This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Chicago-North chapter of the RWA’s Spring Fling writer’s conference. Not only that, I was invited to present a workshop there on self-publishing. It was a fantastic experience! The conference itself was so well organized and the people I met and friends I got to see again were awesome. There’s nothing like attending a conference to stir the blood to write!
One of the things I noticed during this conference that was new for me was that I have managed to reach the next level. What does that mean? Well, after I presented the workshop, I had quite a few people come up to me to thank me and to ask questions. At the book-signing, I had people coming up to me asking me to autograph their books. I could tell from the way they looked at me that their perception of me was as someone who has succeeded. Or maybe that’s because at various points in the conference I had a long chat with Mary Balogh and another long chat with Courtney Milan (and her publicist, who is awesome!).
Anyhow, it made me think not only about what makes a writer successful, but what gives a struggling writer the appearance of success to those around them. One of my workshop attendees came up to me afterward and commented that I came off as so confident in my presentation, more so than the NYT Bestselling speaker from the day before. (She noted that she finds self-published authors to be much more confident in their bearing than traditionally published authors, which is a totally interesting comment to make!) I defer to my theater training, but I think it’s something else too.
Back when I was in cosmetology school, one of my teachers, Ms. Dawn, always used to tell us “fake it ‘til you make it”. She meant that even if we were faced with a head of hair in front of us that was a hot mess and we had no idea how to fix it and nothing to go on but our training, for the sake of the client, you had to act like you were the top stylist in the world and knew exactly what you needed to do to make that person gorgeous. It’s a philosophy that applies to life and that especially applies to writing. Act like the writer you want to be.
Now, as I say that, I really hope you don’t want to be the writer who sticks their nose in the air and refuses to come down from their pedestal to talk to the little people. What I mean is that no matter what stage of your career you’re in, you should deport yourself like a professional. You should go out in public with a positive, encouraging attitude, as if someone will come up to you and say, “Hey, aren’t you [Famous Writer]?” You should never downplay your accomplishments. You’ve written a BOOK, dammit! And if someone asks your advice on a topic, you should be ready and eager to give them all the help they need.
I personally think this attitude of author success is most important to keep up when you’re in your writer cave, alone. Treat yourself as though you are Famous Author. How do you think the top 5% got to where they are? Through hard work, treating their writing like a job, and following processes without cutting corners. I have always striven to emulate the traditional publishing process as closely as possible in my self-publishing habits, and it’s paid off.
The other thing I would suggest to help you act like a successful author is to always jump when opportunity presents itself. Never assume that you’re too humble and lowly to give an interview or offer advice when someone is looking for it or to help out when someone has a project that requires input from other authors. Take the position that whoever is looking for help and advice wants YOU to be a part of their endeavor. You’d be amazed at how many opportunities I’ve stumbled across simply by being open and chatty and offering help when the call went out.
Oh, and one more thing. If you find yourself at writer’s conferences, as tempting as it is to hang out with your friends and sit with them at the formal dinners, sit at tables with people you don’t know! I can’t tell you how many fun conversations I had this past weekend and how many new people I met who I love, simply by striking up a conversation with the friendly face I didn’t know.
I’m convinced that success as an author is within reach of anyone who sets out with the determination to make a career for themselves. Sometimes the best first step is to act like you’ve already arrived.
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