Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Another small restaurant opened—another one closed

And what the hell does that have to do with writing and publishing?

I tend to make strange connections in both my writing and in business, which is one of the reasons I like Freakonomics.  My observation is that there is a similarity between my observation of how many small restaurants open for business and then go belly up and writing (and publishing).

A huge number of really smart and often successful people try and open a restaurant. Have you noticed the number of celebrities who open up restaurants? New immigrants? “Retired” business men and women? Others? It’s the low barrier to entry. You really don’t need any special skills to open a restaurant, nor do you need huge amounts of capital (some, but not huge).

You do work your ass off. If you are a great chef, your odds of a favorable review go up and this increases your odds of success, but neither guarantee success.

Yeah, you’re smart. You are starting to see the analogy (imperfect though it may be). In a down economy I actually see more restaurants starting up, not less.  And more of them fold. The competition heats up. Randomness, like location, or some gimmick help determine success.

What makes for a great restaurant? (You figure out the application to authors, I trust your intelligence).

There are inspired chefs, who never had training and are still just incredible and there are those who go to culinary school and are technically really good, but something is missing and there are those who have both the training and inspiration to some degree. The little restaurant in the neighborhood I used to live in was run by an Czech woman who had 1 item on the lunch menu each day, 1 soup, and a choice of pastries.  She made them all herself. Very nice, food. Seating for 4 total. ToGo available. You were never going to find French food there. The food was plain, simple, but Czech (similar to German or Austrian). The restaurant folded, but fortunately because her pastries were doing so well she concentrated on those and sold them at farmers markets (this is all in Seattle).

She found her niche and she stuck to it. She concentrated on her strength and never got formal training. She is never going to get rich, but she makes a living.

What all these successful restaurateurs have in common is that they work hard, they are professional, and they either perfect their niche, or they are constantly experimenting. New fusion of old ideas.  After all, food has been around forever, how many new ideas can there be? Yeah, same thing with stories and novels.

What strikes me is that in a down economy, there is less of a market for restaurants – less people eating out – yet more restaurants than ever are opening. And closing. The restaurants that are successful in a down economy are not exactly the same as those in an up economy. Cheap is good. Simple. Comfort food. Value. The smart restaurateur will adapt. Some will open up another restaurant, with a different theme. You might not even know they were owned by the same person. Many, seven out of eight, will go bankrupt. Many owners will try again.

Colonel Sanders, as many know, didn’t get successful (really successful) until he was almost 50 and he started out serving food out of his gas station. Ironically, his path to success really started in the great depression. It wasn’t until he was 65 that he, due to failure, managed to get franchises going.

So, in this down economy, be aware that there will be more, not less competition, and what you serve may need to change over time, but you can still be successful.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reason 100 why editors/agents don’t bother with personal rejections

The other month I gave a detailed explanation as to what I thought might be wrong with a manuscript and why we were rejecting it. This included typos, repetitive sentences, and some flawed research on the first five pages. Yet, at the kernel was a good idea.

My thought in writing the personal rejection, that included pointing out these issues, was that perhaps this writer had never submitted before, had never had a personalized rejection, and indeed may not have researched how to submit. I was trying to be encouraging.

I failed miserably. 

The reaction from the author was fast and vitriolic. Why couldn’t I just say “no,” he asked. I didn’t have to, as he said, “write a novel rejecting me.” The swear words were liberally sprinkled in the response.

Now, we deal almost exclusively with email. This tends to be a rapid response medium, with often no thinking before hitting send. I have been as guilty as anyone of this. I will assume that some of this came from the author reacting and not thinking.

That said, no editor is going to feel any reward from this sort of response and the reaction will be “the more I get these, the less personal my responses will be.”

Really, this is a long winded way of saying, take any detail in a response from an editor as something valuable. If ten minutes went into that response, plus the time it took to read the query and the first pages, then you are getting something of value. Thank the agent, or editor, for their time.  Don’t demand more of their time. Don’t get angry at the rejection.

Detail means something moved the agent or editor to actually pause and write! Take it and use it! Don't take it out on the person trying to help.