Thursday, March 26, 2015

Effective Professional Communication: The Approach

To all the people who have to make endless calls, trying to get on executives’ calendars – look, I get it. We all have our scripts to follow. Mine is “time is at an extreme premium” when you call me – and that is not a joke. Yours is “I’d just like to get a few minutes with him to introduce him to our company and what we can do for yours.” You have to do this over and over again with the same unresponsive people, and if you think I don’t know that, you underestimate my ability to recognize your phone number on my caller ID. I know exactly when you call, I know you do it on a repeating schedule. I GET it.

Most of you recognize that I am The Gatekeeper, and you behave accordingly, attempting to schmooze me (pointless) or tell me “He said he’d meet with us” (it worked ONE time, when I was new, and man do I have those guys’ numbers – and they will never, ever get in with my boss, ever) or actually behaving with friendly professionalism (the only viable approach). I entertain these varying gambits with exactly the responses they deserve, always professional, but pretty much hermetically sealed against the jerks who try to get one over on me, and impervious to anything but friendly professionalism. The ones who recognize, we’ve all got our scripts to follow: that, basically, we’re all in this together.

Make it unpleasant for me, and I will return the favor by making “progress” outright impossible for you.

So don’t refuse to speak with me when, instead of asking you “would you like to go to voice mail?” I say “Is there anything I may do for you?”

Don’t fail to realize that, if you want calendar time, I’m the person to ask for it; not my boss.

Don’t try to bypass me by snubbing me with a “Just put me in voicemail” and then leaving a message for my boss which (a) starts out with about twenty seconds of egregiously badly recorded music and (b) then segues into “I am so and so and I am FIGHTING to get a meeting with you.”

It turns out that the music was the Fighting Illini fight song – actually a commendable-ish piece of personalization, not that it actually changes the calendar any – and the “fighting” message was an allusion to that. So, okay, so he didn’t intend to make me look bad.

But this guy has been calling for a long time now, and my boss and I both recognize the number when it comes in now, and he’s never tried to talk with me, never left a message, and – cute as the personalization is – it doesn’t TELL US ANYTHING.

If he’d ever once actually attempted to speak with me like a all-growed-up professional, he could have introduced his company and himself, he could have gotten some information to me (and, that way, possibly to my boss – or, perhaps, even someone else more relevant to his needs), he might conceivably have made some sort of progress. Instead, what we have is enough weeks of calls from the same number that my boss and I both know a number is endlessly pinging us – and nothing else. No skin off of us, but it doesn’t make a GOOD first impression. And zero net effect for our fighting friend.

Who, to be honest, isn’t fighting all that hard, and who is strategizing his battle not. at. all.

It’s impossible not to be brought to mind of querying and trying to get an agent.

We all have our scripts to follow, and whether I personalize or not goes by the wayside if I make a lot of noise, without ever conveying the least bit of information ABOUT MY NOVEL. Or even that it is a novel. Or why I think it’s relevant to Agent X, Y, or Z. Or even make it clear that what I am attempting to do is to query something.

I called myself The Gatekeeper above, and would imagine most of my readers who are writers or agents (they do crop up!) would agree, the gatekeeper analogy in querying/publishing does nobody any favors.

But querying is a professional communication, we all agree on that. And to conduct professional communication in the way my fighting foe above has done would be unthinkable.

(Even now, I suspect Janet Reid, Jessica Faust, and hundreds of other agents are/would have to disagree – they probably do get EXACTLY this approach, from geniuses who’ve found the office number, and wish to treat agents to their honeyed words directly, bypassing slush with their pristine and special snowflakes. We’ve heard about it, and there are countless agency sites exhorting that authors NOT call them directly for a reason.)

It is for ME, and for all my wise and wonderful authorial readers, this would be unthinkable. Of course.

It seems so basic to me – yet I have worked in a fairly stereotypical office setting or another for nearly thirty years. Not all authors do, nor could stand to. And so baseline assumptions for effective professional communications are not there. And, given the creative nature of our product, we may think a creative approach is best in getting it out there.

That can work. But even the most unexpected innovations in getting our work out there, in the successful cases, still maintains essential professional respect. It doesn’t involve stalking agents to find out their alma mater and subjecting their voicemail to extreme lo-fi (do the kids know what low-fidelity means anymore, by the way … ?) fight songs. It involves getting attention without demanding it personally and invasively. Maybe by canny support in service of self-published work that stands the test of marketing success and the expectation of future revenue etc. Maybe in the unique voice of an unexpected character, translated into a simple, ordinary query. Maybe in a hundred ways I can’t think of because I am stodgy and dowdy and doing things the old way.

Not by calling incessantly for weeks, with no message.

Not by FIGHTING for time un-earned, while providing no reason it should be given.

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