Skip to main content

Best Foot Forward

To be perceived as professional, you have to look the part.

You may do some of your best writing wearing a sweat suit or pajamas. Perhaps you're partial to Hawaiian prints and bangle earrings. When you attend a writing conference, however, and could be meeting editors or agents in person, it's time to project success.

That's not to say you must be good looking to get published, but you do have to appear professional.

Think about the importance of a first impression. Readers often select books based on the cover, which is why the cover art is crucial. When a writer introduces himself to agents and editors at a conference, what they see is what they get.

"Two things go into presenting a positive image: physical appearance and attitude," says Jeanne S. Archer (www.lifejourneys.com), author and motivational speaker. "It amazes me how some people confuse `casual' with `slovenly.'

Be current

For some reason, we cling to styles popular when we were last in a school environment. Rid your closets of the '60s hippie look, the '70s pointy lapels, the '80s linebacker shoulders and the '90s grunge. Writers don't have to keep up with fashion trends, but should steer clear of stuck-in-another-decade traps.

"Your appearance reflects how confident you are and can give you an air of credibility," says Marita Littauer, author and president of CLASServices (www.classervices.com), which provides resources, training and promotion for speakers and authors. "Someone whose clothing is out-of-date, worn, dirty or poorly coordinated implies that their message may be the same: out-of-date and invalid."

When approaching an agent or editor who hasn't yet read your work, use the senses to create a favorable impression. This goes beyond your look: Don't wear cologne that overpowers. Speak up, but don't yell. Use a firm handshake, but remember this isn't a strength contest.

Indicate your writing style in your business card choice. Littauer suggests your business card include your photo. "It helps to put a name with a face," she says.

Watch your tone

Trying to sell a book proposal at a conference means you have to first get the agent's or editor's attention. This is when professionalism shouldn't just show; it must shout. "Communicate that you're professional, confident and articulate with your attitude. Even if you don't feel that way at the moment, act as if you are," Archer says.

Being a professional means knowing when to speak and when to listen. "No matter how pretty you are or how well dressed, if you're always talking about yourself, sooner or later, you'll step on your tongue and people will see that you're an amateur," says S. Joan Popek (www.sjoanpopek.com), an author and former magazine editor

"No one really gives a rat's behind about you personally. What they do care about is how you tell a story. Presentation is key. Present yourself as a professional writer who knows her stuff," Popek says.

Don't be one of those writers who seems almost embarrassed at their own book signings. "Bookstore owners want a dynamic author who will smile at passing customers, make eye contact and draw them toward the book display," says author Lila Guzman (www.talk.to/Lila.com). "The worst thing an author can do is sit and appear disengaged."

Yet it's important writers not appear overconfident. Learn to strike a proper balance.

Publicist P.J. Nunn (www.breakthroughpromotions.com) says, "Most agents and editors share the same opinion—good writers are out there and we're glad to work with them, but those who put on the airs of creative genius or aristocratic arrogance make it really hard on everyone else. It's a fine line, but good writing just isn't enough."

Imagine a label attached to your back. What words describe you? Why not pick some that say "successful writer"?

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest is excited to announce our Sept/Oct 2022 issue featuring our Annual Literary Agent Roundup, an interview with NYT-bestselling YA horror novelist Tiffany D. Jackson, and articles about writing sinister stories.

Your Story #120

Your Story #120

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

Author Sarah Grunder Ruiz shares how she fits writing into her life and offers 5 tips on how to achieve a sustainable writing life as a parent.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 621

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an animal poem.

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Not sure which way to turn when writing intimate scenes? Author Jo McNally shares how to write compelling love scenes that make sense for the story you’re writing.

How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character is a high-end retail salesperson.

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Award-winning author Phong Nguyen discusses his lifelong dream of writing his new historical fiction novel, Bronze Drum.

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

What happens to historical fiction when history repeats itself? Author Addison Armstrong discusses writing about the past and seeing it reflected in the present.

From Script

Art and Independence (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” television writer Vanessa Benton, Allegoria writer-director Spider One, Hulu’s Prey screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg, and more!