How can you avoid rookie mistakes as a first time physician writer?
The other day I was talking to a colleague about my upcoming publishing course (www.HarvardWriters.com) and mentioned that I need to find a way to tell the doctors who attend how to avoid saying the wrong thing right off the bat to an editor or agent.
It's easy to do, because what makes sense to say isn't always the right thing. In fact, it might be exactly the wrong thing--a statement that gets your book idea shot down before you can even describe the concept.
My colleague suggested that I prepare some slides that are called Rookie Mistakes You Don't Want to Make. I just may prepare those slides! There are a lot of things I could put on them. Here are 4 examples:
1. Don't ever tell an editor or an agent that you want to write a book about a topic that "has never been done before." The more unique your idea, the more likely it is to get shot down. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but if you think about it from a marketing point of view then you'll realize that editors and agents like what is tried and true. They think that there's probably a good reason why a book such as the one you are trying to describe hasn't been done. And, as soon as those words come out of your mouth...they're done listening!
2. Don't start at the beginning! A lot of people talk to agents and editors about their book ideas as if they are telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. These folks don't have the time or patience to sit through that again and again. Begin with the end -- or at least the middle. I don't mean to confuse them with a an incomplete example, but rather start with your strongest material. Think of your first few sentences (whether written or oral) as the headline in a news article. Very few editors are willing to listen to someone build their story to an exciting climax. They want the climax first. What's exciting about it and why should they be interested in it?
3. Don't tell say that you have never seen a book like yours. This is a bit of a variation on #1, but it's a little different. You actually do have to differentiate your idea from other books that have been published already. This has to do with the competitive book analysis that goes into a proposal. If your competitive analysis is "I haven't ever seen a book that is quite like the one that I am proposing", that statement will mark you as a genuine rookie. If you say that you've done your research and searched in the bookstore and online booksellers and there are books that are similar but here's how yours is different, that marks you as a pro.
4. Don't say that your friends, colleagues, or especially your family members, like your writing or think you are a good writer or anything that even remotely resembles a comment similar to this. Even if an editor doesn't actually roll his eyes right then, he's thinking, "Oh, brother..." Good writers publish. They don't lead with how much their friends or families love their writing.
I'll write some "Do's" in upcoming columns. These are just a few tricky pitfalls that truly doom great books from ever getting published!