Friday 15 May 2015

That Professional Look

   Presentation is everything. This is something that's been on my mind a lot lately because my book is almost finished and my attention is turning towards agencies. I have to make sure the manuscript is perfect - if anything can be tweaked, it must be tweaked before being sent out. Once it's on its way to an agent's mailbox, that's it. I can't recall it. I can't correct it, I can't add things or take things away, I can't reorganise it, and if I forgot to add a hint of my personality, then that's it, and the package left looking just like everyone else's. And yes, it's the manuscript itself that counts above all else, not coloured labels, flourishing addresses or choice of paper for my cover letter, but it does add to it. You want to make a lasting impression. You need the presentation to capture their attention and tell them immediately what they can expect from you and your work, and once you have their attention, you let the manuscript do the rest of the work. I want them to know they're picking up fantasy before they read the first page of chapter 1, just the same way a book cover would present the book in a shop. This way, if they're not in the mood to read fantasy when they next have the time to sit down and look through queries and submissions, they'll be able to pick it up more easily when they feel more agreeable to the genre.
   But the hunt for an agent that will not only take on my genre, but actually has room on their client list, is a long job. Fantasy in particular is a very small market - though, thanks to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones and all these fairy tale TV shows and movies coming out, people are reaching for more fantastical tales than they used to, which has made the market a bit more receptive. But it's still tough.
   Fortunately, this is where the internet comes into play. I cannot imagine how hard this would have been 50 years ago. Writing out your cover letter and queries a number of times to send out to the handful of agents you've managed to uncover, all while likely missing a good number of other agents who might suit you, your work and your genre even better, but you were unable to find them. It kind of makes me wonder how anyone managed it. Perhaps I've taken the internet for granted. But because of it I can easily gather up contact details of all fantasy agents who are willing to accept new submissions, and given how easy it is to make real-time updates and changes to their status, I can avoid wasting my time querying agents who were open to new submissions 2 months ago, but no longer, and agents who don't represent the genre at all.
   Plus there's loads of advice out there for how best to go about approaching agents and what they expect from you, and what you can expect from them.

   Your physical conduct matters, too. The manuscript is what will sell, not the authors - you rarely see much of authors in the limelight. In fact I can only name 3 writers whose faces I would recognise, and they're big names: J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King. I wouldn't know the faces of my two favourite authors (Tolkien and David Eddings). It's their work that sells, and even in today's world I'm surprised authors have managed to maintain such anonymity. But the way you present yourself still matters. You will meet with your agent many times, and they need to be able to rely on you just as you need to be able to rely on them. At the very least, you need to make yourself professionally presentable at the beginning of your relationship with them - once you get to know them and they know they can rely on you, your personality can shine through a little more and you can swap suits for jeans, a blouse and a smart jacket. The same will go for publishers. Put simply, the world needs to know that you take your work seriously, that way no one will have any doubt about whether or not their time is well-spent with you.

   All of this can be applied to general job-seeking, too. How you present yourself matters. If you were to walk into a job interview 5 minutes late wearing dirty clothes and frowning or rolling your eyes at the receptionist, that's going to tell your potential employer a lot about you. If you sit down for the interview and stare at what's on their desk or the pictures on the wall behind them, you're going to seem either easily distracted or simply uninterested. So you look at them, instead. And if looking into their eyes freaks you out, look at their eyebrows. Present yourself well and let your resumé do the rest.
   And the internet helps in the same way here, too, with searching for jobs made a lot simpler with job search websites like City Calling. You can either search for job listings in the area you want - be that your professional field or literally your local area - or upload your CV, qualifications and experienced and let the jobs find you. Just as I can filter out all the agents irrelevant to my genre and find all of those who are, others can head straight for the job listings they want and are qualified for without having to dig through the rest, with updates made the moment a new position becomes available. But in this case, even with searching for jobs online, you have to make sure you present yourself well. You should always try your best and never have to make excuses for yourself, but when potential employers are viewing your profiles online, you don't get the chance to make those excuses.

   But all of this talk of professionalism doesn't mean there's no room for you, you just have to know how to wear 'you' well in amongst all of it. Choose functional accessories like hair clips, notebooks and the like that have an element of 'you' - I love tribal and aztec patterns, fantasy and woodland themes. So, a nice woodland or dragon hair clip, aztec stationery - it's functional and it's minimal, but there's room to express yourself without being too loud. They're just details. These are things that I, personally, would choose (I'd prefer a dragon hair clip, if I'm honest, but I couldn't find any!)

Blazer & blouse by New Look
Laptop bag by Morelle
Shoes by TopShop
Hair clip by Avigail Adam
Nail polish by Barry M
Stationery by Paperchase
Textured Twist Hair by Cosmopolitan

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