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What are you really advertising? (Brutally concise query advice from lit agent Janet Reid)

I saw a comment complaining about how bitchy the Query Shark is, so I popped over for a look and found a laser-accurate (if merciless) post that begins thusly:
"I am the author of (redacted), published by Publish America."

And that's where I stop reading. If you've had a book printed by any of these template houses that profess to publish but in fact do not offer any of the additional value of a publisher, for the love of Mike, don't mention it. Ever. This is not a publishing credential. It's also a huge disadvantage. Once you've published a book, you're no longer a debut author. It's MUCH easier to sell a debut novel than a second or third from a writer who hasn't enjoyed robust sales.
At the end of her post, Janet cautions aspiring authors against groveling. You may think you're being modest or respectful, but in fact, the message you're sending is that you don't respect your work enough to champion it in the marketplace.

Sixteen years ago, I got some equally straight-shooting advice from an unexpectedly candid collection agency thug who'd called to shake me down for a hospital bill. Drowning in the expenses and lost income from my cancer treatment, Gary and I had turned to Consumer Credit Counseling Service, who advertised that they could make arrangements with our creditors and help us avoid bankruptcy. When I told ThickNeck that we hoped our enrolling in the program would send a message that we were nice, responsible folks, he actually laughed out loud.

"The message you're sending," he said, "is that you need a babysitter to pay your bills for you. At this rate, it'll be twenty years before you get out from under the medical debts. Declare bankruptcy. Send the message that you got wiped out by a lousy situation that wasn't your fault. You'll be able to get a mortgage in two years." (Two years after our subsequent bankruptcy, I asked the the loan officer handling our mortgage if this was true, and sure enough, it was.)

When people invite me to speak for free because "it would be great exposure," I have to remind myself that I don't want to be exposed as someone who works for free. Same goes for people asking me to write proposals "on spec" or for a fraction of my asking fee because they have lots of big time friends and would pass my name around. The last thing I need is to advertise myself -- in any crowd -- as Bargain Bin Betty. On the flip side, I'm preparing to shop a proposal I've been working on for three years without being paid a dime. When I meet with editors in New York next week, I hope they'll see that as a sign of my unreserved passion for this project. And I think they will, because I'm known as a person who doesn't just give my work away.

I don't cut my rates for the same reason I don't miss deadlines or get drunk at publishing parties or show up for meetings in my jammy pants: I worked hard to establish a solid professional rep. I work even harder to maintain it.

So there's some straight talk for you. If you can take a little more, click here to read the rest of Janet's excellent advice.


Excellent, important advice, Joni. So often, writers are encouraged, expected, or browbeaten to feel "honored" that they've been asked to do things (for free) that take time from the task they're being paid (or working with that expectation) to do. I've tried, both as an author and a volunteer with writers' organizations, to get across the message that a gift of time is just that - a gift. Not an obligation. And it needs to be received with appreciation, whether it comes in the form of an honorarium, hosted book-signing, lunch out, or a sincere thank you.

Publishers also take advantage of authors by dumping on them a host of uncontracted tasks, often in the name of publicity/promotion and always at the expense of time to complete paying work. When it comes to this, you have to weigh the cost-benefit ratio - and every so often, respectfully decline.

The more I think about this topic, Joni, the more I think we should run Harlan Ellison's famous (and awesome) "Pay the Writer!" rant at least once every six months. If a woman went off like this, I'm sure she'd be branded an insufferably bi-atch, but there are times that every writer, male or female, should probably just save time and forward the link. :)
Joni Rodgers said…
Seriously! Harlan's my (anti)hero.
Diane_Holmes said…
I loved this little lesson in "sending messages."

I've recently been out on Query Shark, keeping up with the latest query advice... and I was shocked at how mean-spirited some of the comments were... by other writers. And by that I mean unprofessional, crush-your-soul comments.

Seriously. People who do this, on a blog run by an agent, are so certain that they're right, they never stop to think that one or more agents is paying attention to writers who are not only good writers but also potential good clients.

If writers can't be good to fellow writers, imagine how they treat "other" people....
This is great, great advice, and you KNOW I agree with it. The problem is that so many of the people who ask for free services don't even realize the worth of the person they're asking. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. It's about respect.

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