Monday, June 01, 2015

A Writers' Guide to Dressing for Success by Diane Vallere

I'm guessing we've all heard the advice to start building your brand the second you decide you want to write for profit. Many of us started a website before we finished the first draft of our first draft. Our online presences are carefully constructed works of art: the photo we chose after bypassing thousands we didn't like, the bio that hints at our platform and our voice, and the blurbs that tease better than a high class call girl. But what happens when we have to turn on the lights and step in front of the very people we've been asking to leave the price of an ebook on our bedside table?

You already know not to write the boring parts of a story. Now it's time to apply the same thought process to your conference wardrobe. A conference lets you become a hyper-version of you. You are a walking representation of your brand. How you conduct yourself—and how you look—are important elements to your success. You want to get noticed, but not for the wrong reasons. Here are a few tips how:

Red light district or blue light special?  
Color can be your best friend. Are you promoting a book? If so, is there a predominant color palette to the cover? Consider your ARC or your personal copy to be an accessory to your outfit and dress to match it. If your book is purple, make purple your signature color for the conference. Maybe a purple dress on day one, purple scarf day two, purple shoes day three. People will notice you the first day. They'll come talk to you on day two and three.

Rely on the kindness of strangers. 
You might have the most awesome network of close, personal friends who want nothing more than to see you succeed, but they might not know how to tell you they always thought your obsession with beige was unhealthy. Shopping with a friend rarely works. Why not? You see each other the way you've always seen each other. While this is one of the most awesome things about friendship, it's not so good when it comes to trying something new. You might never try on the perfect dress because it looks like nothing on the hanger and your friend tells you not to try it. These are the kinds of things professionals are there for, and the best thing is that you get their advice for free.

Learn to trust pins and needles. 
If your clothes are too tight, too baggy, too short, or too long, people will notice. Check how your clothes look from the front and the back. If your skirt rides up in the back, it's not the right skirt for you. If your pants are so tight they're on the brink of bursting at the seams, consider how it would look if they did burst at the seams. In front of your dream agent. Right after you gave a fantastic pitch. Ask yourself what they'll remember: your pitch or your pooch? That's right. Most dry cleaners will do alterations for you for a low cost, and most can easily tell what needs to be done simply by seeing you in the clothes. Getting your clothes to fit right is well worth the money.

It's what's on the inside that counts.  
You probably know if you are a woman, you need a bra. But that's not the only undergarment you should think about. Panty lines and excessive jiggle are not good. There's a reason the inventor of Spanx is now on the Forbes Rich List. Her unmentionables make clothes look better on without forcing you to trade your diet of cupcakes for celery stalks.

Comfort is best left for ice cream and stuffed animals. 
There's not a person among us who isn't more comfortable in stretchy pants and a soft T-shirt, but going to a writer's convention is not about comfort. While I'm not suggesting you get yourself strapped into a corset for the event, I do think it's a good idea to think about structure. A blazer, twinset, or cardigan is going to look better than a sweatshirt with cats on the front, even if you write cat-fiction. You can change into your cat sweatshirt when it's time to retire to your room. Unless you have a roommate.

Don't mistake "appropriate" for "boring" 
I convinced you to leave your cat sweatshirt in a drawer at home, but that doesn't mean you should abandon your sense of whimsy in the drawer with it. Me? I’m all about whimsy. Find what represents YOU and make it part of your conference look. Maybe you love chandelier earrings. Maybe you love shoes. Make that one category your signature for the conference. "Great earrings!" you'll hear on day one. "Another pair of great earrings!" you might hear on day two. And guess what people will be thinking about on day three? "I wonder what kind of earrings she'll have on today?"


When the opportunity for marketing through social media exploded, the first thing we all learned (either through the grapevine or by experience) was to NOT talk about our books. Twasn't easy, we found, but nothing good in life really is. We had to figure out how to make people notice us and like us for who we were and what we represented, so when they picked up our works, they’d find an extension of our online persona. Our  conference clothing can do the same thing for us. The goal? To look interesting enough that people want to know more about what we write. Don't let poor clothing choices take away from your empire. Pimp your style and let your wardrobe work for you.


After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. SUEDE TO REST, the first book in the bestselling Material Witness Cozy Mystery Series, was a Lefty/ Best Humorous Mystery nominee. CRUSHED VELVET, book two, comes out August 4. Diane is the current president of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, and co-chair of the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference. She also writes the Mad for Mod Mysteries and the Style & Error Mystery Series. Diane started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.

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6 comments:

Alexia Chantel said...

An insightful and very true post!

Adib Khorram said...

This was quite timely since I'm attending Midwest Writers Workshop in July. I am curious, though: this post seems geared more towards already published authors. Any recommendations on how to dress for success as an average attendee?

What do people normally wear to pitch and critique sessions? Should I break out the suit and tie?

DLM said...

I definitely dress for conferences - but then, I put thought into what I want to say with how I dress every day. Last year at the James River Writers conference, I was literally stopped in the street by a stranger (non-attendee) to admire my outfit. Went into THAT pitch feeling confident!

Adib, comfort is key and a suit and tie are a bit much - though I've seen it done, and with style (see also, the prodigal commenter at Janet's blog, James Ticknor). People do sometimes tend to come in costume as their mental image of poets and authors, and the guy I saw once years ago wearing a tee with his main character on the front (a pneumatic and almost obscenely-"clad" young lady) was a lulu - so to speak. Just be more stylish than the guy in some indifferent old polo shirt, but don't make a point of trying too hard.

Being a woman, I put the most emphasis on shoes (must be comfortable but not slovenly) and accessories (vintage jewelry or a great pashmina or purse), and keep the rest soft and as flattering as possible. Good pants, for instance, can be important: http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/2014/11/pantsless.html

:)

Nancy Kay said...

This post offering sound advice about appearance at conferences - and in my opinion anywhere you appear as a writer, published or not - is excellent advice. Sit at your computer in sweats,tight jeans, and t-shirts, but shed them when you walk out the door.

Thank you for the good sound advice!

Diane Vallere said...

Nancy, I couldn't agree more. I happen to think that it's important to be our brands, but sometimes the message can get cloudy (even if your brand is Beach Bum Bromances, I think you're better off dressing appropriately for business-related events!).

Adib, I don't think you need a suit and tie unless that's how you normally dress or feel comfortable. But if you're approaching a conference or pitch like it's a part of business, then I'd say prepare for it the same way you would any other business meeting.

Nancy Kay said...

Diane, in addition to conferences and pitches, for those of us who are published I'm often embarrassed by how some authors dress for book signings. As a writer, once you've been asked to come front and center and welcome readers, doing so dressed as if you're going hiking or to a sports event is poor taste to say the least. Emulating the characters you write about may seem like the thing to do - assuming you write about back-woods hikers or hockey players - however, YOU are neither. You are a professional, and in this day and age the profession faces enough criticism without your appearance personifying those engaging characters you create between the pages.