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It’s All a Question of Balance

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Sell yourself.

Tell the truth.

Both very good advice. Both very necessary if you’re trying to get an agent or editor. The difficulty comes in balancing the two objectives.

Seth Godin writes about how marketing creates placebos in order to influence your opinions of a product. “The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing but an affect designed to create the placebo effect,” Godin writes. Although he doesn’t refer to these items, your author bio and writing resume is more of the same. They are intended to shape how people perceive your writing.

Meanwhile, Nathan Bransford has an interesting post about being honest. “It is much better to be completely honest about your accomplishments but pitch yourself as being on the rise than it is to try and blow up your accomplishments into something they’re not” Bransford writes. “Agents do not like it when authors try and fool them, and we can smell a turkey sale a mile away.”

Balancing those two seemingly contradictory strategies is a large component to the art of crafting a great query letter or proposal. You have to come across as confident, but not cocky. Skilled, but willing to learn. Eager to work with that agent, but not desperate.

There’s no objective way to measure if you’ve achieved that balance in your query letter and pitches. Unless you find yourself bold-faced lying and claiming to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature and a Grammy and the Miss America title in your cover letter. You have to trust your self-critical instincts, rely on a few trusted readers, and then guage how people respond to your proposals. You have to be willing to change strategies and maybe lean more to one side or the other. And you have to keep working and revising to reach the perfect balance between being honest and positioning yourself in the best possible way.

[Bransford post via Lyons Literary.]