Give Them What They Want

ChocolatesBack 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?

When you send queries to agents, are you paying attention to what they’ve said they want?

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  • http://livingwithbiliaryatresia.blogspot.com Kirk Kraft

    Rachelle,

    You bring up some very good points and it got me thinking about my own school years. With regards to my writing, I always tended to go “beyond” what was expected, almost to a fault. I specifically remember one instance in 8th grade where my favorite teacher requested a minimum of 10 pages for a research paper. Naturally I wrote 95 pages. Yes, I got an ‘A’ but the bigger point is I knew what she expected from ME, and I sought to match that expectation.

    When it comes to agents, I research, research and research some more, from reading blogs to agency websites to interviews they might have given on the web. I don’t think you can overdo it if you’re really interested in finding a great fit.

  • http://michaelseese.blogspot.com/ Michael Seese

    With regard to, “Are you writing what a large number of readers will want?” I sure hope so. Otherwise, I am improving my craft, but little else.

    As to the second, OH YES, I read their guidelines (both in terms of preferred genre as well as the formatting of the query) three times!

  • http://grapevine.com.au/~nataliem Natalie

    Once I edited a 15,000 word manuscript for an author who told me he was going to submit it to a specific imprint of Mills & Boon. I checked their submission guidelines and they wanted stories around 50,000 words. He wasn’t even close to what they wanted!

    If you believe that “this story has to be this length” then sure, you might have written a great story. But it is unlikely to be published.

  • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

    My last novel is a book on the hot topic of bullying. It contains a lot of humor, uses first person and is the right length for a first YA novel. My query was worked over by a few friends until it zinged. I even had Janet Reid give me advice on making it a strong pitch. After the smoke cleared, there wasn’t a single agent who said, “Send me more.” Give them what they ask for, make it a hot topic, go for it.
    I think it’s not the books. It’s me. I’m going to start writing as a teenage girl under the name Penny Nickels. My daughter said I could use her picture and she’d do the book signings. Fortunately, she’s adorable and articulate.

    No, I’m not really going to do it, but some days, that’s how I feel. It’s then that I come here and get rejuvenated by you, Rachelle, and the people of this blog. You all remind me that it’s a common struggle. Thank you for your support. You have mine for what it’s worth.

    • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      I’d like to second the thanks to Rachelle and everyone here. Aside from trying to ‘be a writer’ I’m also engaged in rather a more basic struggle, and the connection with you guys is often the only connection for which I have the energy during the day.

      And by all means, PJ, use your daughter’s name and picture! You don’t think I’m REALLY Andrew Budek-Schmeisser, do you?

      And in my profile pic…just which one am I..?

      • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

        He’s really Elvis. I know, cuz I met his body double at an obscure location in Mississippi.

        • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          Thang yuuu…thang yuu very musshhh

          Actually, I married my second wife (well, first one, second time) in Vegas…she wouldn’t allow Elvis to officiate, but I DID wear blue suede shoes

          • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

            Which hotel did you stay at? Hmmmm?

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Great disguise man! MIB’s pug has nothing on you.

      • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

        What? You made up that name all by yourself?

        • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          I had some help from a publicist who thought that long names, and convoluted Victorian chapter headings never went out of style,

          or,

          the results of a conversation over more vermouth than was wise

          • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

            I thought people in Vermouth were thought to be less loquacious
            than those in other regions- wait a second, I mean Vermont.

    • Jeanne

      Writing is such an interesting passion to pursue, isn’t it, PJ? You sound like you’re in a place I was yesterday. God has given you stories to write. He’ll teach you how to craft them and will work in His timing to bring them to a wider audience. You are exactly who God created you to be. And I am glad. :)

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Thanks Jeanne. That’s the funniest part–the place I was yesterday. The mood oscillation is starting to amuse me. Perhaps that’s where I need to be: in the amused zone. I do my best work with a wry grin.

        • Jeanne

          I thought you might appreciate that. :)

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      Well, *Penny*, I think that one day, your book is going to blow the socks off alot of readers. But make sure you can spell “movie deal” before you sign anything.
      And don’t think for one second that God doesn’t have the perfect time chosen for your work to hit the world.

