Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Yesterday Janet Grant blogged about how we need to be willing to take risk in publishing. I’ve always admired risk-takers— those people who put it all on the line and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Of course we don’t often hear about those who put it all on the line and lost everything. But win or lose, risk-taking is the mark of confidence, of boldness, and we have to admire that.
So here’s when I think you need to color inside the lines:
—You are an unpublished writer seeking publication. Your book cannot be risky or too far off from what is now being published if you are a new writer. The publisher is already taking what they see as a risk on an unknown. It is far easier to get them to take that risk if they feel comfortable with your book and if the writing is superb. Your novel or your nonfiction book needs to be one they can already see on the shelves. Once you’ve got some real success under your belt you can branch out and be a little riskier but if you are at the beginning of your career, color within the lines. (And yes, I know you can give me a handful of anecdotes where this has not been the case but those were the exceptions. I’m talking about the rule.)
—You are meeting industry professionals for the first time. You may be a character, someone who’s bigger than life. You might be the life of every party but if you are meeting your publisher for the first time, be professional. I know this flies in the face of all those voices telling you to be yourself and that people need to accept you for who you are, but quirky and over-the-top can be scary to many an introvert. And the publishing industry is filled with introverts. Just saying.
—You are a writer seeking an agent. Same as above. We may tell you to be memorable but pushy or over-confident is a huge turn-off to an agent. We know we are going to be working with you for a long time. When we are considering representation, one of the questions we ask ourselves is: “Will I be happy to receive this writer’s phone calls or will I cringe when I see the number pop up on my caller ID?” I know this advice can be confusing. How can you be memorable and still be appropriate? You are remembered through your work and the kind, thoughtful way you interact with others.
—When you are speaking to a group of readers. Zany and off-beat is just as off-putting as cold and reticent. When you are speaking to readers remember that they are far more interested in your book and your characters or your subject than they are in you. Give them details. Give them new information. Help them fall in love with your book. And then, when they talk to you, focus on them. What is their story? If you truly care about them as an individual you’ll have done far more than writing a book to minister to them. It’s all about coloring inside the lines.
So, what have I missed? What are some other times it is important for you to color within the lines? Is it dishonest to conform when there is a non-conformist screaming to get out?