Monday, June 16, 2008

First Impressions

How important is that first impression?

I was thinking about that question recently, remembering when I interviewed for my first teaching job. I'd been studying at the University of Maryland, had graduated with honors and received the outstanding student teacher award for my class. I'd passed the National Teacher's Exam with flying colors and had done the same on the graduate studies exam. I had the credentials and the know-how, but what got me the job was my outgoing nature. Or so I was told after the fact. What's funny is that I tend to be an introvert, but on that particular day, I'd decided that if I wanted to get the job, I had better walk in with a smile and a look of confidence. The principal had plenty of teachers in and out of his school. Many of them were young and inexperienced and left as soon as they could. I guess that's what prompted him to ask me why I thought I could handle the kind of kids that attended his school. My answer? "Well, how much trouble are they?"

He was honest. The kids came from rough situations, there were fights in the classrooms and in the halls. The principal needed a teacher who wasn't going to be cowed by such things. I wasn't so sure that was me, but I also wasn't sure it wasn't. I'd been praying about getting a teaching job. Who was I to say this wasn't God's answer? I told the principal that I'd been working with kids since I was in middle school and that I thought I could handle anything my students dished out.

I got the job based on my answer and on the Principal's perception of me - that I was young, energetic, outgoing and eager to face whatever challenge came my way.

When I wrote my first book and was ready to submit it, I understood that first impressions could open doors for me or cause them to be slammed shut. Editors receive many queries each week. Mine had to stand out. Not in a gaudy flashy way. In a way that captured positive attention and made the editor want to see more of my work. To prepare for that all important first impression, I studied books on queries, studied samples of good query letters, read examples of good synopses and generally learned everything I could about what editors wanted and didn't want in queries.

It paid off. I received positive responses to each of my queries and that first book was read by all the editors I'd queried. They didn't buy it (I cringe when I think of how horrible it was!), but, without exception, the editors wanted to see more of my writing. If you've just completed your first novel, remember that first impressions are very important. Research your market, know who is publishing what you write, know how many books they publish per year, prepare a query that is professional and a proposal that will leave the editor wanting more. You can always improve as a writer, but you can't change that first impression. Make it a good one!