Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Business of Writing by @KimHeadlee: Who Let THAT Dog Out? #ASMSG #MFRWOrg

A comment I heard often in 1997 after landing my first New York publishing contract was “Congratulations; you’re running with the big dogs now!” It was a good thing that occurred before Baha Men released their hit single or I might have driven my first fans crazy serenading them with the famous refrain… and I would have lost major points for professionalism. 

Although the concept of the “lonely writer’s garret” still carries a certain romantic flair, once a writer has transitioned into preparing to make money off his or her words, he or she becomes a professional writer.

But what does that mean, exactly?

Writers being creative beings, this can mean a number of different things in terms of personal appearance, behavior, and habits. For the writer who wishes to be perceived as a professional, these aspects center upon various demonstrations of common courtesy… the exercise of which seems to be eroding in this day and age of Internet anonymity.

Opportunities for an author’s professionalism to shine include correspondence, deadlines, and personal appearances.

As a professional writer, you should always remain mindful of how you are perceived by your audience, not only in the content of your books or articles but in everyday correspondence tasks. This applies to email, text, chatting, and “earthmail” interactions with:
  • Literary agents, editors, cover and interior-layout designers, promotional companies, accountants, and other service personnel. This includes all individuals and companies, whether prospective or contracted.
  • Booksellers and other event organizers, both before the event and in giving thanks afterward. Expressing appreciation can be the fastest way to earn a return invitation.
  • Book bloggers and other reviewers, when asking for reviews as well as in optionally expressing thanks for a helpful review.

    Never engage a reviewer if you are in any way dissatisfied with the review. I unpack that advice in this blog post, but it cannot be emphasized enough.
  • Your fans—and this goes double for anything written online, even in so-called private messages. Any site can be hacked or monitored, so the best policy is to presume that nothing is private and structure your interactions accordingly.
  • Anyone with whom you need to send follow-up correspondence for any reason.

Ah, the dreaded d-word. For journalists, deadlines are most often perceived as just a means of structuring one’s workday. For everyone else, especially those of us who write book-length fiction or nonfiction, adhering to content delivery deadlines that are established by another party such as a publisher can be problematical at best. And yet delivering a completed manuscript on time will set you apart from the madding crowd of authors who play fast and loose with their time and with their editor’s or publisher’s patience.

Personal Appearances
There exist countless opportunities to present yourself as a professional writer in public.
  • Online. I have already covered fan interactions; here I refer to things such as the random tweets, retweets, pictures, videos, and status updates that you choose to share to your sundry social media platforms. As you decide upon your online persona, make sure that it jives with what you write, for that persona will become a part of your author brand. And then tweet/retweet/share accordingly. For example, if you write Christian fiction, I would advise against saying anything in a tweet that you wouldn’t say in church.
  • Book vending and signings at bookstores and conferences. Your in-person persona should also jive (or at least not conflict) with what you write. On the other hand, if you write about serial killers, you might wish to think twice about acting like one in public. You can get a lot of mileage from being courteous, respectful, and appreciative of customers, noncustomers, and event hosts, regardless of what type of books you write. Keep in mind that you are competing for readers, some of whom may be offended and turned off from your books if you act rude, superior, or condescending in person.

    When in doubt, recall the mantra spouted by the Penguins of Madagascar: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.”
  • Writers’ conferences. If you’re a member of the Romance Writers of America, I don’t need to tell you how to present yourself as a professional in this type of venue. You know already—or you should. Although I haven’t attended an RWA national conference in several years, I can pretty much imagine what the most recent one looked like: out of two thousand attendees, 1,942 were power-suited women (whether publishers, editors, literary agents, or authors), fifty-five were similarly attired men, and the remaining three were newbie women authors who didn’t receive the dress code memo, showed up in blue jeans and an “I [heart] My Book Boyfriend” T-shirt, and missed the entire first day of panels shopping for an emergency power suit and accessories. Okay, I jest… but barely.

    The dress code memos will of course vary by genre. At a typical World Fantasy Convention you’ll see no shortage of suits, but very few of those will be draped over authors, who sport pretty much whatever tickles their fancy, short of character costumes. Although I haven’t attended a WFC since the debut of the first edition of Dawnflight in 1999, I have it on excellent authority that a few steampunk outfits show up here and there, so if that’s your chosen genre, then by all means go for it.
  • The grocery store. The what? Yes, there is always the possibility that you could be recognized in a chance public encounter, so your appearance and behavior choices matter there too.

As I always advised my kids as they were growing up, no one will ever fault you for being polite, gracious, appreciative, respectful, and kind. The people you impress with your professionalism may remember those choices and become extra supportive of you and your work.

Preorder The Business of Writing today!

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