February 29, 2012

No, you don't deserve a response

Agne Kveselyte — stock.xchng
An item on Chip MacGregor's blog earlier this month got me thinking.

If you send unsolicited mail to a business—that is, something the recipient did not ask for—do you expect a response?

When I worked at the business journal, I got about a hundred e-mails a day. That's not hyperbole. That's an average. I counted. OK, I let Entourage count.

If I answered every story pitch or press release, at a minute per answer, I would have spent almost a quarter of my day just answering e-mail.

But most public relations professionals know that only about 10 percent of stories pitched to media outlets actually get used. That's in line with Sturgeon's Law, which states that 90 percent of everything is crap. The ratio must hold for agent queries and book pitches as well.

The writer who complained to Chip about the lack of response to a query needs to understand that sending unsolicited mail is not your entrée to a conversation. I mean, if a car dealership sends you a letter suggesting that you trade in your Toyota for a new Chevy, the dealer doesn't expect you to send a note back saying "no, thank you." A query to an agent or editor is the same thing: an offer to do business. It's theirs to take or leave. Consider this: unsolicited mail is also the polite name for what we otherwise call spam.

February 21, 2012

A new label for us quiet types

A couple of weeks ago, after a board meeting, one of the other members thanked me for my input. She noted that I don't speak often, but when I do, it's a good contribution.
Photo by Laflor Photography — iStockphoto

I said I believe it's important to speak only when I have something useful to say. She said the very scarcity of my speech gives what little I do say more power.

Truthfully, I'm naturally reserved and am inclined to believe the proverb about it being better to remain silent and be thought foolish than to speak and remove all doubt. But there may still be more to it than that.

I followed a link in the recent issue of Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine to Sally Hogshead's website to learn my F-score.

According to Hogshead's matrix, I'm a "Wise Owl," which means "observant, assured, and unruffled." I think some of my past colleagues would debate that final point.

Hogshead studies personality, a subject that has intrigued me since I learned about Myers-Briggs. I'm a sucker for any sort of "answer these questions and we'll tell you about yourself" assessment. I like this one because Hogshead focuses on the aspects of your personality that make you "fascinating" to others.

I was surprised to learn my primary "trigger," as Hogshead calls it, is "Mystique." Yet, as I read the description, this totally clicked:
When you do share an idea or opinion, it carries more influence than it would for those who tend to 'over-share.'

That is what my fellow board member was talking about.

Mystique! I have mystique. Who knew?

But how is this useful?

Anyone in business must at some point figure out what separates them from the competition. This is usually presented as being your "unique selling position," or USP. Assessments like this one can help you develop the concepts you need to express your USP.

Am I, then, going to bill myself as the Mystique-y editor? No. But get this: one feature of Mystique is, "You persuade others by selectively culling your words and actions."

Hu-lo? Selectively culling words? It's what I do!

I probably won't use the same language as Hogshead's assessment, or the Strengthsfinder one either, but I can use them as a starting point for positioning. I'll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, I've added her book Fascinate to my shopping list, along with StandOut by Marcus Buckingham and Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki.

February 8, 2012

A magical escape

Finding AngelFinding Angel by Kat Heckenbach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Finding Angel, Kat Heckenbach creates a community so lovable you wish you could move there. Like some other fantastical worlds we know of, this one exists alongside our own. But one doesn’t need a magic portal or spell to reach Toch Island. You just need the right map. The great thing about this is it leaves the reader with the feeling that you could go visit those magical folk, if only you had the latitude and longitude.

The downside is--within the storyworld--non-magical bad guys can find the island, too. Toch Island isn’t a paradise—they have no iPads there. And it has the same sort of small-town politics that any human settlement might have. But the real threat comes from outside.

From one of us.

Finding Angel is an intriguing tale with a strong, believable young protagonist. As Angel searches for her own lost history, new questions arise and the stakes get higher. The more she learns about the hometown from which she’s been separated for so long, the more she learns about herself.

Her friend and guide, Gregor, is a noble, selfless man mature beyond his years. More mature, as it turns out, than a powerful but selfish elderly neighbor.

Finding Angel is full of intriguing characters--so much so that when you’re not reading it, you’re still thinking about them. Where are they? What are they doing? What will happen next? That’s reader engagement, people.

And when it’s over, you want to go visit again, so you can see how they’re doing. Fortunately, The sequel, Seeking Unseen, is due for release in July. I’m booking my ticket now.

View all my reviews

February 2, 2012

Giving new meaning to knowledge worker

Photo by Akash Khairate — sxc.hu
How many so-called knowledge workers in today’s office environment know the first thing about computers? Sure, they can save a Word document. But can they do simple chores such as type in the IP address of a network, plug in the Ethernet cable and get connected without help?

Computers are tools and most users today have given up on learning the fundamentals of the machines that dominate their workdays. I’m not saying that every knowledge worker should be a full-blown geek … I’m talking about the basic computer skills…

John C. Dvorak wrote “Know-Nothing Knowledge Workers Must Go!” ten years ago. Yet nothing has changed. If anything, things are worse. Now, we regularly deal with people who not only can’t plug in their own computer, they are proud of it. I’ve known people younger than I am to gleefully declare themselves “Luddites” with no interest in learning any of that geeky stuff. Their usual stance?

“I’ll leave that to you.”

Gee, thanks. But what if I have work of my own to do?

Although it may seem that technophiles and technophobes often break along generational lines, it’s not a clear-cut generational divide. Plenty of Boomers and their elders have made it their business to know this stuff. Heck, some of them invented this stuff. Ethernet was developed in the 1970s.

Educators use the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to separate those who grew up with technology from those who didn’t. Those Luddite juniors of mine? It’s not that they didn’t have access to technology. It’s just that they didn’t take advantage of the access they had. I, however, learned to program in BASIC in high school. Because I’m just that nerdy.

But that’s why I, though I’m in a generation that’s just a bit too old to be truly native, am still a high-functioning, fluent immigrant. Not quite as fluent as my twenty-ish colleagues who grew up with computers in their homes, but I guess you could say I’ve “gone native.”

One of the main things that will hamper the professional advancement of Luddite immigrants from any generation will be the ability of digital natives and fluent digital immigrants to kick tail in the IT area. Tech-savvy workers will make themselves more valuable, while Luddites will weigh down their workgroups.

It may have been an overstatement for Dvorak to say the Luddites “must go.” They can stay where they are. But they need to do so with the knowledge that they are likely to be left behind.