Monday, June 20, 2011

Selling Yourself, and Selling Yourself Short

"I'm the first to admit that I'm not much of a writer, but I have stories burning inside me, and I want a professional book editor/agent such as yourself to help shape my work..."
This is not an actual quote, but it might as well be.  I get similar in the inbox several times a week.

Problems with this thinking:

First, I am not an editor, and though I might wear a fancy cape on occasion, I am also not a magician.

Oh, I can certainly help my authors put the polish on their already-terrific manuscripts, but turning your uncooked lump of Idea Dough into a delicious Book Pie is not my job. That you've presented your query in such a way shows a real lack of understanding about what agents are for, and is a sure sign that you are not ready yet.

But more importantly, the line "I'm not much of a writer" is a real turnoff. The query is the only thing I have on you at this point. Self-deprecation is unattractive. If you are saying it because you are being coy, or because you don't want to come off as braggy, or because you really think that you aren't a writer unless you are published, I have news for you: Writers write. If you write, you are a writer. It isn't a title that has to be bestowed on you by the Queen of Booklandia. I read a tweet yesterday that I liked and retweeted:
"You're not a writer till a writer says you're a writer." -Harlan Ellison // Okay then.  "All you people who write? You're writers." -Me
 I work for writers. Real, professional-level writers.  If you "aren't much of a writer," I will never, ever sign you as a client. Call me crazy, but I really do want writers who are GREAT AT WRITING. It is a prerequisite, in fact. I have a ton of faith in the writers I represent, and even when they are feeling low about it, I know that they can do amazing things with words. They've proved it to me.

But as a person querying, I don't know you yet. I can't possibly have more confidence in your work than you do.

I'm not suggesting you puff yourself up or brag. Just be straightforward. If you're applying for a job as Town Blacksmith, you say that you're a Blacksmith, not a Baker. Or better yet, you say nothing about it, and let the 'smithing tell the story for you.