On the Complicated Feelings of Being Professional

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I don’t know how to write this post today, but I’m going to give it my best (uncensored) effort. You see, I recently came to the realization that my coping mechanism for dealing with the bullshit (-gates and puppies and conspiracy theories and what-have-you) was to shut down emotionally. I was bewildered by it, but at the end of the day the only thing I can control is the manuscript in front of me. That was my coping mechanism.

But it’s not always a good one. You see, as an artist in all things I do not believe that my purpose for being (or my work) is static. As I grow, the art does, too. In media/tie-in, I take an established world through the lens of multiple examinations; here’s what you fell in love with, and here’s something new to help you fall in love with it all over again. That “new” bit stems from deeper analysis about what worked and what didn’t, and often this means thinking critically to set aside the emotion, to rip a work apart, see what makes it tick, and put it back together again. I thrive off of critiques as opposed to reviews, and in recent years there’s been a surge in 140 character reactions and reviews based off of back cover copy, which drowns out necessary critical analysis that helps all of us see what we cannot from various perspectives. To improve, then, I either rely on my own observations or by taking a broad statement and seeing how it applies.

Critiques, reviews, and product reviews(1) are not the same thing, and it’s impossible for me to keep up with social media to ferret out the difference between the three. I have, mind you, lurked on public forums and whatnot to read what the general consensus is, but again that passes through a lens of scrutiny and not emotion. What I haven’t realized until very recently is that emotional reaction can be a type of review in some cases, but due to the way we reward extremes–especially online–I typically don’t pay attention to them. This means that I am missing valid judgments, because those emotional extremes are off-putting.

Let me back up for a second and share with you some conventional wisdom. Picture a bell curve. With the production of any work, there’s 10 percent who will love you no matter what, and 10 percent who will hate you no matter what, on both ends of that curve. What I want, is to see what the other eighty percent is thinking and feeling. I mistakenly assumed most of those people have been bullied into silence by both ends of the spectrum; the loud defenders of an author who can do no wrong vs. the vocal naysayers who can’t stand whatever this person does(2).

Here’s what I missed, though: some valuable opinions are being expressed, and they’ve gotten louder because in order to be heard, they need to amplify their voices, too. Otherwise, they get drowned out, and that means creators like myself who want to learn, who are listening and thinking and reading despite the constraints of the projects that I work on… Well, creators like myself suffer the most, I feel. Because all of the shouting blends into one major argument where no one is heard. Add in the fear–one that I very much feel–of death threats and doxxing and calls for being fired for having a differing opinion or a bad cover or what have you(3)… I shut down. I shut down those voices, I turn to something positive instead, and I continue making art and doing the best I can because that is all I can do. And, since I do not create art to prove anybody wrong, this taps into why I make art in the first place. My identity is not wrapped up in “a” release, it is tied to the long years of my life, and my desire to continually learn and grow and improve.

I don’t know what to do about this, because there is another side to this story. Folks on the outside of an argument, who don’t have anything to do with the -gates or puppies or what have you, now believe that an entire industry is toxic as a result. And that, my dear readers, is flatly not true. It’s not. But, this is the state of things today: a few assholes can, do, and have supported the illusion that they have negatively impacted The WorkTM of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. When, in reality, it is not the work that’s been affected, really, it’s the people. I have not talked to a single writer or artist or editor or what-have-you that has stopped making art because of the cultural shifts and toxicity that’s been spreading both online and off. I have, however, heard from several new folks who are avoiding certain industries because of those assholes, though, because they do not have the knowledge, experience, or patience to wade into a battlefield where none are perceived to be welcome(4).

I’ve said it before, but people often go where they feel welcome. And, sometimes this means going offline entirely, or shutting up about the assholes, or avoiding drama altogether. (Or in my case, saying that “YES, YOU ARE WELCOME!” when hiring or inviting people to things.) Sure, these are all coping mechanisms, but I see now that there is something else being lost as a result. There are good people fighting to be heard, to be recognized, to reach creators with their views and they are not quiet. They are loud simply because the volume is turned up on both ends, which means the folks that would normally be in that middle bit of that bell curve are also boosting their volume, too.

I don’t know what to think or do about this, because I feel (the space) is focused on calling out the assholes as “assholes”. Being positive is not rewarded in this era of yellow journalism, but being a bully or a smart-ass (typically male, mind you) most definitely is–and I fear what that is teaching the new generation of artists, what that is bringing out in all of us, and how “being loud” is now a metric. I would much rather eviscerate someone in iambic pentameter than spend energy online engaging in cyber wars, in part because there are many conversations I feel I should not be a part of(5) or I choose to walk away from because of the many time constraints I’m under(6).

