Thursday, May 6, 2010

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

In learning about the publishing business, I’ve spent way too much time on Twitter. That being said, Twitter has a wealth of information about the business from writing query letters to expanding your list of subject matter experts on writing and getting published. With an expanding list of SMEs, however, comes a conundrum - who to listen to? For instance, one SME says that putting the title, genre, and word count at the beginning of your query letter is required. Then, you go to another SME, and this one tells you no, having that information at the top of your query letter only distracts from what is really important - your book. So who does a poor querier believe? Especially when you’re being told by so many SMEs that if an agent doesn’t like your query letter, you’re going to get a form-letter rejection.

All the SMEs seem to believe that you need to increase your online presence by twittering and blogging. The reasons given make sense. If you twitter and only have two followers, you’re essentially twittering to yourself. Back to the SMEs to learn how to increase your followers so you’re no longer twittering to yourself. Lots of advice there - play nice, respond to others’ tweets, and followers will begin arriving in droves. But wait. You’re following the SMEs. How do you respond to topics that you’re trying to learn about? A polite thanks for posting that? Or wow that was really informative. Sounds good? Agents aren’t likely to follow you because you’re not an industry insider and they’re busy doing their job. No one has heard of you. No one is following you. Do you see where this is going? The proverbial Catch-22.

The SMEs also tell you to not get discouraged, that a rejection isn’t personal, and your book just isn’t right for that particular agency. Some encourage you to send out multiple query letters at the same time for a particular book. Someone, they seem to be saying, is going to like your book some day.

Fifteen years ago, The Writer magazine was writing that authors shouldn’t get discouraged “too easily.” Their point was that the publishing world is a “cold and hard one for the aspiring author.” They tell us that not every author can be a Stephen King. They encourage authors to continue submitting because there are “countless authors who get accepted after thirty or forty rejections.” Some things never seem to change no matter how much things seem to change.

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