Connecting without the Coffee
Recently, I had a handful of people ask me directly by email (while I was out of town) if I could meet them for coffee. These were individuals I’ve never met before, who are new publishing, and they had questions and wanted to pick my brain on their options. While it was an honor for them to take the time to connect via email, let alone request I put aside time to meet, this is just not possible with my schedule, workload, and desire to have some personal time outside of the agency.
I noted on Twitter shortly afterwards that this is generally not possible, as most agents and editors have a limited amount of free time—and that most of us already work long hours (beyond what would be called “reasonable”). Fast forward to two weeks later, I had a notification of two more messages sent via LinkedIn: two more people I don’t know professionally, wanting to get published, who wanted to meet for coffee and talk about publishing options. I get these emails more than I can even count on my hands, and I’m not alone here.
Before the internet took over our lives (pre-2000), there was a lot more free time for these casual meetings in coffee shops, where people who worked in publishing would share their knowledge. We now live in an era where curious writers can learn more about publishing via online classes (from many reputable sources) as well as many opportunities to take in-person classes (locally and regionally) that aren’t necessarily part of a college MFA program. Due to the many resources available, there’s no need to email a random agent (that one may not know personally) to learn more about publishing. Many writers and publishing entities have taken the baton to ensure new writers can get the scoop on what’s happening in publishing and/or the general steps to take in getting a book published.
However, it’s important to remember that this initial research should only be the beginning of the path to publication. There are online writers groups and opportunities to attend conferences and classes on getting published in traditional and nontraditional settings. It’s no secret that editors and agents take this job seriously, the sharing of our knowledge, but it happens in more formal settings, in hope of reaching more people in a more efficient manner.
When I started down my own path to becoming an agent, I read all of the books about publishing. (Granted, there were less at the time.) I eventually did my internships and built on each experience along the way. I wouldn’t be an agent today unless I had taken the time to do the reading, networking, and settling into a career that was bookcentric. I never asked anyone out to coffee, but I was always willing to attend any event where there would be writers, editors, and/or other publishing folks.
Once I found my place in publishing, I collaborated with a few other publishing friends to ensure that we gave back to the publishing community that nurtured our careers by planning a casual monthly networking event that still happens today.
If I get invited to a college class or a local writing group, I always try my best to show up. While this is not a one-on-one meet and greet, that’s a better use of my time, and I’m able to talk books with more than one writer. I promise there’s a good chance editors and agents will happily toast a coffee while talking books and publishing with any curious writer at networking events, and it’s always a good time.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner of and literary agent at Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales and marketing; and book development. She was previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency, and she has a BS in human ecology and an MS in information sciences. Dawn cofounded the MN Publishing Tweet Up and is the current president of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a member of the BOD for Loft Literary, and a teaching artist at Loft Literary. You can find her on Twitter at @redsofaliterary.