Writing may be a passion, but if we want to be published it is also a job. We must intend to earn money from it and we must therefore enter our profession and our industry with certain behaviours in mind.
So, when people like me ask writers to be professional in their approach, here's what we want you to think about.
- Take steps to become informed - we don't have exams, but there is a great deal of knowledge to acquire. So, get clued up. Read blogs and books, make friends with people in the writing world, attend conferences, anything to ensure that you have the best level of knowledge possible before you submit your work. That way, you won't accidentally reveal horrible ignorance.
- Present your work with decorum. The submission should be presented properly, neatly, carefully, with enormous attention to detail. Otherwise, it's like arriving at an interview in your scruffiest clothes and with egg on your t-shirt.
- Don't make any of the newbie submission errors - if you did, this would only show that you haven't obeyed my first point. There's masses of advice about submissions in Write to be Published.
- Show respect to those who know more than you - other published writers, agents and editors who know what they are doing. You're unpublished - this doesn't mean I'm a better writer than you but it does mean you know less than I do about being published, and being published is what you're trying to be.
- Don't slag off the industry or any individuals in it. Yes, you can have an opinion and yes, you could be right, but be very cautious of who might see your vituperativeness and, more importantly, what this might say about you. You might be wrong, you see, or your newness to the business might mean you've missed an important point.
- Be prepared to work very hard at making your book as good as it can be - and all the future books you are going to write. Show that you fully understand the work ahead.
- Be prepared to accept guidance, criticism and editorial direction.
- When relaxing on Twitter, be aware that you are still in public. You are allowed to have fun - in fact, who wants to work with someone who can't have fun? - but if you behave like a nasty or foolish person, you reveal yourself as a nasty or foolish person, and no one wants to work with a nasty or foolish person. Instead, behave decently to others, offering praise, joining conversations and not being a total divot.
- Do what you say you're going to do, when you say you're going to do it. If you've said you'll deliver something by December 1st, do it. If you feel you're not going to make it, give lots of warning and explain very simply that you would like to deliver it by [insert date when you are sure you can do it.] Be efficient and strategic, showing that you value deadlines and can manage your working life.
- Don't be over-friendly too soon. In email or phone conversations with potential agents or publishers, be friendly, of course, but don't over-do it. They are busy. Take your cue from them. Don't gush or flutter or go overboard with the LOLs (in fact, please don't use LOL at all). Read their body language. You are not their new best friend. Wait until you actually are their friend before you get too chatty.
- Seem in control of your life. Writers can, like anyone, be very disorganised and can have enormously distracting things happening in their lives. The art is to give the impression - always - that despite any of this you can still do your work. Writers often need to continue writing when children are ill or elderly parents being demanding or many domestic crises are going on. No one else can do your writing for you and you have to look as though you know this and can rise above everything. You need to show this in your off-duty behaviour on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, as well.
- Always wear a suit when preparing your submission. If you wear pyjamas, they will see. :)
The two most likely places for you to demonstrate professionalism are a) in your submission and b) on your blog, if you have one. Don't ask an agent or editor to go and look at your blog but do include the address subtly in your letter/email. Then they can visit if they wish and they most likely will if they are interested in you. There, they need to see you behaving like a real writer-in-the-making, someone who is all set to be a wonderful, professional author.That doesn't mean you have to be po-faced or that you can't let your hair down occasionally, but it does mean that your blog must be well-written and worth reading for all the right reasons.
Once you've made your mark, you can cross some lines and mess around if you wish. because it is possible to be professional AND fun-loving and highly creative. Professionalism is just a suit we wear.