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Jennifer, you’re always a shot in the arm and sometimes a kick in the pants. Thank you.

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      Pleased to meet you, Penny!

      Although I don’t usually read YA, you might catch my attention if you tell stories similar to what Casselman does in the Angel Wings series…especially his insight into human relationships that makes his characters real and gives them a sense of purpose… ;-)

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Thank you, Joe! For now, Penny is just for my thoughts. :-P

      • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

        Wait, Joe, you have changed your picture. Did you get a new driver’s license?

        • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

          Actually, now that you mention it, yes, I did recently get a new driver’s license.

          Had nothing to do with the new gravitar pic’, though.

          My wife has been telling me for months that she’s tired of looking at the same old pic’ and it’s time to load a new one.

          I finally decided to follow her advice.

          Plus, this one is a lot more like I’m normally seen. I very rarely wear a tie…

          Thanks for noticing, Cherry! :-)

          • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

            Hey Joe, Cherry wasn’t the only one who noticed. I already added your new picture to the Usual Miscreants website, which is http://www.pennynickles.com

          • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

            Oh, good! All of us miscreants must stick together, Jennifer!

    • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/index.htm sally apokedak

      Don’t give up, PJ. Funny boy MG books are always hot and even hotter now than usual.

      I’d love to read your first chapter. I read a lot of MG stuff.

      sally at paraklesis dot com if you’re willing to send it.

      Are you in SCBWI?

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Thank you, Sally. I’m actually not. YA is as young as I’ve written for, but I’m sure I’d get something out of the Children Writers’ guild.

        • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/index.htm sally apokedak

          SCBWI=best seventy bucks you will ever spend. I thought the bullying books was mg. But scbwi is for YA writers, too. Very much so. Join and go to local conferences where you will meet agents and editors who will invite you to send. Unless you are writing obnoxiously overt Christian stuff, you will gain from an SCBWI membership.

    • http://tnealtarver.com TNeal

      We’re great. We suck.

      I feel your pain.

      Maybe we can get together later for a pajama party and watch the Twilight series. :D

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Sounds good. I’ll bring the sparkling popcorn.

    • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

      Penny Nickels sounds like a person who doesn’t give a dime or a red cent for the fact that a writer gives more than an honest day’s work for a dollar. So, quit passing the buck (to Penny) and just be the best P.J. you can be. BTW, thanks a million for showing up here and being part of an online community – my tribe – that keeps everyone laughing and encouraged.

      P.S. you must be stirring up trouble somewhere in the spirit world ’cause somebody seems to be drawing a bead on your health and that of extended family these days.

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        Got the message, Cherry. :) Yeah, it’s been an interesting time lately. As you saw on FB, I’ll be spending my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow at Children’s Mercy. Let’s see, that makes my brother, mom, grandfather, sister, nephew, uncle and son all in the hospital within a couple of weeks. I’m asking for my own room there (in full health!). It would be easier to just visit my house!

        Perhaps all the medical fun is why Penny surfaced? hmm ;-)

        • Jeanne

          Didn’t know that, PJ. I’ll be praying.

  • http://raewynhewitt.wordpress.com Raewyn Hewitt

    It’s true if our success depends on other people we have to make sure we deliver what they expect. I wouldn’t want to waste the time of any agent by querying outside of their guidelines. But one of your old posts has really stuck with me. In 7 Ways to Give Away Your Power – and How to Avoid It you made the point:

    “You always want to be looking for the sweet spot where your own passion meets the market.”

    I hope I can hit that balance, because if my passion and the market don’t collide how should I gauge the success of my writing? As a non-commercial outlet for my creativity, or against a smaller fan base?

    Each one of us writes for a reason. Maybe we need to be realistic about the expectations we place on others to validate it.

  • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Before I started writing novels, yes, I did market research into the qualities that appealed to my target audience (women 35-65). At first it felt crass and ‘unartistic’, but the results from Beta readers were encouraging. (And I LIKE that audience – I truly want to give them what they’ll enjoy – because I respect their taste, and I like the same qualities in a story.)

