I’ve been writing and editing professionally since 1972. (Of course, I started when I was five!) I’ve seen just about everything: Cover letters that said, “God dictated this article to me. I don’t even know what it means.” Submissions from aliens: the extraterrestrial kind. Envelopes spray-painted gold, which I assume was intended to make them stand out from all the plain old white envelopes. Hand-written submissions on lined paper. And now in the age of word-processing with 400 fonts, submissions that look like ransom notes.
So, here are some ways to avoid sabotaging your writing/speaking career—in no particular order.
1. Unprofessional email address
If you’re going to be a professional writer/speaker, you need a professional-sounding email address. Two of the worst I’ve seen: email@example.com and—I’m not making this up—firstname.lastname@example.org. Even yahoo.com, gmail.com, and hotmail.com strike this grumpy old editor as a bit unprofessional. Get a domain name and a host that will allow you to use that as your email address. For example, email@example.com actually goes to my Gmail account, but it’s masked so all you see is the domain name.
2. Unprofessional social media posts
You’ll probably want a Facebook account for only your family and close friends and then one separate for your professional presence.
Your followers don’t want to know what you’re fixing for dinner unless you’re writing gourmet cook books. And unless your brand is “Cat Whisperer,” I don’t want to see pictures of your adorable kitties. (And having more than five cats qualifies you as “crazy cat lady.”) Make sure every post provides value to your readers and fits with your “brand” (See point 5).
3. No Web presence, unprofessional Web presence
When your book proposal comes before the pub board, the first thing the editors and marketing minions do—who are surgically attached to their laptops and smart phones—is go to google.com and type in your name. If you don’t show up, you don’t exist! And if you don’t exist, you don’t get a contract. It is absolutely necessary that you have a website and one of more social media accounts.
But having no presence may be better than having an unprofessional presence! With WordPress.com and Blogger.com anyone can have a free blog (Web log). The bad news is many of templates offered don’t appear to this grumpy old editor as professional: animated .gifs, cutesy art work, kitties, etc. etc.
Your Web presence is a determining factor in whether a publisher will give your proposal further consideration or a conference director will consider you as a speaker. Spend—no invest—in professional help in creating a professional-looking site. And make sure you have a professional edit the copy.
4. Unprofessional business cards
Just because you’re a Christian writer doesn’t mean your business cards and website must have a cross, dove, empty tomb or—if you’re Charismatic—tongues of fire. Remember the KISS principle. Keep it simple, saints!
And including “Professional Writer” makes me suspect. Would you go to a “Professional Brain Surgeon”?! I don’t think so! (What is he or she trying to prove?!)
5. Not being “branded”
Ouch! That sounds painful, but “branding” is a buzz word in the business and publishing world.
Basically, branding is what readers and audiences expect when they see your name on a book cover or on a conference brochure. You can’t be all things to all people, so do some soul-searching and discover your unique role in the writing/speaking arena.
My brand—for articles, books, website, speaking engagements, convenience store grand openings—is “Hope and Humor.” (www.hopeandhumor.org). So whether I’m writing, speaking or blogging, people expect hope and humor. (So writing bloody murder mysteries would totally massacre—pun intended—my brand.)
What does your audience (or “tribe”) expect? Be specific and then deliver on your brand.
6. “Free” publishing that costs you
Services, like KDP, IngramSpark and lulu.com offer free e-book and print-on-demand publishing services. (Everyone loves free!) You simply upload your Word document and post your homemade cover and you can have your book as an eBook on Amazon in a few hours and your paperback or hardcover book on your doorstep within the week. And you only pay for the actual wholesale price of the books. What a deal. It is a deal if and only if you . . .
. . . have it professionally edited (and not by your English teacher cousin). If your online or in-print presence is filled with errors, it can ruin your writing career. For books, select someone who is familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style; for online or periodicals, The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual.
. . . have your cover professionally designed (and not by your sister-in-law who happens to own Adobe Illustrator—unless she’s working with it professionally.) An amateurish cover, again, can ruin your writing career—or at least book sales.
Please. Please. Please, take this warning to heart. I see so many “self-published” books that just scream AMATEUR! That free service can cost you your reputation.
And if you’re investing your hard-earned money into self-publishing, please check them out thoroughly to make sure they are excellent, ethical and economical.
7. Having a “reputation”
Christian publishing is a relatively small club. Editors meet regularly at conferences and professional meetings, and we talk about writers and speakers. Believe me, we know who the people are who committing professional suicide by being unprofessional, “high maintenance,” telling off editors who don’t appreciate their brilliant talent, missing deadlines and burning “bridges.” And speakers with prima donna complexes by demanding special treatment also can sink under the weight of their bad reputations.
There are many more such as playing the God card: “God told me to write this.” But seven sounds like a biblical number. And by being aware of these, you’ll protect your good name as a writer/speaker.
Copyright © 2012 James N. Watkins
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