Everyone says, “Penelope why don't you write a book?” and I always reply, “Good idea.” And then I say, “I mean, I *am* writing one.” Because that's what you're supposed to say when someone asks if you’re close to accomplishing your next big goal — that you’re “working on it.” But I wasn't working on it. For a while, the only thing I knew about writing books is that to get a publisher’s attention, you first need to write a proposal, and 99% of book proposals are terrible.
I figured if I was going to write a book, I needed to know how to create a proposal. The bookstore seemed like a good place to start. But all the how-to books I read about writing a book weren’t helpful.
I read things like, “Writing a proposal in five easy steps,” and “How I sold ten thousand books.” After reading this advice, I wondered why, if proposal writing is so easy, all the agents complain that 99% of the proposals they receive are intolerable?
Since the how-to books were so unhelpful, I enrolled in a class on how to write books, conducted by a professional writers' organization. All the participants in the class were women. Immediately, my sirens went off. I know my next remark is sexist, but women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, so I figured this class was not my ticket to making tons of money.
Yes, exceptions do exist. But salaries in typically female professions are lower than salaries paid for typically male occupations. Think elementary school teachers vs. university teachers, nurses vs. doctors, education sales vs. technology sales, and so on.
So on balance, my feeling is that a class attended solely by women will not lead me to grand career success.
I also was deterred that the instructor wasn't even male. Catalyst, the women’s research organization, notes that women who succeed in reaching their career goals typically have better mentoring experiences than women who don’t reach their goals. Since I planned to write a business book, and men are still further up the ladder in business than women, I wanted a male book-authoring mentor, because I felt I would reach my writing goals faster.
Despite all my belly-aching, I took the class, learned a lot, and even made a friend. But still, I mentally ran through my list of networking contacts hoping to think of a man who could help me write a book proposal. Eventually I thought of Bob Rosner, author of several books, including “Gray Matters: The Workplace Survival Guide.”
Since Bob also is a career advisor, I felt he wouldn't be afraid to give me some straight talk. For the most part, the only people who tell me how to run my career are my brothers (“Here's a good column topic: [Insert brother's name] and his perceived greatness.”) and my husband (“I'm sure your readers are sick of hearing about me in your column all the time, so could I have a little privacy?”) But Bob had some good advice. His first: “You should call me more often.”
He's right. Because he’s the one who usually calls me. And I need to be reminded to pick up the phone and network. Women are not as effective as men at networking, and I may be a good example of this.
There are many reasons for the gulf, a few mentioned recently in a CareerJournal.com article: For the most part, women aren’t included in the old boy’s network, the so-called real sphere of influence in business today; women are more often the primary caretakers and caregivers, so they have less time for networking; and finally, women are more reticent than men to mix business and pleasure — to women it seems inappropriate to use a friendship for business purposes.
But Bob and I talked a long time about book publishing and writing good proposals. He was willing to share information about royalties, agents and ways to cut corners. He even shared his ideas for a next book.
I felt great when I hung up. I thought perhaps I might be able to do a proposal after all. But after speaking with Bob, I understood why men are better networkers than women. Bob and his wife had a baby, with a difficult delivery, the same week his latest book was published. Yet after only a week, Bob was back on his feet and milking his network for publicity and book reviews. His wife was not back on her networking feet so fast.