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.
Read about books
What do Hunger Games, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, and a hell of a lot of other books have in common? Answer: I haven’t read them.
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.
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.
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.
Hannah Moskowitz is the author of several Young Adult and Middle Grade novels, including BREAK (2009), and INVINCIBLE SUMMER and ZOMBIE TAG (2011). She blogs at https://hannahmosk.blogspot.com.
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I don't think there's one honest person who can say, "I have time to read everything."
I absolutely have time to read, but I definitely don't have unlimited time to read. I read what I want to read, which isn't always the book of the moment, but that doesn't mean I can pretend the book of the moment doesn't exist. People are going to talk about it and it's going to have an effect, so I need to know what's going on.
But I have my own likes and dislikes that go into what book I'm actually going to pick up. I'm in college and yeah, I don't have as much time to read as I like, so I have to be choosy. But everyone's reading list has holes.
Chris Phillips says
Great post. I don't like to social network because I'm pretty much cooler than everyone else.
I do keep a blog, but I'm pretty sure twitter is the devil. I will not use it. It added nothing to what facebook already did except it made status updates harder to read and more full of stupid. No one needs to know I'm nearly out of nutella.
I hate to admit this, but I have no clue as to how to Twitter.
Best thing I read all day. Thanks.
Janiel Miller says
@Chris Phillips – Bwa hahahaha! I needed to know you were almost out of nutella. (your comment made me laugh out loud.)
@Hanna: I think you are an old soul. There's a lot of insight in your writing. Great common sense in this post; cracked-out voice or not. (Not, in my opinion. Your voice reaches right out of the screen and grabs me. And I'm clearly not the only one.)
You said specific things that can be generalized, I think, and stretched to fit any personality type. Of course we should be considerate, interesting, selfless, and willing to get out there for our writing–whatever way we are comfortable doing it. But we should do it. Even if our blogs and tweets and stati are only being read by other writers – we are all colleagues. We need to know each other. It's a support system. At some point, if you do the things outlined in this post, I think your readers will show up too. We're all people. Connecting in a positive way is, you know, positive.
Yay you. Good post.
Eee, Janiel, yay you back.
Jill Thomas says
Link it. Check. Like it. Check. Share it. Check. Print it off so I can refer back to it countless times. Check. This is some of the best advice for writers I've ever heard. Thanks for sharing!
Kenneth Mark Hoover says
Excellent advice, and practical. Thanks!
Laura Pauling says
It's so true. I've stopped reading some blogs b/c once the writer got published that's all they talked about or 90% percent of the time. I don't mind a little but after a while it does get a little…boring.
Good stuff, Hannah. I particularly enjoyed the blogging advice. I simply won't read any more daily blogs (or Tweets or FaceBook status updates) about how many words you wrote today or how you worked on your outline or drew up character sketches this week. Bully for you, but I also don't want to hear anyone outside of Dave Barry or Dave Sedaris describing getting their socks on in the morning. Daily routine is not the stuff of blogging interest and it seems antisocial and narcissistic to insist on writing it down in any place other than a private journal.
Frickin' painful, I tell you.
The occasional success (or failure) update is fine, but the relentless self-promotion and play-by-play is hack. And boring.
Thanks for speaking plainly.
Layla Fiske says
Akkkk! Hannah Moskowitz has created controversy on an otherwise very homogenous blog!! OMG! Is that possible? Can this really be true?
Yes, it is. And…THAT, my friends, is the sign of a good writer.
One who causes people to think… to speak out… to communicate!!
I don't think Hannah is telling all the shy writers out there not to be true to themselves, she's saying that we should not be afraid to embrace who we are, and to be true to ourselves.
She's also given us a whole list of ideas on the not so obvious, up and coming, "how-to's" of being a writer in today's electronic age of communication.
My hat's off to you, Hannah. Thank you for your post!!
Jewel Fern says
I'm going to a writers' conference this weekend. Your blog reminded me that I need to open up and meet people–not just focus on classes/workshops. Thank you!
I'm still nervous about Twitter, but your other advice was so dang good, I might have to change my mind. Thanks for the insightful post!
Chase Holland says
Very informative post. You have a great voice, feels very genuine. I look forward to reading more from you!
