First, Be Professional

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to succeed in this crazy business, as a writer.  The thing I keep coming back to is, “Be Professional.”

Professionalism can take on all sorts of guises.

It can mean negotiating, accepting, and meeting deadlines.   (This does *not* mean accepting the first deadline thrust in front of you, when you know you can’t juggle family and writing and day-job and expected crises; rather, it means talking to your editor to determine a timetable that can work for both of you.  It also means working with that editor as soon as you become aware of insurmountable challenges to that timetable.)

It can mean dressing and speaking like an industry representative.  (This doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie to conventions; rather, it means carving out your version of “grown-up” attire and demeanor and employing it consistently.  For L.E. Modesitt, that means a brightly colored waistcoat over a dark shirt.  For Jay Lake, that means a Hawaiian shirt.  For Carol Berg, that means a (relatively) conservative sweater or blouse with a cool jewelry pendant based on her current work.)

It can mean conducting all correspondence politely, civilly, and with attention to grammar and spelling.  (That doesn’t mean never swearing, or never writing in sentence fragments; rather, it means *choosing* to do so, instead of stumbling into mistakes by accident.  Fairly or not, we authors are judged on our written words – when we have typos in our posts or errors on our websites, people think worse of us.)

All of these notions are rolling around in my head because I’m making a number of new professional contacts, all related to the October 1 launch of my ninth novel, MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL.  If I could be Jane Madison, I’d have a spell on hand to make sure that each of my postings, emails, and phone correspondence was off on the right foot.  As it is, I need to read, double-check, and hope for the best.

And you?  What are the biggest challenges to professionalism that you’ve encountered in the writing profession?  Without naming names, what incidents have made you most value (or question!) the professionalism in the SF field?

Mindy, off to prepare more official emails about the October 1 launch!

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  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    In person, the most common offense is probably authors who sign up to participate in a panel about a specific topic and then refuse to talk about anything other than their own book(s), even when the book in question isn’t all that related to the topic.

    Online, I’ve seen authors correcting fans who use the term “sci-fi,” even going so far as to accuse them of deliberate insult. That’s not only rude, it’s foolish.

  2. 2. Kelly McCullough

    Whining is probably the biggest mistake I see being made. Particularly whining about the barriers to getting published and treating the editor or agent as an enemy to be overcome to get to the reading public. This is not to say that you never get to complain, we all do that, but do it offline with friends, never in public and never in print.

    Also, related to that, perpetuating the idea of the editor or agent as a hostile audience is one that can really really hurt the writer. There is no better way to make an enemy than to treat someone as an enemy.

    Besides, it’s simply not true. I have never met an editor or agent who doesn’t want to find new writers. Quite the contrary. Editors and agents are people who are generally badly underpaid and overworked, but who keep doing the job because they love books. They love to find the gem in the slush, to be the person who gets to give a promising new writer a first break, to bring new work to readers who will enjoy it as much as they do.

    Yes, it’s a business, and yes because of that an editor may well make decision about your work that make you unhappy. But it’s never because they don’t want writers to succeed. Remembering that in all your dealings with the publishing industry can go a long way toward helping you remain professional.

  3. 3. Kate

    I just started reading this blog (it’s great, thank you!) but I thought this would be a good time to jump in. It amazes me that writers don’t always feel they need to act as professionally as anyone in the working world. If a resume comes into our office with typos, we’re going to trash it assuming the person did not care enough to double check. Though, I suppose there are clueless people in every profession.

    Karen mentioned writers on panels only pushing their books; that’s definitely a pet peeve of mine, online as well as in person. Many people join the group simply to spam us with ads, and it makes me want to put their book on the NEVER READ THIS pile. If someone has been actively discussing other works or techniques for some time, that’s a different story.

    Lately in writer-to-writer relations, I’ve been seeing a lot of defensive responses to critiques both online and face-to-face. The gracious thing to do when a critique doesn’t resonate is simply to thank the person for her time and move on. The first group I joined and still participate in is incredibly supportive, so I was shocked to find these responses elsewhere. I guess I shouldn’t have been!

  4. 4. Alma Alexander

    Re. writers pushing their own books – it SHOWS, dammit, and I’m always surprised by how little people seem to be able to realise that. I mean, thirteen-year-olds can tell. On a school visit one thirteen year old kid from the front row raised his hand at question time and when I nodded at him he said, “I don’t have a question, I have a comment.”

    “Okay,” I said.

    And this was his comment: “When other authors have come to talk to us they talk about nothing else but their own book. You haven’t done that. I appreciate it very much.”

    Out of the mouths of babes. FWIW.

  5. 5. Jim C. Hines

    I did the overselling thing with my first book when I was starting out. Chalk it up to a combination of desperate newbie syndrome and not being sure what was appropriate. Looking back, I’m a little annoyed that nobody pulled me aside to say anything. But after one or two conventions, and reading other authors’ panel tips, I figured it out.

    Oddly, I not only have more fun at cons and visits when I’m not trying to sell things, but people often end up buying more anyway. Go figure…

  6. 6. sylvia_rachel

    I’m going to talk here from under my minion-in-non-fiction-(scholarly)-publishing hat, rather than my writer hat; I try my best to be professional as a writer, but I’m new at that, whereas I’ve been working at the day job for more than a decade.

    So here are some things that acquiring editors, copy editors, editorial assistants and the like appreciate from authors:

    1. Please be polite. We are not out to get you; on the contrary, we’re trying to help.

    2. If you can, please meet the deadlines we set for you. If you can’t meet a deadline, please tell us ahead of time, so that we can arrive at some compromise position, rather than after the fact.

    3. Please read the instructions we send you, and follow them to the best of your ability. Someone worked hard to make said instructions accurate and user-friendly; that someone will have to work twice as hard to fix your text if you ignore everything we told you.

    4. If your copy editor’s name is Sylvia, please do not call her Susan. (Or, more generally, please try to get people’s names right. You wouldn’t be pleased with us if we didn’t do the same.)

    5. Please understand that mistakes happen. We all do our best to ensure that your book/article/story/poem appears with a minimum of error, and we appreciate the efforts you make toward that goal; but we are all human, and you know what they say …

    6. Please do not say bad things about us in a public forum to everyone you know. Reserve this privilege for your nearest and dearest. (Although if you have nice things to say about us, please feel free to say them to as many people as possible ;^).) If you honestly can’t resist a public bashing, at least don’t name names.

  7. 7. Mindy Klasky

    Just a quick follow-up, following a week of vacation for me (yeah, that’s pretty non-professional :-) )

    Thanks, all, for your comments. It sounds as if the promote-self-too-much chord is a loud one for lots of people. Hmmm… Maybe that’s a perfect subject for another SFNovelists post…. :-)

Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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