But, Aren’t You Worried You Don’t Look Professional?

In my life, I’ve heard a lot of hoobaloo among the traditional publishing crowd about looking professional, and how imperative that is toward the respect one attains in the writing business. I remember some years ago, when a budding writer friend of mine messaged me in a flurry of panic about how she couldn’t wear cosplay to conventions, because editors or agents or big name writers might see her, and retain a mental image in their mind that she was firmly in the “fan” category and not the “professional” category.  I think, from a traditional legacy perspective of the gatekeepers in fiction, she’s not wrong.

It’s a club, and nothing more nothing less. Being in it doesn’t guarantee you an income better than not. Being in it doesn’t guarantee you more readers or better accolades either. With them, however, there is a certain way to act, a certain way to present oneself both in the looks department (I’m writing this blog in ninja turtle boxers, a sweatshirt and Ugg slippers sounds  y’all can visualize!) and the things one says, and certain people you can associate with or not for that matter. As that club has grown smaller and smaller over the last decade and a half, its influence has dwindled significantly. I’ve seen plenty of big name authors wearing cosplay these days. Heck, David Weber wears his own book military uniforms to conventions (and it’s bad ass, Mr. Weber if you ever come across my blog!). You can get away with almost anything with that crew, as long as you don’t have the wrong political stances. You’re either in because they like you or you’re out. Doesn’t even say anything about whether your book is good or bad.

What got me thinking about this is a post by author Beth Cato advising when to be quiet about certain milestones in sales or one’s career. Ms. Cato is a great writer, doing really well in the trad. pub model and I really enjoy her Clockwork Dagger steampunk series. My first instinct after the very clickable headline and first paragraph, and I did comment to her in that gut reaction, that there’s no rules anymore — and from my perspective, that’s right, but from the trad pub model, she is right, but I think that latter view holds  more power in the past than now.

The way I look at things is that social media is a direct B to C marketing platform, in business terms. That’s Business to Consumer, where I’m the business, you, dear reader, are the consumer. I’m selling myself as a brand. My thoughts, my interests, my humor, my trolling, it all belongs to you in a glimpse into who I am, kinda like my writing is (I mean you get a lot of thoughts through in 90-100k words, supposedly. Unless you’re George RR Martin. Then you need like 1,000,000 to say what everyone else can say in 10,000.). The new media environment outside of trad pub, and even in to some extent for authors struggling to get noticed, is about the consumer. Consumers don’t care about my headshot going on their corporate website or anything else other than will I produce content fast enough for them to not get bored of me (do stay tuned for my GabTV premier, details soon!).

Over the course of reading her article, because Ms. Cato is both smarter and more savvy in the traditional side of the business than I am, I found that I do agree with a bit more than I had initially thought, though for different reasons than presented. For example, I agree that a lot of novice and amateur writers post far too much about their rejections, their acceptances, etc. It’s annoying to see and it merits a little smile of a “well good for you” thought. Rejections I think are where this is crucial, because I don’t think it’s advisable to advertise that you’re not, by someone’s measure, as good as other writers. Your consumers will lose confidence in you if you display that weakness.

On the flip side, I hate to say this, short stories don’t really move the needle in terms of building you an audience. If you’re in an anthology, the reader is just as wont to read the couple big names they know, set the anthology down and never read your story than not. It’s the sad truth of the game. You may have made your pennies per word, but you didn’t make an impression. If you’re at that point with no audience, and you announce acceptances or the like, by that same token, only your friends are likely to notice. Your payoff of that happy post and click with the thank yous feel good might bother you if trouble arises later, but few will notice and fewer will remember come a year from that point. 

Where I differ is I think Ms. Cato’s look is a B to D to C thought, where a writer should be selling to the Distributor, and that Distributor makes end roads to the consumer. That model held true for decades, but people on the internet now crave personal interaction, engagement, and to feel like they’re a part of things. If you’re hooking your consumers every step of the way, (like I’m trying to do with For Steam and Country, coming soon!), you frankly worry a lot less about sending this or that to the editor or whether you’ve been accepted into an anthology or whatnot. 

There is definitely wisdom in her advice not preemptively announced things that still have an ability not to come to pass. But it depends on how you present it as well. I’ve been invited to two anthologies in the last couple of weeks for example, and there’s one or two more that I may end up writing for if I find the time for short fiction, but I won’t name them specifically on here or social media, I won’t name the editors. If something falls through, it falls through, and that would give my relationship with those folk a strain if it’s blasted out. By the same token, I do want you, as consumers, to know I’ve been invited. Why? What it does for my brand is lets you know I’m out there in the market and people want my product. Marketing is all about posturing, and you want to come off as confident in your work as best as possible. If you don’t show confidence, that’s when the consumer starts to lose faith in your professionalism (as long as you know and maintain a healthy relationship with your target audience), not anything else.

The gatekeeper agents and editors hold a little bit of power still. The trad pub world is still there. They can hate you or ostracize you for any reason. Lord knows I’m probably on every blacklist across this fair land by this point, as I piss everyone off. I’m also charming enough that everyone likes me at the same time (Read the only author in existence to have their book endorsed both on Mary Robinette Kowal AND Vox Day’s blogs. Now that’s an achievement!). If you don’t want to stir the pot, and you want to be careful and meticulous with your career, Ms. Cato’s rules are worth looking over and perhaps heeding. For me… I’ll broadcast whatever I feel like. If you’re reading, I’m willing to bet you like it. 🙂

One thought on “But, Aren’t You Worried You Don’t Look Professional?

  1. JJ Sherword and new author to hit the fantasy scene used cosplay effectively to push her product. She cosplayed as a character from her book while signing her books at conventions and drawing in potential readers as a beautiful young fantasy geek dressed as an elf. Not everyone could pull it off successfully, but she is a good example of where it works.

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