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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Finding the Side Door to Success

Be Mused

Finding the Side Door to Success

Dear Muse,

I'm a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and I love being outside in the rain, sleet and snow. But my frustration comes with not having enough time to pursue my creative dreams. I do as much as I can, but I've always dreamed of earning a living from my talents. Plus I tend to hop from one creative adventure to the next without any real follow-through on promoting my work.

So far I have only one rejection letter, and I gather I should solicit more for a future collage. Any ideas?

You could start gathering more rejection letters, but a better plan would be to aim for a few acceptances instead. Why not increase the likelihood of your success by learning from the mistakes of so many before you?

For starters, there is the notion that if you throw enough crap at the ceiling some of it will stick. The only problem with that concept is that most all of it ends up falling back down on your head. No matter what kind of work you do, spamming — indiscriminately sending samples of your art or music or writing to scores of potential galleries, music labels or publishers — is a waste of your time and money. Even established publishing houses themselves face stiff competition as, for example, both "Kirkus Reviews" and "Publishers Weekly" receive about 200 new books for review consideration every day. Without careful targeting, most materials end up at the bottom of the slush pile — but yours don't necessarily have to.

Instead of going through the front door along with everyone else, why not slip through the side? The side door for the writer is the representation of a reputable literary agent. For an artist, musician or other performer, going through the side door means landing a good business manager. Although your local reference librarian can help you search for representation, I think there is an even better way to find just the right agent or manager. Start by thinking carefully about what kind of person might want to represent you and your creative projects. Is your work similar to that of any other established writers or artists? If so, target only their agents in lieu of spamming. Good research on your part nearly always increases your odds of getting in via the side door.

But what if you try and try and still can't seem to interest someone in representing you? In that case, you'll want to channel a bit of P.T. Barnum from beyond the grave. Barnum, a veritable PR genius, said, "Without promotion something terrible happens, nothing!" He made and lost fortunes time and again as a lecturer, entrepreneur, showman and originator of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He owed much of his success to his ingenuity and tenacity — not to mention that he was a savvy manipulator of both the press and the public. Barnum successfully passed off an 80-year-old black woman as the 160-year-old former nurse of George Washington, and he brought throngs of people the diminutive Tom Thumb, the bearded lady, a smattering of albinos, and much more. He was so obsessed with generating publicity that he even convinced New York's "Evening Sun" to print his obituary while he was still alive just so he could read it! (Two weeks later, he died for real.)

For Barnum, selling the sizzle was always much more important than the quality of the steaks, but, in your case, you've got to make sure what you have to offer is Grade A. When promoting your work, send only your best in a highly professional package •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »