Never Underestimate The Power Of A Face-To-Face

By JT Ellison

How many times have we heard the old adage writers are solitary creatures? And how many times, upon hearing this statement, have you nodded your head in agreement? That’s what I was worried about. This statement has begun to define our existence as writers. Yes, we work in our own heads the vast majority of the time. Yes, we’re so busy creating that in our real lives, jobs, family, kids, we don’t have time for anything else. Yes, it’s very easy to nod and agree when people say writing is a solitary venture.

Guess what. It’s not.

Stephen King’s glorious book ON WRITING tells of a somewhat supernatural contract between writer and reader, a kind of ESP that exists because the writer puts the words on paper and the reader ultimately, well, reads said words and a psychic connection is formed between the two entities. Cool, huh? He writes in one time and space, and the reader is able to read his mind regardless of their plane of existence, simply by reading the words.

But what happens in between the writer putting the words on the paper and the reader reading them? A LOT.

Outlines, synopses, rough drafts, final drafts, revisions galore, agent reads, editor reads, revisions galore again, copy edits, galleys. Then ARC’s, reviews, sales to bookstores, inside sales, book tours, marketing and promotion dollars, conferences… okay, you’re getting the idea. I don’t disagree for a moment that there’s a psychic connection between writer and reader. There’s just a butt load that goes on in between those steps to make it happen.

And your editor and agent are a vital part of everything that happens with your book.

I’ve always said how lucky I am to have actually laid eyes on both my editor and my agent. Now I’m starting to realize that this is a must. I know, I’ve heard the stories too, of authors who’ve never met their editors or agents even after a forty year relationship. They’ve talked on the phone, they’ve emailed, sure. But they’ve never met face to face.

I don’t know if this scenario is good for the writer. There are ample opportunities on the genre calendar to find a way to meet up with your editor and agent. They don’t go to conferences? They don’t travel to symposiums? Well, go to them.

I’m not kidding. I always said that if I got a deal, the first thing I was going to do was fly to New York to sign the contracts. (Of course, this was back in my silly naive days when I thought that contracts happened in an overnight kind of time frame — I didn’t realize just how long everything takes in the industry.) Instead, right after I got that fateful phone call I learned that my editor was going to be attending Thrillerfest. Well, that took care of that. I met Linda in Phoenix, we broke bread, laughed, found lots of things in common we’d already touched upon on the phone, and started what I believe will be a long and fruitful relationship. And blessings on top of blessings, the MIRA team was at Thrillerfest to promote THRILLER, ITW’s great anthology, so I got to meet the bosses too.

When deadlines got in the way of my plans to go to Bouchercon in Madison so I could meet my agent, I made different plans. I went to New York instead. Scott, Linda and I had lunch, I reaffirmed that he is, in fact, quite a great guy who doesn’t bite, and all three of us were able to sit down together and discuss some of the plans for the series. THAT is worth its weight in gold, my friends.

I know this isn’t the cheapest proposition in the world. It’s expensive to go to conferences. It’s worse to take a two day trip in the name of research, trust me. But I wouldn’t trade actually meeting both of them face to face for the world. It’s an investment in my career. And it should be the same for you.

Name one business that doesn’t have meetings between clients and principles. Industries and businesses in this country and abroad still rely on that face to face meeting. Think about how many historic deals were done with just a handshake? A man’s word was his bond, spit in the palm, clasp hands, and Bob’s your uncle. Even now, with technology allowing instant access between a corporations offices, clients, etc., they’ve perfected the video conference. I think there’s something about human nature that tells us if we can look into another person’s eyes, we can judge whether we’re being sold a bridge or not.

Why should writers be any different from any other business person? Short answer. We aren’t, and we shouldn’t.

Go forth and mingle, friends. Meet the people who are helping you make that psychic connection. If you don’t have a deal yet, get thee to a conference where you can pitch. Make a good impression. Try. We don’t have to be solitary little creatures. The industry as a whole will be better for our active involvement in OUR futures.                           


"A most moving and pulse-stirring honor–the heartfelt grope of the hand, and the welcome that does not descend from the pale, gray matter of the brain but rushes up with the red blood of the heart."

–Mark Twain – The Begum of Bengal speech, 1907

Wine of the Week: Marques de Caceres 2003 Rioja Crianza 


13 thoughts on “Never Underestimate The Power Of A Face-To-Face

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Huh, JT – I came away from BEA/NY with exactly the same lesson. There is no substitute for sitting across a tabke from your agent and pitching your next ideas. It’s not the same on the phone. You will never get the same feedback as you will from eye contact and body language and yeah, the psychic connection.

    And conventions do serve as opportunities for this essential business with our editors and reps. It’s madness not to milk it.

    Now what am I going to write about tomorrow?

  2. Louise Ure

    I treasure the time I’ve been able to spend with my agent, Philip Spitzer. He’s even cooler in person than he is on the phone.

    Still haven’t met my editor yet, but we email photos back and forth, so I can picture him when we talk.

  3. Christa Miller

    When I first started freelancing, I found it very disorienting to be working with magazine editors via email only. I liked the life except for that. I never knew what they were thinking, couldn’t see them to read their body language. Six years later we’re on a friendly basis, but I still worry whether I’m bugging them with things.

    I wonder whether so many of the problems authors talk about come from not having met agents and editors face to face?

  4. JT Ellison

    Christa, I’m wondering that too, which is why I wrote this post. I’d love to see a show of hands for who’s met their team and who hasn’t, and if they haven’t, how they overcome that.

    Louise, that’s a great solution. You are a writer — you can IMAGINE the lips moving…

    X, sorry girl. If you didn’t write such great posts that cause me to have ideas…

  5. Joan Conwell

    I’ve just peeked out of my little writer hole and realized how important it is to get out and meet people. I’ll be at least at Day One of Thrillerfest–hope to see you all there!

  6. pari

    J.T.,Please pardon me for feeling a bit maternal . . . but remember back when you were in a dither because you hadn’t yet heard from the person who DID become your agent? Boy, have you grown!

    Seeing and knowing both editor and agent is such a boon; I’m grateful for both experiences.

  7. JT Ellison

    Pari-san,You are too funny. Yes, I do remember those days — afraid to call, afraid to rock the boat, unable to decide what I should do and how I should approach things. Fear of the unknown can be absolutely paralyzing. You HAVE to be willing to take a chance. The worst thing that can ever happen is they say no.

    Now if I can just get over the fear of speaking, I’ll be set. : )

    Joan, please find me and say hi. Peeking out or not, kudos to you for taking the risk.

  8. JT Ellison

    Rob, I modeled this on you. And the cookies, too.

    Simon, I got caught by a stranger (plumber was here) having a conversation with the cat yesterday. I think I need to get out more.

  9. Kristy

    The face to face meetings are a must for me. Not only are they (usually) just plain fun, but you also get a completely new facet of the personalities you’re doing business with. (A must, especially if we are to manipulate them skilfully enough to garner 1.2 mil for our next advance…shhhh, it’s my diabolical plan, and I chalk it all up to Korean bb-q with my editor.)

  10. Mike MacLean

    Wait… I actually have to talk to people, like face to face? Crap.

    Part of the appeal of the writer’s life is the dream of working from home, hammering out prose at 3:00 AM wearing grungy shorts and a t-shirt that says “BEER: Helping white guys dance since 1842!”


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