    In querying, I print out the submission guidelines and have the hard copy next to the keyboard as I write. The “I know the rules but broke them anyway, because of my brilliance” excuse is an insult to an agent’s intelligence, and paints me as unprofessional. (And onward to the little-trash-can icon above the inbox…)

    I used to be a professor (engineering), and dealing with students who went far beyond what was asked was one of the most frustrating parts of the job.

    Generally, these came in a couple of categories:

    * students who didn’t really understand what was wanted, and hoped to cover all the possible eventualities by putting everything into an assignment of which they could think

    * students who wanted to stand out beyond their classmates

    What both groups had in common was the conception that “using a pile driver to crack a nut” showed that their time and energy management skills were sorely lacking.

    Unfortunately and more seriously, what they also didn’t understand was that pedagogy has two sides – and that their lack of respect for the value of their own time and energy also reflected a lack of respect for mine.

    In a classroom, it’s irritating rather than impressive. In a job, it can get you fired.

    There are brilliant and creative students, and they show these qualities through elegant and concise work that accomplishes its goal accurately, and within the appropriate scope of the project.

    • Jeanne

      Great thoughts, Andrew. I hadn’t considered the time factor disrespecting students themselves as well as their teachers. Great application for the writing world.

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      Well said, Andrew. Time management and the lack thereof can be the undoing of many people.
      I worry that what I have can be formatted it to what is wanted. I know my book is good, it’s getting the query and proposal just right.
      Gahhhhhhhh!!!!

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      Excellent points, Andrew!

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

      I relate. We used to give pastor’s reports to our assembly. The rule was three minutes, but a lot of guys believed theirs required some “special time.” Rather than be impressed, I grew annoyed at the disrespect for the time of others.

  • DiscoveredJoys

    Many years ago I was in charge of recruiting 10 clerks for the large office I worked in. We had over 300 applications, but expected to interview no more than around 60.

    How to whittle down the applications?
    1) Reject anyone who didn’t have the required qualifications (obvious but true)
    2) Reject anyone who couldn’t spell properly
    3) Reject anyone who couldn’t write a formal letter
    4) Finally, reject anyone who didn’t include their postcode (zip code) – a detail specifically requested in the advert for the vacancies.

    We may have rejected some really good people (we would never know) but there were plenty of others who could follow instructions.

    • http://christianmomthoughts.com Natasha

      DiscoveredJoys –

      This was the first thing that came to mind for me as well. I’ve recruited and interviewed people for many positions. I always put in the job posting that a cover letter is required for consideration. It never ceases to amaze me that a good 75% of people don’t bother to send the cover letter. Their resume is automatically thrown out.

      I also throw out any resume with even a single typo. After those two considerations, I am typically left with a small handful of candidates who have risen to the top of the pile simply by following directions!

      Natasha

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        It is amazing that a typo can get one a “pass,” until we realize there are other applications without one. Of course, now I’m wondering how many made it through those filters. :)

  • http://www.camilleeide.com Camille Eide

    Rachelle, I think the “others-focused” types will get this, but the self-absorbed/self-focused types probably won’t. This is the make-or-break reason only some people succeed at endeavors in which success is largely in someone else’s hands. Of course, the first step is to truly accept that you ARE at someone else’s mercy and are not a million-to-one-shot, buck-the-odds, 8th world wonder, God’s gift to literature. Then you can do your homework on what “they” want and apply it to what you do. It can get tricky giving what they want without it sounding like it came from a cookie cutter. But we are the artists, after all. The dreamers of dreams. We should be able to apply what “they” want to our passion to create. Extra credit for studying markets & timing along with your craft.

