Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

My wife once came across a story about a gorgeous writer (as in a writer of gorgeous prose) who complained that she couldn’t sell her work. She asked an author what she should do, and he suggested that she take a class or two on selling. The woman became indignant and said, “I’ve worked all of my life so that I don’t have to sell.”

As writers, we typically want to just write. That’s why we busted our tails to get this job. But the truth is that very few writers will ever reach the point where they don’t have to worry about marketing their books. The publishers don’t do it, and even when they try, too often their efforts are pitiable or wrong-headed. So that means we have to get out of our comfort zones and think about sales.

For example, authors need to think about how to dress for success. When I go to a convention, how do I want to be seen? Shall I grow a long beard, dress all in white, and try to attract as much attention as Colonel Sanders? Or shall I wear $2,000 leather pants and look like I once played for Grand Funk Railroad?

I’ve seen authors do strange things. One friend of mine, a fantasy author, often dressed as a wizard for conventions. Another one grew exceedingly long hair out of his ears. Those are tactics that were guaranteed to draw attention. But other authors do their best to dress tastefully, and I think that overall I see them having more success.

Similarly, authors need to learn how read for audiences of various ages—from kindergartners to fogies. We also need to learn how to speak at libraries and other gatherings, and we need to know how to talk in sound bites for television and radio interviews.

There are a thousand other tasks, like doing book signings.

You also need to learn how to negotiate with editors and producers, write a screenplay, troubleshoot your internet, teach a class, direct illustrators, read contracts, plan a week-long seminar, put out flame wars, run your own internet site, blog and so on.

In fact, no matter how far I get out of my comfort zone, every day there is some task that pulls me just a bit further away. I sometimes feel like a hermit crab that has been yanked from his shell, and my home is far, far away across a sandy waste that is infested with groupers and octopi.

For some of you who are already selling, you might need to look at this list and perhaps give some thought as to what kind of image you want to portray, or what kinds of skills you might want to develop.

Others . . . well, maybe you just want to work on your writing. But guess what? That comfort zone includes writing. Are you comfortable writing only one kind of story, or writing in one style? The truth is that you’ll be more valuable as a writer if you learn to write in several genres and in various styles.

So your goal needs to be this: to learn to be a comfortable little hermit crab no matter how far you’ve been yanked from your shell.


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