Charmed, I’m Sure

Dear Editor:

You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!

In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning? 

Cheers,

Tamela

Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works. When any author insists on pitching to me over the phone or meeting me in person other than at a writers conference, I have found too often that these authors want to use their force of personality to sell their book. After all, it’s hard to turn someone down in person. Now the author’s personality is crucial if he or she already has a large speaking ministry, especially for non-fiction. But I’m not talking about a household name here, I’m referring to much greener authors.

The fact is that authors communicate one way: through words on the page. While e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook have changed the landscape as to how we consume the printed word, the fact remains that writers are still communicating this way, not in person over lunch. No editor cares how often I’ve had a meal with an author, if the author is my best friend, or even if the author is barely speaking to me. The editor cares about the author’s book. Is the author able to convey timeless truths in nonfiction or a compelling story in a novel? The words are what readers will see and how they will judge an author. An amazing personality and speaking ability is a bonus (sometimes termed as “media-ready”) but it only goes so far.

Bottom line: If you feel compelled to pitch your book in person or on the telephone and that is the only way you feel you can get your point across, I recommend that you take a long, hard look at your manuscript. Learn to convey your excitement in your written words. When you do, you will be well on your way to becoming published.

28 Responses to Charmed, I’m Sure

  1. Pete Missing February 16, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    I regularly engage people and so often find that as soon as they say too much or try to hard to convince me, they are sure to be hiding something.

    Look, I am a lover of words and I like to speak through that medium, especially as it is the only way I can build my personal brand as a writer, but even as a writer I have faced many a boss in corporate life who said, “if it doesn’t fit on one page, you don’t know what you are talking about”. That extended to printed documents, which if too nice, too done up or too thick, tended to be treated with prejudice.

    There is an English expression, “methinks he protesteth too much”, that comes to mind. Another one is “Less is more”.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 16, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      I like to think of a quote attributed to Mark Twain. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

  2. Rick Barry February 16, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Tamela, I enjoyed your fictitious letter and the good point you make. However, it reminded me of something I was noting a couple days ago. It seems that many new writers are furiously spinning their wheels in search of the perfect web site development team, a knockout book trailer, tweeting about their favorite breakfast cereal, and other “peripherals” in hopes of selling a manuscript. While such things can be pluses, it seems to me an author’s actual writing must remain the primary focus. No matter how good the hype, a ho-hum manuscript is still mediocre. (I speak from experience. I have a couple yawners stashed in a drawer!)

    I believe many aspiring writers could benefit from your bottom line: “Learn to convey your excitement in your written words.” Thanks for this.

    • Pete Missing February 16, 2012 at 5:58 am #

      You are right and wrong. Marketing for new and existing writers is a continuous effort and that does require a sensitivity to appearances, as in the look and feel of a website, participation in social networks, interaction with readers etc. I would be really surprised if a publisher would ignore an aspirant writer’s initiatives in that regard. That said, what we have learnt in the internet is that content always trumps style, or at least to a point – style and presentation is more of a hygiene factor, without which content is unlikely to be a consideration, but that is as far as it should go. as such, Search Engine Optimisation is the logic of confirming that the content is there and that it fulfils the promise in the shop window (style).

      • Tamela Hancock Murray February 16, 2012 at 9:26 am #

        Yes, an Internet presence is quite important. You want to show publishers that your fans can find you to learn more about you. But of course, tons of animation on a web site and 100 Tweets a day won’t convince people to buy a book they don’t want.

  3. Sharon A Lavy February 16, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    Why is the twitter button missing? Somebody fix it please!

    • Pete Missing February 16, 2012 at 5:59 am #

      I stole it – my cat was hungry.

    • Steve Laube February 16, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Try hitting the refresh command on your browser. It shows up on our computer screens just fine.

      • Sharon A Lavy February 16, 2012 at 8:05 am #

        Okay, guess it is a glitch. It does not show up on mine even after I refresh. But I love your blog enough to do the cut and paste twice thinggy to get it tweeted.

  4. Miles Allen February 16, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    This may not be true for new authors, being one after a complete change in career, I have found that great content isn’t enough in the beginning. My book seems to wow my new readership with ‘couldn’t put it down’ and ‘when is book two out’ being asked by just about all who have fed back comments. And yet not one publisher nor agent went with the manuscript. I’m self-published now and the book is already selling 100 copies a month and growing in momentum. I do this by getting out there with as many book signings as possible and as much PR as I can produce. For me, I’ve learned that getting started is about allowing people to meet you and like you and trust you enough take a punt on your book. So I think the charming aspect counts to get the ball rolling with your readership. The word is getting out and my books are selling through word of mouth. I see a magnitude change in the role of Editors in the future.

    • Steve Laube February 16, 2012 at 7:56 am #

      Miles,
      There is no “one size fits all” in publishing. You may have had great comments about your manuscript but the publishers either didn’t do they type of book, didn’t like the manuscript, had just purchased something similar, or were concerned about the lack of size in the platform.

