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4 Ways to Prepare For a Professional Writing Career

Before I was contracted or even agented, I did a number of things to prepare for the future. And in hindsight I’m really glad I did.

Those early days are the best time to lay the foundation for all that’s to come down the road. Here are a few reasons why:

* If we’re serious about publication, then we should do our best to present ourselves as professionals to the writing community no matter where we’re at in our writing journeys. We never know who’s watching, what connections we’ll make, or when doors will open.

*If we prepare for the future, we’ll save ourselves some hassle later, when we’re trying to wade through a whole lot of other new responsibilities.

* If we plan to succeed, then we’re more likely to reach our goals. If we tell ourselves, “I’ll start taking my writing career more seriously if I get an agent or book contract,” then we may already have a mind frame of defeat.

When I look back at what I did, here are 4 ways I prepared for my future as a published author, things that all of us can do:

1. Use our author name consistently on all social media sites.

Whatever name we plan to have on our books is the name we should use everywhere, in every URL, on our blogs, twitter, facebook—everywhere. We need to carefully choose the name we want to use to build our web presence, so that later when our book releases, people are already familiar with our name. And so that when readers google us, they can actually find us.

In other words, usernames like twinkletoes or susysunshine, while cute and creative, won’t provide the long term benefit from social media that we desire (unless of course we’re planning to use twinkletoes on our book cover).

If you’re not using your “author name,” I’d suggest making the change as soon as possible.

2. Use a professional-looking photo.

Note, I did not say that we have to spend hundreds of dollars on a photo shoot to get a professional photo taken (although, I’m not against that either). I’ll let you in on a secret. My current author photo was taken by a high school senior who loves photography, has all the right equipment, and was interested in building up her portfolio.

We don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a professional-looking picture, but the point is we should get one. Then we can use our photos in our avatars and should use the same picture consistently on all of our social media sites.

Agents often need an author photo for proposals (mine did). And our publishers will need an author photo too—particularly for sales and marketing purposes. I was glad I had one ready and that I didn’t have to scramble at the last minute to provide one to my agent or publisher.

3. Set up an online “office.”

When we reach the querying stage, we would be wise to have a cyber office. I don’t necessarily think fiction authors need to have a website before getting a book contract (I didn’t). A blog that utilizes the “Pages” tabs can function much like a website. There are also simple Do-It-Yourself websites with templates for writers who want to buy and reserve their domain names. Author, Jill Kemerer, has a helpful article: 5 Things to Consider Before You Design Your Website.

The fact is, once a writer begins querying and garnering interest, agents and publishers WILL want to find out a little more about you. If they google your name, what will they find? Will they like what they see?

If you’d like more ideas read: Maintaining a Professional Blog and Three Blogging Blunders.

4. Establish solid connections early.

No one likes when a writer gets a book contract and suddenly they’re everywhere, all the time. They’re asking for interviews or book reviews and every tweet is about their book.

If we start out slow and consistent, building genuine friendships with other writers through our interactions on various sites, then when the book contract arrives, those friends will offer to help, they’ll want to support, they’ll genuinely take an interest in our book.

So, while I don’t recommend unagented and uncontracted fiction writers spend enormous amounts of time building platforms at the expense of working on writing skills, I do suggest that they form genuinely supportive friendships.

What do you think? Are you preparing for the future? What things have you done that have helped you set a good foundation for your writing career?

49 comments:

  1. Jody Hedlund, You are one smart lady.

    And, yes, using the Page feature of Blogger is much easier to maintain than a website.

    Thanks for all the great tips.

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  2. Good morning, Linda! Just wanted to let you know your comment made me smile! :-) Have a great weekend!

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  3. Hi Jody,

    Just stumbled into your website and before i knew it i have just downloaded your book.

    It looks right up my alley. I love the period and love historical fiction. Your cover is sensational.

    As for media platforms, you have confirmed my thought that i need to change my twitter account to my 'author name', even though i have only just started writing.

    i love your website, it certainly helped me buy your book today :-)

    Have popped you on my blog under my "Authors i want to keep tabs on" blog list.

    Thanks for the great post
    Sarah
    http://precociousscribe.blogspot.com/

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  4. I heard early on to use my own name to "get it out there." Probably the best advice in getting started. :O)

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  5. Such wise advice! I didn't do ANY of these things and it made it so I had to play A LOT of catch-up later.

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  6. Yes! Preparing for the future is so important! It also makes you feel like you are moving forward even though you aren't necessarily addressing your ultimately goal directly. You're building a foundation which will be incredibly helpful in the long run.

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  7. Prepared.

    I also like connecting other writers with each other.

    ~ Wendy

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  8. Great advice, Jody! I'm working on "all of the above" right now. :)

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  9. Thanks for the guidance. Knowing you need to make changes is harder when you're not sure how.
    Great information here.

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  10. This is all extremely useful advice. I'm definitely looking at my options for creating perhaps a Facebook Page or something.

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  11. Great advice. I'm currently working on all the points you mentioned above.
    Thanks.

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  12. Great advice as always!! (I remember changing my twitter name to my real name shortly after opening the account, the sooner you do it the better.)

