Comedy · Why I'm a Ridiculous Person

In Soviet Russia, Book Formats You

To be a writer, you need very few things. A pen, some paper, a computer helps, but really, the entry barrier is pretty low. Sit there and type. You did it! You’re a writer!

But to be an Author? Boy oh boy do you need a lot of crap.

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter A: for alcohol!

Author. I mean A is for Author.

So what is this special crap I need? Let’s start with the stuff I knew about before I started. Let’s talk about blurbs.

A blurb is a horrible little piece of fiction which fools you into buying a book. It’s exciting! It goes zing and pow, and wow does it make you want to read! It makes you want to read so much that you pull out your hard-earned cash and fork out for that book!

Which puts a very specific price-tag on this blurb: the price of the book. In my case, I’m writing an under-five-dollar blurb for most people, and a ten-to-fifteen for those of you who plan to purchase a paperback (hardback prices are still mysterious things I don’t quite know what to do with yet). I need to write a bit of pretty prose that will open wallets.

You know, I wrote a book. I wrote several books. I’ve written poetry, short stories, blog posts, essays, term papers, oh my god, so much junk. But blurbs scare the living bejeezus out of me. I have to make words turn into money? Shoot me now. I’ve been working on this thing for months and it still gives me cold sweats every time I open the document. Not as bad as queries—but almost.

Another thing that Authors need are headshots. No, not shot in the head, a professional photo of ourselves to whip out and show around when everyone else does, with every image that phrasing conjures up completely intended.

I was blindsided by this one last week. See, I have my lovely name “S. Hunter Nisbet” and it’s purposely non-gendered, and that illusion only works if I don’t post photos of my lovely self everywhere, yes? Except, interviews require photos. Oops. Turns out, in all the photos I have of myself, they are either way too candid, or wedding photos that I don’t have the rights to and wouldn’t use anyway because I’m wearing twelve feet of veil. (No, really. Go big or go the heck home. I rocked that tulle.)

So. I need one a headshot. It needs to be professional but not stuffy, serious but not obnoxiously so, colorful, black and white, and photoshopped to hell and back. Got it.

The next thing Authors need is a bio. Remember that whole ambiguous penname thing that I’m doing to prop up initial sales? (Yes, it does work. Sadly.) Well, it doesn’t work if you scroll down and see “S. Hunter, she this woman (FEMALE) lives…” That puts all my pronouns straight out the window.

You know what’s the one thing more awkward than trying to use no pronouns, though? Using singular they in your own bio, that’s what.

I love singular they. I think it should have happened about three decades ago, because I hate to heck writing “he or she.” Worse, I entirely abominate things that say “he” for all pronouns. Game directions are particularly bad for that. It makes me want to track down whoever wrote the directions and go “My dollars are paying your salary, knock it the heck off. This is the 21st century and I can VOTE.” And you know, sometimes I exaggerate my feelings for amusing effect, but that’s a completely accurate depiction of how I feel. Why has this taken so long? Okay, I know why (sexism), but seriously, why.

Back to Author crap.

The last thing that Authors need is an ability to endlessly care about little tiny things. Things like whether the page numbers go at the top or the bottom. Things like copyright wording. ISBNs and their total irrelevance in the modern world, spine thickness (books not humans), chapter headings, margins…the list goes on and on, and it is filled with all the stuff that you don’t even think about but turns out is terribly important.

So here I am, library books in hand, flipping through them to see what the fonts are. I’m reading copyright pages, the various disclaimers, Author notes, bios. Sort of fascinating, but mostly boring, because after about the third one, all Author bios sound exactly the same. No variation, and why would there be? Who the heck reads twelve bios in a row? Besides Authors.

I am an expert on ISBNs. For the record, about a third of book sales in the US don’t have them anymore, so the trade publishing statistics don’t count them as existing (deliberately misleading the public). Do you even know what an ISBN is for? Bet you don’t. No, it’s not for organizing with. It’s so when you order a book from a bookshop (does anyone still do that?) they will order the correct edition. Yep. They also cost $100 each if you buy them one at a time, unless you are a trade publisher, when you can buy a thousand of them for a thousand dollars. Gosh, why are people not buying them anymore? I wonder.

Point is, writing is about picking up a pen and putting down words. I’ve been a writer since I was thirteen. But Author? No, not everyone can be an Author. You have to know the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts to be an Author, and moreover, you have the care. Because it’s important.

That’s what separates the men from the boys, but that’s a bit sexist. Saying “separates the girls from the women” just sounds creepy, so how about separates the adult humans from the still developing ones?

Okay, not everything translates to gender neutral. “Wheat from the chaff” it is. Congrats, you are now a stalk of grass. Stand tall, sway in the breeze, and be proud of your identity. Just watch out for the reaper man.

What are some other Author must-haves? Any that surprised you? What about something you thought you’d need that it turns out you don’t? Please feel free to leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

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