      What Tamela so wonderfully stated is that it starts with the writing. Every time. But there are some who think that if they can just pitch it in person the sale can be made.

      In Texas I’ve heard that described as “All hat and no cattle.”

      Steve

    • Timothy Fish February 16, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      I think that depends on a number of things. I have one book that I tried to produce the best content I could, but I suspect that its success comes more from the title than from the content.

  5. Lindsay Harrel February 16, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Thanks for an inside look at your world, Tamela. I actually prefer communicating via the written word (text, blog, email) since I get more flustered in person or on the telephone (more so on the telephone because there is no body language to read!). However, I know that a balance is always needed and sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone.

    Overall, it seems our best bet is to keep working on our craft and improving our writing. Then if we have a good personality to boot, we have a much better chance at getting a book deal.

  6. Wynette February 16, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    I was composing the most outlandish pitch letter in my head while reading this post. (I have an ornery side.) I am not sure it would be as funny to agents as it would seem to me. I have never considered the amount of contact you must get.
    I once read somewhere that a certain publishing company would not even consider a manuscript unless they felt it would sell a minimum of 20,000 copies.
    All in all should I ever feel the need to send a pitch this is really good information.
    Thanks

  7. Candy Arrington February 16, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    This reminds me of the woman who had an appointment with me at a writers’ conference. She sat down, plopped the manuscript of her life story on the table, told me how socially prominent she was, how well-respected she was in her community, that she had four daughters who were all socially prominent and well-respected in their communities and could sell her book to their “circles of influence,” told me how interesting the story of her life was, and then leaned forward and said, “Now, what can you do for me?” Not much.

    • Rick Barry February 16, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      That’s hilarious. And it wasn’t April Fool’s Day?

    • Iola February 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      Ouch.

      Every website I read says that agent and publishers are not accepting memoirs, so I suspect this woman’s daughters and their ‘circles of influence’ represent the entire potential market for her life story. Tell her that a vanity publisher would love to help her?

  8. Heather Day Gilbert February 16, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I LOVE this post. Starting out as a writer, you hear much about how you MUST go to expensive conferences and sell your personality to connect with an agent. But I agree, if the writing stinks, no amount of personality is going to cover it. Thank you for giving those wanna-be debut authors the liberty to focus on their craft FIRST.

  9. Laurie Alice Eakes February 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    conferences help. It’s good to pitch to an editor and, I, who have sold thirteen books and three novellas, have never once sold something I pitched to an editor. Tamela took me on upon the strength of my writing, too.

    some writers, though, have the ability to project their personalities into their stories. And if an editor has one slot and can choose between two books, seems to me she might pick the one where she has met the author and knows she can get along with her. Maybe I’m wrong in this, and it rather makes sense to me. Better the author you know and all that…

    And web presence is definitely de rigueur. If it’s icky, it can get one a rejection, and I do know of people who have gotten rejections for a lack of that web presence. but sho knows if a web personality is the real person?

  10. Lenore Buth February 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    When I started writing I believed what mattered most was how I write. That felt comforting, because whether I succeeded or not, at least I had some control over what and how I wrote.

    Now practially everything aimed at writers says we must do it ALL, especially have a platform. Do the blog that attracts at least hundreds per day, along with Facebook, Twitter and all the rest, PLUS maintain a snazzy website and a mailing list.

    It’s not surprising that we writers wonder whether the quality of our writing has slipped into second place.

    Thank you, Tamela, for taking a different tack. I love this sentence: “Is the author able to convey timeless truths in nonfiction or a compelling story in a novel?”

    That’s what I’ve always tried to do, but lately I’ve wondered if it’s enough.

  11. karen Ball February 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    I can tell you that the quality of writing is the first and most important factor, but it’s not, by any means, the only factor. So yes, you have to refine your craft until it’s outstanding. But anyone who wants to become a success in today’s publishing environment needs to find ways to use social media to their advantage. It’s a hard truth nowadays: while you don’t have to do it all, you do have to do a lot more than ever before.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

      So thrilled you stopped by, Karen! Yes, authors do need to be aware of and active on social media. Isn’t it fun how Twitter forces us to be creative with no more than 144 characters? Yet another way to hone our craft. :D

      • Pilar March 28, 2012 at 8:08 am #

        That is definitely true!! :)

  12. Kim Taylor February 23, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Loved this!

  13. Dina Sleiman March 28, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    LOL. This reminded me of a woman I met in Blue Ridge last year when I was representing WhiteFire. The conversation ended with me telling her she was an awesome salesperson with a great personality, now she just needs to learn to write. I also mentioned that she needed to listen to what she was being asked and respond appropriately because every time I questioned her about her writing experience, she steered the conversation away from the topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *