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I just announced the acquisition of a novel that I’m extremely excited about: Severance by Chris Bucholz. SF humor is hard to nail (okay, humor of any type), but I found Severance to be both entertaining and amusing. If you like Chris’s Cracked.com articles, you’ll like Severance.

But I’m not here to gush. I am here to talk about Apex and how we (specifically, I) go about acquiring new books, even when we’re closed to submissions. It is a subject that I suspect will be of interest to many of the followers of this blog (as I suspect many of our followers are writers).

In the course of a week, I receive about 15 book pitches in my inbox. These arrive despite our submissions page stating outright that we aren’t accepting any books for consideration. That’s fine, as I’m mostly indifferent about receiving them. For most, I’ll send a polite “No thank you.” In the rare instance that a cover letter or pitch sparks my interest, I might read a few pages of the manuscript and dole out a comment or two. I don’t think I’ve ever asked for a full manuscript, and I’ve never bought a book from an unsolicited submission.

There are two ways through the door, even when it is shut.

First, attend pitch-the-publisher sessions at conferences/conventions that I’m participating in.

The second way is to impress me in some way or manner.

This can be done actively or passively. Here are a couple of passive examples. There have been several occasions where I have been so impressed with an author’s short fiction output that I’ve asked them for a collection (Doug Warrick and Jennifer Pelland come to mind). In the past, I’ve been impressed enough with a person as an individual that I wanted to work with them (Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus… it helped that I knew they had the writing chops). Fran Friel’s novella “Mama’s Boy” knocked me off my feet, and I decided I wanted to do a book with her (she also falls into the “awesome individual” category, as well). These writers were able to fine tune their craft or they learned to market themselves that they passively pulled me into their spheres. This is one great thing about running a small press–you can take chances on exceptional talent even if they might not be so well known (though all these authors are now well-known in genre circles… perhaps Doug is the exception, but I am working hard to correct that).

Being pro-active is another way to squeeze through the door. I don’t count drafting up a query and blindly submitting it to me as being pro-active. Pro-active means talking to me at conventions (I might look aloof and grumpy, but I’m mostly nice). Work to build a professional relationship. We don’t have to be friends, but you can be that guy or lady who is always nice to me at room parties and asks me how Apex is doing each time we talk. If you impress me in our conversation, either by intellect or by charm, and then you proceed to inquire about my interest in seeing your partial or query, I will be more likely to say “Yes,” and I will give your submission all the due consideration I would give a submission received during an Apex open reading period (few and far between those may be).

Chris Bucholz, personally, didn’t sell me on Severance. His agent, Jennie Goloboy did that pro-actively, with a passive assist from Chris.

In general, I’m agent adverse. The aggressive nature so many agents exhibit turns me cold and disinterested. So at Worldcon when Jennie introduced herself to me and shared that she was an agent, I am sure she could sense that I withdrew my little social shell. But Jennie knew enough about me to put me at ease (she mentioned the Hugo Award nomination and she asked me about my pumpkin spice latte obsession… she follows me on Twitter). She offered to buy me coffee and off we went to chat. I *knew* the book pitch was coming, but Jennie knew how to mix business with an obvious interest in formulating a friendship. She seemed like a nice lady, and because of that, the door cracked open just a tiny bit.

The first book she pitched, I had to pass on. Good book. Not right for Apex.

The second book was Severance. She told me it was SF humor. Alarm bells started to ring. Then she said it was written by Chris Bucholz. Alarm bells went silent. I knew Chris. Well, not personally, but I knew he wrote hilarious essays at Cracked.com. I had been enjoying his writing for several years! She offered to send a partial and I said “Yes, please.”

Active: Jennie attending Worldcon and making a point to meet me. She doesn’t come across as pushy. She is professional and friendly.

Passive: Chris being an excellent online humorist.

It’s taken awhile (nearly 8 months… sorry Chris & Jennie!… one of the caveats of pitching work to somebody not looking for new work are the long delays), but I finally got a chance to read the book. I decided I wanted to take a chance with it. Jennie and I hashed out an agreement, and now Chris Bucholz is an Apex author.

This has been a long-winded outline of a simple concept that will work with many of my small press brother and sisters. Impress us with your work. Impress us with your professionalism. Make an effort to get face time with the publishers. Even when the door is shut, you might be able to wedge it open just enough to slip inside.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks, Jason.

    There ALWAYS is a way–and getting to know publishers as people is a very very good thing, agreed.

  2. Excellent post, Jason.

    I’m happy to hear that we both have the same obsession with the fabled pumpkin spice latte, one of the greatest drinks to ever grace this planet.

  3. Rock on!

  4. Thanks so much for the kind mention, Jason.

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  1. From the In Box 5/18/2013 - Amazing Stories - [...] Jason Sizemore discusses the art of book acquisition (and specifically the slipping of manuscripts over the transom) at Apex …

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