Writers lead exciting lives. We can sit in the safety of our homes or cafes or wherever we choose to write and have amazing adventures through our words. As George R. R. Martin wrote in one of his novels,
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…. The man who never reads lives only one.”
A writer lives those thousand lives as well.
Who are we who call ourselves writers?
We are ethnically diverse, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but share a passion for writing. We publish, some of us are highly successful, some not. Many published authors would refer to themselves as professional writers. The question is, are we?
What is a Professional?
Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.
The attributes of a professional:
- Maintaining Poise
- Phone Etiquette
- Written correspondence
- Organizational Skills
These attributes should be self-explanatory. We should in all circumstances be neat in appearance, calm and respectful, reliable in completing tasks or arriving for meetings, and all the other skills listed. All are important, but competence requires considerable study and experience in our chosen profession. Whether accountant, nurse, musician, or writer, this behavior should be our norm.
The Pathway to Writing.
Words are an author’s musical notes, brush strokes, or accounting formulas, surgical techniques, grammar rules, or any other skill required to become successful in a profession. If, as writers, we consider ourselves artists, then we need to gain competency in our art and develop the attributes that represent professionalism.
Perhaps as a child, you exhibited a talent for playing an instrument, for singing, or for drawing. While not all children with demonstrated talent will become professional musicians, singers, or artists, the training for those who do invariably begins at an early age.
The path for artists is an arduous one. Countless hours of instruction and practice, learning not only the instrument, steps, or shapes but how to perform with others. Years of preparation, mentoring, and often formal study at a university is required for a career in music or art. Higher education is not required for either a career in music or the arts, but the additional training only increases expertise. Also, artists often have another hurdle before they can perform. They may be required to audition to join an orchestra or dance company.
But what about writers? In truth, writers also begin training at an early age. Primary and secondary education provides the basics of grammar, vocabulary, and creative writing. Some may continue on to college where they can major in creative writing or journalism.
Those who choose not to pursue an academic path to writing can find a myriad of articles and lessons on the Internet. Enter ‘how to write dialogue’ into a search engine, and the number of articles offered is staggering. The issue becomes which of those articles are credible and which ones are not. With the voluminous amount of material available, sorting through it to find what works for you can be daunting and confusing but necessary.
The Impact of Self-Publishing on Professionalism
With the advent of self-publishing, the number of authors choosing that route has reached an all-time high. An article by Dan Balow, from The Steve Laube Agency website, states, “Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone, according to RR Bowker. Two-thirds are self-published.”
That’s a lot of authors, and the question is how many of them have taken the time and effort to hone their craft and learn how to write. Unfortunately, not as many as should have. The areas of greatest impact on the level of quality for published books according to Barlow are:
- Collegial control. A give and take relationship between publisher and author where negotiation is required to produce a satisfactory agreement for both.
- Traditional publishing can take as long as eighteen months. Self-publishing can happen soon after “The End” is typed onto the manuscript.
- Quality of the manuscript. Editing a manuscript is never completed, but all efforts should be made to create a flawless Often, self-published authors do little editing.
- Length of manuscript. There are industry standards based on what readers expect that the self-publishing world often ignores. This alone can create dissatisfied readers.
- Book cover. One of the most important components of a novel, the cover attracts the reader to pick up the book, read the blurb, and be interested enough to purchase. Too many self-published authors do not take proper care with the creation of their cover and shortchange themselves.
These are all important issues that all authors need to be cognizant of even with the assistance of a traditional publishing house. To be a professional as a writer, these are all issues that you must address as part of the competency attribute.
There is one aspect of publishing that many authors, traditionally published or not, have to deal with and it can be the most important task they undertake. Marketing their book.
We welcome others buying our novels for enjoyment. To accomplish that goal, marketing is a requirement. If we are fortunate enough to have an agent or a traditional publishing house represent us, we might have help in offering our product to our readers.
The cold facts are that total marketing support is rare for today’s authors unless they are already proven revenue generators. Many writers turn to self-publishing or small independent publishers where marketing more than likely falls to the author, and few are qualified to promote their books. How we accomplish that task can define us a professional and establish how we are perceived in the marketplace.
There are numerous avenues open to marketing books, but the most personal is the interview. From local papers and magazines to a written interview on the internet, podcasts, radio and television appearances, and book signings, the interview reveals the author behind the book. Being able to make the connection with the journalist or host is imperative.
The hosts of these media platforms offer their services, their expertise, and the most important commodity, their time. While some media organizations charge, the services are usually free for authors.
This provides tremendous opportunity to communicate with potential readers and one that can lead to repeat interviews, not only keeping the author in front of the public but also keeping their book and future books in the spotlight. An important tool for any author to utilize.
A common lament among these hosts is that authors do not respond to emails or messages, are not available at the time of the interview, or cancel at the last moment without a valid reason. Some answer the written interviews, returning the questions without bothering to edit. Some do not follow through on promoting the interview across social media. Not only a must for the author but also for the host who has provided the service.
However, the behavior that was the most disturbing to these hosts was how many authors they interviewed who never said thank you.
We discussed the attributes of professionals. Here are how those attributes relate to writers.
- Appearance – Dress appropriately for a face to face interview or a book signing/reading.
- Demeanor – Be respectful, considerate, pleasant, and have a good sense of humor.
- Reliability – Be on time, provide materials requested
- Competence – Learn your craft.
- Ethics – Your reputation is at stake, always maintain integrity.
- Maintaining Poise – Be prepared for uncomfortable questions by hosts or readers, stay calm.
- Phone Etiquette – Interviewing by phone requires you to answer clearly and concisely, then pause, and wait for the host to speak so that you do not talk over them.
- Written correspondence – Bios should be as short as possible and written in third Interview questions should be answered thoroughly and edited for good sentence structure and grammar.
- Organizational Skills – Be prepared, have whatever notes you need with you and practice answers to questions that could arise about your book, your writing style, etc.
- Accountability – You have agreed to submit answers to written questions or be available at a specified time for an interview or book signing and should honor those commitments.
And one last thing: A simple thank you to your host is respectful and will build a bond between you and a person who can be valuable to your future as a writer.
Are Writers Professional? We Can Be.
In this era of self-publishing, anyone can publish a book. Have a laptop and you, too, can be a published author. You don’t need a college degree, or an editor, or a book cover designer. You can do it all. But if you want to approach your writing as a professional, study your craft through an educational facility or study information available on the internet. Use an editor so your manuscript will be as error-free as possible, focus on a quality book cover, and be prepared to market your work. Most of all, be kind and say thank you to those who are helping to make you a success.
Article written by Deborah Ratliff