I had an odd moment yesterday when reading a couple of posts on a national listserv. Someone had originally asked for ideas on improving a library service. The poster finished the inquiry with the phrase "All ideas are welcome". However, when someone replied with an idea, the original poster stated that she very much disagreed with the idea. It was a jarring realization for me - perhaps all ideas were not
It struck me that this is the kind of reply that shuts down ideas, that says thanks for the input- but not really. If I had an idea to contribute, would my opinion be welcomed....or disrespected? I definitely felt a strong urge to keep my ideas to myself on this issue. Who needs to be put in their place after four months or forty years in the business?
This is by no means the first time I have seen this behavior. You name the issue in librarianship and you know a few people are going to wade in, say their piece (on any and all sides of an issue), lob a few bombs and shut down discussion. Others shy away from saying anything lest they be branded a less-than-true believer or flaming the fan of disagreement even further. The bomber has accomplished something that, in most cases, I hope they didn't mean to do - they have effectively shut down discourse.
The townhall of listservs, groups, online discussions and comments seems to be more and more a place where one gets to state their opinion and then re-state and re-state it and re-state it. Each time a particular topic comes up that someone disagrees with vehemently, he or she feels duty-bound to wade in and state for the record just how wrong-headed the idea, approach or opinion is. Reasoned discourse devolves into "This is my opinion and if you don't like it, bite it." or "I have the research, so shaddup." or "Lots of people feel/think/believe the same way I do, which proves me correct."
We all have strongly held opinions - both personal and professional. We would be less than human if we didn't. And what a boring world if we all believed exactly the same thing! It strikes me that innovation would simply stop if we didn't have the constant give-and-take of divergent opinions to push us to new solutions and heights.
How we express our opinions dictates whether we will brook no disagreement or are willing to evolve, change and learn from the discourse engendered by our expressions and inquiries. When I work with students, respect and reasoned discourse is the guide by which we agree to disagree. Once we hit the work world, spats and tantrums must be left behind. Learning to elevate opinion and conversation into a respectful space takes patience, wisdom and smarts.
While I certainly own to being less than perfect in expressing my opinions and honoring those of other people, perhaps there are a few ways we might all navigate better when asking for input and honoring what we receive. Let's think of it as bringing some civility to our professional-level discourse - welcoming, listening to and absorbing divergent viewpoints without disrespecting opinions or ideas that are diametrically opposed to our own.
Strangely or not so much so, I am guided by the best set of book discussion guidelines ever
. The CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center in Madison WI) developed these to help people speak and listen actively and intelligently. Book discussion committees that use these guidelines have an amazing experience when discussing books.
So let's look at these and see if there are ways we can use some of these suggestions to do a better job of respecting each other while expressing our firmly held beliefs. Try substituting the word "issue" for "book" in the Guidelines and see what we get:CCBC Book Discussion Guidelines
Ginny Moore Kruse and Kathleen T. Horning
Â© 1989 Cooperative Children's Book Center Look at each book (issue) for what it is, rather than what it is not.
All perspectives and vocabularies are correct. There is no "right" answer or single correct response.
- Make positive comments first. Try to express what you liked about the book (issue) and why. (e.g. "The illustrations are a perfect match for the story because....")
- After everyone has had the opportunity to say what they appreciated about the book, you may talk about difficulties you had with a particular aspect of the book (issue). Try to express difficulties as questions, rather than declarative judgments on the book (issue) as a whole. (e.g. "Would Max's dinner really have still been warm?" rather than "That would never happen.")
- Avoid recapping the story or booktalking the book (issue). There is not time for a summary.
- Refrain from relating personal anecdotes. The discussion must focus on the book (issue) at hand.
- Try to compare the book (issue) with others on the discussion list, rather than other books by the same author or other books in your experience.
- Listen openly to what is said, rather than who says it.
- Respond to the comments of others, rather than merely waiting for an opportunity to share your comments.
- Talk with each other, rather than to the discussion facilitator.
- Comment to the group as a whole, rather than to someone seated near you.
Sometimes, it's also ok to accept an idea or opinion without responding to state a disagreement. Our opinion isn't changed but no response also honors the fact that the other person has a right to theirs. Learning to express our views with an eye towards engendering discussion often involves phrases like, "While I appreciate what you are saying, I wonder whether..." or "I hear what you're saying, but my hesitation lies in....". It opens up communication and creates a safe space to express and share.
I wonder if we might commit to be more open, less combative and elevate our discussions with each other? Can we honor the ideas others share while tactfully expressing our own and even learning to moderate our opinions based on what we hear? Can we put down our arms and learn to disagree in a collegial way? As Eli Mina, the ALA Council parliamentarian, suggests in Council when tempers begin to flare and back-and-forthing detours councilors from the larger issues of working towards solutions: Let us return to the balcony in this discussion rather than staying on the floor. I wonder if we can do this more?
I don't know, you tell me.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Practicing Professionalism: Some Author Do's and Don'tsBy Harriet Hodgson
The book business is a tough business. Authors like me may work for a year or more on a manuscript and, after it is finished, not be able to sell it. This brings us to the topic of professionalism. Can you pitch a book and remain professional? I've been asking myself this question a lot, as I try to market the two books I wrote last summer.
