I Love You I Love You I Love You... Now Publish Me!
Some time ago I had a phone call. It went like this:
"Michaelbrent! Hey, it's John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.*"
"Hey, JJJS," said I. 'Cause that's how I roll, baby. "What's up?"
"Not much," he said. "Hey, I know we haven't talked in about five years, but thanks for sending me an update every so often."
"Welcome," I said. I am pithy that way.
"We at ABCDEF Production Company* want to option a script you gave us five years ago. We'd also like to pay you a borderline-obscene amount of money to do rewrites on it."
"Okay," I said. I hung up, then ran through the office where I work screaming something like "I RULE!" over and over again. I may also have been nude. The details are hazy.
Okay, so did you catch the most important part of the above? No, it wasn't the "obscene money" part (it's my FAVORITE part, but not the most IMPORTANT part).
Anything? Anything? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
The most IMPORTANT part of the above was the part where JJJS mentioned my periodic updates.
Creative writing is a lot like dating: you never know who will turn out to be "the one." The one publisher who puts your work in front of a million people. The one agent who will get your work in the right hands. The one producer who will call out of the blue to offer you a bucket o' cash to do work on your own work. So, because you don't know who will be "the one," you treat them ALL like they are prospective life partners. This doesn't mean "be needy." Nothing turns off "the one" like you – yes YOU – calling every day in the vain hope that he/she/it will realize that you are "the one" for them.
But everyone likes to know they are important. This is true as much in publishing and movie-writing as it is in dating. So you must walk that fine line between "needy" and "forgetful": any time you make a significant contact – someone who loves your work (for real, not in the "I loved it but no thanks" kind of way you see in so many polite rejection letters) but who cannot, for outside reasons, help you or move forward with it right now. This could be a publisher who has his next two years of publications already mapped out, an agent with an extremely full dance card, or even a new friend you meet at a book convention who may someday provide a nice review of one of your books. In any of these types of situations, make sure you follow up your new contact with a personal note – email or the "old fashioned" kind.
The note should do three things:
1) Remind them who you are (e.g., "It was nice to meet you during the panel at ABC Book Conference the other day," or "I had a hoot listening to your lecture at Barnes and Noble last Thursday," or "Thanks for not pressing stalking charges in court over the weekend"). These people meet lots of folks, so say something to give them a gentle hint of where you met and who the heck you are.
2) Thank them for any advice or kind words they gave you. People like to hear gratitude. Be sincere, not fawning, but be appreciative. "I LOVED EVERYTHING YOU SAID AND DID FOR ME... IT CHANGED MY LIFE" is not as effective as "Thanks for reading my book Billy: Messenger of Powers – your kind words were appreciated, and even though we can't work together right now because of your busy schedule, your courtesy and professionalism were wonderful to see."
3) Let them know you will keep in contact. Not "I look forward to seeing you as I peep out from behind your closet door tonight" – this is definitely a turn-off to "the one." But you might consider something like "If you don't mind, I'd like to keep you in my list of contacts so I can drop you a line from time to time."
Then, after you've sent the missive, schedule a follow-up for three months, six months, or even in a year. Just enough so that when they run out of work, or need some writing services that you would be great at providing, you will be there for them. You goal is not to consume their lives, but to position yourself as someone who is always on their "short list" of people who can do something for them at a moment's notice.
Because folks, chance and fame only come a-knockin' once in a while. So you better be home when it does.
And it also helps if, when fame looks at its schedule for the day and sees it has an opening or two, your name is the first one that pops into its head.
Make relationships. Then maintain them. Because you never know...you might have met "the one" already.
* The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except mine. I ain't innocent: I stole a candy bar in fifth grade, and the whisperings about me having something to do with the assassination of Darth Vader are entirely true. Follow @mbcollings