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, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
I followed your advice about the email address. I cringe whenever I write email@example.com now. I wish I’d made it author@. But thanks for sharing your personal email address, puppylover4716 😉
Doh! I didn’t expect anyone to recognize it.
Rebekah Love Dorris
Thank you for this.
I heard someone say yesterday that it’s a good idea for people who desire to become wildly successful to look at the warts that come along with the limelight. This ties in with that, because not only does fame and fortune mean fan mail and paparazzi, but it also means jumping flaming hoops that reveal our motives.
If I grumble about the hoops, I’ll hate the fan mail. Oh, may God guide each of us each minute who dream of serving Him with our writing! Only He can navigate us to the end without getting us singed on those flaming hoops or someday drowning in flattering fan mail.
Rebekah, great advice. It reminds me of when my children and I sat front row at a small one-ring circus that came through town. Along with all the good things that came with front row seating, came the bad. In the other sections, each tiger sprayed the crowd to mark their territory. I scrambled to shield my children in case the tiger three yards in front of us felt a similar need to mark his territory. Likewise, sitting below the backside of an elephant can induce a certain panic. I would still sit in the front row, but I would go into it with open eyes (and an umbrella). This is how I feel about one day getting published!
Flattering fan mail? What’s that?
Thank you Steve – extremely informative.
You’re welcome. Says Steve.
Good advice. Dont wait for some future opportunity to start work. The work or prayer you prayed or do yesterday is what is keeping you today, and the work or prayer we do today is what will keep us in near future. Thanks Bob for sharing. God bless you.
Thank YOU for the comment!
My LinkedIn profile says I’m a “Commercial Freelance Writer”–because I am.
In person I tell people I’m a writer. That produces all manner of follow up questions: What do you write? Fiction or nonfiction? What kind of nonfiction? What kind of fiction? Then there is the incredulous, “You write YA?” and the dreaded, “Have you written anything I’ve heard of?”
Yes, “Have you written anything I’ve heard of?” is dreaded, for sure. But I’ve learned to answer, “Have you heard of ‘Left Behind?'” “OH YES!” “I didn’t write that. But have you heard of The Shack?” “YES!” “Didn’t write that either.” Sooner or later they just walk away. I may need to rethink my technique.
I think there probably needs to be some additional context RE freelance writers. While I think the vast majority of writers who want to write books should NOT say they are freelance writers, there is a very viable job market for those of us who are professional freelance writers. Freelance doesn’t mean “write for free”–it basically means we don’t have one employers for whom we work full-time with benefits. Unfortunately, “freelance writer” has become corrupted from its original meaning and people who either actually write for free (shudder!) or don’t understand the term use it too, er, freely.
I’ve take to calling myself a professional freelance writer because I do write on a contractual basis for various trade publications and make a good amount of money from that. So use the “freelance writer” only if you’re actually writing on a regular basis for money (I’d also throw out there it should be “real” money, not the piddly amount some sites/publications give writers, but that’s a whole other comment!).
And I see I should have read over my response a bit more closely to correct the grammar mistakes. Another shudder, but hey, I’ve just started on my first cup of tea this morning….
Typos are inexcosable, Sarah. But thanks for the comment, nonetheless!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
These are great ideas, Bob. When my students email me, I tell them the spam filter will weed out “firstname.lastname@example.org, so they better come up with something a lot more tame if they want me to receive the missive.
Great comment! It is amazing what some people use as their email address, Twitter handle, etc.
Sandra Allen Lovelace
Thanks, Bob. It’s amazing how much one can communicate with decorum. 😉
Thank you for the comment, Sandra.
Damon J. Gray
Sage advice on all counts. Very much appreciated!
Sage advice? Me? I’m not sure I’ve ever been accused of such. But I’ll take it.
True humility is not sack-cloth and ashes; it’s the acceptance of God’s ordination over our life, however dizzying the heights he may ask us to climb.
This one is going in my quote file, Andrew.
Love this, Andrew.
Amen. And amen.
Bob, you are so right about having the professional email separate from your personal one. I have email@example.com for the Roman history site, firstname.lastname@example.org for my Christian blog site, email@example.com for my indie publishing company, and firstname.lastname@example.org for my marketing. I have the first 3 set to forward to a gmail account that I first set up when I thought I would use a pen name. Having multiples makes it easier to sort the emails coming to me in my different roles as writer/publisher.
A clickable email address should be in the back of your ebook with your professional headshot, short bio, and an invitation to contact you directly. I was ecstatic when the first person emailed how much they loved the first book. My heart sings when someone says one of mine moved them in a way that deepened their faith. Those contacts with readers are priceless encouragements to keep writing.
Creating an “author” impression, hmmm…….for men, I visualize dressing the part of a writer could be a tweed sport coat with suede leather elbow patches, flattop haircut, a pipe and maybe a bow tie. A British accent (no cockney please) may further the image
Regrettably, for women I have no idea how to spot an authoress by how she dresses, acts or looks. Every one of them that I have met in person have come off as vibrant, intelligent, creative women that could have been physicians, scientists, mothers etc. Spotting one under these conditions is near impossible, what would the ideal personna be?
All kidding aside you’ve made a very pertinent point. Image, many times, precedes oneself. Oft times only the image will speak for the author as many readers will never personally meet them beyond the author profile. Great blog!
Rebekah, one could only hope that the fan mail one drowns in will be flattering.
Janine, for front row protection go ahead with a full hazmat suit and by all means don’t forget that sitting next to a smoker could result in an explosive situation.
Thank you! I believe professionals are those marked by professional behavior, not by income or lack of it.
