“But it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!”
I’ve heard people say you can’t get published unless you know the right people, or attend the right schools. Or they feel they were crowded out by others who got special treatment. These are excuses.
Connections do count. So does name recognition. Celebrities sign children’s book deals with huge marketing budgets, despite not having devoted themselves to the craft. In all fields of writing, men are taken more seriously. Men almost always win the Caldecott despite being a small percentage of illustrators (and I’m not saying the winners didn’t deserve their medals, just saying there are lots of standout women out there too). Hey, that’s life. It’s up to the rest of us to change things.
It does help to get a good education, but editors aren’t looking at your resume or college transcripts. An expensive degree doesn’t make you an artist. Learning the craft of writing takes dedication. And reading lots of children’s books–which are not part of most college curricula.
If you work isn’t ready, all the connections in the world won’t help. If it is, then by all means, go and get connected! Network, network, network, there’s nothing stopping you.
“But I need to be introduced!”
No, you don’t. just introduce yourself. The children’s book world is not glamorous. It almost never leads to riches or celebrity. For that reason, it’s easy to gain access. It’s not a world like Hollywood where it seems every other star is the offspring of a well-known star or you need to go to auditions or get on a casting couch. (Acting talent does count there, too, but sometimes running around scantily dressed helps more!) Once you do knock on the door of children’s books, it will be answered. Children’s book authors and illustrators are the most supportive bunch I’ve ever met. Editors, art directors, and agents are more than willing to meet newbies. Magazines look for new work all the time. Like any creative field, it’s highly competitive and the book field is getting moreso all the time. So do work that makes YOU happy, because the market can change at any moment.
Joining SCBWI, or just going to conferences, gets you in the door. Conferences can cost money, but you can save by going to ones that are shorter or going to just part of larger ones. Children’s Book Illustrators Group in NYC brings industry people to you. Twitter, Facebook and Linked in are at your fingertips. You don’t need any special invitations or introductions. Before you know it, you’ll have connections flowing out of your ears.
Living in NYC can speed up the process, but there is still ample opportunity outside it. Most interaction now takes place through email rather than meetings.
The answer to the question “how important are connections?” is: VERY, and you can make your own.
The most important connection
The most important connection you need is the one with your readers.
So, no more excuses, no more blame. Get back to work and before you know it, you will be the one that others are seeking to meet!