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  13. Awesome advice! I just recently added the "About Me" tab to my blog, and it feels right. :)

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  14. Nice post, Jody, with good tips. I changed my twitter name a few months ago to use my real name. It took some nerve for me to put it out there but I'm so glad I did. Now when I type my name in google, my blog is the first entry and nearly all the first page contains results for me.

    I had a photographer take two headshots when we had our last family portrait taken so that saved me some money.

    Little by little I'm laying the groundwork :-)

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  15. This is great advice. I have the networking down (I think) and I've been working hard on being creative when it comes to marketing just so I am prepared for the future. Exciting new things to make others excited!!!

    I love the page tabs on blogger, so helpful!

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  16. Good morning Everyone! I think the key in developing our professionalism and platforms, is to think LONG TERM. Whatever we do now can either help or hurt us in the future. So why not get off on the right foot? :-) And I'm sure many of you already are!

    And Constance, THANK YOU for buying my book! That was SO sweet! I hope you'll enjoy it! :-)

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  17. When I first started blogging I tried to think of a catchy name for it, but then my husband said, just use your name that's what you're trying to market. I'm glad I listened to him.

    Great advice as usual.

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  18. I use my full name on twitter and facebook. I did for a while on blogger, but it's disconcerting that when somebody does a search on me, up pops all of these old comments I made on other blogs. It feels so invasive. It makes me uncomfortable how much info there is on me on the internet, anyway. Doesn't that give anybody else the heebie-jeebies? So-here's the ultimate question-how do we maintain a level of privacy and build an online presence?

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  19. Jody, great post! Lots of good advice to think about.

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  20. Before I was agented, I was really impressed by Kiersten White's blog and author photo (This sound like I no longer am impressed...not true!). She presented herself in a very polished way, well before she had representation.

    As soon as I signed with an agent, I treated myself to author photos, which gave my blog a more professional look. Once I sold a book, I started my website.

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  21. Yes! Great tips. I did the same things, which has really paid off now that I have a contract. I'm not scrambling to change names or photos, and I have a host of wonderful friendships formed.

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  22. Jill asked: How do we maintain a level of privacy and build an online presence?

    My response: Jill, that's an excellent question! (You always ask such deep and thouhgt-provoking questions--love it!). I'm going to give your question some thought and answer it in a future blog post, if that's okay!

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  23. This is all great advice and I'm glad to say that, since my name is fairly unusual in terms of spelling, I always use it for everything anyway - Twitter, blog and Facebook.

    As someone else found when they used their name for their blog, the last time I googled myself at least 7 of the first page's results were me.

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  24. Such excellent advice, as always. Thanks, Jody!

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  25. Great advice! I wish I'd known about the name connection when I started my blog, but I do link back through all other social media sites I use.

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  26. This is excellent advice. You're an amazing example of someone who started wisely, built your name and reputation across networks, and continues to give valuable advice and friendship even as your time becomes more limited. We can all take notes on your social networking skills.

    Thanks for sharing my article, too, very nice of you!

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  27. I particularly like number four on your list. Those solid relationships are so valuable in so many ways and that alone would be a good reason to get a head start on the social end of your writing career.

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  28. Since I first started blogging in October I have always tried to act professionally and of my writing skills as best I could.

    I always try to help other bloggers get the word out about their latest progress or blogfest.

    I am building lasting friendships because soon I will be ready to send my work out into the publishing world.

    I am on the final edit of my first novel. I should be querying it within the next month.

    My second novel in the ABNA contest and has advanced to the next level. I've met wonderful aspiring author's on the thread, and it's a great support system.

    Thank you for sharing this with us Jody. I always find wonderful advise on your blog.

    Michael

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  29. Great tips! I've been lax on my online presence because I didn't have any books contracted, but knew I wanted to start back to blogging soon. My first contract gave me that extra push to get my blog and websites up and running. I used to have a catchy twitter name, but recently changed it over to my author name. Good to know I'm doing a few things right!! ;)

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  30. What a great post, Jody, and you've truly lived out what you've written here. I'm grateful that I'm doing everything you've suggested (Yay!) and think I deserve some form of chocolate to celebrate. ;)

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  31. One thing I do now is set artificial deadlines for myself and treat them seriously. I'd been waffling about entering the Genesis this year but then decided to do it, solely for the purpose of motivating myself to stick to a schedule and complete the book. I figure it's preparing me for those future publisher deadlines. :)

    Hope you have a great weekend, Jody! (and stay warm!) :)

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  32. These are solid tips. I think setting up a place to start interacting before you publish is nice. It slowly builds up your presents and you don’t become overwhelm trying to do everything. But I don’t think you need to join everything until you hit the querying stage. This way you focus on your writing. Well, at least that is my plan. ;)

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  33. Hi Jody -

    Your points are well taken. What do you think of an expanded blog in place of a website? I rarely visit author websites, but frequent blogs.

    A professional photo is a sore point with me. I think I've been happy with maybe three pictures of myself, all of them when I was much younger.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  34. Thank you for sharing great information again, Jody. I agree with Susan Reinhardt about the professional photo though. I have a hard time finding photographs I like of myself.

