Thursday, July 19, 2007

To Wear or Not to Wear

I stumbled upon this thread over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and found it rather fascinating, with strong points on both sides of the issue.

A brief summation: this past weekend was the national Romance Writers of America conference. Apparently three authors (Marianne Mancusi, Liz Maverick and Sherrliyn Kenyon) caused somewhat of a furor with their unorthodox--and some believe inappropriate--attire. Supporters have come forward on both sides of the issue. Some claim the authors were merely trying to bring deserving attention to their works and their outfits were simply extensions of their personality, while others (including mega bestsellers Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie) claim the authors' lack of professionalism demeans them and other authors in the genre.

(Apologies if this wrapup does not illustrate the points satisfactorily. Read the original post and comments for a better picture)

Sherrilyn Kenyon and her swan hat
Marianne Mancusi and Liz Maverick (and their knickers)

I met two of the authors, Liz Maverick and Marianne Mancusi, at BEA. They were incredibly nice, and wore outfits that stood out like Yao Ming on the PGA Tour. To me it seemed like they were worn in good fun. And after reading the Q&A and starred review in Publishers Weekly for WIRED, I bought Liz's book. I thought WIRED sounded different, cool, and my perception of the author didn't play a role in the purchase.

I have never been to an RWA convention, so I don't have the authority to comment on what is and is not "appropriate" attire. Not to mention I have the fashion sense of Ace Ventura. But I wonder if this debate extends to other genres, outside of romance. Having been to several crime conferences, I can't say there have been authors who stood out to such an extent due to their appearance (Marcus Sakey and Barry Eisler's slobbered-over hair notwithstanding).

Do you feel at a convention that represents a given genre, authors should eschew "gimmicks" and be respectful? Or is attire (among other traits) something that should be up to the individual, without prejudice? And are gimmicks merely empty marketing tools, or are they justified in order to garner attention for the author and his/her work?

7 Comments:

Blogger Liz said...

Hey, Jason. Nice to see you again. Yeah, had I known that wearing a short skirt and pink striped thigh high socks to a conference of romance writers meant said professional romance writers would rise up en masse and call me an unprofessional crack-whore, pedophile baiter, and prostitute, I most certainly would have worn the yellow striped ones. ;)

God, I'm looking forward to Comic Con.

Anyhow, hope your book is selling like crazy!

:)

Liz Maverick

P.S. An "unprofessional crack-whore" That's actually funnier than I realized.

8:16 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I come down on the 'to wear' side, definitely. First, Sherrilyn's attire is definitely appropriate for her work and her brand. Fans expect it. The knickers were cute, but I didn't realize they were a gimmick. I passed them in the hall and thought 'cool.'

As far as Nora goes, I do have to say that she wore the coolest shoes ever.

As far as the debate goes? Um ... who cares? Wear what's you. Wear what makes you feel good. Clothes are an expression of oneself.

Down with the dress code!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

SpyScribbler,

It's something I've been unable to articulate so I didn't even try in the midst of the firestorm, but it was and wasn't a gimmick. It was and wasn't a costume. It just was...and it also wasn't. I was just being me in a marketing sort of way.

That being said, Jason I personally don't see what's wrong with doing what you want/need to promote your books--gimmick or no gimmick--especially if you do not have publisher support doing it for you.

Half the time the publicity departments don't even respond to calls or emails from random authors at my level in the midlist. It's all well and good to write a great book, but if nobody has heard of you, nobody sees the book, and nobody has a reason to look...well, there's the problem.

Wired is my seventh full-length novel. I doubt that a solid 50% or higher of the people who found out about me after my thighs became a national crisis could have named one of them in spite of the acclaim some of them have received. (Alas.) Maybe they can now.

:)

Liz Maverick, now feeling pressured to maintain a consistent, unoffensive amount of cellulite

8:36 PM  
Blogger Alison Kent said...

Apropros to nothing much, but my husband took the picture of Sherry's hat. Also, I went to dinner with my editor, Birgit Davis-Todd, and we discussed THE MARK at length!

10:15 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I LOVED the hat. LOVED it.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hey Liz, thanks for dropping by! When we met at BEA, I definitely thought you stood out, but in a "that's a neat outfit" way, not a "good god, what is she wearing?!?!" way. Bottom line, from a marketing standpoint, I remembered it.

Alison, first off, thank your husband for the photo! Second, I agree, that if you write a certain kind of book, your readers might have an expectation as to your demeaner and/or appearance. Last year at the pre-Edgars party at the Black Orchid, Harlan Coben was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts while everyone else was in suits. And if you read Harlan's Myron Bolitar books, you'd certainly think, "This author seems like the kind of guy who'd wear Hawaiian shirts."

I think there's a big difference between dressing the part and standing out, like Liz and Marianne did, and purposefully drawing attention to yourself in an unflattering way. Like Liz, I'm sure Sherrilyn's many fans loved the swan.

Really every aspect of a book's publication is, to some extent, marketing. Look at author photos. Most thriller/mystery writers look grim, solemn, MYSTERIOUS. Having met many of them, they are NOT grim people. They're unbelievably nice, almost weirdly so for people who write about murder and mayhem. But there's a perception there, we WANT people to think we're mysterious to some extent, just like you wouldn't trust a skinny chef, you might not trust a thriller writer wearing a Smurfs t-shirt. And I think it's ok provided you're being true to yourself, your personality and your book in some way.

Although I would be frightened of any author who wore a Smurfs t-shirt.

11:06 PM  
Blogger December/Stacia said...

Liz Maverick, I think you looked FANTASTIC and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

It's supposed to be fun, isn't it?

8:55 AM  

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