Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Writer's Language

When you write, it’s good to discuss what you’re doing in the language of the profession. Here are some tips about the words you will want to use when you describe what you’re doing.

Q: What is the difference between an author and a writer?

A: A writer is anyone who writes anything with an eye to publication. An author is a writer who has been published. What counts as “publication” is a little questionable. I’ve been published a number of times but not for money, so I don’t consider myself an author yet. It’s sort of up to you when you start calling yourself an author, but you’re always free to call yourself a writer if you’ve done enough of it to feel like one. I’m waiting until I get my first check to call myself an author, and even then I may not feel quite ready.

Q: What is a WIP?

A: A WIP is a Work-In-Progress. It applies to any piece of writing you’re working on, whether it’s a book-length manuscript or an article, fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry.

Q: How do you refer to your WIP and how do you title your manuscripts?

A: In the literary world, titles of works are punctuated differently depending mostly on their length. Titles of book-length works are either underlined or put in italics. Titles of smaller works, such as magazine articles or chapters in books, are put in double quotation marks. However, this only applies to published manuscripts. Before a manuscript is published the title is simply put in double quotation marks, like titles of published articles would be, and before publication the work is called a “manuscript” not a “novel” or a “book” or an “article.”

Q: I’ve heard the terms, “brand” and “platform.” What do they mean?

A: I’m still trying to figure that out, but here’s what I’ve decided so far.

A brand is very much like the mark cowpokes put on the butts of their cattle to distinguish them from animals that belong to other ranches. It’s a distinguishing characteristic of a writer that sets him/her apart from the rest of the herd. It’s very much connected with the genre they write in and their writing style. If it’s successful, it’s also geared deliberately toward the market they want to reach.

For an example of how branding works outside the publishing business, think of the music you hear when you wander into a clothing store in the mall. It’s an element of the store’s “brand.” The music blaring from the speakers in The Gap sends me up the wall. That tells me I’m shopping in the wrong store. If I bought something in that store and wore it outside my house my kids would roll their eyes and a picture of my cellulite thighs would probably end up on the internet with the caption, “At some point people should stop wearing Daisy shorts.”

I have a writer friend who writes light-hearted young adult novels. Everywhere she goes she wears short-short, flared skirts with tights underneath and one leg of the tights is always a different color than the other. That’s part of her brand. It says something about her (and her books) and it resonates with the young audience she is writing for.

Brands are hard to come up with. Sometimes they just develop naturally after you’ve written for a while. I’m not going to worry too much about my brand until I have a butt large enough to have one burned onto.

Platform is related to brand, but is slightly different. Your platform is the stage you stand on to advertise yourself and your writing. It’s your public image and it’s related to what you do besides writing to get people’s attention.

A platform would include your personal or professional qualifications and/or expertise and what you do to make them available to other people. You might develop a platform by blogging on topics that provide useful information to readers, or by developing a speaking career, or by writing and publishing in areas either related or unrelated to your current writing project.

Tim LaHaye stood on a well-developed platform of writing in the area of biblical prophecy before he wrote the Left Behind series. Rick Warren’s platform was his pulpit. Yours might not be so dramatically significant, but anything you can do to make a name for yourself can become the platform from which you launch your writing career.

Q: What is “genre” and how do you decide what genre you’re writing fits into?

A: Good question. Genre is, simply put, the kind of story you are telling—the species, if you will. That’s where the simplicity ends, however. The definition of “genre” is a little like quicksilver. It’s hard (and sometimes dangerous) to hold in your hand. Because it’s such a huge topic, I’ll save it for a separate post. Please check in next time for “What to call the baby.”

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