At Dragon Con, I attended a useful panel by Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta on professionalism in writing. (Yes, I’ve been working on this series of posts since then.) Unfortunately his panel was cut short because he hadn’t packed yet and the hotel was kicking him out of his room at 12:15 pm. I picked up their book, Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer, which was a lifesaver during my long layover coming home.
His first rule: Act Professionally
Why? Because this is a small industry. Something unkind that you say or do to someone today will come back to help or bite you later. Don’t badmouth other writers, your editor, your publisher, or any other professional you meet in the course of business, it could have significant negative effects on your career.
For example: If you give an editor grief over your precious masterpiece, expect that you’ll have a difficult time getting other editors to accept your work. Because editors talk. Dealing with divas is time consuming and unless you’re a best selling author like Jeffrey Deavers, JK Rowling, Steven King or Vince Flynn, no one is going to put up with you, because your return on investment won’t be worth it for the publisher.
Until I started getting into the editing side of things, I didn’t realize how much a problem this is. You meet writers who are a dream to work with and those you never want to work with again. It has given me a new appreciation as a writer for the work editors do.
So what does acting professionally mean, exactly?
It means treating others with respect, even if you think they don’t deserve it.
This is the hardest thing in the world sometimes, because not everyone responds in kind. Keep your eye on success and don’t get distracted by the pettiness around you. Avoid, if you can, people who are jerks. Create relationships with people who act professional.
On dealing with editors, Cathorine Dune states in her article on professionalism:
“You get one chance, and one only, to make a positive first impression. Whatever your plot, your characterisation, your genre, your audience: there is the one immutable rule of correctness.
Make sure that your grammar is correct. That your punctuation is correct.
That your spelling is without reproach.
It’s the least you can do if you’re asking editors to consider your work. Pay them the compliment of your utmost care in presentation. Search publishers’ websites for their submission rules: find out about house styles and adjust your manuscript accordingly.”
Once an editor accepts your writing or assigns you a story to write, your professionalism must shine through all aspects of the process including following directions and accepting criticism. The editor’s job is to polish your story so that it fits the vision of the publisher and the market. Don’t be an ass over edits. It’s the surest way to get blacklisted. No one wants to deal with someone who thinks they’re too good to be editored.
More on this in Part 2.
Readers can be rather demanding sometimes. They love to tell you how your book should have ended. They want to know why your next book isn’t out. They want to know every personal detail of your life, just because.
Learn to be gracious and firm with over demanding readers. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. But, also don’t purposely distance readers and potential readers by being a jerk. If you’re rude to a fan, you’ll not only loose that person as a fan, the story will get around and you’ll lose other potential readers.
Writers must be on social media, which means that everything, personal and professional is up for examination. How you present yourself online can affect what impression other authors, editors and publishers make of you.
Stick to arguing ideas, not making personal attacks. Most likely this will not be reciprocated. That’s okay. Let them look like the jerk.
Trolling is a whole other ball game. While it’s not seen as professional, some writers use it as a marketing tool (Milo Yiannopolus), which is all well and good if you publish in hotly debated subjects like politics. But in general, it creates as many enemies online as friends. Use with caution.
DO NOT air your professional dirty laundry for all to inspect. If you have a disagreement with your editor over your story or with another editor’s decision or another writer or illustrator or industry blowhard, don’t broadcast it on social media. I don’t care how much you think not naming names will keep identities secret, it won’t. Other writers and editors aren’t stupid. If they don’t know immediately, it’ll get to them and it will make you look like the jerk and get you on blacklists. Keep your personal beefs with other people behind closed doors.
For self-published authors, some of this will seem silly because you’re not dealing with an editor or publisher. But unless you do your own covers, do your own editing, and are the only one who buys your books, you’re going to have to deal with other people. Do so professionally.
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