    I hear chocolate also doesn’t hurt.
    :0)

  • Leanne Bridges

    I always read what the agents ask for because they often talk about what they see that they DON’T want, and I don’t want to draw THAT kind of attention to my manuscript.
    However, funnily enough, I have not applied that wisdom to other aspects of my life, so your post helped me to see this in the context of work. Happy days.
    Thank you, Rachelle

  • http://dorothystewartblog.com Dorothy Stewart

    I know you’re right, Rachelle – and I can get it right for non-fiction. I worked as a non-fiction editor for many years which definitely helped – I’ve now got my 10th book contract signed. But I struggle regarding fiction. I want to write good readable absorbing novels for Christian women – historical and mystery – but I’m in England where very few Christian novels are published or sold… The impression is that Christian fiction for women is not really wanted at all! I’m 18,000 words into the new novel and do not want to give up or shove it under the bed! Do I give up and stick to ‘what they want’ – the non-fiction?

    • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      Are Susan Howatch’s “Starbridge” novels considered Christian? They were quite successful here – I’ve read all of them at least half a dozen times.

      It would be a pity to let that ability wither through distance, if the American market is the only one that is viable. Being English should add to your appeal to American readers; Anglophilia is still endemic, and probably always will be.

      (Interestingly, Hispanic ‘undocumented aliens’, against whom such vitriol is directed, can be the most enthusiastic patriots…and Anglophiles. They understand something about our country’s history and potential that most Euro-Americans don’t.)

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

      Dorothy, I have a friend who had the same predicament. He wrote some successful non-fiction books and was a heavy hitter in the publishing business. He always wanted to write fiction, however, and went out on a limb to do it. His first novel, “Cuts Like a Knife” did well in sales and is a critical hit. His second is already getting rave pre-release reviews from the press.

      Make lofty goals. Only then can you reach the stars. Stay the course!

      • http://dorothystewartblog.com Dorothy Stewart

        Thanks! I’ll hang in there and keep writing.

  • http://4broadminds.blogspot.com/ carol brill

    Rachelle, makes me wonder how many of the blog submitters really thought they were giving you what you requested, vs. how many just ignored and sent what they thought you should want?
    If it is more about missing the mark than ego, any advice ?

  • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Really, going beyond what’s asked crosses all boundaries…we do it for teachers…and agents…

    And spouses! How many of you have really gone all-out on some sort of surprise, only to have it fall flat because your spouse didn’t see it the way you did?

    And we try to do it for God, when all He said was to love Him with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

    A lot is ego, yes, but at heart it’s ego driven by the fear that what we are simply isn’t good enough.

    And we aren’t. The student’s work has potential, but is rarely brilliant, the manuscript always needs work, the marriage is waxed by grand gestures but fueled by forgiveness of foibles, and God?

    Acceptance is the extended bridge of Grace, and in humility we walk across it.

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      “Acceptance is the extended bridge of Grace, and in humility we walk across it.”
      Very nicely said, Andrew.

  • http://kathrynmagendie.wordpress.com kathryn Magendie

    My editor at my pub told me “If you were to write a women’s fiction book with romantic elements, I think those books would garner a much bigger audience than your literary books – write the book in YOUR way, don’t copy any others, but give it some certain guidelines.”

    I resisted that for two years. I thought “Whaaa? I can’t do that!”

    But it simmered in my pea-head and now I am writing that book. In my own voice, style, but with certain elements that will attract a wider audience. And I’m having fun with it.

    Sometimes climbing out of our little hole of comfort is scary, but it may open up a whole new world of readers – that’s my hope. My editor/publishers know the market better than I do, so I’m listening, but still keeping my book “me” – a good combo!

  • http://theotherstephenkingonwriting.blogspot.com Stephen H. King

    I do try. Years as a college dean have taught me to be very specific in my responses to things. When an accreditor, for example, asks, “How does the library collection support the curriculum?” he doesn’t want to read a memoir of the librarian. This played well into my efforts as a writer; when an agent says queries must be 250 words or less, I make it 249 words (couldn’t go much less, sorry). I, personally, think that putting a word count limit on a query is as silly as is putting a word count limit on a novel, and so it raised the question of whether I’d really want to work with her even if she responded (and she didn’t, so no harm, no foul), but I still played by the rules set out.

    That said–you know, I get the whole no-brown-M&Ms-to-see-if-you’re-reading thing. A few–very few, actually–agents do that. But there are a lot more agents who just write garbage in their submissions requirement sections. “I’m looking for beautifully-written esoteric fiction with broad appeal….”
    Smile, nod, submit….

