Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing 101: You Are Always an Author

I saw an author trying to creatively promote themselves on Goodreads the other day with an interesting, funny little forum post. Here's the rub: the post was riddled with grammatical errors. A thought popped into my head, unbidden: Sure I'll buy your book. Just as soon as you can string together two intelligent sentences

I immediately felt bad, of course. I don't want to have mean thoughts, or anything, and this guy's just trying to sell some books. But it did get me to thinking (not just mean things, either) about the image of an author. Whether you're an indie or someone with a famous name, you are always an author. 

And I'm always going to expect you to write like it.

An Author's Image

An author's image matters, and when you're presenting yourself on social media sites, your blog or anywhere else as your author persona, you've got to remember something very important: you are always an author. 

When you're presenting yourself as an author -- anywhere and everywhere -- you should always be writing like it. Your Tweets, your Facebook update, your every piece of writing should be punctuated well, grammatically correct and written like you have some idea of what you're doing. Why? 

Because you are always an author, that's why. Even if you can mix it up on Twitter with the best of them and you know what all the anagrams mean, I don't want you to use them. You can't expect people to take you seriously as an author unless you're presenting yourself in that way, and even one sloppy forum post is going to make some reader, somewhere, roll their eyes (considering my knee-jerk judgmental responses, it's probably going to be me). If you're an indie author, you can't afford to alienate even one potential fan. 

 Presenting Yourself

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. You want to present yourself as an author who knows how to write, but the world's an imperfect place. Don't be too rigid to fit into it, even if you're doing it in the name of good English. 
  • Quotes. If you're quoting one of your reviewers, you're not really allowed to clean up their quotes. There are tricks you can use to better them (such as adding an ellipsis and bracketed words), but you may run into bad grammar and poorly-written phrases that are still highly complimentary of your work. Don't misquote; just clean it up as best as you're allowed, grit your teeth and feel proud that you actually have some reviews. 
  • Space. There are times when you're going to be working against yourself. Space is limited on Twitter, which is a great platform for promotion. When space is limited, so are your words -- and that's torturous for any writer. Self-edit as best you can to keep your tweets reasonable, and when absolutely necessary resort to the most common shortening methods (abbreviations, swapping in numerals, etc.). Just don't create an entire tweet using nothing but abbreviations and acronyms, because you won't look at all like you understand words. 
  • Mistakes. You're only human, and you're bound to make some errors. You should always give your tweets, forum posts and other writings, no matter how glib or small, a good once-over before you hit that "submit" button. But if some mistakes do fall through the cracks, don't berate yourself. If you're being careful, you'll end up being perfect most of the time -- but no one can be perfect all of the time. 
Presenting yourself well as an author doesn't mean you have to be stiff and formal. There's a way to write casually and conversationally, and still write within the basic rules of grammar and correct punctuation. I know that's true because humor novels exist. But if writing correct prose all the time is too heavy, you can always get creative and throw in some poetry every now and again. Poetry knows very few rules, particularly if you're just writing free-form verse.

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  1. I really agree with everything you have said here and I wouldn't beat yourself up too much about being judgmental, I think many people would have had the same knee-jerk response. I used to be horrible at spelling and grammar, it all changed when I became serious about writing. It is so important to come across well when you are trying to make a new image for yourself as a serious writer. Sloppy spelling and grammar ruins all that. I would have to thank my mum for drilling all that into me lol
    Great post :)

  2. Agreed. I'll forgive a writer for posting an imperfect sentence here or there in a clearly casual context - such as commenting on G+ - but if someone is actively trying to convince me to read their writing, they'd better come to the party with at least a vague sense of grammar and style.

    I'm guilty of overuse of ellipses and the word "so" in my casual posts. I also probably start sentences with "and" too often when I'm tired or chatting with friends. But for formal posts, especially pertaining to writing, I make an effort to be on-game. Writers who don't make readers wonder if it's because they can't.