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Thursday, March 18, 2004

Baby, it's who you know 

Boyd Tonkin, writing in the Independent, professes shock about certain practices in the publishing industry:

...the jaw really drops on discovering that fully 40 per cent of the sample (of more than 500) got their first job in publishing "through a contact, a referral or network of some kind". So it's still not what you know... A couple of months ago, I wrote in this column that "the British literary scene indulges in a level of nepotism that might make the average Medici blush". At the time, I wondered if that sounded like a bit of cheap hyperbole. If only.

Gosh, only 40 percent? I would have thought the number would be higher, frankly. Although Tonkin's complaint has some validity, which is that perhaps such practices might impede upon the growing call for greater diversity in the publishing world, ultimately, it just sounds rather hollow.

Or more succinctly: why should the publishing industry be any different than any other profession in the world? Obviously, merit counts for something--no one wants a complete twit working on the job--but if you have no contact base whatsoever looking out for you at least in a professional manner (though personal connections help a hell of a lot as well) then you're basically sunk, as far as I am concerned.

Perhaps my viewpoint is skewed by the fact that I'm currently looking for a day job at the moment, and have been for a few months, although it's only been extra serious since I finished my thesis almost two months ago. To do that, I've had to start with job openings I'm aware of, but also pinpoint places I would like to work at that don't have anything open at the moment. But in doing so, I make contacts. And those contacts have other contacts. Which lead to job interviews, which will, at some point, eventually lead to a job. It's slow and time consuming but it's a lot quicker than if I had no one to turn to. And the same goes in looking for a publishing job or heavens, even landing a book deal (maybe especially landing a book deal.) Will merit get you published? No doubt about it. But why else would one go to conferences, writer's groups, parties, conventions, and other places where writers, editors and agents congregate? Well, because all three congregate there and are potential contacts. If I ever write something that in my mind, merits publication, I know I have a fairly solid contact base that should I make use of it, will help me in some form or another. Would I still have to deliver the goods? Obviously, yes, and the process doesn't accelerate just because one knows someone who knows someone else.

But it all helps. And sometimes, it even pays off.

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