Projecting Confidence When You’re Terrified

It’s happened. You’re stuck in an elevator with the senior editor of Random House and to kill time, he’s asked you to tell him about your book. Or, you receive a call from the editor at Parents magazine – she loves your article and would like to know if you could handle one twice that size.

Time for some antiperspirant and a strong dose of confidence. For many writers, even established ones, choosing between Secret and Degree is a lot easier than finding confidence. It would be nice if they sold it on the shelf at Wal-Mart, but since they don’t, here’s a few tips to get you started.

1.Do Your Homework: If you are going to be any place where you might meet with an editor, a famous author, or even a writing peer, take some time beforehand to find out what you can about that person. For editors and agents, Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents has neat interviews that include likes and dislikes. If you have any pre-conference materials, be sure to read them over.

2.Dress for the Occasion: No matter what kind of event you are attending, wear business or business casual clothes. It is a lot easier to feel confident when you are dressed professionally. Plus, it makes you look professional in the editor’s eyes. “I always carry my nice leather-bound notepad, on which I try to jot down bullet points of key points I want to cover in every meeting,” says writer Elissa Sonnenberg. “This projects that I’m organized and efficient, as well as confident in my abilities.”

3.Stand Up: I know, it sounds stupid, but it really works. When you are on the phone with an editor or agent, get to your feet and talk. Mentally, this puts you in a position of power and helps you feel controlled. Tape a smiley face on your computer to remind you to smile. That smile will translate across the phone lines.

4.Write it Down: If you have some forewarning that you will be meeting with an editor or agent to pitch your idea, jot down some notes on your book. Have the “backcover blurb” ready, which is really a 30-second commercial for the book, and then make a few notes about the plot and the character development. If you are querying on articles, keep your queries in an organized file near your desk or in an easy-to-access folder on your computer so you can call it up when needed.

5.Believe in Yourself (Even if You’re Pretending): “When I want to project confidence, I pretend that I am my worst competition. I envision myself as the most qualified, beautiful, and well-spoken candidate for the job,” says writer Sheri Wallace. If necessary, talk to yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you are a good writer.

6.Don’t Be Afraid: This is easier said than done, I know. However, when that editor at Parents calls and wants you to research a huge article on car seat safety, go ahead and say yes, even if the thought of such a big project is daunting. It never hurts to spread your wings once in a while. If you do run into trouble, call on your writer friends for help.

7.Practice: Before you go to a big event like a writer’s conference, practice what you want to say with a friend. Run through your backcover blurb a few times; have the friend ask you some hard questions about the novel. Know your spiel inside and out, then prepare a few responses for “spontaneous” questions. “When I’m meeting with an editor, especially for the first time, it helps me to rehearse what I’m going to say, even small-talk kind of stuff, as I drive to the meeting,” says Elissa. “It’s fun, it’s free and I can always pretend I have a hands-free cell phone if other motorists give me the “she ought to be in a straightjacket” look.”

8.Have Some Small Talk Ready: There have been numerous times when I have run into an editor or agent at a social event or while waiting in line at a booksigning. I always try to strike up a conversation about something – the signing author, the facility, anything but me and my projects. The point isn’t to turn it into a commercial for me, but rather to make a contact.

Finally, realize that everyone feels nervous at one time or another. Some famous authors are so unnerved by informal contact that they become almost hermits. Many editors are rattled by conferences because they have to talk to so many writers. You are not alone in feeling terrified, but you can take steps not to show your fear. When you are met with an opportunity to talk to someone in the business, grab your Secret, take a deep breath and believe in the power of you.


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