I ride the train into work daily. I swear, if you ride long enough, you’ll have someone from any industry you care to name sit down next to you. Finally, on 5/16/2012, someone from the Big Six sat down across from me. She’s an art director in their YA department, responsible for acquiring the art for the covers of their children’s books. Being a gregarious sort of fellow, I struck up a conversation with her (that’s how I know she’s in the Big Six)
Fascinating conversation. Some tidbits (quotes are pretty close to what she said):
1. I said, “Don’t worry, I won’t try to jam a manuscript at you.” She said, “Everyone tries to shove a manuscript at me. We never take an unsolicited manuscript. The slush pile consists solely of agented materials” Lesson: it’s really bad etiquette to try to circumvent the system by back-dooring your manuscript via staff.
2. I said, “Actually all I would really ever ask for would be an agent referral. But since I promised Arielle Eckstut first crack at my DOV book, I feel I should show her first.” She replied, “Absolutely go with Arielle first. You don’t want to go with a different one if you promised her first.” Lesson: It’s a small-ish industry, where people know each other. You never want to burn a bridge unless you absolutely have to. And when it comes to the Book Doctors, I owe them a lot. Arielle gets first crack at DOV, even though I am not signed to any agent at the moment.
3. Professionalism goes a long, long, way in this game. Just knowing the terms “Big Six” or “slush pile” or how agents work, goes a long way in having a delightful, informative conversation. I knew that trying to pitch this person was not only useless, it could be counterproductive. You never want to be known as a pushy writer. On the other hand, approaching the markets and the people who run them as a student goes a long way towards getting that first sale.
I delayed in posting this until I could contact the person and ask her permission to post these excerpts. She seemed surprised and pleased about that consideration.