Back when I was in school, I embraced an important truth: If I wanted to succeed according to someone else’s standards, then I needed to give them what they wanted. It started with my teachers. To get a good grade, I needed to understand exactly what they wanted and give it to them. Using my own creativity and trying to give them something I thought was better wouldn’t always work. If I wanted to be brilliant and creative, fine, but I might sacrifice a good grade. If I wanted the “A” then I needed to give the instructor exactly what was expected.
This lesson served me well as I spent a couple of decades in various roles in the corporate and business world. To be considered a good employee and get promotions and raises, I needed to understand exactly what was expected… and do it. If creativity and innovation and big ideas were valued in that company, then that’s what I focused on. If simply doing your job was valued, then that’s what I did. As long as I was in an environment where someone else’s standards determined MY success, I always focused on what those standards were.
Success often depends on giving your boss what they want; giving your clients what they want; giving your professors what they want, giving your readers what they want.
You’re always free to write what you want, how you want. You’re free to approach the process of publication however you like. But when your success depends on other people, it’s smart to ask yourself: Are you giving them what they want? This applies whether you’re querying agents, pitching publishers, or thinking about your end reader. What do they want? Are you giving it to them?
I recently had an interesting illustration of how many people seem to just do whatever they feel like it, even though achieving their goal depends on giving someone what they’ve clearly asked for. Several months ago, I put out a call for guest bloggers, and I was quite specific in my instructions about how to pitch ideas for guest posts. What I got was eye-opening:
◊ Many pitched ideas that were clearly outside of the kinds of posts my blog typically features.
◊ I received pitches for articles that wouldn’t fit into my stated word count guidelines.
◊ I received one-line pitches that couldn’t possibly tell me enough to make me understand the post and say “yes.”
◊ I received pitches for highly specialized posts without any information about the author to convince me they were qualified to write it.
◊ I received pitches that were be vague – lacking a single main point or a bullet-pointed framework that would make it reader-friendly.
I’m sure many of these could have been wonderful posts, but they weren’t giving me what I asked for, so they weren’t destined for success in this particular venue.
Are you writing what a large number of readers will want?
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