Let’s talk about professionalism

You know, it’s OK not to like how things go sometimes. It’s perfectly fine, and even justified at times, to feel like the publishing industry sucks. Frustrations abound, and there’s no avoiding them. Even once you get an agent, get a publisher, get a book on a shelf, the life of the professional writer can be suffused with all manner of indignities, large and small.

Here’s the thing, though: Every industry can suck. Every profession has frustrations and indignities. Things can, and will, go sideways in any job, at any time. This is not somehow unique to writing/authoring/fictioning.

So what do you do? You channel Mark Watney from The Martian, man. You smile, hunker down, work the problem and find solutions. And you do it with grace, good humor and professionalism. And if you need to go outside to your rover…er, car…close the doors and windows and scream obscenities into the windshield, go for it.

The vast, vast majority of writers and industry professionals I’ve met, befriended and/or worked with are consummate professionals; this is not a post laden with subtext, aimed at an individual or group. But every now and again, one sees someone’s veneer of professionalism crack, either online or off, and the results are never pretty.

I’ve held down a day job for all but two months of my 23 years as a professional journalist and writer. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and I’d like to think I’ve learned from them. And, obviously, I have some thoughts on keeping up your professional demeanor. So here we go. 

Getting angry rarely helpsWhen I was a reporter, I raised my voice to shouting level exactly once. Once. I’d managed to dig up an exclusive bit of news on a rather large tech company out in Seattle,  and as a professional courtesy to said company, I worked with them to get their side of things rather than just rushing to press. That was, of course, until one of the executives decided to give the story to another reporter in order to ensure more favorable coverage.

Not unheard of, of course. But given my forbearance, it was still a dick move. Getting angry — and reading the riot act to some VP of Media Relations — was a very calculated move, actually, given my carefully cultivated reputation as a fair, personable and friendly fellow. It was strategically deployed anger, and while it felt great, it also served a purpose — to remind said VP that the wire service I worked for had a much broader reach than the exec’s pet journalist, and I might not be so nice next time. The relationship not only survived, but became far more useful in the future.

So it’s good to get angry, right? Almost never. On a daily basis, there can be a lot to get angry about in any profession. In writing, when your book is likely a very personal piece of artistic expression, there’s a lot of emotion there on top of it. So save your anger for when you really, really need it — basically, for when your agent agreement or book contract is egregiously violated. Everything else is minor.

You’re in a business relationship. Act like it. The rest of the time, recognize that the self-interests of your business partners — your agent, editor, publicist, publisher — are indeed aligned with yours! Everybody involved in your book wants it to be a rousing success. If they didn’t think you’d succeed, they wouldn’t have partnered with you to begin with. Rest assured that everyone thinks your book is good, and you yourself are worthy. Because it’s true — it’d be a poor business decision indeed to invest time and money in a book that your agent or publisher thought was simply meh.

That doesn’t mean there will be stuff. You’ll never get enough ARCs to distribute. You’ll never get all the press and promotion you crave. You’ll disagree with your editor on how the story flows. You’ll always wish your agent got you a bigger dump truck of money. (Most are Tonka-sized.) But that’s normal. It is not a good reason to get angry, or even mildly peevish. You can certainly ask your business partners for something better, but there will come a point where you Mark Watney that thing, accept what you get, and make the most of it.

Personally, I re-upped with Night Shade Books/Skyhorse for the MAJESTIC-12 series because, in part, I have a really solid working relationship with the folks there. They’re low-drama people. They’re friendly. They’re a joy to work with. That’s meaningful to me. And in turn, I work hard to be the best partner I can be for them.

Think carefully about your social media. This is pretty good advice no matter what. Any employer these days is gonna scan your Facebook and Twitter. If you’re out there slamming your publisher/editor/agent on social media, they’re going to see it. And that will absolutely harm your working relationship. Go back out to the car and scream at the windshield again if you must, but do not bad-mouth people online. Really, try not to bad-mouth people anywhere. Bad business, bad karma.

Be awesome to your peers. Be awesome to your fans. The community of authors is a beautiful thing. We are an odd, strange bunch, but we’re also wonderful people. I’m grateful to be counted among them. Heck, I look at the list of authors going to Elevengeddon next week and I’m just as much a fanboy as I am a participant. My peers have been awesome to me, and I try to be awesome to them, too — and to the newbies on the block as well.

And if you’re lucky enough to have fans, treat them super well. They’re the ones keeping your ramen cabinet stocked, and what’s more, they have a love of your work that’s only equaled by your own. They’re the ones telling their friends about your books, rating you on Goodreads and generally advocating and evangelizing. Take the extra time. Sign stuff. Talk. Be grateful.

There’s probably more, but these are the biggies. Getting published takes a heap of skill, but it also takes luck and patience — and a whole team of people on your side. It’s your name on the cover, but there’s a lot of folks behind it. Agents, publishers, editors, publicists, your writing peers, fans — they’re all contributing to your success. Treat them as the important, awesome peeps they are.

#SFWApro

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