According to the dictionary, "professional" means you are competent, expert, or a consultant. "Professionalism" is defined as professional character, spirit, and methods. As I identify and follow marketing leads I try to be professional. Some days it is a challenge because I want the sale so much. Yet I try to be professional in my contacts with publishers.Courtesy still counts in an electronic world
. Many business transactions are conducted with cell phones, tweets, emails and blogs. That doesn't mean we throw courtesy out the window. Acquisitions editors are swamped with manuscripts and courtesy can make their days easier. One publisher referred me to the senior editor of another publishing company. I emailed her and received a reply two days later. Though her reply was not what I hoped to receive, I thanked the editor for her promptness and for getting back to me.Proofreading is part of professionalism
. Before you send an email, book query or proposal, you should proofread it carefully. This is hard for me because I wear bifocals and my eyes are sensitive to light. If you have similar problems, ask a family member or colleague to proofread your work. Katharine Sands discusses proofreading in her book, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye. Recommending proofreading may sound ridiculous, she points out, but it is critical. "I'm constantly surprised by the carelessness and breeziness of some letters and proposals I receive," she comments.Correct formatting shows your professionalism
. The public library may have books about manuscript formatting. Electronic submissions are different, however. Moira Allen tells why in her article, "A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format," posted on the Writing World website. Use a readable font, she advises, and avoid bold, underlining or italics. "Most email programs don't translate these well," she explains.Following submission guidelines demonstrates professionalism.
These guidelines are listed in the Literary Market Place, the Writer's Market, and publishers' websites. Michael Larsen's book, How to Write a Book Proposal, is also helpful and I have used it often. Writing a proposal for my latest book took me a week. I let it "percolate" for a week and went back to it. Then I took the time to put the pages in protective sleeves and glue the cover design (which I paid for) on the cover of the folder.Persistence factors into professionalism
. You need to be persistent in order to sell a book. But there is a huge difference between being persistent and being a pest. After I have queried a publisher I try to avoid re-contact, yet sometimes it is necessary. For example, the expert who was going to write the Foreword of my book is unable to do it and referred me to another expert. This is something a potential publisher needs to know.
I know professionalism works in my favor and that is why I work at it. Time and professionalism are on my side.
Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgsonhttp://www.harriethodgson.comHarriet Hodgso
Because of my job I get to travel around to conferences and meetings and talk with librarians all over the place. Wherever I am I spend a lot of time discussing advocacy and the importance of helping members of a community understand the value of teen services. We frequently talk about the image that people have of librarians and how that image is often not based in reality. We also discuss how hard it is to change how people see librarians and libraries.
During these trips and in these conversations, it often feels a bit strange because I’ll be talking to someone about library and librarian image and that person will be wearing a book t-shirt with a cute saying, or book earrings or necklace (or both), or a book themed-watch, or….. you get the idea. I don’t believe I can say during these conversations, “Have you ever thought about the image you portray by wearing book related clothing and accessories?” Even though I really really really want to.
I know it’s fun to have these pieces of clothing and accessories. Sure, it’s entertaining to see them at conferences. But in the outside world when we are working with community members and need to be seen as professionals who are knowledgable about teens, the world they live in, and the way to help connect them to an array of “stuff” (from people to materials to each other to librarians), the book-themed clothing and accessories just has to go. I’d say when at work, whether hanging out with teens or at a meeting with the town council, even wearing just one piece of jewelry that has a book theme is not going to help you gain the respect you deserve.
Think about it: if we want people of all ages in the community to stop thinking of libraries as a place just for physical materials, then we have to stop promoting the library that way. If we want community members to see librarians as well-educated in all things teen and as people who have a strong understanding of education, youth development, and so on, then we have to stop dressing up in book-wear. Cute, book-related attire is not the way to get the message across, to anyone and everyone, that the library is a place that supports teens in their acquisition of skills of all kinds and is a strong and important educational link in the community
For those who know me and are asking, “Would she say the same thing about cute technology-based clothing and jewelry?” the answer is “Yes, I would.” Anything that focuses on one aspect of what a library staff member is passionate about, whether it be a social media t-shirt or a book necklace is a bad idea. Just think about who that clothing or accessory connects to in the community. It likely only connects to one portion of who you serve – teens or adults. If wearing book-themed attire is common in your library, what does that say to teens who are not book focused?
Making sure that community members take libraries and librarians seriously is a key aspect of the job of all library staff members. It requires being able to talk about what teens get out of what we do for and with them. It requires an understanding of youth development, education, literacy, and more. It requires holding back on tendencies to show your passion through clothing and accessories. It requires knowing what not to wear.
Innovation in the clothing of those working with teens doesn’t mean dressing like a teen and it doesn’t mean wearing cute theme-based pieces. Instead, it means getting outside of the library and book box in your dress and thinking about how you present the value of teen services to community members through your wardrobe. It may seem crazy to call this innovative, but if you’ve seen as many library-themed outfits as I have you know that it certainly is. Take the plunge and be professionally innovative in your wardrobe. It will be good for you, and for the teens that you serve.
by Deren Hansen
How many of us wouldn't jump at the chance to be a professional writer?
