Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Overzealous Writers

It is good to be enthused about your book project. I admire writers who want to get their proposal or pitch letter into perfect shape. In this business publishing environment, it’s a good idea to follow-up after a period (then be prepared for rejection if you rattle that cage). It’s a fine line between enthusiasm and professionalism vs overzeal and poor first impressions. Writers never cease to amaze me with their originality and I’m going to recount a couple of incidents which have happened in the last two weeks—so they are completely new—at least to me.  Some times you think you’ve seen everything—but I know firsthand that some writer will always come up with some new twist on an old story. Yesterday’s newspaper highlighted the local Phoenix-based company that has a photo system to catch speeding cars. The photo with this article was amazing. It showed a speeding driver who was playing the trumpet while driving.  If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would not believe it. Writers are constantly providing new twists on the submission process.

Here’s a revelation for you: my public mailing address is a post office box. It’s not an office or my home address. It’s simply a mailbox. Last week a writer dropped into my address. He was visiting his son in Scottsdale and decided that he would like to meet me face to face.  On the surface it was an innocent idea.  When he realized my address was a mailbox, he told the owner that he was a “friend” of mine then left his cell phone number.  After he left the shop, the owner called me and gave me the information. Now I have a number of friends and a large Rolodex of names and addresses but this name didn’t register at all. I called the number and it turns out this writer had sent a query letter proposing a novel. He failed to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response—nor did he include an email address. Either one would work but he didn’t take the professional stance. It was information I didn’t know when I returned his call. I gently explained that I’ve logged over 300 of these types of submissions since January—for six to eight possible spots. Yes, I have a record or log of these submissions. Now I wrote down his name during our call and looked for his query letter. I found it in my stack of unanswered mail. Then I called a second time about his lack of including a response mechanism. He gave me an email address which I added to his letter. It’s still unanswered but I hope you will see that I took extra ordinary action to connect with this writer. Most editors would have shrugged it and rejected his pitch in a heart beat. I hope this writer learned something from our interaction. First, don’t assume you can drop by the editor’s office for a visit. Second, make sure you don’t oversell—like when you say you are a friend and in reality you have no relationship. Finally, give the editor a way to respond—or you will be hard pressed to get any response from the editor.

The reality is editors receive thousands of these submissions. Last weekend at the writer’s conference in Philadelphia, one editor mentioned a website he gives to authors for submissions. It’s not my place to include this particular publisher’s site but here’s the added bit of information this editor orally gave the conference during a panel of book editors—if you don’t hear from someone within four months—then consider your response to be “no.” How’s that for a bit of reality?

Or another author called my home phone number with a simple agenda: to see if I was male or female. This writer had been to the Howard Books guidelines site and was ready to pitch her novel idea to me. She wanted to make sure she didn’t address me as Ms. Terry Whalin (which happens rather frequently). Now this question is an easy one to answer—and it doesn’t require calling the editor’s home phone number. Go to any Google search engine, click on “images” and type my name into the search engine. In a heartbeat, you will locate my photo and know how to answer your question about whether I am male or female. Now what sort of first impression did this writer make with her submission?

Finally, here’s a third story from yesterday.  Last month in Denver as a part of the International Christian Retail Show, I met with a number of new writers as a part of the CLASS Publishing Connections.  One of these writers wrote a short thank you note to me. Her intentions were great and appreciated. Yet she didn’t fully listen to my brief talk to the group—where I mentioned that I work remote from the publishing house in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nor did she process the information on my business card which lists my Scottsdale mailing address. Instead, she sent her thank you note to the editorial offices in West Monroe.  I don’t get much of my physical mail in these offices, so someone had to address an envelope and send me this thank you note.  The note when the long way to reach me—and it required additional energy from the editorial office personnel. I could have read it, appreciated the note and pressed on to other things. Instead, I took the effort and wrote this writer calling it to her attention. She responded and expressed appreciation for my extra effort.

Each of us want to be professional in our presentations and book proposals. It’s key to develop and foster relationships with editors and other writers.  It’s the only way we learn about this business. I’ve made my fair share of goofs along the journey so please don’t take it that I’m perfect in this area. I’m a work in progress but my hope is these stories have helped you in the journey.

7 Comment:

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Michelle Pendergrass Left a note...

'Tis the little things! :D

I've been known to be a teeny bit obsessive in my attention to those tiny details, but I can recall several instances in which they've been the one thing that makes all the difference.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Robert Left a note...

New authors suffer from a dearth of patience and an overabundance of confidence in our work. Just getting someone, anyone, to read the manuscript is a sure ticket to success. However, showing up unannounced at an editor’s office seems like a good way to earn a rejection, if not a restraining order. Being overzealous about anything is usually a recipe for disaster.

I appreciate the honest advice you provide. It has helped me to become more professional and to realize some of the blunders I’ve already made.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Sharon Hinck Left a note...

I feel for the poor acquisitions editors who are besieged by wild-eyed writers at conferences or via mail and email. I still giggle at the story of a female author who started to follow an agent into the men's room while pitching her book.

But I also appreciate your gentle approach to the missteps, Terry. We neophyte writers are struggling to absorb a zillion snippets of advice and sometimes stumble into blush-worthy mistakes. Thanks for your patience and sense of humor as you educate us about what NOT to do. :-)

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Jerome Left a note...

Terry, the diligent writer who suddenly appeared at "your door step" reminds me of an episode from The Walton's where John Boy Walton arrived unannounced at an editor's office and refused to leave until the editor reviewed his submission!

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Carol Cool Left a note...


I always love to hear these stories! I do have to confess, though, that once, in pre-e-mail days, I called an editor's office late at night to leave a message, following up on a query. I figured the message allowed the editor time to locate the query before having to speak to me. Unfortunately, the editor was burning the midnight oil at the office and answered my phone call. So I still disturbed her.

I'm so thankful for e-mail.

At 5:22 AM, Blogger Cindy Thomson Left a note...

I think that sometimes writers take the advice given at writers conferences so seriously that they fail to use their common sense. The story about the writer who called to see if you were male or female may have heard the old advice that we should call to make sure we have the editor's name correct--since editors move around a lot.

But I have no excuse to make for the man who dropped in on your post office box! A little creepy. Glad I went out and got a PO Box myself!

At 10:36 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun Left a note...

Terry, you are so right! I remember which gentleman made the comment about four months meaning no. That got quite a rise out of the audience!


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