A top literary agent once told me that for her to agree to represent an author, she had to fall in love with the manuscript first. Choosing a manuscript among the hundreds she received every month based on how it made her feel was one of the reasons why she was so successful.
I can certainly relate. Thanks to over a decade of being a full-time writer, I am in the privileged position of receiving dozens of enquiries every week for all sorts for writing services: from book-writing, to book collaborations, to writing articles and blogs for different companies. Much as I’d like to, I can’t do them all, so how do I choose? The projects I end up pursuing are the ones that instantly give me butterflies; the ones that I would regret if I turned them down.
A great example of a project I instantly fell in love with was academic text Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset (Sage 2018), which I co-authored with esteemed university professors Heidi Neck and Chris Neck. It took mere seconds for me to agree to sign up, and I am forever grateful I did. The text took over two years to complete and it was a dream project all the way through: great publisher, brilliant co-authors, and fascinating subject matter. All the components just fit. Little did we know that Entrepreneurship would end up winning two major industry awards just weeks after publication. One of the awards takes pride of place on my bookshelves and serves as a tangible reminder to go with my instincts when choosing among different projects.
Fall In Love – But Don’t Get Carried Away
While feeling excited about a project is a great feeling, be careful not to get too carried away. Before you sign up to a project, make sure you meet the person/people you will be working with first. No matter how great a project sounds, if you don’t like the people, then it won’t be a happy experience. Similarly, don’t allow yourself to get too flattered by ‘big names’. I’ve lost count of the number of writers or ghostwriters who eagerly accept alarmingly low fees for the ‘privilege’ of working with celebrities or others in the public eye. Unless you’re just starting out as a writer and looking for something to add to your portfolio, then don’t accept poorly-paid work.
Not in Love? Do A Good Job Anyway
It’s unrealistic to think that you will fall in love with every project that comes your way – after all, we freelancers still have to pay the bills. There have been plenty of distinctly unglamorous projects I signed up to in the early years for the sake of building my reputation and generating new contacts. But whatever I took on, despite my moans and groans, I worked on those projects to the best of my ability. And now I’m glad I did because some of the least fulfilling projects at the time ended up leading to much bigger and better things.
If It Feels Really Wrong – Don’t Do It
Granted, during the ‘famine’ times, we freelancers cannot afford to turn down work, but nothing is worth taking on a project that inherently feels wrong. My biggest regret is taking on projects that go entirely against my instincts. I tend to do this when I’m going through a dry work period, during which I start to panic about lack of income. I’ve learned the hard way that acting out of desperation is the best way to make a bad decision. One of my biggest regrets was agreeing to ghost a book for a high-profile businessman. From the outset, everything was wrong: the initial crass email, the constantly missed or delayed interviews, not to mention all the late or non-existent payments. After weeks of this treatment, I bowed out of the project – nothing was worth the stress of being treated with such disrespect. I had gone against my instincts and paid the price.
Knowing what feels or doesn’t feel right is something that becomes more developed over time. In a way, bad experiences are a good way to hone our instincts and ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again. The best projects may not come along every day, but when they do, go with your instincts and grab them with both hands. After all, how often do we get a chance to fall in love?
Emma Murray is a bestselling, award-winning author and ghostwriter, specialising in business, psychology and higher education. She also ghosts books, blogs, articles, case studies, and book proposals.