How would it be to spend our days wrapped in a comfy smoking jacket, pipe in hand, dispensing pearls of prose to eager readers?
Oh, wait, that's the fantasy writer (not the writer of fantasies). You know better.
You know that professional writers work hard at writing, revising one book, drafting another, and outlining a third all at the same time. You know that professional writers work constantly at promotion in every venue, both real and virtual, they can find.
You know all that, and you think you're up to the job.
But do you know how many of your private prerogatives you'll have to give up?
One of the things you must give up as a professional writer is your public opinions. That's not to say you don't have opinions, simply that you're no longer at liberty to share.
Because professionals must work with everyone.
The mantra of the consultant is,
I'm a professional.
I don't have problems.
I don't cause problems.
I solve your problems.
As a professional, you don't have the luxury of not liking someone, particularly in an industry as small as publishing where there's a real chance you might have to work with them at some point in the future.
In a panel on professional comportment at LTUE
, Tracy Hickman
said, "There's only thing you can be sure of: you never know who you're talking to, so treat everybody as important."
In the same panel Howard Tayler
reminded us of the 2010 Dr. Who
Christmas episode where the doctor, in response to someone who says another character isn't important, replies, "How fascinating. I've never met anyone who isn't important."Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.
How should I address my cover letter to a partial request? Or queries, etc. for that matter? I am old enough that I feel Ms. Doe is extremely formal. However, at the same time I realize that respect is a necessity and an act of respect.
So I am at a road bump (something extremely annoying and slowing me down):
Dear Ms. Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane?
What is common practice here? I donâ€™t want to take allowances, but I also respect myself enough as a writer to feel the agent and I are on somewhat even ground. She addressed me by first name in request for my partial, what do you think?
I actually donâ€™t think it matters. I get queries all the time addressed to Ms. Faust, Jessica, Jennifer, and Dear Sirs. I think it depends on the author and what feels right to the author. All that being said, if I get Dear Sirs I immediately feel that the author hasnâ€™t bothered to do her homework and question how ready she is to be published. If I get Jennifer I just sigh.
If an author uses Jessica and I donâ€™t know the author, I guess I do sometimes feel a bit of a jolt, a little too much familiarity. Although I get that more now that I write the blog, so I guess it doesnâ€™t impact me in the same way anymore. For me personally, with business correspondence with someone I donâ€™t know, I tend to stick with the more formal Mr. or Ms. (never Mrs., just so you know). I donâ€™t think this means that you see the agent as being on higher ground, just that you see the letter as a formal business query.
Over the years Iâ€™ve responded to a million proposals (not an exact figure) and I guess I tend to use Mr. or Ms. That being said, if I feel the relationship is moving in a forward direction (I think weâ€™ll have an ongoing relationship of some sort) I tend to switch to the authorâ€™s first name.
Everybody is different; what I want to stress, though, is that using Mr. or Ms. is not about seeing the agent, or any person, as your better, itâ€™s about formal business etiquette. And I do think that while itâ€™s obvious the world isnâ€™t as formal as it used to be, it can never hurt to use good old-fashion etiquette. Youâ€™re never likely to offend anyone with a Dear Ms. or a Dear Mr.; you donâ€™t know what their feelings might be on a Hey Jess [cringe].
One lazy afternoon, over a bucket of beers and stale pretzels at a local watering hole, I had an epiphany. A nonfiction book idea poured into my mind, and when I shared my best-selling proposal with my husband, he asked the one question an author doesn't want to hear: "What if you can't find a publisher?"
Since that day, I've been investigating publishing options, including self-publishing. After talking with writing friends who have pursued this route, I've learned several valuable lessons about entering the publishing market:
- Investigate the competition. What sets your proposed deal apart from what's presently available in the market? How many books are already printed on this topic? How recently were they published? Once you know these answers, you can strategize the best ways to set up your book. Can you add infographics? Photographs? Sidebars? Think beyond the printed word and you will be one step ahead of your competition.
- Hire the best of the best. Once the book is written and edited, you should plan to hire a professional editor to give the script a once-over. A writer has an intimate working relationship with her script and all too often, you tend to overlook even the simplest of mistakes. Better to hire a professional than to print a book filled with glaring mistakes.
- Look professional. Your book needs to look professionally printed, and this begins with the outside package: the cover. Design a book cover that draws attention and actually fits the book. (How many times have you looked at a book cover and wondered if the author threw together a graphic?) Also don't forget that your book needs an ISBN number. Contact ISBN.org for information. You may want testimonials or positive reviews for the book jacket. Consider who you can ask for a review. What sets their opinion apart from others?
- Check on the inside. Not only does the cover need to draw attention, but the inside of the book needs to be reader-friendly. Text shouldn't run too close to the binding. Margins need to be precise so the page layout doesn't look crowded.
- Investigate publishing options. So many options exist today, so make sure you thoroughly investigate publishing options and costs. The least expensive option isn't always the best option, but don't get carried away with option overload either. Does your book need all the bells and whistles offered? Or can it it survive - and SELL - with the KISS method?
