Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, July 16, 2007

Be a Purple Cow

by Jeffrey S Savage

Last week, I blogged about writing and getting published. The lovely and talented Worldbuilder Robin suggested I write about HOW to get published. First of all let me say that getting a contract can apparently be a very bad thing—leading to weight gain, financial ruin, depression, walking around with only one shoe on, loneliness, and selling Chapstick on the street. At least according to this New York Observer story.

However, if you are willing to risk the inherent dangers of such a venture, (and if you can remember to put on both shoes) I will share with you what I feel is the single greatest tool in getting published, or achieving any other success. But should you choose to read farther, "No fear have ye of evil curses says you. Properly warned ye be, says I.” (The first person to identify this quote in the comments, without using the Internet wins the choice of any signed book of mine.)

In my office at work—standing under a little palm tree type plant which I have managed not to kill—is a purple cow approximately four inches high. I might have purchased the cow just for the heck of it. I mean how many people have a purple cow in their office? But that’s actually the point.

Several years ago, I was at a conference of some sort where the keynote speaker was business author, Seth Godin. At the conference, Seth talked about his book Purple Cow. My remembrance of the story is that as Seth and his family were driving in the country, they came across a field of cows. Excited to see the cows, his kids asked to get out of the car and look at them.

After driving past fields and fields of cows, the novelty wore off and the kids’ attention turned to other things. Noticing how quickly the cows became ordinary, Godin wondered what it would take to reignite the children’s interest. He decided that if one of the cows were purple instead of the usual array of blacks, whites, and browns, it would stand out among all the other cows.

At first that might seem like a big deal. I mean, have you ever seen a purple cow? But when you think about it, it’s not such a big change. Just a different color. But that little change would be enough to make one cow stand out among all the others. I believe that is also the case in publishing, as well as in much of life. It isn’t necessary to be worlds different to succeed. It’s just the little things that really count.

A couple of examples:

When my two teenagers went out to get their first jobs, I told them to make up a resume. Typical teen responses were, “You don’t need a resume, Dad. They have an application to fill out.” And. “How can I make a resume? I don’t have any experience. That’s why I’m trying to get a job.” My response was to ask them how many other teens were applying for the same jobs. And how many of those teens would fill out just the applications. Long story short, they added resumes and got more job offers than any of their friends.

I have a new salesperson I recently hired. Along with doing everything I've asked of him, he located lists of potential customers and makes sure to cold call them several hours a day. When my next senior position opens up, who do you think will have first choice?

By contrast, the Spanish Fork theater is just down the street. They are the closest movie theater to me. And yet, I drive another fifteen minutes to go to the Payson theater. Why? Because the people are more polite there, and the theater is cleaner.

So how does that apply to writing? Everyone is trying to be different. In fact being different is almost like being the same in some cases. Writing your book on purple paper is different, but not in a good way. Sending balloons to an editor is not only not different, it is also not good. But the little things—the things that may not seem like much—are what separate success from failure.

Take research. How many of you are writing an LDS novel right now? How many of you have actually taken the time to ask LDS editors what kind of books they are looking for? It isn’t hard. One of them has a blog. But even the other ones are accessible. Have you tried just sending a brief e-mail explaining who you are, thanking them for what they do, and asking them politely what kind of books they are looking for?

It’s a little more difficult in the national market, but not impossible. Research the agents who publish your genre, then check their websites and blogs. Most of them have at least one entry where they say what their ideal book is. So write it.

When you send out your query, do you print it out on laser printer and choose the brightest paper? Do you use the correct fonts and margins? I know, it’s a little thing, but still . . .

How many of you have gone to a writer’s conference where you signed up for a fifteen minute session with an editor? How many of you spent the whole fifteen minutes talking about your book? What if you sat down with the editor—maybe even offered them a bottle of water—and said, “Tell me what kind of book would knock your socks off?” Bet you’d be the only one.

When I go to a bookstore signing, and things are a little slow, I always offer to help out. I’ve put up signs, shelved books, helped customers find books, swept. How many other authors do you think do that?

How about rejection? What do you do when an editor or agent rejects you? Curse and throw things right? What if you politely thanked the editor for their time, explained that you know they are busy, and asked if they had any advice on what could make your work more publishable? Silly right? And yet I know of more than a dozen PUBLISHED writers who have done just that and gotten positive results. In fact that’s how I got my agent.

