Monday, November 8, 2010

5 Small Steps | Part 4: Dress for Success

You hear in business how employees should dress for the job they want, not the job they have. This is especially true of corporations with large hierarchies, where the rank-and-file are often "biz casj" and management is suited up, French cuffs and all.

A lower tiered employee with designs on a promotion may not have to copy that style, but in many cases dressing in less formal attire is an outward expression of inward motivation.

Athletes do the same thing. When trying to earn their spot on a roster, they'll train harder, buy new equipment, and work with mentors, all in an effort to impress the coach and show their dedication. A future on the team, and millions of dollars in contracts and endorsements, depends on it.

Not an author.
Applying that example to the dream of becoming a full-time author, both literally and figuratively "dressing the part" is a good way to let others know you're serious.

Now I'm not sure about you, but I have no idea what a writer looks like. So when I say to dress like a writer, I'm not implying you go out and imitate the fashion choices of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But you can dress in a way that makes you feel like a writer, whether it be jeans and a t-shirt or something a tad classier.

More to the point, envision yourself at your first book signing, or book reading, and dress like that. You might be surprised by the psychological benefits to being "in costume," as it were, for your profession of choice, even if you're all alone with a laptop and your thoughts.

It'll Take More Than Just Good Looks

This is more than just an outward expression, though. Like the athlete example mentioned above, this is about building an identity, developing your skills, and creating a support network.

If you are seriously considering writing as a career, treat it like any other career choice. Proactively make yourself into what it is you want to become. Don't let it just happen, but do it on purpose!

Build a résumé of skills and talents - Professionals call this a CV, or Curriculum Vitae. It's Latin for "course of life." Where have you been? What have you done? How does it apply to where you're going? Think of it like a résumé, only more personal. There are limitless free sources online demonstrating how to create a good CV. Keep it updated as you grow, because you'll need it when that publishing deal comes along.

Not an author.
Attend classes & conferences to improve your craft - This really should go without saying, but it's been my experience most people overlook the benefits of continuing education in their selected field. It keeps you fresh! It also means that you will have a leg up on your peers who don't do this (and there will be many). No athlete would dare stop training or practicing after he made the team. No writer should stop learning how to be a better writer.

Enter contests to gain notoriety & win awards - There's a bazillion writing, short story, and essay contests available in newspapers, trade journals, at community colleges, and online. Seek out the ones that match your WIP and enter. If you win, or get some form of special recognition, it's an impressive addition to your CV. Not only does it add to your credibility, but it shows you have confidence in your work. Hint: Agents and publishers like this. Many book deals come about as a result of contest awards, both directly and indirectly.

Network with others & develop references - Every good job applicant is ready to produce references upon request. These can be professional or personal, but they have to be people who can speak to your abilities, talents, ethics, and personality. Writing is no exception. A critique group will make you a stronger writer, hands down. Get in one, or start one! Join SCBWI and communicate with other members. Let people know who you are and what you do. It's true what they say about "birds of a feather." And on the topic of cliché statements, don't forget that it really is all about who you know. With so many publishers and agents not accepting unsolicited material, being referred or introduced via mutual acquaintances is now the norm.

Is likely an author.
© Susan Kuklin
Start building your brand online and off - To you, it's a book. It is the culmination of hours and hours of heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and millions of cups of coffee. To an agent or publisher, it's a product. And products have to $ell. You don't have to go nuts with social networking, blogging, or meeting others within the industry--if you do, you'll easily run out of time to write. But you do have to build your brand. Make sure you exist online, whether it be you or an alter ego, and update that existence with compelling content regularly. Gain "followers" online. Meet librarians, book store owners, and others who can be good people to know down the road. Your goal here is not to become a celebrity, but at least be on the radar of those you intend to read (and buy) your book. In short, be accessible, and not aloof or withdrawn.

Treat your goals like they're inevitable - One of my favorite quotes is from the classic video game Star Control II. In it, you play a space-faring captain seeking to save the galaxy from an alien threat. Along the way, you regularly encounter a merchant to trade with. His spaceship is named "Inevitably Successful In All Circumstances." I love this, and have made it my personal mantra for the last 18 years. No matter what you do, or who you meet, or how many times you're told otherwise, persist in your goals like they're going to happen. It's not a matter of "if." It's a matter of "when." This might require some patience, and shrugging off people who give bad advice (like the ones who tell you to quit). But confidence breeds success, and nothing establishes confidence like knowing something is going to happen. It's like Faith, but better!

In conclusion, you will never publish anything unless you engage the industry. To do that, you have to be, well, engaging! Just as money has no value until it is spent, your book has no value until someone wants to read it. Give them a reason to. Dress like a writer. Talk like a writer. Learn like a writer. Live like a writer. Be a writer... and, sooner or later, you will be!


  1. Excellent advice, Martin!
    The resources online are amazing. But as you pointed out, one doesn't have to be everywhere. I get grief for not being a part of Facebook, but I blog and use Twitter. (Usually for several hours a day - with NaNo, I've cut it back to just one hour.) Any more and I wouldn't have a life!

  2. Thanks, Alex! I do have a FB account, but I keep it reserved just for family and good friends. Twitter is my current "for everyone" place. The new Scholastic socmed site is kinda cool, tho.