- Establish a marketing plan. Authors should be considering a market plan from the beginning. I've been working on the platform for my book at the same time I've been writing. I've remained open to options and ideas from my research subjects. Marketing must begin before the book prints. Otherwise, how will you sell books?
I'm still working on publishing options, but since I've done my homework, I feel comfortable about the possibility of heading down the self-publishing route.
Have you done your homework? What options have you considered for publishing your work?
by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at Writing on the Wall.
Email is a weird thing. It's different from the old snail-mail letters because it's an almost daily form of communication. And, as many of you know, there are rules to email etiquette, things that those of us who are savvy in email know about and those who aren't, don't. If you don't feel you're up on email etiquette, but are entering a business relationship (with editors and agents), I would suggest you bone up on what you need to know.
While I'm certainly no etiquette maven, here are some mistakes I've seen over the years, and I'm sure many of you see them as well.
1. All caps means you're yelling. Do NOT use all caps or caps lock unless you are truly angry and plan on yelling at your agent or editor. Even if we know you didn't intend to yell at us, it's hard to get your screaming voice out of our head as we're reading.
2. Subject lines are for a subject, not for the entire message. If an author types the entire message in the subject line and not in the email, I can't help but feel I'm being chastised. Like the author was angry and couldn't even reach the actual email space.
3. Speaking of subjects: If possible, make your subject relate to your email. That way, before even opening it I get a glimpse of what you're getting in touch about.
4. If possible avoid using fancy templates. They look great when you're composing your email, but they never seem to translate well in the sending. Basically, they usually just make an email difficult to read. Plain white emails with black, simple type work best for me.
5. Keep the message thread alive. Set up your email so that the message thread (the message you're replying to) remains at the bottom of the email. This is especially helpful with queries so that I know what query you're referring to, but also with client emails so that, if needed, I can take a quick perusal of the conversation.
6. Make sure your professional contacts are not included in chain email, or funny forwards.
7. If you have a spam clearance on your email, make sure to clear people you are expecting replies from. This is especially true of queries.
There are probably more tips that others can think of, but these are the common problems I most often see.
I've always said that when you get an offer of representation, or from a publisher, for that matter, you need to use that offer as leverage to find the agent who is best for you and your work. What that means is that when you get an offer you should contact every other agent who has your work, let them know of the offer, and give them a time by which they need to respond to you. I'm here today to make some amendments to that original treatise.
I still think one of the most important things an author can do when getting an offer of representation is consider the offer carefully and interview as many other agents as possible. Remember, the agent who is right for your mother, best friend, bestselling author, or sister's husband's uncle's half-brother is not necessarily the agent that's right for you. However, I also think when talking to other agents and leveraging your offer you need to do it in a way that makes sense and that is productive.
Previously I said contact every other agent "who has your work." My amendment to that is that you should contact "every other agent you haven't heard from yet," which includes those who still have queries. Agents read at different paces. Some read faster, or some might go through a spurt this week of query reading while others were planning to do that next week. If an agent hasn't yet requested material it doesn't mean she's not going to, it could mean she hasn't gotten to your query. Therefore, don't be afraid to contact her to let her know of your offer. In the past six months I offered on three different books when the authors notified me, and I hadn't even gotten to their queries yet. In fact, in some cases they sent a query with the offer because they wanted to hear from me.
Previously I said contact "every other agent," which I'm amending to "every other agent who you are interested in having as your agent." There have been times when I've gotten the distinct feeling that authors with offers were letting every agent know of the offer, asking every agent to spend time reading the manuscript, when in actuality they already knew exactly what decision they were going to make. I think the saying goes "don't waste my time and I won't waste yours." I do think it's important that you contact agents to leverage the offer and get to know, by talking to them, if they would be right for your work, and I realize that you might contact people, get an offer, and go with the first one anyway. That's okay, but if you have an offer from Agent A and proposals out with Agent B and Agent C and queries with Agent D and Agent F (you've already been rejected by Agent E), you should definitely contact them all. Unless you already know that although Agent C is a heavy hitter, you've met her and really didn't click. Then why bother Agent C? Let her off the hook now and simply pull your submission from consideration. Don't make things harder on yourself by wasting your own time, either. If Agent C does offer now you'll need to talk to her on the phone and hold an interview, when you've already decided she's not your speed.
A couple of years ago I made an offer to an author I was really excited about. Stupid thing to say really because I'm always "really excited" about every author I offer to. Anyway, she too was excited, but had the proposal with a couple of other agents and wanted to give them time to consider. Of course I thought that was a smart plan and told her I would wait. The next day she called me back to tell me she was an idiot (which she's not). I was her dream agent and talking with me only cemented that further. Rather than waste anyone else's time she had simply contacted the other agents to let them know she had accepted another offer. Yay for me! Now, in cases like this, when a submission is pulled, agents always get a little annoyed, but I think truthfully we actually feel left out (like we didn't get invited to the party), but you know what? I'd rather not get invited than be invited only because your mom made you invite me when I could have be
So here's the story . . .
I receive a message through my LinkedIn account. Honestly, I'm not sure why I have a LinkedIn account. Occasionally I've looked for clients for nonfiction projects through LinkedIn, but rarely has anything ever come of it. Truthfully, the most success I've had in social networking comes through Twitter.
