Brian Whiddon, the Managing Editor and WritersWeekly ,and the Operations Manager at BookLocker, is filling in for Angela this week. His posts always rile folks up, so enjoy! 😉
For me, coming to work for WritersWeekly and BookLocker meant having to learn several new skill sets, and adapting old skill sets to serve me best in this new environment. Publishing and writing are unique businesses, to be sure. In the past, I sold tangible products that could be picked up, manipulated, and used, as well as professional services, which could be weighed out by the potential client as something that would or would not benefit them.
WORKING WITH AUTHORS
In the literary world, I am a purveyor of thoughts, ideas, and feelings…all transmitted by words on paper, or an electronic screen. As the Operations Manager at BookLocker, I must weigh out each book manuscript to determine if it (and its creator) have what it takes to generate ongoing sales. (Remember, at BookLocker, our prices are so low because we break even on setup fees, and earn our profits on book sales.)
WORKING WITH FREELANCE WRITERS
When it comes to feature article and success story queries for WritersWeekly, I look for what I think is going to keep readers riveted to their screens. Our content needs to grab attention, and leave the reader with new ideas on how THEY can make money (or MORE money) from their own writing. Other articles help authors sell more books. Perhaps those readers will even choose to click on over to the WritersWeekly Author Service Center, and seek assistance with copyrighting services, original cover design, illustration services, website design, and much more.
The bottom line is that this is a business. Like you, our employees have to pay for housing, feed their families, keep the lights and water on, fuel their cars, pay taxes, raise their children, and more. So, if you sell your writing, you should be of the mindset that YOU are a professional. That means you are offering something of value (your thoughts, ideas, creativity, and/or expertise) in exchange for money. And, here at WritersWeekly, we don’t trade ad space (nor sell advertising at all), swap guest posts, or deal in banner exchanges. We simply pay money for the articles we like, week after week. We purchase 52 feature articles and 52 freelance success stories every year.
Two types of pitches that are 99% guaranteed to fail are what I call:
- The“sympathy” pitch
- The “scatter-gunner” pitch.
Let me paint two mental pictures for you, if I might. Imagine you’re shopping for a specific brand of car. You don’t NEED it right now. Yours is running fine. But, you’ve got some money socked away and you are willing to make the move if you find something that really grabs your attention. At the first dealership, a salesman walks up, greets you, and starts showing you around the lot. With each car, he points out the things that are wrong with it. He says he wouldn’t blame you for not buying the car, but that he hasn’t made a sale all month, and really needs the money. He tells you that no one else has been willing to help him out and, if you don’t buy a car today, he’s all washed up, and will probably be unemployed by the end of the week.
After fleeing this guy, you go to another dealer. You stand in the lot looking around. A guy sticks his head out of the showroom door, coffee cup in hand, and hollers, “You here to buy a car?” You ask him if he has the particular brand you’re looking for. He hollers back that he doesn’t care what brand you need, that he knows you’ll want what he has to offer, and that you should go ahead and come back to his office with your checkbook open.
Would you buy from either one of these guys?
Believe it or not, I get pitches from writers using these angles almost every day. And, these pitches don’t sell writing any better than they sell cars.
Writing for money is a business. Plain and simple. And, part of that business is communicating one-on-one with someone to convince them that the words you write are something that they need – AND that providing that need is important to you.
A good pitch should contain a balance of:
“I have an article that I know your readers are going to really sink their teeth into. I’ve reviewed your publication and guidelines, and this piece will fit right in with your content. Let me tell you about it…”)
“I’d like to write an article for your publication on (insert topic here). Would you allow me to send you a draft? If it’s not quite what you’re looking for, I can certainly tweak it based on any feedback you give me.”
Confidence and caring are two essential things that you, the “seller,” must project to the “buyer” (that’s me, or anyone else you’re pitching to) in order to open them up to making the transaction with you. But, oddly enough, a lot of writers are terrible at this. They would rather write than try to sell their writing. And, I get that. But, like it or not, pitching stories, manuscripts, or articles is just another type of sales skill.
THE “SYMPATHY” PITCH
A proposal we recently received at BookLocker sounded an awful lot like the first car salesman. Here it is:
“I have a manuscript I’m trying to get published. I can’t convince anyone else to publish it, so I’ve come to you hoping that you can help me out. I know it needs a LOT of editing. I really need to get this out there.”
First of all, this guy’s second sentence not only condemns his own work, but attempts to condemn BookLocker as well, without ever having met any of us. He’s basically saying that his work is so bad that nobody wants to publish it. Additionally, he’s assuming that we will put our own reputation at risk by publishing a book of such poor quality under our name.
Pointing out that he KNOWS the manuscript needs “a LOT of editing” is saying to us that he is perfectly willing to push substandard work onto us, And, it says that he was too lazy to take the time to review his work, and fix his errors. Microsoft Word isn’t perfect but its “spell check” and other automatic checking features are pretty darned good. And, if you aren’t sure why Word underlined something in your text, you can always Google it. There is simply no excuse to submit a manuscript (book or article) to any publisher or editor “knowing” that it needs to be edited.
From a marketing point of view, how eager do you think I will be to bet this company’s reputation on a manuscript written by someone who is already confessing to such apathy and laziness? Does this author sound to you like a “go getter” who is going to get online every day, and promote his book?
Finally, playing the “sympathy card” reeks of desperation. And, desperate people rarely make good business decisions. They can also be very difficult to work with. Victimhood doesn’t work in sales. It never has. Asking for the sale “to help me out” or because “no one else will buy it” instantly shuts people down. It’s basically saying that your product is crap, and you know it.
