Admitting to Writing

A chihuahua hides its face in a plaid blanket and the post title, "Admitting to Writing" is superimposed on the left of the picture.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

There are times when I’m completely prepared to admit that I’m a writer.  These are usually social situations or parent meetings where small-talk entails being asked what one does for a living.

On these occasions, I make sure I have my business cards in my purse (and that I know where they are in the cavernous depth of the purse). I have a chirpy, cheerful response down pat by now: “I’m a writer.”  If I suspect it’s going to be a very quick conversation, that’s usually all I give. After all, there’s no point in lingering at the refreshments table or when the teacher starts talking at parent night.

For these very brief encounters, they’ll just nod their head and not ask anything else,  assuming that I’m a freelance writer or web writer of some kind.

But most frequently, and the reason I usually dread the question, this opens the floodgates to a bunch more questions.  What kind of writer? What kind of writing? What kind of mysteries? Am I published? Under what name? Where do I get my ideas from?

I’m fairly practiced at this, so for situations where I suspect I’m going to be speaking to the person for at least 10-15 minutes, I explain that the type of mysteries I write are similar to the type that Agatha Christie wrote (the similarity ends there), and that I’ve been published. I admit that I write under my own name (I’ve found they’re usually embarrassed that they haven’t heard of me, although the fact they haven’t is not exactly surprising, considering the huge number of writers and books out there), and  explain that the books are available at the library, bookstore, or online. Then I’ll hand them my card so they’ll remember my name.

The trick is the unexpected situation.  And I live in the South, which means that strangers talk to me regularly–at the grocery store, at the post office, at the drugstore. They’ll strike up an idle conversation to pass the time and to be friendly.

This happened at the library the other day. “What are you working on?” asked an older lady at the table where I was writing.  She wasn’t being nosy, as hard as that is to believe. She was being Southern.

But I wasn’t prepared to talk about my writing just then, since I was taken by surprise. “I’m answering emails,” I said.

And that’s where more savvy writers would make a quick connection. I mean…I was at the library. This woman clearly read books.  But still, I prevaricated. I just didn’t feel like getting into it and hearing the inevitable questions.

There are ways of letting acquaintances know that you’re a writer and that you have a book/books for sale.  Good luck with the random questions from strangers: clearly, I still haven’t mastered that, myself.

Email signature. It’s automatically included on every email I send out, whether it’s to another writer or to my child’s teacher or the gymnastics coach or the neighborhood homeowner association. It’s just a hyperlink to my website and a link for my newsletter signup.

Update your LinkedIn with your books (under ‘publications’).

Make sure your Facebook bio has your books listed or at least states that you’re an author. Share new book covers on your personal Facebook account.

And do carry those business cards.

Do you handle questions about your writing well?  How do you spread the word about your writing to acquaintances?

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18 thoughts on “Admitting to Writing

  1. LOL – what a place to slip up. It happens. I carry two business cards, one for me and one for DLP. How I answer depends on the situation. I might say all three – author, publisher, speaker – or just one or two. It’s funny, when I answer that I own a publishing company, most people don’t have a clue what that means. I get the oddest questions. Or they ask if I could publish their book for them. (Which does lead to some awkwardness.)

    1. You are so outgoing that I can’t imagine your stumbling over any questions! (Although someone putting you on the spot about publishing their book…ack. I guess you tell them about the red tape part–querying? :) )

  2. I think that’s one thing that a lot of writers contend with, Elizabeth. But honestly, telling people you’re a writer is one of the best ways to get the word out locally, and build a local audience. I had to do that just recently when I was at one of my local libraries. I want to set up an author event there, but first, well, I had to tell them I am one.

  3. I don’t think there will ever be a time when these types of conversations won’t be awkward for me, given what I write. I do have a couple of cozy mysteries out…they’re spun off of another line of mystery/romance books with lesbian themes. I also write lesfic romance.

    I know my audience and I tend to tread in places where I can have a conversation about my writing that don’t open up entire moral and political discussions. My wife though is proud of me and she delights in telling people that I’m a writer wherever we go. That has lead to no small amount of awkwardness when I have to explain what I write, especially to people who shudder at the very notion of reading something that openly depicts a lesbian lifestyle.

    1. That’s tough–and I’m sure your wife is telling you that it’s *their* problem and not *your* problem. Hoping that these types of reactions improve as time goes on.

