Today, I want to talk about discovering what kind of author you want to be.
I’m not talking what genre, what constitutes success, or advocating traditional publishing vs. self. I’m talking about the public image you want. How you see yourself in the role of author.
From the minute we write our first query letter, we start developing our professional image. That email is going to set the tone for your career. Yes, we’re authors and not movie stars. But don’t think for a second how we interact with others in the industry has no effect on your career.
In just a minute, I want you to close your eyes. When you do, I want you to visualize yourself at a con dedicated to the worlds you’ve created. One where you’re the guest of honor. Readers have spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars just to come see you in panels, stand in lines to get their books signed by you, do a photo op. And I want you to think about how you see yourself during this incredible weekend, how you feel. Humble? Honored? Amazed that so many came? Justified that your genius is finally recognized? Glad you have a security team? Excited to see lines wrapping around the block? Spellbound by the cosplay inspired by characters you created?
Did you see yourself there? Good.
Now, we’re going to do another visualization. This time, it’s about halfway through the second day of the con. Things aren’t going so well today. The readers are great, sure. But maybe the hotel alarm clock didn’t go off, your spouse/significant other called and told you the car had to go into the shop or a child was sick, your breakfast wasn’t what you ordered and you didn’t have time for them to make a new one, and you’re nursing a bad headache. You’ve made it through the first two appearances of the day, and your hand and back are throbbing from the autograph session. Finally, you get enough of a break in your schedule to head to the hotel restaurant. You get to read the text from the significant other that the car estimate is around $1500 or the sick child has the flu and is miserable. Gulping down two aspirin, your lunch is put in front of you. All you want is some peace and food. That’ll get you through the next few panels and you can call home to check in.
And a reader approaches your table. In their hands, a dog-eared, well read copy of one of your books. Small bits of colored post-it notes jut out from the pages. They stammer out that they hate to bother you, but they have to leave early because their ride is leaving and they had a motivation question about chapter 17 where X is questioning Y and since they can’t make the Q&A later could they ask you now?
What’s your first reaction? Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to share it. Base it off the type of author you saw yourself as earlier.
A. Tell them (or have your entourage do so) that you’re trying to eat and, while you feel bad they have to leave, that’s why there’s a Q&A.
B. Tell your back to shut up, smile, invite them to sit down while you eat but say you’d love to hear the question.
Now, reverse seats. You’re not the author, but the reader. It took you six months to scrape enough up for the ticket to the con. You pieced together a cosplay that made you feel like you were part of things. You’d anticipated asking this one question since you heard the con was in the works, and now your ride home was bailing early. Your one chance to get this answer is to muster your courage when you saw the author sitting in the restaurant.
Which of the above responses would mean more to you? Would you be understanding if they said no? Or would you consider never buying their books again since they couldn’t take five minutes out of their day to chat with you?
Our public image, how we are perceived by our readers/publishers/agents/editors, is everything. One bad day, wrong word, arrogant email can take you from the top of the best seller list with one novel to the bottom with the next. Why? Because people will form a perception of who you are, what you are, based on how you interact with them.
Being confident in your writing is great. Necessary. It’s a world of difference, however, between promoting your book with “readers will be swept away in a thriller reminiscent of Tom Clancy” and “Tom Clancy has nothing on my story! You’ll be saying ‘Tom Who?’ after two chapters!”
Perception is everything. Your image as an author needs to be protected at all costs. And I’m not talking about keeping yourself out of the tabloids. Readers want to meet people who appreciate them, are approachable. They are the very reason you got on that bestseller list, they’re what keep you there. Do yourself a favor. Rein in the ego. Or they’ll stop buying the books.