By: Hannah Moskowitz
This post has nothing to do with writing and absolutely everything to do with being a writer.
The stereotype of a writer–the middle-aged man pounding feverishly at a typewriter, cigarette in his mouth, sending hard-copy manuscripts to his agent and protesting the change of every word–has yet to catch up with the reality of what being a writer entails today.
We are not locked in our attics alone. We are not even the romantic writers of the ’20s, drinking coffee and discussing literature. We are a legion of overworked, underwashed normals, pounding away at our laptops and shooing the kids to the next room.
And more importantly, we are not alone.
If you are reading this blog, you have obviously already met at least one other writer (hello there.) Chances are, I’m not the only one. Agent, editor, and writer blogs, facebook, forums like Verla Kay and Absolute Write, and God, above all Twitter, mean that, at the very least, most writers are at least a friend of a friend of yours. The term ‘networking’ is so appropriate here, because, in actuality, we–writers, publishing professionals, book bloggers–are a net. A web of interconnected people.
We know the same people. The truth is, this world feels very big sometimes, and God knows everyone is talking about writing a novel, but when it comes down to it–the people who are really out there, querying, editing, submitting, representing, accepting, rejecting, publishing, copyediting, waiting…well, the truth is, there aren’t that many of us after all.
Which is why the act of being a professional writer has come to mean much more than it used to. Fifty years ago, all most writers had to do was avoid getting arrested and not respond to bad reviews.
You have a much bigger job to undertake. And it’s stressful, and it’s scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of this job. Somedays, my writing is absolutely shitty, and the house is a mess, and I’m crying because I can’t find my socks, but I have 557 blog followers and I said something funny on Twitter today, so at least this day isn’t totally for the birds.
You may think that I am the worst possible person ever to talk about how to be a professional. I’m loud and I’m obnoxious and I had to edit about ten cuss words out of this post so I didn’t offend Nathan’s sensibilities.
Yep. That’s me.
But I’m hoping all that will make me easier to listen to, because when people think ‘professional,’ they a lot of the time think boring, sanitized, safe. And that’s not who you have to
be. I’m living proof over here. And I knew from the start that I was taking a big risk, but I hoped that people would find me interesting and remember me.
It’s worked pretty well so far. And that, kittens, is the real reason you want to get out there and put on your professional face. So that people will remember you.
Now that I’m done babbling, here are some guidelines. How to be a successful professional writer, by yours truly. And these are not big, life-changing rules. These are just tricks. Tricky little tricks.
–GET ON TWITTER. I don’t care what your objections are. I objected too. But it is hands-down the best way to connect with people you would never have the balls to approach any other way. You can follow someone, which causes them no pain or trouble whatsoever, and you can talk to them in a completely neutral, undemanding way.
I’m not proud. But I know I don’t have nearly enough time to read as much as I should, so I make a point of reading *about* books I wish I had time to read. Know enough about popular books to be able to fake your way through a conversation. I can discuss Twilight with the best of ’em.
–REMEMBER NAMES. I can’t stress enough how important this is. You might have never read a book by this author most people haven’t heard of, but you better be able to connect the book to the name in a second flat. You need to be able to talk about other writers like you went to high school with them. Memorize authors, titles, editors, agent. Know who goes with whom.
–DON’T ALIENATE. Or if you have to, choose one book or author to singularly alienate. People ask me a lot what my least favorite book is. Obviously I’ve read a lot of stuff I don’t like, but I have one that I use so I’m not spreading the hate around too badly (and trust me, the author of said book is way too famous to give a shit what a plebe like me thinks).
You never know who you will need.
–DON’T BLOG TO SELL BOOKS. It doesn’t work. People who read your blog won’t run out and buy your book if it isn’t their thing. Accept that your blog and your book will have separate readers, embrace it, enjoy it. And if you can’t, move on and don’t blog, or you’re going to bore everyone to tears with pages and pages of advertisements for your own stuff. Speaking of which:
–DON’T TALK ABOUT YOURSELF ALL THE TIME. God, I get bored of author blogs that are all me me me look where my book got reviewed look what I’m working on blaaaah. If your blog could read the exact same as someone else’s if you switched your titles around, you’re doing it wrong.
If you don’t feel qualified to give advice (through trust me, if I’m qualified, so are you) find articles and other blog posts you find interesting, post your thoughts, and open your comments up for discussion. You’ll find a lot more followers and a lot more interesting discussion than you will by posting boring crap about yourself every day. And if you respectfully start dialogues with other writers (and link to their blogs!) they will appreciate and remember you.
–DON’T BE BORING. Unsurprisingly, this is one of my main points.
Don’t be boring. If someone else is saying what you’re saying, people are only going to listen to one of you. Do you want a fifty/fifty chance of being drowned out?
Do you want people to wonder if your books are as generic as your personality? I
I know you have it in you. You can be sparkly and crazy and noisy and everything else in the whole world. You are interesting. No one–seriously, no one–wants you to dilute yourself. So swallow your fear. I’m scared every day. I do this anyway. Because I love it. And because I don’t want you to forget me.
Because I only have books coming out every so often. And I’m a professional, and if you forget me between books, I’m not doing a very good job.
And I mean, really. No one wants to be forgotten. Which pretty much leads me to the most important thing:
–REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A HUMAN CONNECTING WITH OTHER HUMANS. You don’t need to pretend to be Superman. It’s boring. I told you. It’s GOOD to show that you care about people, that you care about what you’re doing, and that you care about your readers. Stop pretending that the ride is easy. You’re not earning any respect that way. Show some of your vulnerability and maybe you’ll do more than sell your product. You’ll meet some very cool people.
You’ll maybe even help them.