Anyway, a message came through LinkedIn from someone I've never met, I'm not even sure we're connected, asking for assistance in "partnering with a literary agent." This person was a fellow alum from Marquette University and proceeded to tell me about their book. The author ended by telling me there was a book proposal ready. My response, as is my response to all queries sent through social networks (if I respond at all), was that I don't accept queries through social networks, but the author should feel free to query following the guidelines on our website.
The author, apparently because we attended the same school, felt that she was exempt from following my guidelines and was apparently put off by my response, "I'm afraid I do not accept queries via social networking sites. To query me and BookEnds you should review the guidelines on our website."
Well, not that you're surprised, that set off a sh**storm. One that I can now honestly say amuses me and I'm sharing for your entertainment only. The author corrected me to explain how, after rereading the original message, there was nothing in it to indicate this was a query and that not only was my response disappointing, but indicated I have a "lack of belief in Marquette Ideals." What?! What?! Because I stick to a company policy I am now apparently morally corrupt?
And then after explaining that LinkedIn is a professional networking site and not Facebook and that I use it to solely seek to benefit from others the author said, "While I realize you cannot instill decency into people, it disturbs me to have Marquette's name to continue to be represented in such a poor manner."
And there you have it. I am nothing but a money-grubbing, self-absorbed, indecent human misusing my alma mater. Dang, I'm a jerk.
Sharing with you those things that can really make us laugh.
In a query the author started by going into great detail to tell the story of Famous Bestselling Author and how she struggled to find an agent and publisher. It was only "one visionary agent" who took it on. The Author then continued, after telling me the title of her book, to say, "I expect most agents and editors will dismiss it out of hand."
So before even telling me anything about your book, you've told me I'm not a visionary and that your book won't sell. . . .
Your query tells me nothing about your book. It talks about you, your children, your life (sort of like a Christmas letter) and finishes by asking me to take a look at your writing. The clincher? You know I'm going to pass so in your P.S. you tell me that you've researched lots of sample queries, they seem odd, so you're just going to write from the heart. That's all well and good. Writing from the heart is great. I still need to know something about your book.
"I have many different ideas for books. There are 3 major reasons why I have no manuscript for you 2 look at. A. Honestly, my grammar skills suck and writing a full manuscript would be futile. B. I just don't have the time to finish one and if I was living comfortably and had a person to help me with my writing dos and donts than I could finish one pretty quickly. C. I'm too ignorant about the process and would be embarrassed to hand people my work that didn't completely encompass my vision. Anyways, what I lack as writer, I make up for it with my story telling.
"I have four kids; I am single; and I am available. . . ." Now, the author did add: "for all aspects of editing, writing, and polishing my book," but those first words were rather jarring.
I had a boss once who was fond of saying "life is too short," and it's become a bit of a mantra of mine. Life is short and I want to spend it doing the things I love with people I enjoy spending time with. There's no doubt we always have moments in our lives when we can't choose who we have to spend time with, and there are always things we have to do even if we don't want to (clean toilets, anyone?), but when I have a choice I'm going to pick what I love (like my job) with people I know I'll enjoy working with.
Which is why a query like the one below is not going to get you in my door. It might work with another agent, but after reading this opening I don't care what your book is about, I know we're not a good fit.
Iâ€™m supposed to write a query letter to have you look at my book, and be interested in me as a writer. Iâ€™m an independent writer because I really have no use for formalities. I detest the pretentious rituals writers have to go through to kiss ass and hope they get their book published. And I would imagine an agent getting bored reading these monotonous ramblings of writers trying their best to write a query in the prescribed format, hoping they got it right, for if they falter in any way their hopes and dreams of â€śbeingâ€ť a writer will be lost forever. Their fate lies in that sacred of all documents: The Query. How can such a creative art have such dogma?
Whenever I compose an email to an editor I think about every word I type and how it will be perceived. For example, when following up on a submission, I never want to say I'm "just" getting in touch because it sounds like what I'm getting in touch about isn't that important. While certainly overthinking things can be dangerous and I don't want authors spending weeks laboring over each and every word, how we say things and the words we use are important. We already know that because as authors, you already spend weeks crafting the perfect paragraph or sentence in your manuscript, and the professional correspondence about that manuscript shouldn't be any different.
What inspired this post is that lately I've been noticing a real lack of confidence in emails to agents, or at least what I'm chalking up to lack of confidence. Authors aren't using the best word choices when querying, following up on queries, or getting in touch to tell of an offer. The words used are often coming across as either too weak or too strong, almost combative.
Certainly, we all read with our own issues. In other words, how I read something might not be read by someone else the same way, but I think when proofing and revising our letters we can often tell, pretty quickly, when a better word choice is needed. After all, it's our job as writers to understand and look for how what we're writing might be perceived. It's how we check to make sure our characters come across as likable, for example.
As an example, I've had a few authors check on submissions lately (and I'm not that far behind) by saying something along the lines of, "I'm checking on the status of my manuscript. If you are no longer interested please let me know." Why would you assume I'm no longer interested? Should I not be interested? Is this a challenge? Are you angry that it's taken me so long when in fact it hasn't?