When Dead on Arrival was coming out, I had a chance to meet with the Seagull Managers of every store. Along with many other authors, I had about fifteen minutes to promote my book. Most authors gave nice informative presentations. There were a lot of very good presentations. But how many people do you think showed up as Howie Mandell, complete with bald head and goatee to do a version of Deal or No Deal?

Thousands and thousands of people every day send out queries. Most of them don’t take the time to learn how to write a quality query. They have failed before they ever began because they were willing to put months into writing a novel, but they weren’t willing to put a couple of hours into researching what makes a good query.

Thousands of people are willing to sweat over a novel. But they're not willing to take a class or read a couple of good books on the subject. Thousands of people are going to wonder why they didn't succeed.

If you want to succeed in anything, it’s really very easy. Put in just a little more effort than the other 99%.


At 7/17/2007 7:50 AM, Blogger Aneeka said...

It's amazing how far the little things can go.

A quick question, though, if I may. I've heard that agents/editors don't like it when they receive a thank you note for their rejections. I've read on an agent's blog that it just adds to the mail they get and since it's not really necessary, they'd prefer not getting it.

So I'm rather torn by your advice. Are most agents/editors like the one I read above or are most agents/editors like the ones you seem to associate with?

I'm not familiar with the LDS publishing methods though. Is this advice for that area of publishing or are you including the national market as well?

I'd just hate to try to be nice and end up shooting myself in the foot instead.

Thanks in advance.

At 7/17/2007 9:07 AM, Blogger Jennifer Leffler said...

That sounds like something Yoda would say.

At 7/17/2007 10:09 AM, Blogger ChillyGator said...

Hey, Jeff, bonus points if you can apply this in how to get and impress a date (o:

Those were really great suggestions. You didn't really dress up like Howie Mandell, did you??? Because that is awesome.

At 7/17/2007 12:12 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I know the quote! (But since I already have multiple copies of all your books, I guess I'll leave the prize for somebody else.)

Very super-terrific blog. I printed it off for a couple of young writers I know and love. Thanks!

At 7/17/2007 12:44 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

It's not Yoda. But the very fact that I have it memorized would be a clue if you know my family very well.

Chilly give me a couple of minutes to think, and I'll give you dating applications.

Kerry, doesn't surprise me at all that you know the quote. You are too cool.


Here is the deal. Agents are very busy and generally they do not want more e-mail. That is a fact. So I would not e-mail an agent to say thanks for a rejection. Also, I would not e-mail an agent to ask for clarification on a rejection of a query.

However, if the agent/editor (be it national or LDS) has requested any kind of partial (that is they have requested additional chapters/pages/etc after your initial query.) I always, and I mean ALWAYS would ask in a very polite manner for follow up.

Now this does not guarantee they will reply. They are busy and they might just ignore you. BUT, as I stated I know of many people who were initially rejected, who followed up and got enough information to either improve their work or actually resubmit.

The e-mail I recommend goes something like this:

Dear Ms. Dashner,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my manuscript, Falling For Finance.

I kow how busy you are, and if you don't have time to respond, I completely understand. But since you are exactly the kind of agent I am looking for, and I'd like to resubmit to you in the future, I was wondering if you had any feedback at all as to what didn't work for you.

Was the writing not up to national quality? Was it a plot issue? Or was it just not the type of book you are looking for at this time?

Best wishes,

Jeff Savage

What editors/agents are deathly afraid of is that you'll pester them. How dare you not like my character? My mom loves my writing!

But if you come across as a professional who wants to improve and work with them in the future, (And if they want to work with you in the future) you may learn something very valuable.

At 7/17/2007 2:12 PM, Blogger Josi said...

And where does someone find a purple cow? I need some inspiration!

I think the quote is the first pirates movie--


At 7/17/2007 4:36 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Great blog, Jeff.

One suggestion for those targeting the LDS market is to attend the LDStorymakers conference and pay close attention at the publisher's panel--heck, ask a ton of questions at it! That's a great chance to hear it from the editors themselves what they want and whether your current work in progress fits those needs.

At 7/17/2007 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you have so much time to write such an extensive blog? :)

At 7/17/2007 11:26 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

Pirate 3, says I.

At 7/17/2007 11:29 PM, Blogger Aneeka said...

Thanks for your response, Jeff. It clarified things very well.


At 7/20/2007 12:45 PM, Blogger Darvell Hunt said...

In Pleasant Grove, you can get a burger and Fries at The Purple Cow.


At 7/20/2007 12:50 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

But are their burgers and fries at least a little better than normal? Wait, ins't it actually the Purple Turtle?


Post a Comment

<< Home