Interesting tidbit about the term “freelance.” I had no clue, Bob. Call the first four points good, but I stumble a bit with #5. Any opportunity to share one, two, or even a few good pitches with us?
Kristi, take a look at Brennan’s comment below, which provides a couple examples. A good elevator speech is unique, succinct, and memorable.
Thank you, Bob. There is so much great advice here.
Thank YOU, Joey, for commenting.
Bob, for the elevator speech, is that a 4-floor elevator or a 28-floor elevator like in the big East Coast hotels? Is it considered bad form to bump the “stop elevator” button with your hip to get a little longer with the agent or publisher?
Brennan S McPherson
I know your comment was a joke, but I think a one-sentence summation is what you should shoot for, though I’ve heard editors and agents say that you should have several different lengths prepared and memorized. Ted Dekker’s got a great one-sentence explanation of his writing. “TED DEKKER WRITES HEART-POUNDING SUSPENSE FILLED WITH INESCAPABLE TRUTH.” The one-sentence description for my own writing is, “BRENNAN S. MCPHERSON writes thought-provoking biblical fantasy that puts flesh on some of the most well-recognized characters of all time.”
By the end of Dekker’s one-sentence summation, you pretty much know whether you’ll be interested in reading his work. It elucidates his target audience, the emotional take-away from his books (“heart-pounding suspense”) and that his books are geared to give a sense of spiritual growth (“inescapable truth”). You see that he has a niche, that he’s unique, and that he knows who he is. All that feeds into the reader’s purchase decision. We really don’t like when we can’t understand who people are, and what they’re trying to give us.
I only recently realized just how cool and useful a one-sentence summation like that is. Makes me want to polish mine more. But I think that’s normal–because people are fluid and your writing will evolve a bit over the years. Still. Super interesting topic.
I was only joking about bumping the stop button, Brennan. They usually aren’t at hip-height for a short person like me. But maybe my elbow would work.
The one-sentence summary is very good to have. Mine is that I write stories of difficult friendships growing into love while one of the characters questions all he or she ever valued before finding faith in Christ.
An additional statement that I can add. The novels will especially encourage women and men who love someone who doesn’t love God like they do or who want to share the Gospel with a friend or loved one in an emotionally stirring yet nonthreatening way.
Carol, stopping the elevator is generally considered to be bad form. As is following agents and editors into restrooms.
I was just reading about this principle in The Magic of Thinking Big. Thanks for translating it over into the writer’s world, Bob.
Martha Whiteman Rogers
Great advice, Bob. I always have my business cards available. I never know when an opportunity will present itself to use them Happened just last week as I volunteered at a distribution center for Harvey’s aftermath. The woman signing us in recognized my name and commented on my being an author and how much she liked my books. The woman helping her sat up and leaned forward to ask what I wrote. When I told her Christian fiction, she became very interested and asked more. I handed her my card and told her where to find my books.
As for email, I am so techno-challenged that I’ll just leave it with my name at Yahoo. Even after it was explained, I messed up. Some new tricks an 81-year- old has trouble learning. 🙂
Even 20- and 30-somethings get confused! Email hosts need technical writers who can write clearly. 🙂
If you need help, I’d be glad to assist!
Martha Whiteman Rogers
Thanks. I haven’t been able to do anything with my website the past year because the person who did for me is no longer available, and even when I was shown how to set up an newsletter, I haven’t been able to get it to work.
Websites and newsletters are an important part of an author’s presence for his/her readers.
Hmm…that’s not nice. You’re welcome to email me through my website. I’ll see what I can do. Would love to help out. It shouldn’t take but a bit of time. Are you game?
Martha, Martha, Martha (that’s a Brady Bunch reference). You’re commenting pithily on a blog, so I’m inclined to think there’s nothing you can’t figure out.
What if our email echoes our website but we use Gmail, Outlook, etc.? Does the email address need to be more professional, as you have highly suggested?
(I’m in the process of streamlining my website, email, etc., and making sure my social media is recognizable across the board.)
Yes, Tisha, you can point your “professional-looking” email to Google or Outlook, etc., coming in and going out. It’s not hard at all.
Wouldn’t it be great if authors could write the book, send it to a publisher, sit down and wait for the check to arrive, then take off to Bora Bora? Welcome to real life. It doesn’t work that way, and I believe there’s a good reason. Writing a book teaches us about ourselves. It stretches us. However, the process of finding a publisher and marketing the book takes many writers, like me, way beyond our comfort zone. When we get out of our comfort zone, we grow in ways we never thought we could. That’s where I am now. God is growing me! I hope he is growing all of us.
Hooray, Jean, I’m so glad you’re jumping into the world of marketing. It’s such fun. Really. 🙂
You’re right, Jean, it doesn’t work that way. And, truth be told, it never did, really. It’s always been mostly illusion.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Great advice, Bob, and also affirming. (I identify with Martha.) In an ed tech course a few years ago, my prof was younger than some of my children, and those of us who did not grow up with computers, much less virtual reality and online platforms, were fondly dubbed “digital dinosaurs.” I fit that description, but I have separate Facebook accounts for me as a person, an author, and a research and writing consultant; and separate email addresses for me as a person, a professional, and a shopper. I have a web site. (Pretty good for a dinosaur, right? ;-D) Two questions: (1) What do you think about linking various accounts and/or double posting to a personal and professional account? (2) I’ve only been published in magazines, professional journals, and a weekly newspaper column–no books. Am I an author or a writer? I’d hate to mis-identify on an elevator! Thanks!