We’ve seen even worse. Authors have sent us their manuscripts claiming that, if we don’t accept it, they will throw it away, and give up writing altogether. Yes, we’ve actually heard this from many authors and writers over the years. Angela actually had an author claim that, if no one published his book, he would commit suicide (he did not). How many of you would agree to enter into a business contract with someone like that?
If you want to count on sympathy to earn a profit, you’ll make more money by dressing up in raggedy clothes, and holding a hand-written sign near a busy intersection. Faking a limp might help, too. But, asking an editor to gamble his company’s image and reputation because you “need the money” is not going to work.
Hard work pays off. Attention to detail pays off. Having pride and confidence in your product pays off. Try those things instead of the cyber-equivalent of “Will Write For Food – God Bless.”
Here’s an actual freelance writing pitch I received last week:
“I usually don’t check my emails so you’ll probably have to find me on Facebook. I love to write about random stuff like what goes on in my life and stuff. I just don’t see myself doing anything other than having an online writing job. I’m trying to move out in like a year or two and I can’t do that if I don’t have a job.”
Seriously, take a deep breath, and read it again. That’s what I wasted a few seconds of my life reading last week.
Wow, where do I start? I doubt this was a teenager. I suspect it was an adult who is still living with his parents.
Regardless of who wrote this, it is a prime example of a pitch that screams, “Please delete this email without a reply, and never look back. Thank you for allowing me to waste your time.”
For starters, the fact that this person doesn’t have a job, and wants to “move out” in a “year or two” (good life-planning skills, Einstein) is not my problem. Nor is it any other editor’s problem. And, even expressing such a thing in a pitch is equivalent to telling someone, “If I don’t make it in this line of work, it’s your fault.” That’s someone who will consistently fail to take responsibility for anything – always.
“I just don’t see myself doing anything other than having an online writing job.” Well, that’s terribly unfortunate because you’re going to be dirt poor, and probably still living in your parent’s basement when you’re 40. The vast majority of writers I’ve chatted with worked their way into writing while supporting themselves with – you guessed it – A JOB! Writing for a living doesn’t happen overnight. For many, it doesn’t happen for years. This person clearly hasn’t done any honest research into their desired profession.
WritersWeekly, nor any other professional publication, will cover “random stuff” that goes on in this person’s life. Perhaps if he had actually spent an hour or two reading WritersWeekly, and making notes about what it is we cover, he could have sent an actual query letter that might have been accepted. Like, ya know?
And finally, imagine dropping off a job application at a physical company, and saying, “I don’t answer my phone or check emails, so if you need me, I’m usually hanging out at the bar on 10th Street and Central.” Can you imagine anyone taking you seriously? So, it’s unfortunate that this person is too lazy to check emails because I don’t wander around Facebook looking for article submissions, and neither does any other editor I know.
His email was too much like the hundreds of emails I get each year that say, “I want to write for you…” and nothing else.
If you are a young or inexperienced writer, here is some advice:
1) Don’t send out generic “scatter-gun” emails to websites. Each publication you contact has a certain niche they cover. Find it. Spend time reading the site or publication. Say SOMETHING in your pitch that indicates you actually know what that publication is about.
2) Being too general in your pitch hurts you. I know it seems that claiming to be able to write about “anything” or “all kinds of things” is impressive to people. In reality, it tells an editor that you know nothing about their publication. Be able to express how you can contribute to THEIR publication specifically.
3) Leave the personal crap out. Publications are businesses – not charities. It’s a cold reality but no editor has time to solve your personal problems. And, by trying to angle your message to say that, if they don’t buy your work or sign you on, they are taking responsibility for your misery, you will be passing a death sentence onto your email.
4) Be CONFIDENT. Express confidence with EVERY email. Even when you’ve been turned down 199 times, express confidence in your 200th pitch. If you aren’t proud of your work, why should I feel confident publishing your work?
5) Be persistent, consistent, and AVAILABLE. Keep pitching, keep following up, and check your emails several times daily. That email reply that asks for a little more detail, or clarification about your pitch, may be your golden ticket. How long do you want to let it ferment in your IN-BOX while you surf Facebook?
One big complaint I have about the Internet and social media is that they tend to breed thoughtlessness and laziness. We talk and act in ways that we never would in face-to-face interactions. You would never fill out a paper job application with only half the requested information, throw it on the receptionist’s desk, walk out of the business, and expect to get the job. Yet hundreds of writers do the equivalent of just that with their email pitches to us. Multiply that by all of the book publishers, all the websites, all the blogs, and all of the publications out there – and it amounts to MILLIONS of hours of wasted time – for those so-called writers, and for the editors and publishers they contact.
On a positive note, that knocks out a lot of competition for those writers who hustle, do research, and take their careers seriously!
EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS: Have YOU experienced these types of pitches? Please share your experiences in the comments box below!
11 Fatal Query Letter Mistakes – Angela Hoy
Are You Cold Pitching? – Learn From My 5 Mistakes! by Jane FazackarleyWritersWeekly.com and the Operations Manager at BookLocker.com. An Army vet and former police officer, Brian is the author of Blue Lives Matter: The Heart behind the Badge. He's an avid sailor, having lived and worked aboard his 36-foot sailboat, the “Floggin’ Molly” for 9 years after finding her abandoned in a boat yard and re-building her himself. Now, in northern Georgia, when not working on WritersWeekly and BookLocker, he divides his off-time between hiking, hunting, and farming.
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