You’ve heard the standard career advice, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” right? It’s not just about workplace wardrobe. It means, basically, don’t wait until you’re hired to start acting the part—because you may have to act the part in order to get the job in the first place. It means, if you work in the mail room, instead of pouting and grumbling, stand up straight when you’re in the executive wing. It means, start dressing and acting and speaking now as you would when you get where you want to go. That way, when that recognition or promotion comes, you’ll already have the wardrobe and the ways to go with it.
The same applies—perhaps even more so—to writing and publishing.
That doesn’t mean, “Pretend to be something you’re not.” It means, “Don’t wait for some future success to begin acting professionally.” At the very least, I suggest, it means:
- Tweet and post carefully
What impression will your tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram uploads, Pinterest pins, and Goodreads comments give to potential editors and agents if they checked them? Because they will. If an editor or agent can’t find you online, that’s bad. If your posts are offensive, hateful, profane, or sophomoric, that’s bad, too. So, don’t wait until you’re famous; be your own online “image consultant” now.
- Get a better email address
Go ahead and use “PuppyLover4716@hotmail.com” for your family. But don’t share it with fellow writers, editors, agents, etc. The same goes for a Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, or AOL email address. It is relatively simple and inexpensive to acquire your own domain (which could become your website address, if you don’t already have one) and route emails through it—for instance, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. That puts your best foot forward, so to speak, and will be much less likely to end in a recipient’s spam folder.
- Don’t call yourself a “freelance” writer
You don’t need to identify yourself as a freelance writer. What does “freelance” say that “writer” doesn’t? Using the term inside the industry brands you as an amateur (professional writers are “writers”) and using it outside the industry implies that your writing isn’t a “real job.”
- Use a professional headshot
Sooner or later, an editor or agent is going to ask you to send along a headshot. That doesn’t mean a photo of you posing with your dog last Christmas, no matter how flattering you are or how cute your dog is. Don’t’ wait until you are asked for it to have a professional photographer take multiple poses of you that would be suitable for a book cover. If all goes well, you’ll have the opportunity to paste that picture into a book proposal or provide it to a website promoting your speaking engagement.
- Memorize an elevator speech
So, what do you say when someone says, “Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?” What will your answer be? Besides, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English?” A short synopsis—such as you could say on an elevator before reaching your floor—should not only briefly summarize what you have been writing but also where you intend to take your writing. It works even better if you also have a sharp-looking business card with your photo on it. And it could pay off on many occasions—not the least of which will be when an editor or agent asks the question at a writers’ conference.
Writers create, right? So, in addition to creating masterful prose or beautiful poetry, give attention also to creating a professional impression as the kind of writer you plan to be in the future.