The truth is this makes me not want to read more. If you don't think I should be interested, or are going to present yourself in this sort of angry and combative way in our first correspondence, how are you going to operate months down the line when we're working together? If you've done any research at all on me you know I reply to everything, and most definitely requested material, so this sort of tone seems especially unwarranted (especially if I know that I'm still well within my submission response time frame).
In another example, I've always encouraged authors to use an offer of representation to their advantage. Use it to make sure you can find the best agent for you and your work. That being said, when I'm contacted by an author I want to know that I'm actually requesting and reading the work because I'm one of the agents they are interested in hearing from, and not that they are simply contacting everyone because they were told they should.
There have been times when an author gets an offer of representation about the same time I've requested more material, but instead of saying something like, "I am attaching the material you requested. I have just received an offer so am asking to hear from all interested agents by Friday," the author says to me, "I just received an offer of representation and am waiting to hear back from agents who already have the material. Are you still interested?" I don't know. Should I be? It feels like you don't care whether I'm interested or not, like you've already made your decision, which, frankly, is fine. I'd rather that I'm only in the running if I'm really in the running. If you don't care to entertain an offer from me, let me know, if not out of respect for me and my time, then out of respect to your fellow writers, all of those waiting for me to read their material.
Think of it this way. How would you feel if you contacted an agent to tell her of an offer of representation and her response is something along the lines of, "Okay, I suppose you can send it to me." Why bother? Do you really want to send it after that?
What if an agent requested m
Any of you who follow me on Twitter have heard me say this before: the sign of a good writer isnâ€™t the first draft or even the second or third or fifth, but how well revisions are handled, each and every time they need to be handled.
Many of you probably know by now that Iâ€™m not an agent who simply sells projects. I tend to invest a lot of time in the manuscripts and proposals my clients send me before we even consider taking them to editors. In fact, I think my record is the nonfiction client who went 12 rounds of revisions before we finally felt the proposal was ready to send out. In that case I pushed her to make the book bigger than what she had originally submitted to me. While I know that each of you is doing round after round of revisions before even sending out the query, I will warn you that once you get an agent, and later when you get an editor, itâ€™s likely youâ€™re going to have to do another few rounds before that book is finally published.
The editing and the work you do on your own is difficult enough, but adding in the voices and opinions of your agent and editor is when youâ€™ll face your true test. Iâ€™ve seen authors gut a finished manuscript down to the bones and Iâ€™ve seen others simply toss one out and start fresh. Neither of these tasks was easy, nor did they happen without complaint. However, they were done because the author trusted in the people she worked with and knew, in her heart, it was the right decision for her career.
What proves the professionalism of how an author handles revisions means that she honestly listens to what others have to say. That doesnâ€™t mean blindly following whatever her agent and editor tell her. In fact, most of my authors will disagree with at least one of the revisions I suggest to her. The sign of a professional is that she listens and truly hears what agents and editors are saying and understands that they arenâ€™t trying to make her a clone of everyone else, but truly trying to make the book the best it can be, because, letâ€™s face it, the more success you have as an author the more success we have as agents and editors.
Listening to the criticism of others is not easy, but let me tell you, itâ€™s a lot easier to revise a manuscript than it is to read reviews on a book you canâ€™t do anything about.
Alicia and Theresa, the two editors behind edittorrent, have a great, new post out on Irony, Juxtaposition and Coincidence
in writing. But in my usual ADD way, I went back to an earlier post of theirs on the Marks of an Amateur
writer. They put it out there as only the start of the list, but I have to say it's a darn good start. So what do you think, does your manuscript give away your amateur status? Or do you present your most professional work?http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/2009/10/marks-of-amateur-starting-list.html
Iâ€™ve been receiving a lot of queries lately that are far too informal and personal, queries in which the querier obviously had interactions with me before and assumed I would remember who she is. Frankly, itâ€™s just confusing.
The queries often go something like this:
I know youâ€™re busy, but I wanted to let you know that Joe Schmoo has requested my manuscript for [Book Not To Be Named] and seems very excited about it. I fully intend to revise and make my characters more likeable. Would you like to take a second look? After all, we know the book will appeal to everyone.
Now that my divorce is final and Iâ€™ve got my life back Iâ€™m really ready to devote my time to writing. Iâ€™m so excited about the opportunities I have and since I love your blog I would hate for you to regret passing on my book.
Let me tell you: I have no idea who Jenny is, no recollection of what this book could be, and, frankly, no interest since I donâ€™t know what sheâ€™s talking about.
Donâ€™t ever assume an agent remembers you (unless sheâ€™s your agent). Always query professionally and provide as much information as possible.
I recently received a query for an authorâ€™s debut novel. The author was incredibly confident, envisioning the novel as a future bestseller and hit movie, but thatâ€™s not what bothered me. What I found unsettling was when she wrote, â€śI am sending this proposal to several literary agents and have set a deadline for your reply as at July 31, 2010. If you believe youâ€™re the right agent, please contact me. I require a list of your published titles and the publishers youâ€™ve worked with, as well as your expected fee (commission). I look forward to hearing from you and hope to create a great working partnership.â€ť
Ultimately I rejected the query, partly because I didnâ€™t feel I was right for it, but also in part because I was put off by the authorâ€™s demands. Information on my sales, including publishers, is really easy to find with just a little bit of research. Heck, if you found my name itâ€™s likely you also found that information. Certainly sheâ€™s right to want to know that information, but am I the one that needs to supply it and, maybe, it was the way her request was phrased that didnâ€™t sit right?
