As an independently published writer, you are a professional and it’s in your interest (and in the interest of your fellow indie writers) that you present as a professional. We aren’t so far removed from the era where self-published authors were automatically dismissed as ‘not good enough for real publishing.’ While the majority of the population now recognizes indie authors as professionals, you’ll still encounter people who need to be convinced.
How do you get taken seriously? What can you do to ensure the image you’re broadcasting is professional?
The key places where your professionalism comes into play, in bullet format for those with very little time:
- Social Media
- Live Networking
- Book Covers
- Book Content
The more specific details regarding those key places to put your professionalism in place:
A website is a must, even if it’s minimalist. Other than finding your books on sites like Amazon, this is one of the top places people will look to see how legit you are (or appear to be). This can include potential customers, the media, library purchasing departments, and schools or conferences looking for speakers.
- Spring for the domain registry
- Makes you easier to find
- Implies greater dedication to your writing career
- The cost is often bundled in with website hosting services (make sure you own the domain, so you can switch services and take it with you)
- Go with a theme and colors that will speak to your audience
- Hire someone to set things up if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself
- Include or incorporate high quality photos
- Your own if you have them
- If using others’ photos, have the proper permission and credit as required
- Use open source or free stock photography sources, crediting as required
- Keep it current and engaging
- Minimal is okay
- About page – information about you the writer, genre, areas of expertise, and anything that will help your audience relate to you
- Publications – your publishing history and/or where to purchase your work
- Contact page – can be as simple as an email link or a web form
- Consider a built-in blog for dynamic content
- Announcements, appearances and news
- Release information
Blogs and social media can help you build up and engage with your audience. Make sure you’ve picked a platform that hits your target readers. You don’t have to spend hours every week on a blog or forum if that’s not your thing, just keep it relevant and regular. A mostly dead Tumblr or Twitter won’t do you any favors.
Ensure that your interactions and posts are professional.
- Avoid over-sharing or inappropriate assumptions of intimacy
- The internet is forever; consider whether your posts could come back to haunt you
- Approach controversial material in a way that is consistent with or related to your writing philosophy or your work
- Eg: My blog includes real world social and political issues that are reflected in my stories and my approach to world building
- Be careful not to alienate your audience with content that has no bearing on your work
- Do not bully others (yes there are writers who do this) and engaging in flame wars will likely reflect poorly
- If you mess up, damage control involves a real apology and future caution
- Present yourself in the way you want your fans to see you
- Be friendly and open to interactions if you want fans to find you approachable
- Be a bit aloof or distant, if you’re aiming for more space
- Be cautiously prickly if that’s who you are, but keep in mind that being an asshole will only chase fans away
You should establish an email account specifically for your writing. This doesn’t have to run through your own domain if that doesn’t fit your budget. Select your email address carefully.
- Easy to share and remember
- Matches your author name or what you write
- Doesn’t feel too casual unrelated to your writing work
Take advantage of the opportunities to network with readers and other writers in person. This can result in a valuable peer group, name recognition, and readership. While participating in these activities, you don’t need to wear a suit and schmooze like venture capitalist to present as a professional. Look up photos of these events and see what people tend to wear, and find something in your wardrobe that works and is comfortable for you.
- Conventions – most genres have events where fans and creators get together
- Volunteer and participate in programming you have an interest or expertise in
- Attend the parties and meet people
- Conferences – many genres have events for creators to discuss topics of interest and build their craft
- Attend meet-ups or lunches
- Readings – these can be held in bookstores, libraries, and at events like conventions and conferences
- Prepare and practice your piece
- You are in the limelight, be sure to shine
At any of these events, socialize with people you don’t know, even if that’s hard for you. You don’t need to meet everyone and you don’t have to try to impress people with exaggerations or lies. Just be yourself, unapologetically, and try to have interesting conversations. Listen at least as much as you talk, if not more. Swap contact information with people you may want to keep in touch with, and do follow up with them on social media.
Your book cover functions as your advertisement of the work; it sells the book. This is one of the places where a lot of indie authors make mistakes that result in an amateurish and unprofessional appearance. You can search online for “bad book covers” to get hundreds of examples of covers that have done more harm than good, and yes, some of them have been produced by big publishers.
If you don’t have the skills to design your covers, it’s in your interest to pay someone to do this. If you do have the skills to create your own covers, it’s still a good idea to run your drafts by a group of trusted individuals to identify any horrible mishaps you may have missed.
The final piece of presenting yourself as a professional, is ensuring that your printed work meets the standards in the industry. This includes ensuring that you’ve told the best story you can, and that it is as free of spelling and grammatical errors as possible. It can be very helpful to get constructive feedback from fellow writers or beta readers, in case you’ve missed something. If editing isn’t your strong suit, paying a copy editor is not a bad idea.
In addition to the story itself, you also need to ensure your story looks good on the page, whether it’s digital or print. Pay attention to layout guidelines as these can influence whether the book looks professionally produced.
- Margins – top, bottom and outside edges
- Gutter – inside edges near the fold
- Story title and author name in headings, often alternating
- Page number in the footer
Printed work also needs properly set up front matter.
- Title page, on a right page
- Copyright page, on a left page, usually the other side of the title page
- Acknowledgments, on a right page
- A blank left page, unless your acknowledgments run two pages (which should be avoided in fiction)
- Table of contents (TOC), on a right page
- First page of the story, on a right page (there may be a blank left page between the TOC and the story’s first page)
Front matter can determine whether your book meets requirements for wide distribution.
Most of your steps for presenting as a professional don’t have anything to do with your actual writing, and it may be easiest to think of it as the marketing side of the indie writer’s job. It’s often easier to start out with your level of caution and professionalism set a bit higher than you think you need, as it’s unlikely to offend anyone. As you get more comfortable with the various venues, you can assess and adjust if your default is too far in one direction or another.
For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part IV. For the next article in this series, check out Part VI.
For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.
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