Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing: Make it Your Business to Make a Good First Impression

If you’re serious about writing, then treat it as a business.  Treat what you write as marketable assets that have value.  Right now, in your own eyes they may seem like unsalable stories, just words on paper (or inside your computer), but later, they can become properties that you own the rights to.  You never know.  The short stories that I wrote over twenty years ago and published as Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann Asia 1993) and Lovers and Strangers Revisited (MPH 2005) have been published 80 times in 12 countries, and now the collection is being translated into French.  Who knows what the future holds for these stories.  Already I’m getting some interest in having them translated into Bahasa Melayu.

Novels have grown out of short stories, so have movies, such as Brokeback Mountain.  So have plays and even musicals.  Cats, a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on collection of whimsical poems from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.  From poems to one of the longest running musicals in history!

With every business, there will be ups and downs.  Accept it.  It’s what you do on a daily basis, your constantly moving forward despite any setbacks, that will ultimately determine the success of your business.  Setbacks are just that, a time to rethink your goals and maybe your strategies (writing, marketing and publicity), as I did after I blogged two Steps Forward, One Step Back after one of my novels failed to advance to the third round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  Sure it hurt.  But right away I began looking at my other two novels and I ended up changing both of their titles too and began overhauling them.  I even began submitting to agents again.  Quickly got a hit, followed by another.

Of course I got pretty excited on that second hit but two days later quickly deflated when that very same agent gave it pass.  It happens, just accept it as part of doing business.  Not every customer will buy from you.  She wrote that she received 5000 novel queries a year.  Even after I sent off the first two chapters of the novel two days ago, I vowed that if this agent turns it down (again, a strictly a business decision), I would hit her again with a third novel this morning.  (I’m taking a break from revising the synopsis, which I also thoroughly overhauled two days ago.)  The synopsis, by the way, was already pretty good, but in this competitive market, it has to be great.  It must stand out above the competition, those other 5000 queries and pitches that most agents receive every year.  Many get twice that many.  So in order to sell my writing assets, my pitch and my accompanying synopsis have to be great, so the agent will request not just samples chapters but the entire novel.  So I began tweaking it, then rewriting it, and finally overhauling the whole thing!

As I wrote in my previous blog, writing is a team effort, a relay event. Just make sure when the opportunity comes, when an agent makes that request, you make a successful handoff, and the only way to do that is by being prepared in advance with your pitches, your synopsis, your sample chapters, and your entire novel.  You only get a few chances to make a great impact (of course you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a lousy impact or a really bad first impression, if you’re not careful!)

This is a business and you’re making a business proposal to an agent, and if you’re successful, the agent will then make a business proposal on your behalf to sell one of your writing assets.  If the agent (or publisher) says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” don’t let it ruin your day.  It’s business; nothing personal.  Just keep at it, and maybe the next one will really make your day, as happened recently to one of my friends

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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