When I submit to publishers I donâ€™t need to ask what pay range they are in, what kind of royalties they offer, or who else they publish. Iâ€™ve done my research and I know that already. When negotiations start I will definitely have more questions specific to the book Iâ€™m selling. At that point I will most definitely want to know their vision for the book, including advance, royalties, marketing, etc. But does it sit wrong to demand that before someone has even read the book?
I give the author credit for being so confident. Her query was well written (although could have been a lot stronger), but I worry that with many agents this approach might backfire, that she appears to demand a lot without bothering to understand the business first. Of course, I might be reading too much into it.
I get a lot of referrals from clients, which, of course, I absolutely love. In fact, just last month (or maybe the month before) I signed a new client who came through a referral. But I digress.
The reason Iâ€™m writing this post is because there is definitely a different way of doing business in every industry, and publishing is no exception. When a nonfiction client refers me or introduces me (usually through email) to a potentially new writer, almost inevitably the writer follows up with an email suggesting times when we should talk on the phone. She always has a list of book ideas sheâ€™d like to discuss and I never get the feeling she has a book proposal.
Frankly, I still havenâ€™t quite figured out how I want to handle these situations. More often than not these phone calls end with me saying that the idea sounds viable, and rarely do I ever see a proposal when I tell the author thatâ€™s what I would need. Now, Iâ€™ve scheduled time out of my day to have the call, wasted time explaining the business to an author, and nothing much comes from it.
So Iâ€™ve responded via email instead, explaining how the process works in publishing and letting the author know Iâ€™d need to hear more about the book. The author, of course, seems miffed that I canâ€™t take the time for a phone call and, again, I never see a proposal.
Most of the authors I experience this with are business authors, and obviously they are doing business in the way they are used to. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s wrong, it just doesnâ€™t necessarily work for publishing.
The interview ranks as one of the top responsibilities of freelance writers. Whether you interview a local athlete who set a new record or a best-selling author, preparing for the interview and asking the right questions will lead to a successful story.
I seldom cold call and conduct the interview. I learned early in my writing career that interview subjects seldom like to be blindsided. Set up a time for an in-person, telephone or e-mail interview and make sure you're on time. Just before I get to the heart of the interview, I like to double check that it's a good time to talk. As writers, we realize that interruptions can derail plans. Showing courtesy to your interview subject not only exhibits professionalism, but it lets the interviewee know you have their schedule in mind, too.
Now, let's jump into the interview. If you've done your research, you've hopefully come up with a list of questions. But don't overlook the obvious. Often, these q-and-a's will provide a candid view into the subject.
- Spell It Correctly. Even the simplest names can have spelling variations. Accuracy counts, so ask for a correct spelling of the person's name.
- Why Did You . . . ? Why questions require synthesis - seeing relationships and drawing conclusions from an experience. Some of the best responses come from this type of question.
- How Did You . . . ? The "how" question helps define a process and allows for clarification.
- Did You Experience Conflict? Some interview subjects shy away from conflict, but a good interviewer will bring it up and ask for a reaction. This question helps balance the final product.
- Are There Benefits? Look for the silver lining. How did the subject grow from the experience? How can this person's story help others?
- Would You Change Anything? This question lets the subject reflect on her story or experience. From my experience, even if they say "no," I keep digging. Nothing is ever perfect. :)
- What's the Secret To Your Success? It's proven: people like hearing their name and they like talking about their experiences. Many times, this question leads new information about the subject and puts a new perspective on the story.
Once I've gone through my list, I like to ask if the interviewee can think of additional information I may need for the piece. Sometimes they'll direct me to other sources, which may mean a new story idea.
When I'm interviewing, I like to take notes about the subject's demeanor: the look in her eye, tone of voice, fidgety behavior. Those personal details add a personable touch to a story.
Finally, I ask if it will be OK to call again or send an e-mail if I have follow-up questions. Occasionally, an interviewee has scheduled a time with me for the day following the interview. Again, writers need to remember that this person has a schedule too, and it's courteous and professional to ask.
Once the interview has concluded, I like to send a thank you note or postcard to the interviewee. I usually receive a thank-you-for-the-handwritten-note note in return. It's a networking bonus!
Perfecting your interview style will enhance your writing and set your apart from others. It should be the sharpest tool in a freelancer's toolbox.
by LuAnn Schindler. Learn more about LuAnn and her writing endeavors at http://luannschindler.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter - @luannschindler.
AnotherÂ handy-dandy list of reminders for conference goers!
Be considerate of others:
Donâ€™t bring your children toÂ a writers conference.
Turn your cell phone to off or vibrate. If you receive an emergency call, step out of the room to talk. Donâ€™t text during sessions.
Be on time to sessions.
