Impopular Culture

Impopular Culture

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Coming at the world from an unexpected angle, far too fast to stop.

The Business End - Lesson 1

WritingPosted by Pelotard 2011-01-05 22:55:57

In blogs and message boards, I see a lot of confusion when aspiring writers approach agents and publishers. Most of us seem to take everything personally. A select few have groked that we’re approaching a business, and try to remember what marketing is supposed to look like.

We invariably fail.

I’ve decided to do a series on business in my blog. Sure, what I know about the publishing business could be written on a stamp without having to rub the Queen out first. But I do have some business credentials. I’ve run a translation agency, for instance. And almost all I’ve done for a living for the past 15 years has involved what is known as ”B2B”—Business to Business, i.e., a company selling something to another company.

If you don’t know what this has to do with writing, you absolutely need to read this.

The moment you send something off to a publisher, a magazine, an agent, anyone in publishing, you’ve stopped being a species of artist. You’ve become a businessperson.

Repeat this: ”I’m a businessperson”. Keep repeating until you believe it.

You are trying to sell something (your text) to a company (Random House). They see you as another company, trying to sell your services to them. OK, they don’t expect you to suddenly acquire a degree in sales. But they do expect you to behave with something akin to professionalism.

Lesson One:

Do Not Take Anything Personally.

It’s hard to do when rejections pile up in your mailbox. But the people at the other end are running a business. They’re trying to show a profit, not because they’re evil capitalists trying to debase everything that’s beautiful and artistic, but because they have to put bread on the table, every day. If they don’t believe your text can put bread on their tables, they’re not going to offer a contract.

Sure, most people in publishing are there because they love good writing. Some even publish poetry, for the luvva, the only reliable way to get rid of money faster is to set fire to it. But they have mortgages to pay, children to clothe, stomachs to feed. Remember this. It’s not about the writing being good (although that’s certainly a factor), it’s about the writing being sellable. For the bread to arrive on the table, ultimately, people will have to be willing to hand over money for getting the experience of reading what you wrote. If you can’t accept that, go do something else.

So, the first thing you need to do is to get rid of your ego. Approach everything with an analytical mind—a bit like Spock, if you will. Another rejection? Your covering letter isn’t doing its job. Or your writing. Don’t mope (OK: fifteen minutes of complete self-pity is acceptable), don’t whine, try to find the problem and fix it.

Swedish has a beautiful phrase for this: Gilla läget. ”Like the situation”. No matter what mess you find yourself in, the way to get it sorted is not to sit and stare into space, wishing that things were otherwise. You have to like the situation, deal with it as it is, and find a solution.

This does not mean being rude to the publisher who rejected you, gloating in front of agents who rejected you when your novel tops the bestseller lists, or hating the ”gatekeepers” and believing that the fault must lie with the thousands of people in publishing, not with you. It means that you try to behave in a way that makes them like you.

More on that in the next post.

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