Monday, 10 January 2011

Interviews - when writers have nothing to say

Ask me about my books and I could talk for hours, but me as a writer, ah, not so much. In a recent interview I realised as an author I have nothing new or insightful to add about me or my profession. Not because I'm a boring or monosyllabic person; in fact, my friends keep telling me I'm quite the chatty type, sometimes even too chatty which has helped in my career as a freelance PR professional. It's just that it's hard to talk about something I don't actually over-analyse which is why I thought giving the answers I did was fine until I read the interview and realised it wasn't the best I ever gave. Had I babbled like that in a press conference or at the launch of a new product, my employer would've seriously considered sacking me.

So, why is it that we have nothing interesting to say about ourselves or our profession? After musing for a few days, I've come to the conclusion that I haven't really thought about my image and what I'm supposed to convey. A writer's a bit like an actor; we need to prepare ourselves in order to appear mysterious yet approachable, insightful yet modest, but in no way mundane.
Don't pretend to be someone you're not because people will see right through it. Just research your personality like a good PR manager would research a brand and focus on the interesting traits that help you stand out from the crowd. If you're funny, then by all means go on and build your image around this part of your character and your audience will come to acknowledge you for your humour. If you're super-clever and articulate, then that's what you should focus on. It may not make what you have to say more interesting, but people will start to see the personality behind it, and in our competitive world seeing a human side behind a brand or product is what can make a difference whether your audience starts to like you and buys your books. Decide on an image and keep it consistent as you build it, and your audience will start to perceive you as someone they 'know'. That's one of the tricks to branding: connect to your audience in a way that truly reflects who you are. Put your character behind your words and whatever you say will suddenly appear to have more depth even if it's all been said before.

To your publishing success!

Friday, 7 January 2011

How to handle rejection letters

After writing five books, I've seen my fair share of rejection letters from publishers. I'm still not as thick-skinned as I'd like to be, but I've learned enough about the publishing business to know rejection letters from agents or editors don't mean a thing. Usually, that is, unless it's a rejection on a full which is likely to send anyone into sulking mode for at least a few hours.
It doesn't matter how commercial or unique your work is, let's face it, you're unknown and unpublished (Kindle doesn't count) so most people won't even look at your query, let alone go to all that trouble of reading the pasted sample. Hence, in most cases, the rejection will be based on your query letter or, worse, on genre/word count/the agent not being open to submissions at all. That's one of the reasons why you shouldn't take rejection letters personally, but here's a few more:

1. Agents don't usually mean to belittle writers because they're professional. Hence, even if an agent tells you they wouldn't know how to sell your work, it doesn't mean your work's that bad but rather that they don't have the necessary contacts (i.e., editors) to whom to talk about your work.

2. Every published author has been rejected at some point. Even the big names like JK Rowling, Anne Rice, Stephen King. Yes, all of them, and if you don't believe me, then by all means go on and do a Google search. So, you see, rejection isn't necessarily a reflection of how bad your work is. It's simply a matter of taste, time, risk, being unknown, living in the wrong part of the world etc.

3. 'This isn't right for us' means exactly that. You may have submitted the right genre, but the agent may not connect with the work. Remember, taste is relative, particularly when it comes to humour and style. So, be grateful for the answer since it's become common practice not to give any answer at all, and move on to the next bunch. You wouldn't want to be represented by someone who isn't fully committed to your work anyway because your project deserves the best attention it can receive.

4. Perhaps you weren't convincing enough in your query letter? If the rejection letters keep flooding in, don't hesitate to take another look at your query letter. The culprit might be right there.

Even if no one shows any interest in your book, don't give up because there's more to publishing than finding an agent or publisher. Work on building an audience platform for your next book and keep writing. Sooner or later, you will get noticed.

To your publishing success!