Freelance writer? Be nice to everyone

August 14, 2009

A guy came in to sell me a manuscript. It wasn’t especially difficult for him to get to me. In my quarter of the publishing jungle, (Educational Publishing) unlike Trade Publishing, I’m fairly available. I think my direct line was on our website for years. I’m pretty sure my email is now. There are simple reasons for this – number one being that most of our authors are technical experts who we seek out to match our own commercial ideas. We don’t get a whole lot of unsolicited material, probably because people who make money as writers in our trade are not lauded by anyone. They simply bank cheques and gain their kicks in other ways. The writing work requires certain structure, the observance of particular editorial rituals to satisfy our sense of risk that if an unruly text made its way into print our brand would be diminished. We ask authors to pour their words into our templates. If they’re creative, they make the templates as well. In this sense we are more like content manufacturers than creatures of literary exploration.

So, to the manuscript, and the author. The manuscript was a good one. Well conceived. Well structured. I could see, even by skimming it, that it was going to sell. It said “send me to market”. I spent about 45 minutes with him, the author. He talked in clipped sentences, but with an easy tone, like a practice piece for beginning piano requiring the use of the softening-pedal. He was pretty nervous. He wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a detail. I let him point out things and tuned in and out, according to my interest and need. I made a few jokes, to put him at his ease. He smiled, but only briefly. His default look was “fairly worried” throughout. Tense. Really keen to make the deal work. He stayed a little too long. I was sympathetic. The deal was important to him. I eventually gestured towards the lifts and he asked me one more time if I liked the idea, we shook hands, and that was that.

On the way back to the corner office, one of the girls (female employees) told me her friend (her colleague), who answers the phone, had found the author rude on the phone. I wasn’t surprised, but I quizzed her. She told me a few things about the lead up to our meeting. He’d called a number of times. He’d assumed that she was fobbing him off when, in response to his question on procedure, she asked him to send the work in for me to look at. He’d assumed the deal was never going to make it unless he met me face to face and pointed out the detail. This was two years work on the line. Under pressure, he pressed hard to ensure he gained my full attention. He was snappy, short, cynical.

What he missed was this. I was already easily available. My name is on the website. Had he called the switch and asked for me, through he goes. One call, no friction, no bad report.

Lesson? Whoever it is you have to speak to to sell your work, be nice to everyone you meet on the way through.


6 Responses to “Freelance writer? Be nice to everyone”

  1. Great post, Ben.

    You have a great way with words. It’s sobering advice for anyone pitching anything. A little courtesy on the way through makes all the difference.

    Best, Robin

  2. Ben Dawe Says:

    Thanks Robin, glad you liked it. I can’t say I manage to live up to this as consistently as I’d like but I always feel a quick push back in that direction if I err!

  3. Deeleea Says:

    Found you!

    Great to chat on the bus today, found this link in my social networking travels that may interest you. An interesting observation on the use of social networking to pressure a publisher!!

  4. Great article!
    I’m writing a column on etiquette on my website. It’s specifically focused on geek culture – gamers, techfolk, sci-fi/fantasy fans, etc.- but applicable to all. In my opinion, much of etiquette breaks down to “Be Nice” and so your blog post resonated for me very strongly.
    Thank you for writing it.


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