    – TOSK

  • http://www.daveyandmariejank.com Davey

    Rachelle, it reminds me of the many Olympic athletes who recently competed. They are free to exuberantly perform in any way they wish, but to receive a high score from the judges, they need to channel their strength, energy and talent strategically.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

      Good analogy!

  • Jeanne

    Others have already said it well. Finding the balance between writing what’s on my heart but crafting it to fit the guidelines of those who help determine success in the writing world is the key. I’m still learning to do this. I’m thankful for the blogs like this one that can help me understand what that looks like. Thanks, Rachelle.

  • http://www.noellepierce.com Noelle Pierce

    After teaching in higher education for almost 10 years, I’d say the vast majority of people DON’T read guidelines, even if they’re clearly delineated. :)

    I’m a little OCD about making sure I follow the guidelines for agents and editors, and if I don’t find them on a website, I’ll scour the internet for interviews of the agent where there might be some information.

  • http://myquirkycity.wordpress.com Heather

    I’m not even in the querying stage yet, I’m still in the writing/self-editing stage, so I’m still mostly writing what I want to read, because otherwise I won’t get it out. But in the editing stage, I’m definitely thinking about readers, what they want to read, and whether they’d like what I’m writing.

    • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

      You are a reader, though, too–so what you want to read may very well be what others do! I think your approach is a good one: writing what you want, then checking during revisions to try to make it what others would want, too. I bet that as time goes by and you get more experience, the desires will merge.

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy Paine Miller

    With the combo of the post title and the picture it’s guaranteed I’ll be singing the lyrics to Natalie Merchant’s “Candy Everybody Wants” all day.

  • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

    I love chocolate. I LOVE it. But it does not love me. At ALL. I can eat Purdy’s or Cadbury’s all day. But then I pay a massive price. I’m severly hypoglycemic and simply MUST live within the defined limits my body has set out. The other option is a 3 to 5 day cycle of rebalancing my bloof sugar and most likely a 2 to 4 day migraine.

    Now that I’m done my book, I’m in the process of The Perfect Query.
    And honestly, I am a “give them what they want” type,but there are so many “this is what I want” variables, I want to hire Penny Nickles to write my query for me.

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      *bloof sugar? Hahahha!

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      I hear Penny is pretty good at that sort of thing. PJ highly recommends her. ;-)

      • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

        RATKL <- rolling at the keyboard laughing. If I was on the floor, I couldn't type. Thanks for the laugh you two!

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    My primary function in my day job is in the area of research and development.

    I am totally reliant on other people for success. No matter how wonderful my research may be, or how brilliant my ideas, nothing will change in our processes or products without buy-in, cooperation, and effort by multiple personnel in multiple departments.

    Do I have to give them what they want? Yes, I do.

    However, I also have to show them what it is they want, convince them that they actually do want it, and leave them convinced it was their idea from the start…

    …all while acquiring feedback so we can tweak the concepts to better work with minimal disruption to current processes.

    It’s a bit of a juggling act, but it goes far beyond simply giving people what they ask for.

    • http://pjcasselman.wordpress.com/ P. J. Casselman

      That’s the heart of salesmanship–helping them see what they really want.

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      Well, if the R&D doesn’t work out, you can always sell ice to Canadians in January.

      • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

        Hah! I’ve never considered myself the saleman type, but that is sometimes how the R&D feels.

        People are naturally resistant to change…which means even obvious improvements are always initially viewed with suspicion…

  • http://www.SarahAnneLoudinThomas.wordpress.com Sarah Thomas

    I place the employment ads for the nonprofit where I work. I specifically request cover letters because you just don’t get them these days unless you ask. Of the 100 or so applications, how many had cover letters? About 25%. Really? While I love the idea of an editor or agent looking past mistakes to find a jewel, I surely understand the frustration. It was much easier to kick out the folks who didn’t meet the basic expectations . . .

