You Had Me at Hell, No:A Writer's Guide to Boundaries
In a desperate bid to avoid work the other day, I was reading an article on 10 Things You Shouldn't Do in Job Interviews when I noticed that the number one warning was not to smile too much.
After thinking about it, I agree that excessive smiling can convey the image of neediness, subservience, and desperation. Just as single folks most often run from members of the opposite sex who come off as neurotically eager for approval and a quick commitment, prospective agents, editors, and others in the business of writing can be turned off by an author whose bargaining position is on her knees.
I'm not advocating behaving like a diva (believe me), but neither should you play the doormat by caving to every demand, no matter how outrageous (beat me! whip me! make me write bad checks!) or putting on the please-sir-may-I-have-some-more face when you're negotiating contracts or other terms of business. Because you are a business, bringing a product to the table that others need and want, and if you don't start by believing in yourself and what you have to offer (or at least pretending you do), you can't realistically expect anyone else to buy into your dreams.
Along with excessive smiling and giving in, too many compliments can also work against you. It's bad enough to act like the suck-up every school kid hated, but when you go overboard in this area, you may be perceived as insincere and, worse yet, manipulative. While everyone appreciates being thanked and the sparing use of sincere and relevant compliments is quite appropriate, gushing makes you look weak and submissive.
Back when I was just getting started and facing a lot of failure and rejection, I sometimes found it tough to project the confidence I needed. I managed by reminding myself that the successful businessmen and women I've met never:
1. apologize for taking up the time of someone to whom they're presenting what they believe to be a mutually beneficial opportunity.
2. constantly worry their approaches my be misconstrued or laughed at.
3. allow a customer or client's yes or no to impact their sense of self-worth.
4. endlessly obsess about the reasons for a turn-down.
4. imagine that refusing a sub-basement offer is The End.
If handled professionally and pleasantly, saying no (though probably not "Hell, no) can be a real boon for your career, especially if you state your reasoning and/or come back with an appropriate counter-offer. Rather than causing the person offering to slam down the phone (or delete your e-mail or what have you), you may often find that a refusal sets you on the path to a negotiation that will bring you much, much more.
At the very least, it will earn you a bit of respect, both from others (in many cases) and yourself and may help ensure that you won't become the go-to author for ridiculous offers and unreasonable demands.
So is my list missing anything? What else should writers remember to be perceived as businesslike?