The One Personal Factor that Can Decide Writing Success--or Failure


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In his book, “Blink, ” Malcolm Gladwell points out that people never sue doctors they like. There is a strong correlation between the doctor's warmth, the interest he or she takes in the patient, and the amount of time they spend talking to a patient, and whether or not they will ever be sued for malpractice.

In his book, “The Science of Influence, " Kevin Hogan points out a similar phenomenon among real estate agents. One of the strongest factors in whether buyers buy from a real estate agent, he says, is whether that agent expresses interest in the client. Hogan's advice: sell the client on YOU first.

Do you think this might have any implication for us as writers? (Hint: YES!) Editors and publishers are no different from anyone else. They also like to work with people they like. But in our case, we may never have personal contact with them, so we have to achieve this with our letters and possibly phone calls.

Here is how to be appealing to editors and publishers:

  • Look at everything from their viewpoint, not just your own. In a query letter, this means being clear on why their readers will be interested in what you’re offering. For books, it means being specific and clear about how you will help market them.

  • Value their time. In all your communication, be concise.

  • Recognize that they are the experts, and be flexible. My next book, “Your Writing Coach, ” started life with the title, “Time to Write, ” but my publisher has had a good track record selling books with a coaching orientation, so I had no problem agreeing to the change of title.

  • Be helpful. For example, if you spot an article that might be of interest, send it to them.

  • Respect the gate-keepers as well (secretaries and assistants). If you treat them well, they will help you and may compliment you to their bosses.

    ACTION: Take a look at the letters you have sent and mentally review some of your recent phone conversations. Find the ways that you might be able to increase your likeability—you may find that it also increases your sales.

    Your writing coach Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, six non-fiction books, short stories, articles, and plays. He is also an international creativity and writing teacher coach. More tips and techniques are available at his website: , where you can also sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm e-bulletin. Also see his blog at

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