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      2 years ago, my husband sent out a posting for a >>summer student<<. The requirements were standard: no PhD's, ONLY Canadians need apply, fluency in English was critical and the job wasn't full time, and it was meant for undergrads ONLY.
      The amount of non-Canadian , PhD holding, non-English speaking full timers was amazing!!! We culled nearly 60% of the resumes right away.
      Hope is one thing, not paying attention is another.

  • http://www.desireewoodland.com Desiree Woodland

    All good points well taken!

  • http://www.jessicanelson.net Jessica Nelson

    I’m trying! lol

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    I want to give my readers what they want, but no matter how I approach it, they are rarely forthcoming with what they’d like to see my write, whether on my blog or in my fiction. It doesn’t seem to matter if I ask direct, specific questions or the complete opposite.

  • Julia Denton

    The challenge for me is to stay within the guidelines while creating something unique and new enough to be worth reading. Steve Jobs supposedly said “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s relatively easy to write to a set of specifications; the hard part is to be original and interesting while doing so. We have to give them what they want, but also maybe flavor it with what they didn’t know they wanted. Any ideas on how to do that?

  • http://www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com Marielena

    Are you writing what a large number of readers will want?

    YES. WOMEN’S FICTION.

    When you send queries to agents, are you paying attention to what they’ve said they want?

    YES. ALWAYS. NO BRAINER.

    Advice to self when writing:
    Be professional. Follow guidelines.

    Be creative. To thine own self be true.

    Somewhere in there is balance and success as a writer.

  • j.serenity

    A great post Rachelle.

    I am writing a novel issue-based novel about life after abuse, the journey to healing and the meaning of true love.

  • http://lindsayharrel.blogspot.com Lindsay Harrel

    I suppose there are some who might say that giving readers what they want produces writing that is formulaic, etc., but I think it’s a smart way to do things. You can still be creative within the box…the box is actually a lot bigger than we think.

    Regarding queries, it does astound me how many people think they’ll actually be successful if they don’t meet the minimum requirements. That doesn’t usually work in other jobs–it won’t work here.

    That being said, of course, it’s possible in some cases to misinterpret what someone wants…and in the case of readers, so much seems to be subjective. I think that’s where the biggest struggle lies for me.

  • Laini Giles

    I follow directions like nobody’s business. My friends make fun of me because I’m THAT detail-oriented. They call me “Martha,” for gosh sakes.

    My writer’s group and my betas give me tough love which I listen to and use, but those who have read it basically love my stuff and tell me to keep going. They love the voice of my main character and say it’s going to happen for me SOON.

    Yet not a nibble. At least on my last manuscript I got a couple full and partial requests before all out rejection.

    This manuscript has had one full request, and even that agent gave me NO FEEDBACK. It would be so nice to know WHAT I’m not doing that could move me forward a bit. My style has improved like crazy over the last one.

    There is a fiction hardback IN STORES right now that is similar to the time period and type of subject matter, so I know people are reading in this area. I’m being true to the genre I love most, but I’m not sure how much else I can do.

    GARRR.

  • http://tnealtarver.com TNeal

    I know this is helpful advice as I prepare for the ACFW conference in September. When someone says, “I don’t want to check in an extra bag at the airline so don’t offer me anything but a business card,” I can keep the one sheet, the first 3 chapters of my WIP, and my harmonica in my briefcase.

    On the other hand, when someone else says, “Include a marketing plan in your pitch,” I’d better come with a market plan in mind (if not in hand). And I best remember who wants what.

    Good reminder, Rachelle

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  • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

    I had a similar breakthrough moment in junior high. I’d write whatever I felt like writing, whether it was for a creative writing assignment or an essay, and sometimes the feedback wasn’t the greatest. Once I realized that, hey, the teachers want me to answer these specific questions, and I did that, my grades were suddenly A+. It wasn’t that I was a bad writer before, or stupid, or didn’t understand the books we read. It was that I wasn’t writing to their requirements.

    You have to do the same thing in the corporate world and even in publishing. You can write whatever you want, but if it’s not what publishers, readers, etc., are looking for, then you can’t expect any sort of commercial success. Writing within the box doesn’t mean your work has to be lifeless or uncreative, although for many people there is a learning curve and a period where they feel stifled before they learn how to thrive within the guidelines. Once they’ve learned to do so, though, their chances of (commercial) success are much higher.