If you must leave a session for a critique (or any other reason) sitÂ near the doorÂ and leave (or re-enter
We have a joke among my friends that thereâ€™s Work Jessica and just plain old Jessica. Hopefully all of you really only ever see Work Jessica.
Work Jessica is my game face. Itâ€™s the image I want to present to the public. It means that I dress a certain way and act a certain way. And while, hopefully, Work Jessica isnâ€™t too far off from regular Jessica, there are subtle differences. And no, Iâ€™m not going to tell you what they are and ruin the illusion.
Recently, at a conference, I was walking around, sort of confused actually. I had come out of one room in the giant hotel and was trying to get my bearings. Iâ€™ll admit, I was probably weaving and a little scattered. You know the person, youâ€™re trying to walk around her, and just as you are about to go left she weaves left and when you try right she turns right. Well, I was that weaver and yes, itâ€™s irritating, but, since weâ€™re at a conference, we all have our game faces on so we grin (albeit tightly) and finally make our way around. Well, thatâ€™s what we should do.
Apparently the woman behind me didnâ€™t feel the same way. Her solution to the situation was to storm by me, sighing deeply and huffing just a little. She was obviously irritated. The problem with this is that she didnâ€™t know who I was. If she was an unagented author she had just acted incredibly rudely to a potential agent. If she was a bestselling author she had just acted very rudely to a potential reader, and if she was an agented but unpublished author she could have acted very rudely to a potential editor. See, hereâ€™s the thing: When at a business event like that we donâ€™t know whoâ€™s listening in, watching, and just generally paying attention to our every move. And thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to keep our game faces on. When you get up to your room, the door is shut and itâ€™s just you and your roommate and youâ€™re allowed to huff and puff all you want, but when out in public I implore you to try as hard as you can to keep that public persona as charming as possible.
[readerâ€™s name deleted to protect identity] comment prompted me to check his web page, which turns out to be little more than political screed full of hatred and vile language.
We all know agents (like prospective employers) check out potential clients online. I don't mean to pick on [reader]. Rather, this is an earnest question:
When a prospective client's blog or website is full of political ranting (from the left or right), does this affect your decision to represent them, either negatively or positively?
Wouldnâ€™t it be nice if I could say, â€śNo, absolutely not,â€ť but letâ€™s be honest. It will or could, in the same way any political thoughts or rantings I might share on this blog would impact whether or not you might want me to represent you.
Now, certainly youâ€™ll have people who might reject you because your beliefs are different from theirs. In fact, a few years ago I shared a story with you about an editor who rejected a project I was pitching because of his political beliefs. They didnâ€™t align with those of the project, which, granted, was a current affairs/political project. But something I donâ€™t want you to forget is that you might also have people who would not want to represent you because although they might agree with your opinions, they might not like the fact that youâ€™re ranting. Your style of expressing those opinions might be a turn-off.
Ultimately, if the project is great enough, many agents will overlook â€śrantingsâ€ť; that being said, ranting can say a lot more about you as a person than simply what your political beliefs are. How you present yourself might say to an agent that youâ€™re difficult to work with, or would be a handful, and even a great project might not be worth that because, as an old boss of mine used to say, â€ślife is too short.â€ť
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Thanks to everyone who commented yesterday, especially the agents who popped in. Obviously this was an upsetting situation for everyone to read about.
A lot of commenters suggested that publishing is a small world and that the mistake this author made could really be career damaging. I'm not so sure of that. there seems to be a frequently held view that there's this publishing black list and we agents can't wait to drop you there. We're human too and while we can certainly become annoyed and angry in the most humanly way possible, we can also understand mistakes and misunderstandings.
Anyway, I did hear from the author who first asked the question and wanted to post an update. She was really surprised by my answer and the feedback by others on the blog. What she said was, "though I see clearly now how big a mistake I made, at the time, I expected a response more like 'We agents can't represent every genre, and sometimes a writer will take on two agents.' I assure you while I did knowÂ I needed to tell them about one another, I was just afraid of missing an opportunity because they are so rare, and that was cowardly of me, but I was shocked at the overall response I received from you."
Since yesterday morning she was able to get in touch with one of the agents and explain the situation. The agent was incredibly gracious and while she has no experience in both genres is going to continue working with the author on the one book (genre) they've signed for. I did not hear how the other call went, but I do have a sense that all is probably well. If not, I'm a strong believer that if the book is meant to be published she'll find another agent for it.
The author confessed to me that she's sick to learn of her own deceit and hoping to remedy things as quickly as possible. She also hopes that I don't see this as a black mark on her. Trust me, I think we've all been in situations in life we're we've had that sickening pit in our stomach for something we've done whether intentionally or unintentionally and it's not a feeling I want to wish on anyone.
I think Colleen Lindsay said it perfectly yesterday in her comment when she said "oy." I would probably say "uff da" there isn't much else to say. It's an annoying situation and if it happened to me I would be annoyed, but since I only offer representation to projects I'm truly passionate about I also know I wouldn't want to give up a book or a client whose voice I loved for one indiscretion.
I think the author has learned a lesson. In fact I know she has. In her email she said, "I will certainly slow down and think, be less reactionary, and more careful with my career."
And I think that's a lesson we can all take with us.