Here’s the picture: Small local conference. Dream Agent attending. Must go.
Our writers group hosts a faculty dinner the night before the conference. The entertainment for the evening is to have us read short pieces we’d written. Out loud. In front of the whole faculty.
As you can surmise, somebody didn’t think that through.
My ditty is about writing amidst family chaos, but as I face the crowd I think a more appropriate title would’ve been “WHY Was I Dumb Enough To Do This?”.
After dinner, I approach Dream Agent. I want him to remember me when I pitch my YA fantasy the next day. You know, a human touch might make it harder for him to turn me down. (FYI—that doesn’t actually work.)
Mouth dry. Knees shaking. Possible imminent vomit. “Hi…I’m…Erin…”
He smiles. “You read that humor piece at dinner.”
“Umm…” OH MY GOSH, I’m having an actual conversation with STEVE LAUBE. Well, technically I’m gaping at him, but you get the idea.
He goes on like he hasn’t noticed my frozen-idiot look. “That was very well done. Humor is hard to write.”
“Umm…” Somebody get me a chimpanzee to speak for me. “…Funny things…happen to me…”
Steve gets that I-know-what-I’m-talking-about tone, in a good way. “Funny things happen to everybody. Writing them funny is hard. Nice job.”
“I…uh…thanks.” Actually, my humor is a fluke. I just write things like I see them. I can’t help it if I live in a cartoon.
Given my stellar conversation, I figure Steve will quickly flee. Perhaps to find that chimpanzee.
Instead he starts telling me about a wonderful humor client he has, and all I can think is good thing I’m not a humor writer ’cause Steve wouldn’t want two.
At our appointment the next day, I hand Steve the pitch sheet for my YA fantasy.
He does a double take, and I can see he’s not reading the sheet. Just squinting at it.
For a very long time.
Steve Laube. Speechless.
Then he squints at me, and his words come out like he’s marooned on an isle of incompatible data. “This is a fantasy.”
“I thought you were a humor writer…”
“But I write fantasy…”
Now we’re both squinting.
This lovely, awkward conversation is not the way I recommend you discover your brand. But it does illustrate the key point. Brand isn’t about how you see yourself, it’s about how others see you. And they will form an opinion.
Learn from my mistakes.
1) Steve categorized me in one reading. If an agent or editor can do that, chances are it’s a strong impression. Take. That. Seriously.
2) Steve reiterated the same thing to me more than once (as have others, but you don’t need to hear all my tales of slow-wittedness). What are the words and phrases you’re consistently hearing about your writing? Grasp the obvious. It’s not a fluke.
3) Once Steve branded me in his mind, he had an expectation of the writing he would get from me in the future—humor. When a guy squints at you for ten full seconds, it’s because you’ve confounded his expectation. Don’t do that.
Don’t hear me saying you have no control over your brand. You do. But the fact is that others can often see the unifying thread in your writing more easily than you can. Hear it. Pray over it. And be willing to let go of your self-preconceptions.
This is how we discover the uniqueness God planted in each one of us.
Trust me. It’s there. The place where you shine.
Delight in it.
Preferably before your next conversation with Steve Laube.