  • http://www.jim-gullo.com Jim Gullo

    But here’s the problem: We writers are in the brilliant business. You agents are in the commerce business. Dotting the i’s and following the word counts might be necessary for the commerce business, but does nothing except detract from our attempts to be brilliant. Anybody wonder if ee cummings’ queries would ever have been answered in today’s marketplace? Would The Hunger Games have never found an audience if Collins devoted all her time to researching guidelines?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Sorry, Jim, but I’m in the brilliant business just like you are… and not afraid to admit it!

  • PFP

    Thanks for this post. I don’t see why “art” and pragmatism can’t go together. Story tellers sat around the fire telling stories for an audience. I think good fiction keeps a seed of that relationship intact. If it also boasts unique artistic expression, all the better. But the relationship still remains.

  • Larry

    So as writers’ we are never supposed to compare ourselves to other writers….

    ……only to compare ourselves to the perceived desires of people who do not write (the audience).

    I’ll choose chasing Twain over chasing trends any day of the week.

  • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

    With children, it is wise to give them what they NEED instead of what they WANT. Perhaps I am guilty of parenting my potential readers?

    Oh, wait a minute; are we talking about what agents, editors and publishers want or what readers need?

    In all seriousness, I DO think it is important to follow submission guidelines and I take to heart your sentence, Rachelle, “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…”

    • http://talesfromtheredhead@blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      “are we talking about what agents, editors and publishers want or what readers need?”

      I am finding the dance between readers, writers and the industry more confusing, yet more obvious each time I read my favourite blogs.

      Sometimes I think I should wear a nametag that says “help me, I’m a writer”.

  • http://www.kristaphillips.com Krista Phillips

    HA HA HA! This totally reminds me of a college course I took once. It was taught by an ultra die-hard liberal (not that that’s bad) but I was a very naive conservative girl who was VERY passionate about my conservative beliefs.

    It was a socio-cultural diversity class and let’s just say, we had a difference of opinions on some (all) things… men were horrible pigs for trying to hold open a door for a woman and all that jazz.

    But I wanted a good grade in all my classes, so I’d write my paper exactly how he wanted me to, summarizing all the points and justifications he made.

    But the passionate person I am couldn’t let it be completely. The last paragraph of my papers were almost all something like, “Now, I disagree with all of this because _________” and wrote a short rebuttal.

    Got a C in the class, my only one. And I was okay with that!

    My point is: I totally agree with your point of “giving people what they want.” But if you can’t do that, or refuse to? Then you’re in the wrong place.

    I’ll never write explicit romance. It’s just not me and goes against my principles. If someone asked me to, I’d say no. This is why I write for the CBA. I wouldn’t go to the general market and expect everyone to love my clean romance.

    But outside of those types of boundaries, I absolutely try to keep an ear to the market and make sure I’m writing stuff that not only *I* like, but my audience will hopefully enjoy as well.

    And love me some guidelines/rules to follow. Takes the guesswork out of how to query etc!

  • Lisa Marie

    Well said, Rachelle. And this is a blog topic that I would have pitched to you myself (had I had the time).

    I always cringe a little at the advice, “Write from your heart!” Er, yes and no. To write from the heart means to write from that place of 100 percent emotion, and this is never ever a good plan for any artist. I’m in a nice place right now because I studied my genre. I studied the types of characters and story arcs and plot twists, then I put a unique spin on my own without writing outside of the accepted parameters. This might sound like a bummer of a way to write, but writing is a business. The client should get what the client requested, otherwise I’m not doing my job.

    To write (and sell) genre fiction, you have to be 50 percent author and 50 percent copywriter. I am convinced of this. Thanks for another great blog! :D

  • Susan

    Yes, I do both. I think this goes back to studying the craft thoroughly.

    I don’t attempt to do things without knowledge of what’s expected.

    I’m far from perfect but I like knowing what’s expected before I begin a project.

    I think this is where my obsessive traits become advantageous.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZT6wvzFObg Mckenzie Knaggs

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