Today’s post will be short because I have an important business meeting tomorrow and I need to cut my hair and do my nails. I also want to look over last year’s contract so I’ll be able to recognize any changes the management might try to slip into the new one. Not that there’s anything I can actually do about it. The guy in charge makes his decisions based on what he thinks is best for his company, and who he personally likes or dislikes.
So why do I bother thinking about my looks and doing research? Because I know my competition and want to make the best impression I can; because I know my appearance reflects the type of person I am; because I can’t know if signing a contract is the best decision for me if I don’t have a basis for comparison. I represent my business, and its success or failure depends on how I handle the opportunities I’m given.
Those principles apply to writing, too.
1. We need to know our audience and our competition.
If there’s no market for what we’re writing, we have little hope of selling it. If the market is flooded with similar stories, we have little hope of interesting an agent or publisher in ours. If we’re writing strictly for our own enjoyment, we don’t need to worry about what other people think.
2. We need to be (or at least appear) professional and competent.
It’s human nature to favor the people who impress us with their looks, skills, talents, or whatever it is we’re using as a criteria for choosing one over another. Our queries and manuscripts represent us (which is probably why so many writers take a rejection personally), so we need to make them as attractive as possible before we send them out. That means they should be properly formatted, free of grammatical errors, concise, yet thorough.
3. We need to do our research.
Sending a query to agents or publishers who don’t represent the type of writing we do, or failing to follow the guidelines they give, is not showing we are professionals. It’s a waste of their time and ours. If they accept our work and we later find out we aren’t getting what we thought out of the deal, we’ll have to live with the consequences. Maybe we can break the contract, maybe we can re-negotiate the terms, maybe we’ll get out of it without damaging our career. We’ll be gaining experience but wasting time.
Are you writing strictly for pleasure, working towards a career in writing, or somewhere in the middle? Do you research the market before starting a project, or do the writing first and the research later? Would my use of semi-colons in the second paragraph be considered a grammatical error, or a stylistic choice?