What makes a writer a professional? It’s not money, though I can see where you could think so. Deriving your entire income from writing may very well make you a self-sufficient writer, but I have seen writers who are self-sufficient without being one whit of a professional. Panel appearances aren’t the litmus. Not all panels are created equal. All that means is you got to sit at the front.
If you want to be a professional, you have to exhibit an air of professionalism. I know. Go figure, right?
Yet, many writers neglect this part of their development. I suspect it is because it doesn’t get written on the paper, no one cheers you for it on Twitter, and, in reality, it just creates more work for you in the long run by setting expectations. Still, it can be a rewarding part of your writing career.
Professionalism is how you handle yourself. As a writer, you are a business entity unto yourself. There are certain straightforward, responsibilities that are expected in a business arrangement. Delivering a product on time, delivering quality, being responsive to your customers (publishers and readers) are all good business practices. But, it doesn’t have to be quite that cut and dry.
While you are a business, you also get to be a person. Not the fake kind of person corporations are so they can buy senators, but a real person. That means you get to fudge those hard business lines a bit, but be careful how you fudge them. Using your personal agency to enhance a business deal is what puts your personal brand on your business deals, but that brand can speak good or ill, depending on your actions.
I recently had the pleasure to be included, through a competitive selection process, in a fantasy anthology. Somewhere between the selection process and the publishing, one of the authors decided that despite a full explanation of the terms of the anthology being available upfront, that she had a few problems with them. This is not a big deal.
Once again, you’re a business, also a person. People can ask questions, clarify, even change their minds. Granted, these would be better asked before hand, but the heat of the moment and all…
The problem came from the manner in which it was addressed. Rather than keeping this discussion private with the publisher, she chose a forum that was open to the other contributors. She then proceeded to have a meltdown of fairly epic proportions. This included a pontificating speech right out of any number of writing manuals about the importance of creating her brand (her phrasing). She had obviously read but did not understand that material.
Whether she was right or wrong, the other contributors, several of which were themselves small press publishers, saw a conversation that should have been private devolve into allegations and not-quite-accusations. That was the impression they were able to form of that author right before she angrily quit the anthology to protect her image.
Now, she was young, and I truly hope that she is able to find a niche in this industry where she is comfortable and successful, but by sacrificing her professionalism, she didn’t ease her path.
For many of us, writing is a second job at best, possibly beer money. It is still a job, though. Give and expect the same respect you would want to see in your day job. It will make the business side of writing much more enjoyable for you and your customers. Who knows, maybe you can even turn a professional writer into a self-sufficient writer.