Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Even though I’m a big believer in not taking advantage of people’s kindness, I’m also a big believer in being aggressive when an opportunity is presented to you. If the favorite metaphor for opportunity is a door, I like to think that if someone opens it even just a crack, I’m going to wedge my foot in there to make sure it doesn’t close again.

Haste is your best tool for the job. When someone offers to meet with you or talk with you—no matter how off-handedly the offer is made—try to nail down a date as soon as possible. If someone offers to read your work, get it to them as fast as you can. It shows that you’re serious and keeps the momentum going while you’re still fresh in mind.

An acquaintance of mine once returned from a writers’ conference very excited—she had made contact with an agent who was interested in reading her work. She told me the news a week after the fact, and still hadn’t sent him her work. She was hesitating because she didn’t think her manuscript was in perfect shape. Every day that passed, she grew less and less confident about sending it, and it’s very likely that as each day passed she was fading from the agent’s memory. I didn’t keep in touch with her so I have no idea if she ended up sending it in. If her manuscript was ready enough to pitch at a writers’ conference, then I think her best course of action would have been to FedEx that puppy the second she returned home.

When I tried out for my first ghostwriting job, my writing sample was initially rejected. The editor called to tell me what was wrong with my sample. During the course of the phone conversation, I took copious notes. At the end of the phone call, she said, “If you have any other questions, you can call me and maybe we can meet for coffee sometime.” She said this so casually I don’t think she really expected me to take her up on it. I could have said, “Sure, thanks,” and left it at that, but instead I said, “I’m free next week—is there a day that works for you?”

I’m really not sure where this confidence came from—I just didn’t want the opportunity to slip away. The editor was caught a little off-guard but kindly agreed to meet with me, under the guise of talking more about how my sample needed to be improved…but I had other plans.

In the week prior to our meeting, I spent my time carefully going through her suggestions and studying the series to see what I needed to fix. Then I worked hard to get my sample into shape. We didn’t end up having coffee—instead, we met in her office. She let me know that she was very busy and that I had just a few minutes to ask questions. Instead rehashing our previous discussion, I presented her my revised sample and politely asked her to look it over “just to make sure I was on the right track.” She was taken aback that I was so prepared. She read the first page and hired me on the spot.

When an opportunity arises, you have to be prepared to jump on it.


b-dub said...

We have a friend in Seattle who is a pretty good writer - good enough to win a contest and an appointment with an agent. Last year. Said friend wavered, and needless to say never submitted said manuscript.

So, how's that working out for you, S.W.?

Stephanie Doyon said...

Fear is such a powerful force. People mistakenly think that success requires extraordinary talent and connections, when all it often requires is action.

When I was in college, I was not the most talented kid in my writing seminars--far from it. I ran solidly in the middle of the pack, with many students above me just oozing talent. Many talked about publishing but they just ended up going for corporate jobs. I wish more of them would have at least given it a good try before going down another path.

b-dub said...

So true, Steph. This story frustrates me to no end. (And yes, I'm guilty of giving in to the fear myself, but my ratio of going for it to not is pretty good.)

Keep up the great and critical insite...