October 14, 2006
I’ve been asked by a professor at the college where I am employed to deliver a lecture on public relations. My speech is tailored to the young, inexperienced, undergraduates in her class. The main theme will focus on how the demeanor and appearance of job seekers influences potential employers.
In my other professional life, I am managing editor for fiction for an international literary magazine. In that role I get to read some well written stories. In many cases, however, I must turn writers down in short order. My duty is to accept only the best a writer has to offer which complements the style accepted by the periodical I work for. I am intolerant towards authors who submit poorly written query letters which do not provide a plot summary or begin with a salutation. Many of the e-mails I receive are composed like text messages and expose the authors as incompetent writers. This brings me to my earlier ideas on public relations.
Writers are entrepreneurs who are the product they are marketing. They must present their stories to agents and editors who have their own individual biases and preferences. In order to be perceived as a skilled writer, one must begin with the opening sentences of their initial contact letter with respect for editor or agent’s position.
You may view your stories as art and be casual about your craft; but, make no mistake, the editor views your work as merchandise which may or may not help sell magazines. The writer/editor relationship is a business affiliation and is best treated as such. There is no room for informality and flattery. The writer needs to make a pitch and wait for a response. In turn, the editor will treat you with the same courtesy which you extended with your initial letter.
I’ve given speeches on public relations before, at the college. Typically, I package my sermons as informal advice while I am conducting seminars on technology. As I stand before a classroom of slouching, apathetic freshman, I point out that their manners convey a lot about them, either fairly or unfairly. While attending a university, you are actually on an extended job interview. The classmates surrounding you will enter the job market at roughly the same time you will soon after graduation. Some may already be working in your desired occupation and could potentially be the one interviewing you for the job you aspire to obtain.
Do you want to be remembered as someone who slept through most of their classes, drank a lot, and couldn’t memorize their class schedule? Or, do you wish to be admired as a dedicated learner who studied and made meaningful contacts through internships? The answer to that question is not always obvious to today’s youth, as they do not see marketing themselves as a vital effort.
Few recognize that companies must promote themselves to a fickle public, and therefore, selecting only the best from the talent pool will help them advance ahead of their competition. One fact which can never be overstated is that talent is sometimes available in abundance; and, other subtle factors are considered when interviewing candidates for any career opening. The key to accomplishment lies in the first impression one makes with a job interviewer.
Authors are free agents who vend their wares to a saturated market. A strong query with a proper greeting, story outline and word count, writing credits, and a conclusion, will rise above queries like these: “I have been published in far more prestigious magazines than this, so I know you’re going to accept my work,” or, a defensive tone “I don’t care if you publish me or not because I know I am good,” or the rude and poorly written e-mail “hi I want u to read my story ‘The riding cowboy’ which is something I wrote for my blog but did not post there becuz I am sending to u now so please publish it as I know you are accepting writing like this.”
In the end, I remain employed in my full time position because I consistently prove my worth to the College’s administration. My appearance is professional, and I deal with faculty, staff, vendors, and students alike with the same respect I wish they show me.
In the literary world, I am an editor who expects only the best creation a writer has to submit. It is assumed that an author wishes to peddle only their strongest pieces. When I open stories with poor grammar and with spelling errors, I am inclined to reject them. It’s obvious that the writer did not know, or did not care enough to find out what to do correctly; and, in those cases, it is not my function to teach the author grammar and punctuation, but to dismiss their submission.
I've been asked to be an editor because I impressed the magazine's founder with my experience and with my writing. When I read an e-mail from a writer, I want to be shown the same respect I offered to agents and editors whom I have queried over the years. It is not only professional, it is a courtesy, and it makes one’s work more acceptable before others.
In a few days, I am going to deliver my lesson on public relations. The main theme in my presentation will be personal appearance and professionalism. Right now the students are learning to market themselves, just as writers need to do.
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