I recently came across a post on Jane Friedman’s blog entitled, 5 Things Bad Radio Guests Do (And 7 Ways to Rock on Radio). If you don’t yet follow Jane’s blog, do–it has very useful information for writers, especially regarding the publishing biz.
The post was guest-written by Brad Phillips, who also wrote a great book that anyone looking to market themselves should read:
So as I’m reading Brad’s post, I study the five things bad radio guests do, and find I can substitute the phrase “bad librarians do…” with each. Heck, this can also apply to “bad ways to pitch to an agent.” And I’m guilty of almost all of them.
So here are the five bad habits, reproduced and adapted for writers and librarians:
1. Long responses.
Librarians are very good at seeking information, but some get too stuck on the “discovery” process to where they overload and muddle what the patron was looking for in the first place. I’ve walked past some of these consultations, in which the student (or patron, or whoever) is staring up at the ceiling while the librarian is talking, looking like they’d asked for directions and ended up in the wrong part of a bad neighborhood.
Same goes for agents–they aren’t looking for a long explanation to your story or novel. They’re interested in quick, and to the point, because you’re probably the umpteenth writer they’ve seen that day trying to pitch them something.
In the interest of keeping my own answers short, let’s move along.
2. Ideas that are too complex.
I learned a great deal in keeping library stuff simple when I worked with the IT department at my last job. One person was kind enough to tell me, “You tell us what time it is, while everyone else tells us how the watch was made.” Some librarians I’ve worked with also like to make their sentences complex–maybe they think it makes them sound smarter, or they’re trying to accomplish a lot at once, or perhaps that’s just how some of them are built. But no one is actually listening (see #3).
Same goes in a pitch session with an agent. In one instance, I started rattling off into my sequel, and the agent very kindly directed me back by saying, “Okay, let’s focus on this book.” You don’t need to explain the entire universe your book is set in. Just give agents a few nuggets to taste, and entice them to ask you more questions and keep them talking about your book.
3. Boring presentations.
Delivery and presentation of ideas counts too. If I’m instructing a bunch of students on how to use a library resource, and if I bombard them with a lot of well-informed details without presenting them in an interesting way, I’ll lose their attention.
Same goes in getting people interested in your book. Yeah, you know a lot about it, because you’ve been living in it for the past few months (or years). People aren’t interested in how much you know about your book. They want to know how your book can benefit them and other people.
4. Alarmist speculations.
I’ve worked with some alarmist librarians who’ve blown their stacks at some pretty major non-issues. One particularly paranoid former co-worker was convinced that everyone was “out to get her” and “sabotage” all the efforts she made, when in reality people just wished she would calm down already.
I’ve had the same paranoid delusions as a writer. What if someone steals my ideas before I get a chance to publish them? What if my story idea isn’t marketable by the time it’s ready? While it’s good to ask yourself hard questions, it isn’t helpful to get consumed by them.
5. Lack of humor.
This equates to that scowling librarian at the desk who yells, “What?” even before people approach. Some librarians have been in the system so long that resentment oozes out of their pores, and they aim to bring everyone else down with them. Definitely not helpful.
And whenever I’ve lost the humor in regard to my writing, or my writing career, I should consider myself finished. Many agents I’ve followed online say how much they appreciate when an author can make them laugh. But that also goes for laughing at yourself, something I’m still striving for.
Are there any I’ve forgotten? Feel free to add your own! And thanks to Brad and Jane for the inspiration!
And for those who would like to purchase Brad’s book, click on the link below: