Friday, April 29, 2011

Competitor or Colleague. Your Attitude Is Critical

At first, the slogan seemed confusing to me. Within the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the leading nonfiction writers group in the U.S., I would often hear, "We train our competition." Why would someone train their competition?

I've been an active member of the ASJA for many years and I've seen the truth of this statement. Our members freely give information about how they snagged a magazine assignment at a top publication including the name of the editor and the details fo their query letter. We readily help each other to land a hard-to-get literary agent or a top book publisher.

Why? Because instead of seeing the world as competitive, we see the world that needs good writers. Plus underlying the slogan is the understanding there is plenty of work for everyone and the greater need is to help as many people as possible to achieve their dreams. Your attitude about the work is critical. In my view, there is plenty of work for everyone. It's more important to view others as colleagues than competition.

Seven years ago, I wrote Book Proposals That Sell which has 97 Five Star reviews on Amazon and continues to sell as an Ebook and a paperback. I often receive emails from authors who have used the book to get the attention of a literary agent or a book contract. Recently I heard that one of my agent friends, Marilyn Allen and her partner Coleen O'Shea released Book Proposals & Query Letters which is a part of mega-selling series, The Complete Idiot's Guide.

I read the book and wrote a five star Amazon review plus I sent the notice of my review out to my network. Why would I do that? Aren't I undercutting my own book sales and audience if I encourage people toward Book Proposals & Query Letters? Aren't they competitors? Not really. There are millions of people who need book proposal help. I would rather work with people as colleagues than consider them competitors. See the difference in attitude?

Here's what I wrote about Book Proposals & Query Letters:

I’ve been in publishing more than 20 years in many different roles (author, magazine editor, co-author, acquisitions editor, literary agent and publisher). If I’m going to read a how-to book about the creation of book proposals and query letters, I want to make sure I’m learning from someone who has the authority and experience on this topic. Marilyn Allen and Coleen O’Shea are publishing experts and this book is written with honesty and authority. It resonates with the undercurrent, “we know what we’re talking about here.” The pages of this book are packed with wisdom and sound counsel—whether you have just decided to write a book or whether you are writing your 31st book. Every author can learn something from reading –and re-reading this book. It deserves your careful study—then most importantly—taking action on their advice and applying it to your submissions.

Here’s the problem: some publishing experts estimate there are six million proposals and manuscripts in circulation at agents and publishers. You only have seconds to make a good first impression. The authors emphasize this important need in their fourth chapter about The E-Mail Query Letter: “Some publishing professionals estimate that only 1 percent of all queries ever result in representation. Put another way: for every 100 queries an agent reads, only one author has a shot at becoming a client. Yes, that means the odds are against you—but they aren’t impossible. As the adage goes, ‘You gotta be in it to win it.’ Increase your chances of getting into that coveted 1 percent by following a few simple ground rules before you even keystroke the word ‘Dear.’” (Page 43-44)

The authors begin with queries but make a clear preference to writing your proposal before you write your query letter. As they explain in a section called “Agents’ Advice”: “This might sound like a no-brainer, but don’t send out a query letter before you have written your book proposal. The query letter might go to the agent or editor first, but you need to have the proposal ready to be sent out as soon as possible when requested. Keep in mind, too, that the query letter might look easy because it’s a short document, but in fact it can be the hardest piece to write.” (Page 40)

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you can improve your queries and book proposals if you take action on the advice in these pages. I read it carefully with a yellow highlighter and found myself nodding and highlighting many sections of this book. THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BOOK PROPOSALS & QUERY LETTERS packs a power punch. I highly recommend it.

Ok, that was my review of this terrific resource that I posted on Amazon. In recent weeks, I've invested a great deal of energy to put together the lessons and details of my online course about book proposal creation: Write A Book Proposal. One of my bestselling fiction author friends called it a "bold new effort." I've not seen anything like it in the marketplace which teaches this step-by-step approach to creating an excellent book proposal. From my perspecitve, there is no competition in this area. I see a massive amount of need from people who would like to get published but haven't a clue how to properly approach a literary agent or book editor with their ideas. The critical element is your attitude and how you see the world around you.

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