This is something I’m currently struggling with and I imagine I have company.
This phrase I call “up the down” is a type of career track. Imagine you just got off the train at the World Trade Center. You’re about to head up from underground to the city. You have three ways of surfacing:
Walk up the stairs (good for physical fitness, but harder)
Walk up the up escalator (this is a Viking longboat all paddling in unison)
Walk up the down (despite all your effort, you go nowhere)
Now imagine three people have the same/similar talent(s) and walk at the same pace. One systematically climbs up the stairs (though winded). One flies up the up escalator with the same effort. The other stays put and watches as the other two get away. He gets tired. He gets bitter. He may even give up.
The fundamental question is: How do you get on the right track? How do you stop going up the down? How can you avoid stepping onto the down escalator to begin with?
For the past few years, despite what some may consider nice accomplishments (awards, a well-received book, magazine and online by-lines), I’ve been walking up the down. I know this because I’ve watched peers, some a little older, most younger, fly past me to magazines of notoriety and the praise that comes with it.
At some point, we all want validation in our craft. Getting work placed at reputable publications feels good spiritually and they tend to pay more. I’m not trying to get rich. I just want to be able to turn the heat up past 55 degrees in the winter. Seeing your breath in your own house is sobering (not to mention freakin’ cold. I type with fingerless gloves.).
I can’t be alone. I’m not looking for shortcuts. Why try and cut down a tree with a steak knife if a chainsaw is available?
A goal of mine is to speak with freelancers and other creatives who either were fortunate enough to get on the right track, or, maybe of more value, how did they go from up the down to up the up.
I’d like to write a short ebook and make it available for people who follow this blog, past and future.
Selfishly, this is for me, but maybe I can help some other people who need a hand.
Author and life hacker Tim Ferriss knows a thing or two about self promotion and he needs every iota of that skill to get his latest and possibly most exciting book—The 4-Hour Chef—into the hands and e-readers of the public.
It would be made easier if Barnes and Noble planned on stocking the book. But they’re going Ghandi and hunger striking this “cook book”. Why? Ferriss’ publisher is Amazon. Correction. Ferriss’ publisher is AMAZON!
Barnes and Noble is willing to concede the profits Ferriss’ best-seller-bound book will generate in an attempt to sink Amazon’s publishing ship. Yeah, Amazon published Penny Marshall’s memoir (which has tanked), but if she’s a revolver, Ferriss is Amazon’s atomic bomb. If there were ever an author equipped to give the middle finger to the establishment it’s Ferriss and he will need to summon other-worldly skills to get this book sold.
And just look at what he’s doing. First, check out this book trailer (a great 20th-century tactic authors need to adopt for promotion) and tell me you don’t want to buy the book.
His blog gets 1.2 million visitors a month and it’s all free content. His platform is the type that makes agents drool and others like me very, very envious. He uses it for fun. Homeboy has earned it and I’m rooting for him. Penguin and Random House became a—pardon the expression—Frankenpublisher in an attempt to go Moth vs. Godzilla. We’ll see. My money is on the giant dinosaur stomping Japanese skyscrapers.
Ferriss is a tactician and I think that while he’s miffed by the boycott, he’s excited by the challenge of using his Major League talent at promoting himself to stick it to the establishment.
Big time pitchers like to face big time hitters and by boycotting Ferriss, Barnes and Nobel better brace itself for a 100+ MPH fastball it won’t ever be able to catch up to.
And, by the way, here’s another bullet in his chamber.
Today’s post deals with the ever-important query letter. It is the fundamental document of any freelance writer looking to make a living. It irons out what your pitch is about and who you are and why editors/agents should take a chance on YOU.
Here’s what got me into Vegetarian Times’s Vegging Out blog:
I opt for very quick and easy to read letters. One, editors are short on time. Two, they’re reading on a computer screen and most people want to read short pieces on a screen.
First, I called Vegetarian Times and asked for the name of the editor I should pitch to. Next, my opening paragraph is the hook and why the story will be interesting to Vegetarian Times readers (important, not what’s important to ME, but what’s important to THEM. Sometimes you have to alter—as in cater—your voice. Nothing wrong with this.)
Then I jump into my credentials so the editor doesn’t think I’m some yahoo (which will be totally discredited when they see I wrote a book on horse racing, but that’s neither here nor there). I also tag a page on my website where the editor can click and find clips of my work. If they want hard copies, I’ll send them, but in two clicks, the editor will have a broad sample of my writing capability.
Ultimately, my approach comes down to two things:
1. Get in, get out 2. Take Your Time with the Query (this applies more to book queries)
The letter needs to be read quickly and have some semblance of voice and a tightness of language that will be indicative of a longer piece of work.
With the second point, it’s important not to rush when querying an agent or a publishing house because it’s a painfully long process and sitting on your query for an extra day or week won’t kill it. Rushing will make it sound rushed. Treat it like a piece of art. It needs time. The publishing process is long. I’m as guilty as an when it comes to a trigger finger when sending a query or email. But let the query breathe. Your book won’t be published for at least two years. Hanging out for a few more days will help, not hurt it. Here’s my query for Six Weeks in Saratoga that had a few agents biting and sold SUNY Press.
Undoubtedly my queries will get better as I learn more about them. As I learn more and experiment with what works and what doesn’t, I’ll be sure to share that information and samples. I may even try to get a friend or two to write a guest post about the subject.