As so frequently happens in life, I’m seeing a pattern between some disparate events that have occurred recently. (This is what happens when I try to write a blog post before 7 AM. I use words like disparate and phrases like “have occurred” in the first sentence.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been trying to sell my house. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, you basically post photos and information about your house in certain places (the MLS, Zillow, etc.), set a price, and hope people come and look at the property. Then you hope they like it enough to either say, “I’ll take it” or “I like it, but not at that price. How about $X instead.”
It’s very easy during this process to start negotiating against yourself. You post your photos, you name your price, and no one comes to see the property. Now what? Was it the photos? Was it the description? Is it because the house was shown on Channel 10 news recently as a crack house? Maybe it’s the price? Maybe you should lower it by $10K.
Or what if tons of people come to see the house, but no one indicates interest? Is it because of the bright red paint you have in the master bedroom? Or the creepy neighbor who insists on talking to everyone? Or the fact that the basement is unfinished and small things are scurrying around down there? Maybe it’s the price? Maybe you should lower it by $10K.
What if they come, they say they love it, but they don’t make an offer? Is it the kitchen? Or the garage? Maybe it’s the price? Maybe you should lower it by $10K.
YOU DON’T KNOW. But it’s very easy to want to “take control” of the situation somehow. And there are only so many things you can do. You can make sure the pictures are nice, that the description is accurate, that the house is clean and smells nice, and the little things that you can fix have been fixed. (Repaint the red wall. Trust me.)
And you can remove all the excess clutter to a storage unit (along with any embarrassing items that a bunch of strangers don’t need to see). But after you’ve done all that it’s very tempting to start tinkering with the price.
And sometimes you need to. But I suspect a lot of times it’s just a matter of patience. You have to wait it out. Because until someone expresses enough of an interest to name a price they would pay for your house, you’re just negotiating against yourself. You’re taking money out of your pocket and potentially for no good reason.
We kept the price the same on this listing and it took about six weeks for a real offer to come through (not one of those lowball let’s see if they’re desperate offers), but one did and then we had something to actually work against. (And we had positive feedback throughout that it was well-priced, so it’s not like we were working in a vacuum.) But it was very tempting a few times to say, “should we lower the price?”
I had the same issue again this weekend with the garage sale. I put ads out there to bring people in, but until people were here there was nothing to do. Changing the prices wasn’t going to help if no one was there to see what was on sale. I could’ve walked around the house all day changing prices, but it wouldn’t have sold anything. Without someone there to buy, there was no point. (And almost everyone who did come by, bought things. So it wasn’t the pricing that was the issue.)
Now, to bring this back to writing. I think the query process is another area where it’s tempting to start negotiating against yourself. And sometimes that’s justified. Your query is basically your advertisement for your product. Write a bad advertisement, you’re either not going to attract anyone to look at your novel or you’re going to attract the wrong type of person to look at it.
Going back to the house analogy for a moment. When my parents listed their house for sale many years ago the agent listed it as a four bedroom house when it was really a three bedroom house with a converted garage. This resulted in a lot of showings, but no offers. If you oversell or missell something, chances are you’re going to attract the wrong type of buyer and you’re not going to get to where you need to be.
So to me it’s better to be true to what you’re selling and maybe attract a smaller but more interested group of buyers. You need to make sure your advertisement (your query) sells your product well. But after that you need to sit on your hands and wait it out and have faith in the process.
It’s way too easy to start trying to twist yourself and your novel into knots trying to find what you think might please each agent or editor. Stop.
(Note that I sometimes write these posts for myself as much as anyone else. I do have one young character in my book and I could say YA in a query just to get past the query stage, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s a YA novel and I don’t want to do that. Using the house analogy again, it might get me showings, but it wouldn’t get me offers.)
Anyway. Bottom line. Don’t negotiate against yourself.
Don’t assume you’re asking for too much until someone actually tells you you are. Don’t decide you wrote a really shitty query until you get feedback to that effect. (And if you need to, run it through Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write or send it to Query Shark or Evil Editor or someone.) Don’t tear your novel apart just because you think everyone hates unicorns until you’ve proven that everyone really does hate unicorns.
Trust the process and be patient.
(And note to self: Do not write long-winded incoherent posts at the same time you’re going to start querying agents.)