The question I’ve been asking myself is: What can writers learn from The Susan Boyle Phenomenon? Amazingly enough, I came up with a couple of things.
Remember how Susan walked out on stage and started answering Simon’s questions, and everyone—audience and judges alike—rolled their eyes and shook their heads? “As if” is what they’re thinking. Riiiight. Dream on, lady.
Its a good reminder: We all judge books by their covers. And by books, I mean, “books.” But I also mean it in the metaphorical sense: Everything about you that is presented as part of your “image” will be taken into account. Your first impression, whether it’s a query or a face-to-face meeting at a conference, says something about you and will affect how you’re perceived.
Now, that impression can be misleading, as Susan Boyle’s was. But I’d advise trying to make your first impression as positive as possible, just to be on the safe side. You want it to be an accurate representation of who you are as a writer. This means make your query shine and avoid all those dumb mistakes we’re forever talking about on the Internet. In a meeting, look professional, be friendly, and show your personality. (Don’t worry about being nervous—that’s normal.) First impressions aren’t everything, of course (as Susan Boyle’s experience confirms). But be aware that they do have an impact.
Once Miss Boyle started singing, do you know how long it took for the audience to be blown away and in love with her? Approximately five seconds. The entire demeanor of the audience changed that quickly; they were drawn in; they were hers. She had them immediately and didn’t let them go until the song was over.
It’s the same with a book or a query. A few seconds in… a few sentences maybe… and the reader is either yours, or they’re not. I know writers get frustrated that agents and editors seem to make decisions so quickly, based on so little of their work. But your skill as a writer comes through very quickly to an experienced eye. Just as a singer has to draw the listener in and make them want to keep listening, the writer has to do the same. You have to earn that page-turn.
Finally, Susan’s experience shows us that the work is what matters most. For Susan, what happened when she opened her mouth was what mattered, and suddenly all the other elements—how she looked, for example—were trivial. It’s the same for you. What matters most is what’s on the page. Yes, your query is a factor, and your platform (for non-fiction) might make a difference, but those are side issues just like Susan Boyle’s recent makeover. Her improved looks would not matter without the amazing voice; your terrific query and stellar platform will be useless without a great book.
See? Lessons in publishing are everywhere, if only we look. Now, not only will my blog stats rise when I start coming up on Google searches of “Susan Boyle,” but you can also be smugly satisfied that all those times you watched that YouTube video were not in vain. You were actually working on the craft of writing. (Wink wink.)
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.