried.)

Readers, writers...everyone has been invariably supportive to writers I know.

Help comes in many different forms and, like Brian, I don't think you can liken publishing to a scientific analogy. And I agree with Brian on the 'grandstanding jerk' point (in fact, I think I recognise that very person!), and with Evil Kev on how your actions can help or hinder you. It's about people. And talent. And hard work. And, yes, luck.

Personally, I consider myself very very lucky.
I agree, and I hope I didn't misstate my view in my previous post. I've been helped; I've helped others. What I won't do is take on some stranger's manuscript with an eye toward passing it on to my agent.


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