Friday, May 18, 2012

In an Instant

by Calista Taylor

I find it really is all about first impressions. Though it's unfair to sum anyone or anything up with a simple glance or a few words, it really is the way the world works. As a writer, and someone who will likely need to promote themselves and their works, this becomes even more important. Our readers (whether they be those buying our books, or agents and publishers we're querying) will too often decide in just a few minutes whether or not they'll stick around or move on.

So what are the first impressions you give others? What will others see? Some things are pretty obvious, but I find other aspects are easy to overlook. I'll admit to having a bit of a checklist that I try to run through, and have posted it below, in case it might help.

  • Name—Your name or pen name will be one of the first things a reader notices. Is your name unprofessional or difficult to say/spell/remember? I know this isn't always avoidable, since many write under their real name, but it is something to consider if picking a pen name.
  • Book Covers—A bad book cover or one that looks unprofessional may easily give the impression that the story being told is no better than its cover. With a bad cover, your reader may not even get far enough to bother reading your blurb. Your book will never stand a chance.
  • Your Query—This goes without saying—your query represents your writing.
  • Opening Chapters—Many readers will first read the sample before purchasing. You want your entire manuscript to be well polished and well written, but paying extra attention to your opening chapters certainly can't hurt.
  • Your Writing—an obvious extension of the opening chapters. Do your best to make sure your writing is polished and you've told the best story you can.
  • Your Bio—Readers want to connect with the authors they're reading. Is your bio bland? Is it longer than a few words? Or do you go to the other extreme of listing your entire resume? I recommend keeping it short, pertinent and personable. I think humor is a bonus.
  • Your Bio Picture—I find this doesn't really have to be a picture of you, if you're not comfortable posting an actual picture of yourself. A representative icon/image or painting/portrait works just as well. If using an actual picture of yourself, it should feel fairly professional, even if not taken by a professional. If not using an actual picture of yourself, I recommend NOT using a stock photo of a model. It ends up feeling like you're trying to hide something and you're trying to pass yourself off as someone your not.
  • Your Website and/or Blog—Does it look professional? Does it represent you and your stories? Does it feel/look current?
  • YOU—I've left the most important for last. In the end, it's all about you, so if you do have an online presence, if you're going to conferences or book signings, remember that everyone around you or those you come in contact with, will have a first impression. Try your best to make sure it's a good one and it's one that is professional and personable. Just do your best to play well with others.

This may all be rather obvious, but too often I find there are things that get overlooked. Is there anything you first notice or that immediately stays with you?

Calista Taylor is the author of several romantic mysteries and has a steampunk craft book due out in September 2012.


Jemi Fraser said...

Good tips! I decided to create a blog and join Twitter one afternoon and realized I needed a pen name. I probably only took 5 minutes to figure it out (combination of family names) because I hadn't really thought through all the nuances of choosing a name. Thankfully it worked out well for me :) But I'd advise people to take a bit more time than I did!

Jean Oram said...

Good points, Cali. There are some many places where we can make an impression.

With the author photo, Sophie Kinsella had a shot of herself (?) from the back walking away with shopping bags for her Shopaholic series. So, as you say, there are ways around it. And doesn't Lemony Snickett have a drawing of himself as his author photo? (Can't recall off the top of my head.)

In the end, we are creative sorts, we can figure a loophole that won't leave our readers disappointed.

Calista Taylor said...

Jemi, love that you picked it in such a hurry but it worked out so well for you! I have a loooong checklist for pen names. lol.

Jean, those are great examples!! Definitely, there are ways around putting up a picture if it's not something you feel comfortable with.

Lynn Proctor said...

super advice!

Sanny said...

Thanks for these advices. I already write for some years, but now I also want to publish my writing, taking any advice I can get. I will soon put some info about me on my blog to personalize it.

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks, Lynn!!

Sanny, personalizing your blog will definitely help. I find readers want to connect to a person that feels real. Best of luck with it all!

Matt Sinclair said...

As the industry keeps trimming off midlist writers, these types of points are going to be vital for all of us to keep our voices heard and books selling!