The Most Important Thing I Learned as an Author

Very early in my writing career, I attended a large conference on the West Coast. One of the panels lined up representatives from 5 publishers, some of the largest houses in the world beside some of the most highly regarded smaller houses.
One question came up from the audience about pitches. The attendee said, “I’ve heard I’m supposed to put sales information and comparisons in my pitch. But what exactly are you looking for and where can I find that information?”
The first response from a pubishing executive at a large house was, “I don’t know but perhaps someone else can answer this.”
The acquisitions editor from the smaller house said, “I don’t know either.”
And so on down the line.
Yes, every one of the five individuals responsible for finding the next gem in the slush pile said, “I don’t know.”
One tried to be helpful by adding, “But I know it when I see it.”
Well, you might have guessed that the mood in the room grew very ugly. The remainder of the 45-minute session was spent blasting the panel with outrage or asking ever-more sarcastic questions about how on earth authors were supposed to break in if even the folks at the top didn’t know what they were looking for in a pitch.
I was as angry as the rest. WTF, anyway?
Soon after that conference, I calmed down. I realized the most important lesson in my career:
You must know the market before you approach publishers and agents. You must hold their hands and guide them through the process of understanding why your book is a good financial risk for them to take.
You are the best advocate for your own work. Own it, and own your skill.

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