Right now, there’s very little emphasis on the complex spectrum of emotions and behaviors that go hand-in-hand with being a healthy human being who happens to be a professional artist or what-have-you, and I have to wonder who will suffer the most in the end. Is it the fans who feel that they need to shout no matter what? Is it we the professionals, who feel it’s simultaneously risky to have strong opinions and expected of us? Is it the new writers who are now more scared than ever to enter into a mine field? Is the folks who have, thus far, remained silent because they feel they cannot speak up for fear of being bullied?

I just don’t know, for I realize that I have been one of those people bullied into silence(7). And I don’t know how to feel about that, either, but I do know and want to express one very important thing: for those of you who are upset, who are expressing yourself now because you feel you have no other option but to be louder than the bullies, I see you. I see you, I feel you, and I will do the best job that I can for you, and I hope together we can return to a place of joy and complex discussions as we take this journey together.

Thanks for listening.

(1) Like Amazon. Please, let us not forget that Amazon reviews are to benefit their customers on their store. Yes, they are a publisher, but they are a retailer first and foremost.

(2) I should mention, too, that it’s impossible for me to know who has actually read the thing folks are talking about in its entirety. If a work has not been published yet, I throw those opinions out because marketing does what marketing does, but if it has? Still challenging to know.

(3) The utter lack of the ability to resolve business-related conflicts in a way that doesn’t hurt or bully one side or the other is a consequence of this.

(4) I am certain there are some artists who have abandoned working in the industry, but if there are people who have given up on it entirely by no longer finding anybody to work with, then I am not aware of those folks.

(5) For example, the discussion about diversity in fiction. Do I believe in it? Yes. Do I feel comfortable being on the front lines talking about it? No, and I would much rather signal boost the many diverse voices of marginalized writers that are already doing that work. To put it bluntly: not every cause is about me, personally, and I recognize that. That is my choice.

(6) This ties back into the old adage that “time is money”. For me, this is true. I have to be very careful about how I spend my time, because if I were to get swept up into talking about books and games all the time, I wouldn’t actually write them. Marketing accounts for a fair bit of my time, but I earn the most value by focusing on writing and producing new stories.

(7) A very, very personal thing.

Tips on How to Be a Professional | Part One of Three

Did you know that your chances of getting published increase the more professional you act? In this series of posts, I’d like to share with you some tips from other professionals working as freelancers, writers, publishers and editors. I’d also like to cover some tips that you might find interesting to think about as you navigate along your own path.

To start, I’d like to share with you an editor’s perspective. Besides her many other talents, Jennifer Brozek is an editor for Apex Book Company. She writes:

In the writing industry, it is always easier to work with a professional author than a non-professional one. I’m not talking just “published” authors. I’m talking about those authors (published or not) who have their acts together. They present themselves well in face-to-face meetings, have appropriate business cards and know when it is time to leave the editor to other business. They communicated well in an online forum, meet the specifications of the contract—on time every time—and they don’t tell tales out of school.—- Jennifer Brozek, submission editor for the Apex Book Company and author of In a Gilded Light

To start off the series, here are ten tips on how to be a professional that I’d like to share with you. These tips are related to acting like a professional writer, but some of them also echo with other creative fields like art and illustration or other freelancing roles as well.

    1. Try Not To Act Desperate. Have you submitted a short story or a query for a non-fiction article? Can’t wait to hear back from an agent? Great! Guess what? You are not the only writer that has submitted something. Editors, agents, publishers wade through hundreds of submissions and often have other responsibilities besides addressing your work. Depending upon their workload (and whether or not they’ve worked with you before) it could take weeks, maybe even months, before they get back to you. Incessantly badgering people to read your submission will not make the process go any faster and it can actually hurt your chances of getting published.

    So what is a good guideline for communication? Use your best judgment; some submission guidelines will cover what you should expect and some don’t. Also, I have seen some agents communicate generalities through social media, like Twitter. For queries, I like to follow-up within a week to confirm receipt, and say that I’ll follow-up again in a month if I haven’t heard anything. I’m usually more vigilant about other forms of communication, because a quick turn-around time can make (or break) a contract.

