Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Than a Writer

I recently finished a non-fiction book proposal, something that is completely different than what I usually write. It was definitely an eye-opening, learning experience and it made me realize how being a writer isn't just about putting words on a page or telling a story. All writers are, or at least should be, the following:

Problem Solvers. If you're writing fiction, your job is to get your characters into jams and then get them out of it. Crichton created Jurassic Park, but then he had to figure out a way to get his main characters out alive. If you're writing non-fiction, you're usually addressing a problem in today's society and providing an answer. Textbooks provide answers to research questions, Self-Help books solve people's personal problems, etc. If there is no problem to solve, there generally isn't a book to write.

Sales People. Writers don't just have to sell their book to readers, they also have to sell it to agents, editors, and reviewers. And once your published, your publisher is going to expect you to sell, sell, sell, market, market, market. You may be a wonderful storyteller, but if you can't sell your story, your story won't get sold.

Small Business Owners. Whether you do it full time or part time, being a writer is owning a small business. You have to cover your own health insurance, pay extra taxes, and move with the ups and downs of good months and bad months. You have to think about sales, about budget, advertising, about bringing in new business and maintaining the business you have. You get to work in your pajamas and make shit up for a living, but maintaining the financial/administrative side is what separates the writers from the dilettantes.

Translators. This is especially true for freelancers, but also applies to novelists. As writers, it is our job to translate an idea to the page and make it understandable. As a freelancer, you may get a press packet that you have to boil down into 200 words or less. A reviewer has to convey the essence of a 300 page book in about 300 words. A novelist has to mold and shape an idea into something that is easy to follow and understand. Writers translate ideas and information to make them more accessible.

Politicians. I may be stretching it with this one, but hear me out. In publishing, whether it be magazines, newspapers or novels, there are plenty of politics, plenty of games that have to be played. You have to schmooze editors, other authors, talk to people in a way that gets you what you want. You have to present yourself in a likeable, professional way, be well spoken and thoughtful, and of course, have a platform. You should know how to shake hands and work a room. Hopefully, you're slightly more honest than the DC bigwigs, but the better politician you are, the more successful you'll be.

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