Saturday, July 10, 2010

Focusing On Our Strengths

Jeune Nancienne dans un paysage de neige-- 1887--Emile Friant I’d admit right away that I don’t know how to dress.

I’ve never cared about clothes.  I wear a sort of uniform every day during the summer: a v-neck cotton tee-shirt (I have them in every color), shorts, and flip flops. They’re…comfortable.

Then I have dresses. When I go to book signings or conferences (or church), I wear these very pretty dresses—because it’s either the dresses or the shorts and v-necks! 

I have nothing in-between. Dinner out at a nice restaurant, but not a fancy one? I’ll be there in a dress because I don’t have dressy, casual clothes.

My college roommate came to visit me a couple of days ago. She’s a political fundraiser who lives in Dallas—she has nice clothes.  And not just fancy clothes—nice casual clothes.  So we went out to dinner (yes, I was in my cotton v-neck top and vastly underdressed) and I told her that I didn’t have clothes—and I have a book tour coming up in August. I thought I might be overdressed in my dresses at the bookstores we’re going to.

She immediately said, “Elizabeth, you should go to Nordstrom’s and use their personal shopper.”

Dollar signs started floating in front of my head. “Well, but that sounds expensive…”

“The personal shopper is free. And Nordstrom’s is having their big sale next week.   They are going to know what you look good in. You can give them a budget and they’ll call you whenever something in your size and in your price range comes in.”

Ahh. Outsourcing my shopping.  This I liked.

The reason I bring this up is that recently I’ve talked to a few authors I know who don’t have agents.  They have publishers, though—and a few books on the shelves. They’d unsuccessfully looked for an agent before getting published, then they’d found a publishing house for their book and decided to just not worry about getting an agent.

I have to bite my tongue when they tell me they’ve stopped looking for an agent.

Yes, it’s very hard to find an agent. But, especially, if you’ve got a publisher, you need to have an agent.  I’d keep on looking.

I negotiated one book deal myself, without an agent. I promise that I did much better (and my agent paid for herself) when I kept looking and used an agent to negotiate my next book deal.

By and large (and this doesn’t apply to everyone…but it sure applies to me), writers don’t have brilliant business brains. Many writers are creative thinkers, not negotiators. It’s just not what we’re good at.

If you do get a publisher on your own (like I did a few years ago), keep looking for an agent.  You’ll change your query letter to: “I’m an author, published by XYZ house.”  You’ll still get rejections (I got a ton of them, even post-published). But eventually, you’ll get some bites.

Because we all need to stick with what we’re good at.  And leave the rest to qualified professionals.