First Impressions Count

Recently several things have come across my desk to remind me of an old truth: first impressions count. Whether you are sending an email query or submitting a book proposal or a manuscript in the mail, what impression are you going to make? Or maybe you are meeting an editor at a conference or you’ve decided to take part of your summer travels and drop by the publishing house.

No matter which situation is ahead for you, make sure you consciously consider your impression. Several years ago, I flew to New York City for a convention with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I thought my bag felt a little light—and when I unpacked, I realized that I had left my suits hanging in my closet at home. I called my wife in a bit of a panic—until she reminded me that I was in one of the largest cities in the world. The next morning I purchased a new suit and even had the pants tailored before the day was completed.  I was really glad to have my proper New York attire for what happened during the next day of this particular conference.

One of our ASJA members had written a book with Roselynn Carter which was selected for a special award. The Carters were invited to our member luncheon (a small gathering of about 200 people or less) and the day before the public conference. The Carters were scheduled to attend. While I wasn’t a part of the honored table seated with President and Mrs. Carter, I wrangled a seat where the Secret Service was having lunch nearby. My book, Lessons From the Pit, had just released and I had a copy tucked in my satchel. With the permission of the agent, I quickly autographed it, introduced myself to former President Jimmy Carter and gave him a copy. It was the only book he carried out of the room (they left immediately after speaking to the group). I was relieved to be wearing the right type of attire. 

As an editor, I’ve always tried to prepare my authors–especially if they are speaking in chapel or addressing a large group of people within the publishing house. It might be your only chance to connect with these people (sales, marketing, publishing executives). One time an author made such a negative impression while speaking, the VP of Marketing couldn’t get motivated to read the book. Now that’s a huge problem for the author (and this author was unaware of the impression).

There is wisdom in being kind to everyone in the publishing house. Some people only want to make an impression on the “leaders” or the “editors” and neglect the editorial assistants or the receptionists or others. It all filters back to those editors and leaders within the house–long after you have left. And this advice is equally important in the phone messages and other types of dealings with the publishing house. Don’t stress over it–but the reality is that each piece of communication or visit, builds an impression–and you want it to be positive. Jacqueline Deval in Publicize Your Book includes this tip in one of the nine common mistakes that authors make, “You are polite to your editor, but you condescend to the editorial assistant. The assistants are the grease that keep your wheels moving—never forget that.” (p. 77)

One of my authors, Dr. Debbie Cherry, brought little treasure chests prepared at home to go with her first book (Discovering the Treasure of Marriage). At the time, this book had not been released but was in production and coming out soon. She added little chocolates and a tiny scroll of appreciation inside the treasure chests. Those little boxes were scattered on various desks and bookshelves throughout the publishing house and left a reminder of Debbie’s book long after her visit.

Never forget that you are your own best marketing when it comes to your books or writing.

3 Responses to “First Impressions Count”

  1. C.J. Darlington Says:

    Wow, that’s quite a story of how you were able to get a copy of your book into the hands of Jimmy Carter. Were you nervous asking for permission and then going up to him? I know I would have been.

    Your thoughts on treating people kindly reminds me of the Golden rule. I hope I always remember to honor it.

  2. Shelley Says:

    I agree. First impressions do make a difference, and we should be polite to all people no matter what position they hold.

  3. Gina Holmes Says:

    Great advice, Terry. And I hope people are nice because that’s what’s inside them and not just to make a sale. Yuck. Most people spot a phoney a mile away. I’d like to think I do. It’s the people who do nice things expecting nothing in return that warm hearts.

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