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Authors Wear Many Hats

How big is your hatstand?

*Reposted from 2017

So, you want to be an author? Specifically, you want to be a published author? It sounds simple: just write!

Many writers who love to read think it must be easy to write a novel. Many writers think that if they can string a good sentence together, they could write a novel too—if only they had time.

Does this sound familiar?

The thing about being a author—and particularly being a novelist—isn’t about putting a pretty sentence together. It’s not about putting words in the right order, one after the other, until there are 70-100,000 of them.

Writing a novel—as anyone who has made the attempt knows—is about a lot more than that. Of course, it requires skill with the written word. However, writing a novel—and then publishing that novel—requires the author to wear many different hats.

Ten Different Hats for Authors

Storyteller/ Entertainer

Stringing a pretty sentence together might have impressed your high school English teacher, but to lure and engage readers, you’re going to have to learn how to tell a story.

As consumers, we unconsciously recognise a good story when we read a book or see it on the big (or small) screen, but we’re not necessarily conscious of the elements of good story telling.

There are plenty of writing books and websites to learn about this—and you’ll have to if you want to become a novelist.

In my opinion, story-telling is what sets the successful authors from the aspiring ones—the ability to catch the reader’s attention, to reel them in and not let go until the final page. Writing beautiful sentences is well and good but, for me, story trumps beautiful prose every time.

Psychologist

As an author, you need to get into the heads of your characters and understand what motivates their actions and reactions throughout the story.

You also need to get into the heads of your readers so that you can make them laugh, cry, clutch the edge of their seat, fall in love, or whatever it is you’re wanting them to feel.

The experience of reading a novel is about emotional engagement with the characters, the tension you feel as the plot pulls you to the precipice and beyond. It’s the feeling of the book that people remember once they’ve turned the last page. As the author, you want to give your readers “the feels”.

Big-Picture person

A big-picture person is someone who can zoom out to see all the pieces of the whole and how they fit together. I like to use the analogy of a puzzle—a big-picture person can see the whole picture in their mind—they can look at the plot on a macro level.

The importance of this skill increases in scope if you are writing a series, because you need to have not only a plot and character arcs that run through one book, but many books. You need to be able to consider how the plot lines and characters come together overall.

To give the reader a reason to stick with your story through several hundred pages (at least), you need to give them confidence that their questions will be answered, foreshadowed hints will be revealed, the story will be resolved. That any missing pieces are not major plot holes, but are facets of the story that haven’t yet been revealed.

Details person

In contrast to a big-picture person, a details person can zoom in to analyze all of the fine details of the story to make sure they are consistent. This is the person who leans in to look at the puzzle—to examine each piece—and who selects exactly the right one to fill the hole in the picture. They will look at the shading of color, the detail of any lines or marks, the shape of it, to make sure it fits perfectly.

Details are important—readers may stop to check inconsistent details, pulling them away from the momentum of your tale.

You need to be able to delve into each scene and make sure the detail is consistent and relevant. Does your protagonist have brown eyes in chapter one, then blue a few pages later? Does your protagonist suddenly have a weapon we haven’t heard of before? Or perhaps they’re carrying so much they’ve suddenly grown an extra arm? Do you spell a word one way in the first chapter, then another way in chapter five and yet another in chapter 20?

Good editors and beta readers might pick up some of these details, but there’s no guarantee they’ll fix them all. You need to correct as many of these detail lapses as possible before passing your story along to others.

Grammar Nazi

Not every reader will pick up on an author’s mistakes. However, bad grammar is one of the things that might pull a reader out of the momentum of your story, causing them to pause and wonder why something they’ve read isn’t quite right. you want to eliminate any reason for a reader to put a book down—bad grammar is one of them.

Do you have a tendency to change tenses mid-sentence? Do you head-hop without warning? Do you use apostrophes correctly?

As someone who prided themselves on being a good writer and having a pretty good handle on the English language, it surprised me how many grammar mistakes I made when I was writing. There were more than a few grammar rules I had to look up to make sure I was using them correctly.

Again, while a copy editor or proofreader will pick up on many grammar mistakes, there’s no guarantee they’ll eliminate them completely. Like getting the details right, it is best if you can eliminate as many errors as possible, so that a proofreader can do the rest.

