Monday, October 14, 2013

Agency Lesson: Writer vs. Author

There is a difference between being a writer and an author, but the dividing line may not be what you think.
When I first took off down the long hard path of writing my first manuscript, I somehow got it into my head that I was only a writer, but as soon as this bad boy got published and the money started rushing in, I'd be an authors. I cringe at my poor naive self.

I drew the line between writer and author with a big green dollar sign. Author meant professional, and pros get paid.

Over the years, my view has changed. I still think a writer is someone off in their little corner of the world, banging out words. And an author is still a professional. But the line doesn't come with cold hard cash anymore.

To me, becoming an author is all about mindset.

I'm talking talking about the whole "I think (I'm an author), therefore I am (an author)". To be a professional author, it takes more than talking the talk. You need to walk the walk, with the way you handle yourself as a professional.

It's pretty clear in reading queries, who still thinks of themselves as writers, and who has made the leap to author.

The writer makes excuses for why they don't have writing credits. The writer talks about how long they labored on their work. The writer fills in missing bio info with irrelevant family trivia. The writer references their work as if it is their one and only chance at 'making it'.

The author lists relevant credits, but if they don't have any they simply leave it out. The writer never bogs down their query with indications of how long they've been working on a manuscript. The author keeps their bio short and sweet with only publishing related information. The author doesn't show an emotional attachment to the manuscript, even if they think it is 'the one'.

The biggest difference is that the author has moved into a professional mindset. This mindset lets them pour their heart and soul into a manuscript, and they query it without showing in every line that their next breath depends on an agent's response.

None of that means, the professional author doesn't refresh their email every fifteen minutes. It doesn't mean they aren't emotionally attached to a manuscript. Being professional hasn't turned them into soulless submission robots.

It has allowed them to recognize that as a professional, you win some you lose some. You send off a query, hope and pray for the very best, and keep going no matter what the responses are. You celebrate every request. You digest every rejection. You process all the emotions, never once forgetting that publishing is a business.

You don't have to wait until you're raking in the cold hard cash to call yourself an author. I suggest making the mental switch now. Decide that you are a professional. Start treating yourself like one and use the language of a pro. Remember, agents are looking for career authors, someone who's in it for the long haul. The question is, are you ready to make that leap?

12 comments:

  1. More than ready. And now that 'the one' is out of the way and published, I might get back to querying agents for 'all the other ones'. :-D

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  2. I admit that I didn't consider myself an author until I got a book deal. I had been paid for short stories before that, but I needed that book deal to feel like an author.

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    1. There's no wrong way. It's less about the name you use and more about the mindset. :)

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  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I believe the main reason writers have trouble moving into the professional mindset is because of lacking self-confidence. It's an easy to fall into the trap--the umpteem rejection, the harsh critique--it doesn't take long for self-doubt to set in. I'd be interested in hearing your tips on how writers can keep their confidence going through all the ups and downs.

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    1. Great point, David. I'll have to work on that for a future post. :)

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  4. I LOVE this post Sarah! I just put a bio on my new blog yesterday and I wrote author and changed it back to writer--and then back and then back. I got all "Oh no what if someone published reads this and thinks I haven't paid my dues and don't deserve the ttle?!" Pffft. Thanks for this kick in the A. I'm going to fix that right now!

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  5. What a fantastic post, Sarah! I took the leap from writer to author a few years ago and you're right. It's all in the head and the way we carry ourselves. We have to believe with all our heart and soul, which leads me to a question that's been flitting around in my head.

    I was asked the other day by another author if I consider myself an author or a storyteller? The question made me pause for a moment. Is being a "storyteller" also a mindset, or do we need public opinion to confirm what we believe? We authors can write with passion, devotion and professionalism, but does that mean we are storytellers? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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    1. I think an author is a subcategory of a larger group called Storytellers. My mom can tell a story like no one's business, but I've never seen her write one down. You can be a storyteller without being an author, but you can't be an (fiction) author without being a storyteller. I would include all authors in that, but I think a mathematics text book author is excluded from the need to be a storyteller. ;)

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  6. This was a great post and I agree wholeheartedly. It took me two books (crappy ones) to make that switch. With my first one, it was like I'd written this magnum opus that could never be repeated. I thought my whole professional career as an "author" hung on its success or failure. I did every single thing you put in there. Cutesy antics in queries, gimmicks, irrelevant personal information, etc. I still check back on queries pretty frequently, but I've learned to move on to the next project and to process rejections as part of the process. Good post. :-)

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    1. I think it's a rite of passage every author needs to go through. You write what you think is 'the one' and then do horrible, awful things to it by writing the worst query imaginable and letting other people read it. I actually cringe when I think of the 15 poor souls who read my first query letter before one very nice agent let me in on the secret that I'd written a book about nothing.

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