    2. Read and Follow the Submission Guidelines – I’m not sure how much clearer I can be than that. Funny thing is, one of the most common reasons why people get rejected is because they don’t read or follow the guidelines. Did you know that they’re often there to see if a writer will follow directions? Don’t waste an editor’s time by avoiding pre-established rules. Seriously.

    3. Write What You Want to Write – Do you like writing about flower pots? Then read similar articles on flower pots, research gardening magazines and write about flower pots. Do you hate writing about vampires? Then don’t write about them! It is easier to find work and establish your reputation as a writer if you enjoy what you’re writing. If your assignments turn into a chore, not only do you run the risk of approaching burn-out faster, but your quality might suffer, too.

    4. Write Professional Correspondence – I talked a little bit about this previously when I said, “Please Write Out Your Emails.” I cannot stress enough the importance of writing a good query letter, email, cover letter, etc. If you don’t know how to do it, there are several books and blogs on the subject.

    5. Do Not Publicly Bitch About Your Bad Experiences – While it is important to be yourself, in today’s environment anything you say can and will be overhead by someone you don’t know. I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek post about How To Ruin Your Online Reputation In 10 Easy Steps a while ago. Many of those comments apply to being a professional writer as well. Publicly bitching about your experiences in a way that reflects poorly on the publication (or agent) you’ve submitted to, an editor, etc. is a BIG no-no. Think about it this way: Would you want to hire an employee who’s complaining that they can’t get published? Or that an editor gave them a crappy review?

    6. Don’t Overstate Your Abilities (Or Your Credits) – Take a good, long look at your list of publications. Is it accurate? Or did you fluff your credits with things you didn’t actually contribute to? While Credit is the Greatest (and Cheapest) Gift You Can Give, be conscientious of giving yourself too much credit. The publishing industry is not as big as you might think; people know other people in this business and they are not afraid to ask questions about you.

    7. Don’t Talk About Your Personal Finances – Would you go to a job interview and say, “I really need this job because I’m broke and my cat just died?” Do. Not. Talk. About. Your. Money. Why? First of all, when you say that you are a) a writer and b) you’re broke, you are leaving an impression in someone’s mind that you are a shitty writer who can’t get published or make enough money to keep writing. Even if that isn’t true, no one wants to hire someone out of pity. Seriously. When my cat had emergency treatment, my SO and I talked about setting up a fundable page, partly because people asked how they could help. We did end up setting one up, but I didn’t post about it extensively, nor did I post about it on this site. Yes, emergencies do happen but the professional will always reign supreme. Unfortunately, it is very hard to keep the lines of “personal” versus “professional” separate online. Regardless of what you choose to reveal about your personal life, it is very bad form to beg.

    8. Don’t Take Bad News Personally – Bad reviews, rejection letters, harsh critics…they’re all part and parcel to being anyone who produces creative works for a living. It sucks, it does…but it’s part of the job. When you get bad news, usually there’s a good reason for it. Maybe your story didn’t fit a magazine. Maybe your book didn’t hit the market at the right time. Maybe you’re query letter was terrible. Or maybe, just maybe, your story wasn’t good enough to get published. Whatever reason lurks behind getting bad news, that news has to do with what you wrote. It is not a personal attack on you. Keep that in mind as you navigate through your career. Yes, you have every right to feel and react to those emotions when you do get the bad news, but try not to go off the deep end.

    9. Don’t Expect Other Authors To Do You Any Favors – As I was working on this post, John Scalzi wrote, “On the asking of favors from established writers.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    10. Be Strategic About What You Give Away For Free – Earlier, I wrote about My Stance On Writing For Free where I talked about how writing for free works if it is part of your business model. Throwing up stories and other content haphazardly is “not” a good way to get writing credits. Seriously. Some free sites have excellent reputations, and some do not. Check out a website thoroughly to see whether or not you want to be associated with it. (Please note that “fan fiction” is not a professional writing credit in most circumstances. For more information, read my explanation about What Is Shared World, Tie-In and Fan Fiction?)

    The other reason why you want to be careful about writing for free, is that it is counter intuitive to your goal for becoming a professional author. In most cases, pros get paid. Saying that you’ll work for free just to get in on a sweet project is akin to saying that you don’t think your work is worth money. Keep in mind that I determine what I’ll write for free based on “what” it is, too. For example, I’ll occasionally write non-fiction for a little self-promotion, which I’ll cover in a later point.

In my next installment, I’ll cover more examples of being a professional and some other tips that you might want to consider. Are you a true professional that would like to chime in? Feel free to offer your tips for others in the comments below.

Monica Valentinelli > being professional

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