Entrepreneur

Having an entrepreneurial mindset is especially important if you want to self-publish, though these days, all authors have to consider themselves as a business—at the very least, as a personal brand—no matter whether they are an indie-author or going down the traditionally published route.

An entrepreneur will consider the audience for their books and promote themselves. This usually means an author platform, complete with social media. It mean conducting yourself professionally when approaching agents or editors or book reviewers and bloggers. It means building a recognisable brand and interacting with readers consistent with that brand. It means completing your novel, if you haven’t already.

If you’re an indie-author, it mean launching your novel when you are ready to publish. It means making decisions about cover design, hiring professionals to help you, deciding on book formats, prices.

In short, it means running your author-business with the same mindset as any other business owner who is growing their business.

PR/Brand Marketer

An extension of being an entrepreneur is knowing, building and marketing yourself as an author brand.

Even if you’re traditionally published, you’ll still have a social media presence which you’ll need to manage. If you seek traditional representation, you’ll probably need to build a platform, so that agents and publishers have confidence that you’ll be able to build and maintain a following. Publishers are not just considering your book as a product, they are also considering you, the author, as a product they can sell.

For those people who want to be an indie-author, this will be even more important. Your author brand will help readers get to know you and recognize your work both now and in the future. It will determine how you set up your website and social media platforms, how you tell your author story, how you engage with readers and what your books will look like.

Contract Manager

If you’re an indie-author—and by that I mean that you professionally self-publish your novels (not just uploading them to Amazon and crossing your fingers)—chances are you’ll outsource at least some publishing tasks. You’ll probably hire a developmental editor, a copyeditor, a proofreader, and a cover designer, at least. You might hire someone to manage the technical stuff for you. Whatever it is, you need to manage these relationships to make sure you get what you paid for.

If you’re seeking professional representation, you need to understand what contracts you’re signing—with your agent and (hopefully) with a publisher. What rights will you sell? How long before they revert back to you? What portion of royalties will your agent keep?

You need to keep on top of these details. Leaving it to others is a recipe for disaster.

Technical Whizz

You need to be able to navigate website creation and management, social media profile creation and management, as well as making sure your novel is in the right format for upload (whether it be Kindle, CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Kobo, iBooks, etc). You may give it a go on your own—it’s fairly easy to create your own website using WordPress or another platform, for example. Social media profiles are easy to create and use.

Or you may want to learn—there is plenty of information on the ‘how to” of book formatting online, for example, if you have the time to learn it. Or you might decide you’d prefer to outsource this and use your time to write your next novel.

You will have to decide how much of it to take on and how much of it to outsource.

Decision-Maker (A.K.A. The Boss)

You have to make the final decisions on everything.

Certainly, if you’re an indie-author, you’ll have to make decisions about your business—that is, your books. You might hire other people to help you, but the final choices are yours.

You have to choose your branding. You have to decide what to post on social media or on your blog. You have to make decisions about book cover design, book size, font, etc. These things seem simple, but the small stuff can be overwhelming.

After the effort of putting everything together, having to make so many more decisions can seem like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Only you can make those final decisions. When you’re an indie-author, it all comes back to you.

Of course, if you’re traditionally published, you may wish you had some of these problems—especially if your publisher doesn’t take your opinion on covers and marketing into account—but that’s another story.

Authors…Get a Bigger Hatstand While You’re At It

Whoa! How do authors manage under the weight of all those hats?

Well, the good news is that you don’t have to know it all right away. You don’t have to wear them all at once.

During the planning stage and the first draft, you will need your big picture and storytelling hats on. During revision, you’ll need both of those, plus your small detail hat on too. Once major revisions are done, you’ll need to swap those hats for your grammar nazi hat. Throughout, you’ll need to put your entrepreneur and brand manager hats on, when you’re active on social media promoting your author brand. When you’re nearing the end and editing and packaging your product, you’ll need your contract manager and boss hats on.

There’s plenty of time to learn along the way. You might even find you enjoy those different hats—or at least some of them. One things for sure—you’ll need a bigger hatstand!

Which hats do you like the most? The least? Are there any you will need to put on? I’d love to hear it. Let me know in the comments.

*Photo by Onur Bahcivancilar from Unsplash.com

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