Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DC4W: Be Friendly, Let Them Talk, and Give Them a Chance to Say, "Yes"

Technique Tuesday

Continuing our on-going series on Dale Carnegie for Writers (DC4W), the fourth, fifth, and sixth principles in the Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking, the third section in How to Win Friends and Influence People, are:

4. Begin in a friendly way

This principle is best illustrated for writers in terms of queries. Among sure-fire query turn-offs, a diatribe about how everything published prior to your book is rubbish, how the industry is broken because they haven't recognized your genius, or a promise that this is the agent's lucky day because your project is destined for such mind-boggling success that it won't be long before people say, "Rowling? Who's that?" are all near the top of the list.

Beginning in a friendly way, whether in person at a conference or on paper with a query, is nothing more or less than saying, in effect, "I recognize you're a decent person. I hope you can see that I'm a decent person too."

Put another way, a friend is someone who is aware of some of your needs and interests, and who, by implied social covenant, will not take advantage of that knowledge. That's a powerful foundation upon which to establish a relationship.

5. Start with questions the other person will answer yes to

Again, I see near consensus among agents that using a rhetorical question in a query, particularly one that the agent might answer with a, "no," is a bad idea. If you begin a query with, "Have you ever wondered what would happen if a hippopotamus appeared in your bathroom?" and the agent answers, "no," you're pretty much dead in the water.

The more often we say, "yes," to someone, the more likely we are to agree with them. The converse is equally true. You've likely experienced a crude form of this with hard-selling telemarketers: "Do you want to save money?" (How often have you had the strength of will to say, "No, not if it means working with you.")

While a conversation might afford you an opportunity to get an agent or editor to say yes, doing so in a written form is more subtle because you don't have the advantage of interaction (particularly the opportunity to ask a question again). Still there are implicit questions you can help your reader answer with a yes:
  • Does this writer have a command of the English language?
  • Have they taken care to correct error and typos?
  • Have they told me the name of their project and given me some basic information like genre, audience, and word count?
  • Can they convey what their book is about in a few paragraphs?
  • Do they understand that a query is a business letter and not a confessional?
  • (I trust you can think of others.)

6. Let the other person do the talking

Remember, people care first and foremost about their own needs. Listening, of course, is a good way to learn about those needs, but this principle goes beyond listening. A person who sells themselves on something is much more committed to the product or idea than someone who gets talked into it.

In writing, this means that the reader's experience with the project itself is the most powerful way to win them over. Hence the oft repeated advice to write the very best book you can first and make other considerations, like promotion, a lower priority.


Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net