Last time, I kicked off the series with a quote from Jennifer Brozek and offered some Tips on How to be a Professional for part one of this three part series. So far, this topic has been pretty popular so I’d like to continue it with more tips and quotes from other professionals working in the publishing industry.
This first quote is from Jess Hartley, an author and game designer who is helping geeks navigate through the waters of conventions, manners, social situations and a whole lot more.
Being professional doesn’t mean being false or phony. It means handling each encounter with the thoughtfulness and respect it deserves – taking the good graciously and dealing with the bad so as to cause no more harm than absolutely necessary.–Jess Hartley, Author and Game Designer
Being genuine is a big part of being a professional, which is why it’s a good idea to leave your “ego-licious” attitude at the door. This next tip is from illustrator extraordinaire Jeff Preston, who understands all too well what being a professional means.
Keep your ego in check. Respect yourself and your work, but don’t let it be a hindrance to your business relationships. A lot of being a professional is just knuckling down and doing the job, regardless of whether you feel like it or not. —Jeff Preston, Illustrator
I’m sure some of you might have witnesses how ego can get in the way of either getting an assignment, developing relationships with other writers or editors, or even grabbing an elusive contract.
Thanks to Jess and Jeff for adding their tips for my series. Here’s ten more tips on my take for how to be a pro:
- 11. Act Appropriately At Cons – Showing up to a convention to meet with someone wearing a ripped t-shirt? Trying to get an interview on the busiest day of the con? Jess Hartley wrote a popular series called GenCon For The Aspiring Professional which talks about tips for finding work and scheduling meetings at a convention.
12. Don’t Get Hung Up On Minutia – Are you arguing with your editor for hours over a comma? Holding up your deadline because of a single word? While the amount of minutia that’s important to you may vary, when you’re a “pro” you’ll discover that you might have to compromise with certain things on occasion. I understand that there are things that are important to you as a writer, but keep it in the back of your mind that too much minutia may affect your ability to meet deadlines.
13. Learn How to Compromise – Don’t like a particular word choice? What about feedback on a scene that you wrote? Compromise is part and parcel to the writing process, because often it’s a collaborative one. Good editors are worth their weight in gold because their job is to make your writing even better. I’m sorry, but no writer “gets it right” on the first draft of a story. There’s always room for improvement, criticism and feedback. The question is: What will you do with that feedback once you get it?
14. Understand There’s a Time and Place for Innovation – This goes back to Jeff’s tip about “keeping your ego in check.” As a pro, you have to learn that you won’t be the superstar on every project you work on, even if it’s something you pitch. Many projects (books, games, etc.) either have a business model that will support the project, or it was designed with one in mind. When you work for a project with a tight business focus, you may not get the opportunity to put your personal touch on it. Not every project is structured in this way, but they do exist.
15. Don’t Take Criticism Personally – Remember when I said that the writing process is collaborative? There are times writers will get heavily critiqued through rejection letters or reviews. While this may be upsetting, your work is what’s drawing the criticism. This doesn’t mean you’re a shitty writer or you should just give up your dreams now; it means that someone didn’t like your work and you have to decide what to do with the feedback you’ve received. When you share your stories and your articles, accept the fact that your words will get critiqued, dissected and analyzed. Some readers are more careful than others; some books will sell even if they get bad reviews. Knowing that you will get criticized, though, is half the battle.
16. Be Gracious When Someone Doesn’t Like Your Writing – There have been way too many authors, companies, etc. getting caught deleting bad reviews from Amazon.com, arguing with reviewers via Twitter and other social media channels, etc. Here’s the thing: the people that matter are the ones reading your arguments, not the ones who are arguing with you.
No matter how many times you try, you can’t convince someone who didn’t like your book that they should like it. It’s hard not to be whiny (online or off) when someone doesn’t like a project that you’ve worked on, but there’s a time and place for it. Instead, I recommend thanking your reviewers for taking the time to read your product in the first place or simply ignore the bad reviews.
17. Be Happy For Other People’s Successes – Have you heard about the international best-selling writer who made millions off his first book? Yes, there are writers who “hit it big” right off the bat, but that is an exception rather than a rule in publishing. As you meet other authors, it’s quite possible that you might watch another writer “pass you by.” Keep in mind that becoming a successful writer is NOT a race, and one writer’s success might be another writer’s headache. Enjoy your own path and be happy for someone else’s, because no two paths are completely alike.
18. Don’t Plagiarize – It is hard to believe that plagiarism is still rearing its ugly head, especially with today’s technology, but it still exists. (This also includes taking credit for someone else’s work when you haven’t written it.) Unfortunately, not every case of plagiarism is a situation where someone stole someone else’s work; there are opportunists out there who sue because an author is wildly successful. As a result, some publishers and writers will post that they won’t read unsolicited submissions and will shred any that they receive. I recommend developing your own Writer’s Manifesto to remind yourself of your ethics as a professional writer and follow submission guidelines to the letter. In some cases, those guidelines can actually help prevent your work from being plagiarized, too.
19. Repeat After Me: Publishing is a Business – Publishing is, first and foremost, a business that sells books. As business owners, publishers make decisions based on their business model. That model may (or may not) line up with what you have to offer. In my experience, once you truly realize that publishing is a business, you will be able to set yourself apart as a professional. This mantra is not intended to be soul-sucking or a downer, it’s simply a gentle reminder that when you chase your proverbial rainbow, you’re actually looking for a contract and not that shiny pot of gold.
20. Love to Write (Or Get Out Now) – Being a writer is really, really tough, but being stuck in a profession that you can’t stand is even harder. Unfortunately, your work may suffer if you find writing is a chore, which is why I hope you do love it as much as I do. Even if you’re not as passionate about writing as I am, I hope you find the vocation that calls to you. I find that it’s much easier to be successful and professional when you’re doing something you love, rather than something you can’t stand.
Thanks for sticking with this fun series about being a professional. If you have something you’d like to share, be sure to post in the comments below!