The Well-Dressed Writer: Meeting the Public (2 of 3)
Monday I talked about looking like a writer in your casual life: rumpled shirts, lots of layers, and all the other little imperfections that seem “creative” in the observer’s eye. Well, okay, I actually wrote and posted on Sunday, from O Best Beloved’s work, because we’re still without internet at home, but I’ll save “We Are All Being Fucked in the Bottom by Telecom Giants (And Not in a Sexy, Kinky Kind of Way): The Post” for another week. Instead, it’s time to talk about meeting the public!
Authors in Public
For there to be a public to meet, you have to have at least a few fans. Don’t stop reading if this implies that this article is only for the folks that have Made It and are taking off on book tours, though! Even you casual blogosphere writers have a public. You never know when a loyal reader is going to say “Oh, man, Geoffrey, I live in a crazy-cold Midwestern town where there’s nothing to do but drink all winter too — let’s get together for beers and writer-talk somewhere!” (and if that sounds good, the comments page is right there).
And at that point, there’s an expectation. Any time you meet with someone who knew about you as a “writer” before they knew you in some other capacity — friend, schoolmate, relative, etc. — you’re meeting your public. Smile at them! They make your life possible.
Understand, then, that there are some basic expectations, particularly if you are on tour, or at a book signing, or doing some other event as a published author. People are coming to see the person who wrote something they enjoyed (presumably), and you don’t want them to do a double-take and go “Oh, man, that dude wrote my favorite book ever?”
This means a minimum standard of presentablility that’s similar to office workers’. You’re on the job, after all. You can be way more creative with your outfits — I certainly don’t think authors on tour should be suit-and-tie clones from Office Space — but understand that your casual day-to-day clothes are not going to cut it. You’re there to meet people; they’re going to want to feel like meeting them was an Event for you, just like meeting you is for them.
Playing the Part
Now, I don’t want to enforce stereotypical roles here. But many of you have no doubt already discovered the benefits of shameless pandering. If you happen to write a very specific type of work with a somewhat narrow audience, you might consider playing up to their expectations a little bit. I won’t say that romance authors should wear sexy dresses and mystery novelists should slink in wearing trenchcoats, but no one’s going to be disappointed if you do. Might even get a laugh.
The important thing to keep in mind is whether you fall within the boundaries of what people imagine the author of your works to look like. That’s an awkward phrase, but try imagining the authors of some of your old favorites, preferably without the influence of a jacket photo. If they don’t look at least vaguely presentable…well, I’d kind of like to get some book recommendations from you, actually, but the point is that most people’s imaginings will probably be reasonably neatly-dressed, and perhaps influenced by the style and genre of the writing in question.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m avoiding giving lots of specific instruction. You’re creative types, after all — I don’t want to give fixed rules here. But there are definitely a few no-gos for public events that will pretty much stay consistent no matter what you write or where you’re appearing:
- No street-casual wear. Stylish dark-wash jeans maybe, but absolutely no plain ol’ utilitarian blue jeans or anything else along those lines. Definitely no T-shirts (not even ones advertising your book).
- No tangled, unbrushed hair. No neckbeards. If you absolutely must wear a big bushy beard (and seriously, guys, you don’t need to), groom the ever-living fuck out of it before you show your scraggly face in public.
- No novelty ties, shirts with “edgy” sayings on them (those are usually T-shirts anyway), or anything else that could offend people. One whacko who wants to make a big deal out of your General Lee tie and you’re the next YouTube sensation — not in a good way.
- No, Prince Harry, a Nazi uniform is not just a Halloween costume.
You got the point, right? People are making an effort to come see you — make an effort yourself. And make sure they know you’ve made the effort, rather than being one of those people who spends two hours working on looking as perfectly “unplanned” as possible.