On Fangs, Fur, and Fey an author named Jeaniene Frost talked about her journey into publication. (It's a good story, you should read it. The perma link is here.) One thing many people ask her (and about anyone who is published) is if they knew someone. Basically, what their "in" was. She goes on to tell her story of knowing no one in and nothing about the publishing industry, doing major re-writes before her agent would sign her, and eventually selling two books to HarperCollins and then three more following that. It's a great story of how work and persistence paid off for her in a big way. I love stories like that. In fact, when people ask how I got my agent, I sometimes feel my cheeks redden just a bit and I tell them I just happen to know a very, very famous author who recommended me to her agent. They smile and say, "Oooohh," like 'now I understand.'
Having an "in" is supremely helpful--I will be the first person to admit that. It is generally a much more effective way to get your foot in the door than the beloved query letter. . . and by beloved, I mean hated and despised.;) But regardless of how fabulous an "in" you have, it can only take you so far.
For example (cracks knuckles) regardless of how great an recommendation you have, if an agent doesn't like your stuff, they won't sign you. Any author worth their salt knows that before they ever give a recommendation. Don't get me wrong, you may get some leeway. Having an agent reading with a positive eye is a great thing, but how positive can you be if the manuscript stinks? (Not that any of your manuscripts stink.;))
Editors are the same way. We all know that tastes are different and what floats one editor's boat may seem old and tired to another. My first book was a traditional fantasy for the adult audience. My "in" loved it, my agent (eventually) loved it. But neither are big fantasy readers. When it was rejected by the editors Jodi sent it to she told me, "What I think is new and compelling, someone who reads fantasy all day every day may think is cliche and unimaginative. That's just how the market is."
With Autumn Wings, however, I really felt like I had written something special. Something different from anything out there, but still with great market appeal. Jodi agreed, and obviously, Tara agreed too. So finally my words were going to be published.
But you know what? I think that if I hadn't had an agent yet, I could have queried and gotten one. I really do. Would I have gotten an agent as great as Jodi? I don't know . . . maybe. Would it have been in time to catch the wave of sales of faerie book we're obviously seeing? Possibly, but probably not. And that is what my "in" got me.
I'm not in any way saying that I was not boosted by knowing a successful author. All I'm saying, is that it can't do everything. So those of you who have an "in," be grateful and use it wisely as an opportunity to present your best work. Those of you who don't, don't worry. If your book is going to shine, it will do so regardless of who you know. . . or, yanno, don't know.:)