Renee Miller says
I love this post, Hanna. Thank you. I'm not surprised by the different opinions on this. If you wish to write and remain anonymous and hermit-like and act like you don't care if your books sell because it's all about the writing and nothing else, if you moan about not being social (or wanting to be), or feel your writing should sell your books not your Twitter page, etc: I wish you luck. You'll need it.
You don't have to be everywhere or be crazy outgoing or even very likable. You do have to make sure people know who you are. It's called marketing and it doesn't matter what you're selling, if you want sales, you have to do it.
I'm not comfortable in social situations where I'm around people I don't know, and I avoid these situations like the plague. But I've learned to push myself a little. I blog, I freelance, I tweet and I moderate online writing groups. I even worked as a reporter for a local newspaper for a while. If you knew how shy I used to be, you'd see what a huge deal this is. I used to cry when strangers spoke to me.
By forcing myself to get over that, not only have I made a great network of friends, I've met really interesting people and learned things I wouldn't have otherwise. And my writing improved immensely because of this.
I'm not always exciting. I have no filter that says "Don't say that" and I am really opinionated. Hell, I'm not even likable some days. But, I have hundreds of people who know who I am. That's the point. When I have a book to offer these people, more than half will probably say "no thanks, I don't like you" but the rest might buy. If not for my 'networking' I wouldn't have even that small group of people buying. I'd have my mother and her friends. Sadly, my mother doesn't have very many friends.
I wish it were as simple as telling stories, but none of us are Rowling or Salinger and no one knows or cares who we are. Once we've gotten their attention and they've read our work, then possibly we can slip quietly away and never speak to another human being again and still sell books. But how do we get them to read that first book?
Liz Fichera says
You had me at "I haven't read TWILIGHT." Nice to meet you. 🙂
Thanks everyone! (and a special 🙂 to Layla).
Renee–proving your point: I totally know who are you.
Renee Miller says
You do? Awesome. I apologize for spelling your name wrong. I just realized that. My bad.
Renee–it's no big.
It's weird when people are like "I'm reading this book by Hanna Moskowitz," though. My name's right there on the cover…
Renee Miller says
Ha! Yeah, and it was right there in front of me too.
My daughter just slapped me for not connecting you to the book that is currently on her nightstand. I'm not a very cool mom apparently. Or not very observant. I have to agree with a couple of comments made earlier; you have a very 'unique' voice that is nice to read.
And networking does work, to get back on topic. See how it works? Hannah knows 'of' me, and I know 'of' her and now I'm going to buy my daughter a certain book to make up for being such a dork.
Yesss! That is so awesome. Tell your daughter thanks 🙂
Renee Miller says
She says "No, thank you". New books are her favorite thing.
I've been learning all the things you mentioned since I started blogging. It's an interesting world out here for bloggers. It's such a great way to interact with others in the business.
Layla Fiske says
= ] back at ya!!
Erika Robuck says
"REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A HUMAN CONNECTING WITH OTHER HUMANS."
The simple, bottom line. Pretend you're at a cocktail party. Don't pitch, just chat. The rest flows…
J. T. Shea says
There really are other writers? Wow! I thought you guys were all figments of my imagination.
Now, back to my attic, typewriter, cigarettes and coffee…
Great advice! Fun writing style. Thanks for the post!
Edie Ramer says
Terrific advice. I'm forcing myself to tweet and do FB. It's not normal for me. Maybe some day it will get easier.
Blogging would take SO MUCH time out of my actual writing time. And I have nothing interesting to say! It seems like a fake and useless way to "get out there."
Plus, so many of the writers I admire (especially YA authors) dont have twitters or blogs and they're doing just fine. This new phenom that all YA authors have to be friend online and have to give good reiews on goodreads and have to follow each other is jus so tedius to me.
I just want to write a good book!
Blogging is definitely not a requirement. If you have nothing to say, don't have one. But *don't* get one just to use as a promotional tool, because, like I said, blogs don't sell books. They just get your name out there.
Twitter is easy and not time-consuming, so saying you don't have time for it doesn't really fly for me. And it's a very, very easy way for writers (published or not) to connect with agents/editors/other writers, which can be both useful and therapeutic.
The YA writing world is completely incestuous, and I've blogged about that.