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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You're Being Watched

I'm not talking about being watched in a creeper Why-Are-They-Staring-At-Me? way.

I'm talking about a, Do-I-Want-This-Writer-For-A-Client? way.

Since I'm marketing guy by trade I'm fond of saying we market ourselves in every moment. What we wear, what we say, what we don't say, our attitudes, all form a distinct impression in their minds of people about who we are.

But we market ourselves not only during the moments we're in front of that dream agent, or dream publisher, we market ourselves when we don't think they're noticing us.

But they do notice us. We're on their radar. Yes, they're watching us.

A few years ago a friend of mine had released her agent and was looking for a new one. We were in a critique group together and she told those of us in the group about the agent at the top of her wish list.

When she finally called him she started the conversation by saying, "I'm not sure if you know who I am but—"

He responded, "I know exactly who you are. I've been watching you for three years. You come to conferences with passion to learn and ask great questions. I've skimmed your books and I enjoy your writing style. I can see you care about other people and from what others tell me, you are committed to making a difference with your writing. Yes, I'd love to talk about representing you." (They did end up working together.)

My youngest son, Micah, just started his sophomore year of high school. The other day he introduced himself to the Vice Principal of the school. They had a nice conversation which ended with the V.P. telling Micah, "I’m really glad you took time to introduce yourself."

I told Micah, "You just introduced yourself to the rest of the administrative staff as well."

He asked what I meant. I told him most kids will never take the time to meet the Vice Principal unless they're sitting his or her office for having just taken part in an, uh, undesirable activity. And I told him the faculty of any high school talk to each other about the good kids and the problem kids.

The world of publishing is no different. It's a tiny industry. Did you know many agents have private e-mail loops where they kibitz about the industry—and that includes talking about writers? Did you know most editors know each other—and they talk about published authors and pre-published authors as well?

Yes, they know when you've been sleeping, they know when you're awake—wait, now it is getting creepy, only Santa knows that stuff, but you understand my point.

You might be surprised to find out who already know yous. It might shock you to realize you're being looked at right now. How you act. How you speak. How you treat others. How hard you work at the craft.

Because most publishers and agents aren't just looking for great writing. They're looking for great people as well.

Gotta go. I think someone across the room at Starbucks is staring at me.

(How have you seen this play out in your career or the career of a friend?)

James L. Rubart is the bestselling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. More at


  1. Great post, Jim. It's very true. The agents and publishers do watch with interest. It worked that way for me too. I was surprised a few years back when a publisher said, "Gina, we all want to see you succeed. You do so much to help other writers." And then she went on to provide me with a list of editorial suggestions and added, "It doesn't matter if it's us that publish you. We just want to see you publish." Wow, that was something else.

  2. This is such a great thing to keep in mind. All the time. Thanks for the reminder and advice!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  3. Great post, Jim. I wouldn't think most of us imagine this to be a "tiny" industry, where all these pro's pay attention to that level of detail. But I believe you. Even us writers snoop and lurk and pull those threads of curiosity when something starts to buzz with some other author's career. I know I do. Guess it should be no surprise it happens at the agent/editor/pub level, too.

    Of course, now I have to keep my shirt tail tucked in more often.

  4. Excellent post. I mentioned the intimacy of the publishing world when I blogged on Wayside Press about handling rejection, but your comments here make me think how true my mama's wagging-finger statements really were.

  5. I laughed out loud several times while reading this. As an acquisitions editor for a small press, I know that this is true. In fact, I contacted a girl who comments on some of the same blogs as I do recently to tell her that I've been following her career, and when she has a novel done I would love to see it.

    Now I'm hoping I didn't have "too much" fun at ACFW this year :)

  6. As a new conference director, Im finding this to be true in the sense that Im now a small link in the industry chain. Im not sure it's my writing that's catching attention, but my position. I often wonder how that will play out in my personal writing aspirations. At any rate Im having fun and loving being a facilitator! The rest will come in due time. Great post James L.


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