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  35. Susan J. Reinhardt asked: What do you think of an expanded blog in place of a website? I rarely visit author websites, but frequent blogs.

    My thoughts: Hi Susan!! I definitely think that could work nowadays. Blogs have really morphed over the past couple of years and there's so much we can do with them.

    However, I still think the easiest way to find an author (besides googling), is typing their name with dot com (i.e. jodyhedlund.com). When we only have our blog URL for readers, it *could* inhibit their ease in finding us.

    When a fiction-writer is in the early stages after getting a book contract, I think that's the perfect time to build a website that includes your blog. Until then, however, the blog can definitely suffice, especially because we can make our blogs look so professional.

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  36. Just wanted to chime in again for a moment ... i have my blog set up so that my name is the direct url for the blog. eventually i do plan on having a website but for the moment people can either type my name for the url or can easily find it by googling. With blogspot, you can purchase a domain name and use that instead of yourname.blogspot.com and you can also use your own domain name with your own hosted blog.

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  37. Thank you, PJ! I didn't realize that about blogspot and buying a domain name through them. That would definitely be the way to go, especially to reserve your domain name. Fortunately when I bought mine, it was still available. But I know plenty of writers have trouble reserving theirs because it's already being used.

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  38. I knew I had to change my social media name at some point! Ah well. The time has come.

    Terrific advice.

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  39. I only recently (this week) discovered your blog Jody, and I have returned regularly since. I find wisdom in your posts and those of your commenters as well.

    I have my blog and Facebook currently. I need to change my FB author's name still since it's in my real name. I wonder if I shouldn't just begin a new page and delete the current one?

    Also, I was wondering while reading this- what if I already do use my 'author's name' everywhere and have worked to get that name out there, only to have a publisher/editor ask me to change it when I do contract? Wouldn't that be as hard to reestablish as moving from some other name to the chosen author's name in the beginning? What, in your opinion, is the best way to maneuver through the same hassles of starting over in that event?

    'Lisa~ hoping this won't be an issue when my day comes.

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  40. Calisa,
    I'm glad you stumbled across my blog and are finding some useful posts and comments!! Love when that happens!

    And Calisa, if you've already wisely chosen your "author" name, I can't imagine your publisher would ask you to change it. I've never heard of a publisher doing that. Most of the time that's an author's decision.

    As far as Facebook, you could always consider setting up your Page under your author name and putting that link on your blog. That way writers and readers will find your Page and follow you there. And then you could leave your personal account for family and real life friends. Just a thought!

    Hope that answered a few of your questions!

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  41. All great advice! And I *think* I've hit all the big ones! I think one other big part of the foundation is practicing patience! Waiting is a HUGE part of this business! :)

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  42. The fact that you had the foresight to do all of those things is impressive. I'm learning them slowly and have already started to use my pen name everywhere except for the more personal, non-writing sites I haunt. Those are just for fun.

    Great advice! I'm very happy you wrote this.

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  43. As always, you've provided excellent information! When I first began blogging I used a pseudonym that is associated with my art, my kennel and my online presence... "Careann", which is a combination of my first and middle names. It seemed like a logical choice, but I quickly realized that by hiding behind it I was defeating my purpose of developing cyberspace visibility. Fortunately I've been able to combine the use of both names on my blog and people who have known me by one or the other are still able to find me.

    To me, one of the most important aspect of blogging is professionalism. Too often we enter the blogging world without much forethought and post random thoughts as if we're writing in a personal diary. Since nothing in cyberspace is ever really hidden, those thoughts can come back to haunt us later. The best advice I received was to remember that *nothing* published on a blog can ever be considered private.

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  44. Holy comments - sheesh - you're popular, lady :)
    I am trying to follow your examples. My goal is to get a nice photo this spring so I don't look so "quirky" - even though it sorta fits. :)
    Hugs for the day! :)

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  45. Hi Jody,
    This is a super post! I send out a newsletter to over 1000 writers in Ireland and around the world, I'd love to put your post in as a featured article, with links, your profile etc. Would you be able to let me know if that would be acceptable?
    Many thanks
    Vanessa O'Loughlin
    www.inkwellwriters.ie (newsletter)
    also www.writing.ie

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  46. These are awesome thoughts, and just what I needed to hear!

    I've been wondering if I'm doing things that will make it easier in the long run, and it sounds like I am. Thanks, Jody! :)

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  47. I've been wondering about registeering a domain name just in case my name is taken. There are a few famous Catherine Johnson's out there. I really should get onto it. I do keep wondering though, if I could sound a bit more professional on my blog, if that would do, since one day I plan to go .org on Wordpress. I'm wondering if that is enough. Lots to think about. Great post as usual Jody :)

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  48. Hi Jody,

    I am wondering what your thoughts are on author pen names. I am just getting started writing and have so much to learn. I am planning on using a pen name. Would you recommend changing even my personal Facebook to the pen name or recommend that I set up an additional Facebook page? Thanks and wonderful post!

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