      My husband is the same way–he’s horrified me before by announcing that I was a writer in a variety of different settings…none of which I was comfortable in! Pride is great, but… :)

  4. I carry bookmarks instead of business cards – with all my covers on one side and all the pertinent contact information on the back. People seem to enjoy them. And I pass them out to anyone who seems like a reader. I often chat with strangers when I’m out and about (because otherwise, I’m a total hermit) and reading does come up quite a lot. They mention reading and I ask what they like to read. They tell me and I hand them a bookmark, pointing out whichever book I think might interest them the most. But yeah, sometimes I just don’t feel like talking about it. Missed opportunities, I’m sure.

    I think everyone who knows me even a little knows I’m a writer. But these days I get very few questions. “How’s the writing going?” seems to be the most often one. “Anything new out?” is the next. I suspect they’re just making conversation, though. After all, this is the south. People here do like to chat. =o)

    1. I need to print out more bookmarks! That’s a good idea.

      Oh, they like to chat. :) Lots of small talk going on. I do have a logline for each WIP so that I can more gracefully answer, “What are you working on now?” With family, I just answer, “A Myrtle” or “A Beatrice.” :)

  5. “She wasn’t being nosy…she was being Southern.” LOL, love it! I carry business cards and bookmarks, too (though the bookmarks get a bit mangled in my purse), and at certain events I’m prepared to talk about being a writer: parties, social gatherings, school functions, all the stuff you described. I gauge the level of interest and then move along, trying to never overstay my welcome, so to speak.

    Ah, but then there are those other, unexpected moments that you mention. The time when I have no idea if there’s a single card in my purse, I have no makeup on, I’m just looking to complete my errand and scuttle back home to do more writing. I may even be wearing my yoga pants, aka “writing pants.”

    That was my condition one day when I stopped for a quick bite at Panera, in between errands that were running longer than expected and I was starving. Two ladies were sitting at the table next to me, talking about…COZY MYSTERIES. Though very much aware of my frumpy appearance, I screwed my courage to the sticking place as it were (first surreptitiously checking that no lettuce was stuck in my teeth), and introduced myself. Turns out I had ONE slightly bent bookmark in the bottom of my purse, yay! They were very sweet to talk to. And now I have two new readers.

    From then on, I made sure I was wearing makeup when I walked into a Panera, LOL.

    1. You know, I think that must be why I stopped carrying bookmarks–the complete demolition of them in my purse! That’s too funny about the writing pants and lettuce-check, ha! Good for you for stepping into the conversation…that was pure providence that they were there!

      The only time I have *ever* been recognized in public was when I made an ill-fated decision to go directly to Costco after doing yardwork. A woman hesitantly asked me, “Do you write books? I think I read your books.” I was sad that I was even recognizable in the horrible condition I was in, post-yardwork.

  6. This is a tough question for me to field, too. I can answer that I’m a writer and that the books are romances, but the questions can sometimes get a little awkward from there. “Are they really steamy?” Um… yes. And I’ve gotten straight-up inappropriate questions from there. My indie books are steamy, and the books for Harlequin are even higher on the heat scale (because the line requires it), but that’s not permission to ask me anything personal about sex!

  7. Hi Elizabeth – yes I’m somewhat surprised when people I ask for business cards haven’t one on them … and being aware of what to answer at times – also one is drawn in, when perhaps one doesn’t really have the time or inclination to talk … it’s remembering one is always on call … I guess – we never know where it’ll lead and we must be ready.

    Cheers Hilary

  8. I’ve only been at this 3 years, and I still stumble over the question. I usually end up with some jumble that includes being a retired teacher, writer, and small business owner (yeah, I sell vintage stuff online). I just got new business cards printed. When you’re older and retired from another profession, there’s a pressure to explain what you used to do and want you’re doing now. I wonder if the day will ever come that I firmly and proudly can just say, “I’m a writer.”

    1. Maybe you’ll have a different answer for the different types of people you’re around. Maybe around your reader demographic, you could stress your writing, maybe at a party with people outside your target reader demographic you could mention your online store. I’d put it all on LinkedIn…it’s been surprisingly effective as a way to connect locally.

      I don’t think I’ve mastered the proud part. Sometimes I feel almost apologetic about it, knowing that owning up to being a writer in a group of strangers means that I’m about to unhappily monopolize the conversation for a while.

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