I promised to tell you about my writer’s identity crisis. I’m not sure that fiction writers suffer from this affliction, but I’m fairly sure that many nonfiction writers suffer along with me.
All indicators point to me being a writer, but some days I’m not sure that is who I am.
I have a literary agent – two actually, since my agent’s husband is also an agent. That must mean I’m a writer, right? Actually, I had three agents representing three book projects of mine at the Book Expo America this past year. So, I must be a writer.
I don’t have any books published by publishing houses, but I did have one book contract for about a year, but the book never was published. (That’s a long story not worth going into here…) I have several short books, or booklets, that I’ve self-published. So, I must be a writer.
As I’ve already shared, I have a degree in magazine journalism, and I’ve written for more than 40 different magazines, newsletters and newspapers. I’ve also written for a variety of e-zines, and I’ve had three essays published in three anthologies. So, I must be a writer.
I also work as a freelance non-fiction book editor and coach. I guess that makes me an editor more so than a writer, but it at least shows that I know something about writing. I’ve had several jobs as a magazine editor as well.
So, what’s the problem, you ask? It’s obvious that I’m a writer, you say? Why am I having an identity crisis? Because I spend about 75 percent of my time, if not more, peddling myself as an expert speaker and a teacher or writing news releases and press releases (free articles) and posting them on line or sending them out to the media promoting myself as an expert. These days, I spend very little time, if any writing articles for pay or writing books. (No wonder I wanted to start the Write Nonfiction in November challenge. I needed the challenge myself so I would actually WRITE something.)
Why? Because to become a published author – to have a publisher actually accept one of my book proposals and offer me a contract – I have to have a “platform.” No, not a wooden box or stage to stand on, but a speaking platform from which I can sell my books. I have to be perceived as the expert in my “field,” and I have to become well-known to many people. I have to be able to help market my books through “back of the room sales” at lectures, workshops and talks that are attended by hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees. I have to become a regular guest on radio and television talk shows, so I get lots of media exposure and can tell lots of people about my book. I have to be featured in national magazines or in magazines that pertain to my field of expertise. I have to find creative ways to build a big mailing list or e-mail list to which I can market my book, thus helping sell them over time.
If you still harbor the belief that a publishing house will market and publicize your book for you, think again. While they might do so on a small scale, in today’s publishing world, this job has fallen onto the nonfiction writer’s shoulders.
Today’s publishing environment demands that we nonfiction writers become expert marketers and publicists — of ourselves and of our books. If we can’t prove to publishing houses that we can wear these hats as well as our writer’s hats, we can kiss our dreams of that publishing contract goodbye. (Here’s where some of us might want to consider moving over to the fiction side of writing, where none of this platform business applies…)
So, am I a writer or am a marketing and publicity pro? Am I a writer or an expert speaker and media source? Am I a writer or a PR wiz? Mostly these days, I’m the latter in all cases. And that doesn’t leave me feeling much like a writer.
But…I am determined to be a writer. A nonfiction writer. I set out to help people through my writing, and my writing serves no one if it goes unread. Therefore, I will write, and I will publish. Where once I said I would never self-publish (although I have on a small scale), I will if necessary.
There are so many publishing avenues available to writers today, no reason exists for us to wait around for someone to tell us we’ve proven we can be something other than a writer so they’ll publish our work. Our writing should speak for itself and be published on its own merits. I, for one, am tired of waiting around for someone to decide that my platform is big enough rather than that my book idea or my writing is good enough. I’m tired of being told to be someone I’m not. I’m off to write…because writer’s write. Surely in the process my identity crisis will come to an end, and I’ll feel like a writer once again. I’ll remember who I am — a nonfiction writer.