Yesterday I was doing some stuff for my day job which required me to study sales as a discipline. Not terribly exciting, really, or so I thought. In fact, I posted this tweet:
But I had been up for a while and was riding a slowly diminishing train of caffeine. And then I saw this series of tweets from one Amy Boggs concerning her query receipt process. Now, if my morning events and afternoon events hadn’t been so neatly joined together as they were, I might have missed the connection entirely. But providence prevailed and I suddenly saw, as from on high, the connection between sales and querying. And it broadened my horizons a little.
In the sales training, there were some basic ideas put forward regarding the intent of selling. And how the worst sales people approach a sale with the wrong intent. If my intent to sell something is to simply separate you from your money in exchange for my product or service, I will hurt any relationship we have or might hope to have. But if I approach selling as a process by which we might become mutually benefited partners? Well that’s a horse of a different color.
So they reduced the sales process to four general ideas and, without reproducing them verbatim, I will translate them into writer speak for the hope of helping out you as a writer seeking an agent.
1. Are we an okay match on the surface?
Do they represent my genre? Are they open to queries? Do they represent authors similar to my style? All of these things fit within this rubric. Think of it like a dating site match. Would this person even sit down and share a meal with me? Well not if we have absolutely nothing in common. So step one, more or less, is stopping this idea that an agent is this authoritarian grinch who has a giant REJECTED stamp, just waiting to slam it upon the fragile stack of papers you humbly submitted. No, you are looking for a partner. The relationship has to be mutually beneficial, else it won’t work on any level.
2. Should there be another conversation/level/date?
The next question would typically come in the form of a request for more materials or a full manuscript. So yes, you both think this partnership could work, at least tentatively. You aren’t totally sure, but there is enough there there, to make the exploration a good idea.
3. Are you ready for this?
This question is where your agent hasn’t passed, has asked for more materials, and now it’s time to decide if this partnership could not only work, but could work well. Agents get rejected when they pitch your work. Agents have to know that they know that they know that they can sell your work. And yes, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get started, but this would be the final step in most author’s eyes. But it’s not.
4. Are you ready for this… with me?
This is the marriage proposal. This is the signing of the contract. This is: we matched, we had a good second date, we wanted to take this further… will you marry me moment.
And I get it, you think this is just another outlining/redefinition of the query process, but I want you to zoom out and see it bigger than that. How are you selling your book? Or are you? If you think about it in those sales/dating terms, most writers are horrible at this. I know I am pretty bad at it. But I can improve. And so can you. Looking at querying less like a high pressure used car sale and more like a proposal for partnership changes the paradigm you’re working with.
Would you approach someone as a business partner without knowing they were the best fit for your business type, style, or market? Would you be personally offended if someone, who knows their own time, energy, and resource limits best, declined to become your partner? Would you want to be in business with someone who you didn’t fully trust or believe in?
I would hope your answers to all of those questions would be no. As I pursue an agent, I want one who is excited about my work. I want one who has sold stuff just like mine. I want a partner. I want to be able to throw an idea at them and they go, “Hell yes!” or “Really? Maybe not the best idea,” and I trust them because we already went through those four steps above.
So me personally? I am going to quit thinking about querying as a numbers/waiting game. Instead, I am going to work my butt off to find a partner. And will I be successful because I have this all figured out? As always, the odds say no. But I wouldn’t be an author if I didn’t enjoy being the underdog.