In 2007 soon after my book came out, I wrote a guest post for the New York Women In Communications blog about making the transition from journalist to journalist/author. And every time I stumble onto the musings of a journalist making that transition, I think about how challenging that transition was for me. So I’m reprinting that post here, for anyone going through that process now (and so that I can have it properly archived in my blog since I never put it here!)
Here’s the post:
Having just published a book about people with multiple professional identities, you’d think I’d have been prepared for all the identity shifts in moving from journalist to journalist/author.
I was not. If it were just about changing the wrappers the words are delivered in and the volume of those words, the evolution would be natural.
The bigger adjustment was the move from member of the media to one hoping to get noticed by the likes of us. Overnight I became a possible story, a news hook, an explainer, a profile subject — the very things I look for when working on my own articles or chapters on deadline. Which meant, really, that I had to learn how to be my own publicist (this is true regardless of the level of publicity support an author brings to the project.)
Because I am familiar with the media, I tend to do a lot of outreach on my own. Figuring out how to write pitches and whom to get them to came easily. But getting the media’s attention — even when I know just what they are looking for — is anything but easy. Sometimes an editor or producer bites quickly, when I imagine I’ll need to persuade. In other cases, a sure thing goes nowhere.
Then there is the delicate dance we journalist/authors must play in approaching our professional contacts in the media. The very people we consider colleagues are the ones who could be covering us now as a subject. I still can’t claim to have mastered the steps, except to say that it must be done carefully. Suggesting a story or asking for a contact seems okay. Persistent follow-up (a good trait in a publicist) seems out of line.
I now understand the frustration of publicists who see the relevance of their subject to a story in progress, only to be ignored by the members of the media they are trying to reach. And I certainly understand the helplessness that sources feel when being interviewed.
With each interview, I itch to take the control, suggest the angle, ask the reporter where the story is going, or recommend more sources. Once the interview is over, I’m restless to see if the reporter got it right, and of course, how I sounded or looked. I now know what it’s like to read a story only to notice how one quote fit in (my own) without wondering too much if the reporter did a good job on the subject as a whole. Still, I force myself to take another look, as a journalist, to make sure I’m being objective.
Occasionally, I am surprised that a reporter seems to understand my book — or how it fit into a story — in a way that I hadn’t even thought of.
Standing in the shoes of the many sources I have interviewed over the years should leave me with some good lessons for when I’m back on the other side of the media game.
I’m still a work in progress, as most people are when they inhabit new identities.