I was a teacher in NC public schools. No one mistook that title as “someone who solely teaches.” I did not go into school, perform four lectures, and head home for the day. As with most occupations, there was far more than that front-facing role as an educator.
Being a writer is no different. You write books, of course, but there are all sorts of other hats a writer often must put on to survive in the world of publishing today. Let’s take a look at a list of the different roles many writers find themselves in as they get started:
(this list was helped along by the thinktank that is the 2017 YA/MG Debuts)
- Researcher- At what speed does light travel? And what trees are native to the Pacific Northwest? You’re hiring yourself out as you look up answers to questions like these for your work.
- Salesperson- Learn your elevator pitch now. How would you sell your book to an established author? How about to a middle grader? Consider every possible scenario.
- Public Speaker- Some of you really hate this hat. I get it, but it’s a great way to engage with audiences and sell your book.
- Educator- Especially if you’re engaging with teens or younger. Your growing expertise is something other writers crave to learn more about.
- Social Media Expert – As the markets shift and more of your potential buyers dive into new platforms, it can be important to find out how to use them. Is TweetDeck the way you reach out? Maybe running a Mailchimp newsletter is something you’ve never done. Engaging, learning, and utilizing these tools matters a lot.
- Interior Decorator – Sitting down and writing can be about feel. Sometimes you have to carve out time to get your setup in place at home so the creative juices flow without distraction.
- Media Relations – This is a bigger picture than salesman or public speaker. What’s your brand? If people follow you on Twitter, what can they expect? If people read your books, what will they get out of them? If I say the name, “Maggie Stiefvater” – a person who follows her on social media and reads her books would have a very defined sense of what to expect, because she’s maintained her media relations in a very specific way.
- Copywriter – If you think that successful query is that last time you’ll be writing back cover copy… HA. Double HA. Learning to summarize your own book will be an ongoing skill. How do you write a short summary without losing substance? How do you make that summary something that will catch a reader’s eye?
- Blogger – Either on your site or on others… Think pieces are a thing. Be prepared to carve out parts of how you think as a writer and learn how to package them for public consumption.
- Collaborator – Especially in traditional publishing, the purchase of your book basically guarantees this is a collaborative project. I’ve worked with at least 4 or 5 separate editors on my debut project. We’re working together. Learning how to give and take in this collaborative environment is vital.
- HR – You are also in human resources, on your own behalf… Keep an eye on your work schedule. Know when you haven’t taken enough vacation days. Evaluate how you’ve been talking to people. Evaluate how people are talking to you. Encourage healthy work habits. Plan vacations when needed.
- Analyst – Movies and books are fuel for your fire… Sometimes you need to just enjoy them without a second thought (see HR above), but other times you need to be actively analyzing: “Why does this work? What about this plot is snagging my attention? Why are these pages falling flat?” That constant analysis can be taken back like a data set to your own work – Include and ignore certain strategies based on what you’ve seen work or not work.
- Experimenter – You need to go practice martial arts sometimes. Or maybe you need to go cliff diving, or walk the streets of that certain town… You’re testing the waters of our world and taking what you find back to the world of fiction.
- Attendee – Maybe a strange one, but showing up is half of writing. Are you at those conferences? Are you present in your community? Do you go to the events of other authors? Are you involved with local writing chapters? Attendance matters.
- Accountant – Your taxes are about to get very complicated. Making sure to keep the books straight (at least straight enough to hand off to an actual accountant) will be a big one.
- Beta/Sensitivity Reader – Immersing yourself in the literary world can often be very literal. Taking on the task of a beta or sensitivity reader is pretty common for authors.
- Tastemaker – And if you have enough success, you might also be asked to read with an eye towards blurbing for someone. Your RTs and blurbs and platform allow you to direct whatever attention you have from your audience towards the work of other authors.
- Stylist – Remember that whole thing about branding? This can sometimes connect to the look you’re giving off to audiences. I know Nic Stone was doing make-up matches with book covers. Gail Carriger is another famous example of someone who’s used style as an accent to her career as an author. Most days, I just am trying not to sweat profusely, but you may actually consider this as a part of the job.
- Party Planner – Sometimes your publishing houses will coordinate events… Sometimes, though, you’re left trying to figure out how to make the most out of an impromptu school visit. Learning what displays work, what items are good giveaways, and how to actually draw readership out of those events matters.
- Marathon Runner – This one’s more metaphorical, but to close out the list, know that writing is a long race. Patience is necessary. Great running buddies help. Knowing, though, that mile after mile you’re ticking off some amazing accomplishments is a really big deal. So run the good race, keep your head up, and know what finish lines you’re hoping to cross.
I have no real advice at this point. I just want it to be clear: being an author means doing a lot of different things. Over the years, authors have made various combinations of the things on this list work for them. Make sure you know which hats fit you the best. Never feel bad if one of these hats is really, really atrocious in your mind. Remember, too, that it’s not a competition of who can wear the most hats. The world of writing has room for a lot of different authors. Good luck finding the right combination, the one that works best for you.