No author is an island, and we each contribute to the genre ecosystem. One of your responsibilities in public is to extend the genre conversation in a way that expands your presence and helps the right readers find you.
What is your measure of success for your public messages?
As a public presence, you will stand for something, even if others attach opinions to you by default. We urge you to stand for something consciously. Take the time to form opinions about your corner of the bookshelf and how your work moves your genre forward. Not only will those articulated beliefs inform your writing, they will help to specify what makes your work unique and signal to colleagues that you do your homework.
Your messages become the remarkable content (solutions, insights, discoveries) you share with the public that start conversations. As media trainer Brad Phillips puts it, a media message needs to be one sentence that combines one of your critical ideas with one of your audience’s needs or values. Each one of these punchy sentences should use:
- under thirty words and two commas maximum.
- tangible images that generate emotions in your audience.
Some lines of inquiry will come up over and over and over in your career: What is important to you? What excites and inspires you? How do you see your genre developing over the next few years? What makes a great book and why? What professional affiliations have been helpful? What advice would you offer a young writer in your genre?
Certain chronic questions dog every author, and it behooves you to articulate a fun, quotable, branded response to each that reinforces what is exceptional about you and your work. You should always have a memorable answer on the tip of your tongue. Here are some perennial warhorses you’ll answer a thousand times:
What’s your book about?
This groaner sounds innocuous, but there’s a sting in the tail. They’re asking you for the book’s hook and what you can guarantee them: “Why should I give a damn about your book?” Ostensibly strangers ask this out of general interest in your work. The real question is pure self-interest wrapped in a challenge that you need to harness and redirect, pronto: “What’s in it for me? How do I know reading it will give me the emotional experience I want to have?” Don’t tell them the story; set the hook and tug at their self-interest.
Where do you get your ideas?
This generic question affords you all kinds of latitude to discuss your creative process; how you put pigs in treetops and turn lemmings into lemonade. Let your brand shine through. Where do you get your ideas? The real question they’re asking is, “How do you make sure your books embody your brand, and why should I care?” Convey what is amazing, authentic, and memorable about your process, your craft, and the final result.
What do you love most about being a writer?
To us, the positive response seems like a no-brainer: “Dreaming for a living!” Authors get paid to tell stories to people who dig the same things. That’s pretty cool. We suspect that what they’re really asking is, “What makes your imagination worth money, and who are your readers?” Take this opportunity to show your gratitude to your fans and to explain what makes your work different. Share your joy, your passion, and your unique take on the career.
How much of [insert title] is biographical?
Your answers will vary project to project, but if you’ve got a great personal hook in this project, make sure you hit it. If not, make sure you convey what makes the book important and powerful to you. The real question here is, “How much reality and pain went into producing this escapist genre fiction?” Use this as a moment to explain how your authentic experience informs your fictional creations.
What are you working on now? (aka So…what’s next?)
At every event you attend, you want people to be interested in your career beyond the book you’re currently promoting. The real question on this one is, “How much mental real estate can we expect you to claim, and how big are the escapist vacation packages you’ll offer us in the future?” Make the high concept clear by emphasizing your hook. Convey what excites and intrigues you about your upcoming project(s). Focus on images and tropes without spoiling the entire plot. Even if your plans change, you’ve reinforced everyone’s sense of your enthusiasm, professionalism, and talent
© 2016 Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan, All Rights Reserved