Here’s a question: what moves more books, great writing or a name? Before you answer, consider the celebrity books that you’ve seen on the shelves. How many of them say something like “Big Name Celebrity” in huge letters and “Somebody Else” in tiny print below? In all likelihood, the “no name” was the one responsible for the making the writing presentable, but that person does not make the book sell.
Don’t get me wrong. The whole point of this blog is to promote excellent writing in all genres. A name can get you through the door, but great writing will sustain you. That is, if you are a public figure, an editor or publisher is much more likely to take a chance on you—but if your writing is sub-par, then it takes more work and money to get it out.
But if you want to be successful, you will, at some point, have to shop yourself around in one form or another. We all do this at some point: consider your resumé or cover letters. Through literary craft or communication skills, we tell a potential employer why we make the best candidate. Essentially, we have to sell ourselves because this is the only way to get our name out there.
In writing, just finishing the project is really only one part of the overall picture. Don’t just assume that if you make something great that it will sell itself. It could, but not always. Obviously, if you work for a company and put together white papers or marketing materials, that writing will find its way in without too much haggling, but even there, you often have to sell your ideas and viewpoint to other departments and bosses.
For your independent work, you should spend just as much time making a presence for yourself in the “real” and “virtual” worlds as you do working on your actual writing. An editor or publisher needs to know that people care about what you’re saying. If they care, then, hopefully, they’ll buy.
Here are some ways to get started:
Networking: It’s almost a cliché, but make it a point to find others in the field you want to enter. For example, after nearly a year of networking with an editor for a magazine, I finally got my first assignment from him. Worth it? It was to me, since this is a great way to get my name out there even more. Also, you could attend conferences in your desired field and rub elbows with the best.
Blogs: The great thing about a professional blog is that you get your name out there and you work on your writing at the same time. A professional blog is not necessarily about your personal thoughts; it’s about joining the discussion in your targeted field through highly focused, regular blog posts.
Social networking: Facebook may not seem like the best place to sell yourself professionally, but such sites are one of the newest forms of social capital. They allow you to promote your work, your ideas, and your name—all in your PJs.
The bottom line is that selling yourself opens doors, and while it does take work, it’s not nearly as impossible as it may seem.