Traditional Career Trajectory

Up until the end of April 2018, I had been trying to take the traditional route for writers—Write, find and agent, agent finds a publisher, publisher publishes, book gets distributed, sell and market. At The Loft WordSmith event, those of us who paid the admission had the opportunity to pitch our books to visiting agents. Leading up the event, I took “How to Write a Query Letter,” and “How to Pitch like a Pro,” both classes offered by the Loft. All tolled I figure I spent upwards of $600 on the preparation and event itself. The end-game of the WordSmith event was getting an agent.

The Loft event brought in agents from around the country, many from New York’s publishing district. It was an opportunity to present to the agents and get follow-up consideration. It’s a big sell game, and presenting to the agents is called “the Pitch.”

I networked with a few other ladies who attended the prep courses, and we practiced our pitches on each other. Each pitch was for a maximum of eight minutes, so it was the classic elevator speech. Most everyone who participated in the Pitch portion of the weekend got three to four opportunities with agents. Pre-work involved reading the description of the agents and their agencies and submitting prioritized preferred agents. There was no guarantee the agents selected would be the ones assigned.

I got three of my picks and a fourth that was clearly not focused on memoir-type work.

On the weekend of WordSmith, my three cohorts and I met up and became support teams for eachother. We went to several of the speaker events together, but the pitches themselves were solo events. After each one, we would share our stories.

I was luckiest of the group—I got two follow up calls. Both were young women of color. Both were interested in LET ME IN premise and importance. I left WordSmith pumped and excited.

At the same time I sent query letters out to about a dozen other agents. Each query letter was basically a solicitation of interest to reel in an agent.

My enthusiasm waned quickly.

As I received the “thank you but no thank you” letters and emails back, I quickly realized what was happening. The agents who offered me a follow-up from Wordsmith were both young, beginning their careers. Many of the query letters went to agents unknown. But the one thing each of these agents was looking for was an author they could rep that would generate revenue for them over many years.

I had spent my career as a salesperson. Two things are self-evident—new sales are more expensive than recurring sales and leveraging multiple products makes recurring sales easier than having only one product to sell.

I looked at the young agents trying to make their mark, and I looked at myself as a “product.” There are so many “one hit wonders” and I tried to see myself as they must have seen me—aging woman, one book not yet published, promises of other books but no evidence that those books would ever come to fruition.

When I began this quest, I worked up a marketing/business plan for LET ME IN and the subsequent books I plan on writing. There are timelines associated with each of these books. I recognized that to stick to my timeline, and to achieve the goals of writing five or six books in a 20 year career, I didn’t have the luxury of selling this first book to an agent, who would in turn have to sell it to a publisher, who would in turn sell it to the public. It’s different starting a career at 65 vs 25. There’s not the luxury of time.

I decided I would have to take my career into my own hands, and become writer, agent, publisher, marketer, sales and public relations manager, all rolled into one.

3 thoughts on “Traditional Career Trajectory

  1. Julietta A Matt says:

    Good for you Elaine, you will, in the long?,run even though we both are older, you will have control of everything YOURSELF and this will be a mighty blessing for you. Love you.


  2. Ann McGuire says:

    Good decision! You would probably be teaching those youngsters how to “agent” anyhow ;-). You can sell and have the energy to do it. Depending on your goals for writing and given all the technology of a “Flat World” (Friedman), you don’t need a publisher. You might want to hire out some aspects of “writer, agent, publisher, marketer, sales and public relations manager” as you get busier, but you can start with yourself. Here’s some inspiration:
    I love what you are doing and am inspired as you “live your best life” (Oprah) and share your insights.


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