Friday, April 13, 2012

Sofie Kelly on The Writer’s Image

Please welcome guest blogger Sofie Kelly. Leave a comment today and you could win a copy of both of her mystery novels!

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of award-winning young adult writer, Darlene Ryan. Darlene’s latest teen novel is Cuts Like a Knife, a Junior Library Guild selection. Sofie writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Cats mysteries. The next book in the series, Copycat Killing will be available May 1st. Visit her at

Whenever I tell someone I'm a writer I almost always hear, "You don’t look like a writer." If I ask what I do look like, the answer I most often hear is an academic. A few times I've heard that I look like a psychologist.

I think it's the glasses.

Back when I worked in radio I was always hearing that I didn't look like my voice. "I thought you were blonde," people would say when I showed up at some community event, looking at me somewhat disappointed. (When I say "people" I mean guys and when I say looking at me I don't mean in the eyes.)

The face we present to the world does matter. Readers--as well as agents and editors--like to be able to put a face to the name. And a photo of me in my paint-spotted sweatpants with my hair standing on end is going to make a very different impression than the photo of me smiling in the sunshine at the park. But I think there’s another part to a writer's image that's even more important than how our author photo makes us look, and that's presenting a professional image.

Do you have a business-like email address? (Not bobbys-girl or bbq-king.) Do you answer emails within a couple of days or have an auto-respond message to explain why you can't? What’s the message on your voicemail? (Your acoustic version of the Bay City Roller's Saturday Night is not professional unless you're looking for work in a tribute band.) 

When your manuscript is finished is it properly formatted and checked for spelling mistakes and grammar errors? When an agent asks to see it, do you get back to her in a few days or a few months? Do you wrangle over every single suggested change with your editor? Do you argue for days about serial comma use and whether or not Ms needs a period? (It's not an abbreviation so I maintain it doesn't.) Do you meet your deadlines? Do you say please and thank you?

Being reasonable, responsible, and easy to work with is part of creating the image of a professional writer. No one's suggesting you have to be a pushover. But over time, people get tired of working with the "difficult artiste," no matter how brilliant his or her writing is.

Maintaining a professional image makes it just a bit more likely that you’ll have a long career. And no one will be disappointed if it turns out you're not blonde.


Lara Britt said...

I am just now starting to take myself seriously as a writer/author after years, no, decades, of dreaming. What surprises me is the warm welcoming response I am getting from fellow writers/bloggers. It may be sheer politeness and professionalism, but it makes me so thrilled that it is energizing my writing, pushing me forward toward my goals.

Sofie said...

Lara, just about every writer I've ever met--virtually or in person--has been a truly nice person. (Shout out to Gigi who invited me here today!) But I also think being encouraging to new writers is part of projecting a professional image. Several years ago I heard from Tess Gerrittsen after she read a post I wrote about my efforts to look like her in my author photo. I grinned all day like the fan-girl I was. And I always buy her books.

Juliet Blackwell said...

HI Sofie, welcome to the Pens! Thanks for the great advice for all of us striving to become, and to continue to be, professional writers. Looking forward to checking out your books!

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective, Sofie! It's funny how, as a non-writer, I often read books and have an idea of the look of certain characters in my head and lo and behold, out comes the movie based on the book and the "casting directors" have a totally different image of that character. I think everyone, no matter what profession, needs to put forth a "professional" image. Increasingly, my co-workers (in a school setting) look less and less professional. I wear skirts Monday to Thursday and let my hair down on dress-down Fridays and do the jeans thing. My goodness, I love wearing jeans to work. Most people will forgive jeans on dress down Friday, though. I work in an office and spend lots of time on the phone and have often been told I have a great phone voice and have even had a couple of occasions where, on our first face-to-face meeting, men have been surprised my phone voice doesn't really match my physical appearance. There's a couple of potential dates down the tube! I'm sure certain photos look more "bookish" than others. Sofie, your photo is very casual but the glasses do make you look very much more the "intellectual". See in the movies when a pretty actress is trying to look more intelligent, they wear the oversized glasses. It's a stereotype and, let's face it...where would we be without them. It's an economical way of remembering people and sometimes professions. From your photo, would I be so specific as to say you look like a psychologist? Probably not. Maybe if you looked like Sigmund Freud... But MY stereotype of what a "writer" looks like is the male (yes, you heard me) with a pipe and comfy sweater with elbow patches pounding away on a manual or electric typewriter. Accurate, no, but I guess it's because of too many old movies. ;)

Rachael Herron said...

Great post. And I agree with all of it (though sometimes I'm pretty casual on Twitter). And I think it's professional (and awesome!) to respond to every piece of reader email and most tweets and facebook posts. Just like what you said about Tess Garitssen -- it makes a difference to the person who took time to say something nice about/to you.
Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

Now I really want to hear this "blonde" voice of yours!!!

Sofie said...

Martha, today my "blonde" voice sounds like I'm the love child of Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin courtesy of the cold my daughter brought home.

Catrina said...

Great post. Made me consider recording a personal outgoing voicemail message (time to fire the Google Voice Robot?) Cheers!

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