So, I’m doing some volunteer work for a wonderful non-profit organization called Housing Initiatives of Princeton (HIP). Some of you will know the obvious reason, but that’s another story. (Click here if you want to see what HIP is all about).
I agreed to help HIP select an IT vendor to run their systems. So I put together the usual Request for Proposal that gets sent out—no sweat. But it turns out there are a ton of IT vendors that support the non-profit space. As I peruse their websites it hits me. This is slow and frustrating!
Now, I have in my mind what business functions the IT vendors should support for HIP’s non-profit operations: client case management, fund raising, accounting and event management. Simple, industry recognized terms. But as I dig though the vendor websites, they tell me what they want to tell me, not what I want to know. And it’s always the same thing—how they are the industry leader, how their system is flexible to meet my needs, how their solution will reduce my IT costs by 93.5% (come on!), how their solution is the best thing since sliced bread, blah, ba blah, ba blah, blah, blah, blah . . . And the long videos with all those smiling faces, pointing at screens with fancy bar and pie charts, agh!
That’s when it hits me. This is what literary agents must go through when they review book queries. I have run into the equivalent of a literary agent’s book query slush pile for IT vendors. And it ain’t pretty. Now I know why it takes so long to get that reject letter. The slush pile is something to be avoided at all costs. There has got to be a better way. My heart now goes out to all you literary agents for I have felt your pain!
So I got to thinking (yes, an unusual event in its own right) and realized that what the agents want from writers is the the same thing I want from those IT vendors. Just to quickly know if their product fits what I’m looking for. That’s all. And the magic word here is ‘quick.’ I know what I want to know about the competing IT vendors’ solutions: does it do x, y and z. In easy recognizable terms.
Now I need to discover the terms, the words, that rings the literary agents’ bell. Even though it is true, I can’t just say Heaven’s Ant Farm is the best space opera since they invented Tang! Unfortunately, finding the right words is not an exact science like the ones and zeros nomenclature of information technology.
So the days of emailed agent queries, like Self-Address Stamped Envelop queries, are coming to an end. Now there are twitter parties, mentor contests and the minivid that quickly tells the agent what your book is all about in terms that light up their world. Yes, the three minute elevator speech and 250 word synopsis about Heaven’s Ant Farm is about to become a five second video tweet.
Oh, and did I tell you I’m writing another book . . .