Check the Bunny Slippers at the Door
by Katherine Pryor
As writers, one of the perks of our profession is the ability to roll out of bed, hit ‘Brew’ on the coffee maker, and go to work wearing whatever we darn well please. I wrote my first two novels in a pair of lucky bunny slippers, which have now disintegrated due to constant wear and one too many embarrassing trips to the porch to sign for a UPS delivery. These days, I know I’ve had a good day of writing if I’m still wearing the bright purple, Rock ‘n Roll Monkey pajamas a friend gave me as a joke—at lunchtime. (And, yes, there have been some awkward conversations with FedEx drivers…)
It’s easy for writers to go into hermit mode: we have no commute, no outfits to coordinate, and the editor on the other end of our phone calls and emails doesn’t know about the coffee stains on our favorite college sweatshirt. Maybe this is why it’s so easy to forget that one of the most crucial aspects of our jobs happens far, far away from our computers. In fact, this one element may be just as crucial to our success as the strings of words we dream up and sweat over.
Writers of the world, forgive me: we can’t do this in our pajamas. What is this grave, uncomfortable act? Networking.
No offense to all the wonderful social networking websites out there, but almost all of my professional victories have resulted from live, real-time conversations with three-dimensional humans. Yes, our computers are powerful beasts—but so is conversation.
At a book-signing in my Arizona hometown, I was approached by a local journalist who ended up running a Sunday piece about my work as a novelist. The piece led to a job with Authors in Schools, which led to more book-signings. To secure that first book-signing, I’d made multiple visits to the store, engaged in conversations with the events manager, and convinced him that I would be a great artist to feature on a Saturday afternoon. A series of friendly conversations created a ripple effect that allowed me to present my work around the state.
At a writers’ conference in Idaho, I ended up sitting at a dinner table with the conference coordinator. By the end of the night, she invited me to present at the next conference, and volunteered to copy edit my second novel. We shared our work for over a year, and when she was tapped to put together an anthology of essays, she asked me to contribute. Years of friendship and work were born over stale rolls in a cold banquet hall.
Other vital conversations have happened at monthly writing club meetings, over cocktails at after-events, and at many, many lectures that involved gummy “My Name Is…” stickers affixed to my chest. The running theme through all of these? Leaving the house.
It’s easy to tell ourselves that our work speaks for itself. Given a chance, it probably will. Of course, that involves finding a reader, and in my experience, a flesh and blood conversation will greatly amplify the impact of the written word. A query letter is easy to toss in the Discard pile, but an actual, smiling writer—less so.
This is a tall order, I know. We bookish writer-types would generally rather visit the dentist (where at least there are magazines in the waiting room) than socialize with strangers. However, in a competitive market, every interaction we have opens up doors of possibility we just can’t find in our home offices.
Each writer I’ve met has different ways of coping with this professional necessity. I once met a cute, suburban soccer mom who happened to write Erotica. She lived two lives: at home, in her day-to-day existence, she was a perky blond with a minivan. As an author, she had a boldly different persona, complete with a wig and a pseudonym. The professional persona gave her a level of bravado she didn’t usually have.
Other writers have less elaborate coping methods. Some are just really, really nice. Others drag along an outgoing spouse for moral support. For me, I’ve always found dressing as professionally as possible makes me feel as though I’ve already made it. My professional persona is as far away from my writing persona as possible, as though I sit at my computer in high heels, rather than bunny slippers. The key is finding what works for you, then walking out the door to meet the world. Our words will speak for themselves as soon as we find some lucky person to read them.
Katherine Pryor is author of the novel 50 Ways. She lives and writes in Seattle.