Confessions of a Publishing ‘Ho/ @LaurelHouck

My name is Laurel, and I am a publishing ‘ho. I’m also an upstanding citizen. But there have been times when I’ve done whatever to get my manuscript from a file to a shelf. Of course I’m being metaphorical. It doesn’t involve mini skirts or dark alleys. Frankly, those accouterments on me would chase publishers away. But like the real deal, being a publishing ‘ho is nasty business. Just in case you’ve ever strolled down this street, I’ll walk with you for a few paragraphs.

Trends come and go. But it feels like writing to them guarantees success. After all, that’s what agents demand: stories that are selling. And publishers want the same thing. So I get a timely book written, send it out, and get rejected. Because trends evaporate faster than my fingers can fly over the computer keys. New tricks don’t stay new for long.

Then there’s any-agent-is-better-than-no-agent. We want acceptance, even if it’s by someone who sees our career in a vastly different way. In my ‘ho days I was represented by more than one agent who never returned emails, didn’t really like what I wrote but saw dollar signs in it, and ignored the rest of my portfolio. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

Giving it away for next-to-nothing is another ‘ho move. My first contract could have promised me five dollars, ten free books, no royalties; I would have signed it. The skewed logic—once this book comes out I’ll make money because everyone will see my talent—is letting go of the dream. If publishing is the white picket fence, why settle for a sleazy by-the-hour motel?

Then there’s the I’ll-do-anything-for-attention scenario. We attend writers’ events for the right reasons—to learn and to network. But it can get out of control. I once followed an editor into the Ladies’ Room and loitered until she left the stall. While she washed her hands, I pitched my book. And kept going all the way back to the table. Another time I interrupted two agents at a retreat with an inane lead-in simply to muscle my way into their conversation and be noticed. Flaunting one’s stuff doesn’t always seal the deal.

So if being a publishing ‘ho isn’t worth it for our reputation, self-respect, and literary health, what does work? We don’t have to be floozies. Or do nothing.

Trends aren’t necessarily bad things, and they tend to be cyclical. So pay attention to the marketplace. Instead of focusing solely on what’s out there now, discover what hasn’t been done for a while or what is cutting edge news. There’s nothing wrong with writing paranormal romance if that’s what grabs you. But if you do it simply to hook an agent or editor because “everyone” is putting out ghost stories, forget it. Instead, write what you adore. There’s a huge difference between selling your body (of work) and falling in love. So write. Send it out. And know it make take a while to get published.

Waiting for the right agent is key. An agent/client arrangement is a relationship, not a one-night stand. It’s the long haul, the person who sees your good points on the days when the creative juices are flowing. And supports you when the well dries up. Like any liaison, it should include mutual respect, timely responses, shared goals, and understanding. These are attributes a ‘ho would never expect—but that a writer should demand.

Determining the value of what we do is integral. A cheap quickie with a shady publisher can be seductive. But it’s important to have self-esteem about our talent and our worth. Being in a critique group—whether formal or informal—not only improves the craft. It’s also a shot of writing adrenaline. There are great writers who don’t get published. There are terrible writers who do. So strive for personal excellence, and don’t be afraid to see the importance of your work—published or not.

There’s a fine line between marketing and attention seeking. Talking too loud and too much, interrupting others who are also struggling to get their voices heard, familiarity with strangers just because they happen to be in the biz—that’s looking for attention. As is loitering in a smelly restroom so the editor can’t even pee in private.

Marketing is a pitch for what you do, why you do it, which project is of interest, how the portfolio is desirable. Putting oneself out there in a reasonable, responsible, succinct manner. Sometimes less is more when getting noticed. Go-go boots and hot pants will garner the wrong attention.

Strive to be a pro—not as in the world’s oldest profession—but as a creative, unique individual with an awesome story to tell. That’s what I hope to accomplish. Because I assure you that I, for one, am getting too old for a miniskirt!


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