For the last two weeks, I've been discussing market research -- not just using a market guide, but studying the markets to find the best fit for your work.
Of course, it's hard to beat a personal connection. “A great way to make contact with editors, especially those that aren't generally open to submissions, is attending writers' conferences,” says Marni McNiff, editor of Book Markets for Children's Writers and Magazine Markets for Children's Writers. “Spending the extra money for a one-on-one chat with an editor can be invaluable to a writer. It's their chance to jump from the slush pile, right into the editors hands.”
Some writers make a special effort to attend conferences hosting an editor they want to meet. Most editors will give extra attention to submissions from conference attendees, but the best way to catch an editor's eye is to sign up for a one-on-one manuscript critique or pitch session. You'll find out if the editor is interested in your work, and if so, the editor will keep an eye out for your submission.
Even if you don’t currently have a suitable submission, you might want to keep in touch if you make a personal connection with an editor. I met Mark McVeigh at a conference when he was an editor at Dutton. We had a good rapport, and continued to visit at conferences over the next few years. Some of my writing friends thought I should take advantage of the connection by sending him something—anything. But I was writing historical fiction and fantasy at the time, the two genres he dislikes.
Later, McVeigh moved to Simon & Schuster as Editorial Director at Aladdin. When I again saw him at a conference, he said he was looking for original paperback series. I had just finished one and quickly sent him the proposal and first manuscript. A month later, he called to express his interest in the Haunted series, and the series debuted in 2009 with The Ghost on the Stairs, quickly followed by The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows. In this case, networking paid off—but only because I waited until I had something he wanted, and didn’t waste an editor’s time with a string of inappropriate submissions, just because we had met. (When McVeigh founded his own literary agency, he e-mailed me asking if I wanted to become one of his first clients, so the relationship continues even as the specifics change.)
Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at literary agency McIntosh and Otis, says that in order to maintain good relations, he is careful not to send submissions to the wrong editor. He typically sends picture books exclusively, and may send a novel to a handful of editors at a time. If you think your project is right for 50 different publishers, you’re not being realistic. Necarsulmer says, “Meeting with editors, reading the catalog, studying what’s out there, all leads to that ah-ha moment that this is right for a specific editor.”
EXERCISE: If your budget runs to attending a writing conference this year, check out the SCBWI website or other appropriate writing organization site, to see when and where they are holding conferences in the next year (SCBWI is working on the 2011 pull-out calendar for the Bulletin now). Some will already have the speakers listed. Do some research on those editors and agents to see if they might be a good fit for your work. If the closest conference doesn't sound appealing, look at neighboring states, or anywhere you have family and friends you might want to visit as a combined business/pleasure trip. Figure out the cost so you can start saving now.
TIP: The largest conferences aren't necessarily the best for networking. Though they may have more publishing professionals attending, your chances of meeting those people aren't as good. At a regional conference, you're more likely to be able to sign up for a critique with your preferred editor or agent, or to have a chance to chat with them over coffee or lunch. Plus, regional conferences are often more cost effective.