One of the ways authors become successful is by building a brand – something indelibly associated with them alone. It’s multi-faceted. What you write is part of it. Name is part of it. There are intangibles, including attitudes and behind-the-scenes conduct – in a word, professionalism.
Professionalism counts when you’re building relationships with your agent, publisher, publicists, media and anybody else who you have to work with in order to get your creations out there. Including your audience.
Readers know when you’ve approached what you’re doing with the right attitude. The result can be summed up in a word. Quality.
It never occurred to me that anybody might not have this attitude – to me it’s just how things are done. But I had a sharp lesson in it back in 2007 when I agreed to present a session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. One of the clauses of the contract took me aback. I had to agree to actually do it, and to be on site at least half an hour before the talk was due to begin. Uh – what? I got on to the organisers. ‘I do this professionally,’ I said. ‘I’ll be in the green room, waiting.’
It turned out that some writers don’t. Some have to be roused from their hotel rooms, awash with hangover. Life, apparently, is an endless round of ‘what shall I potter about with today’? They miss deadlines and leave trails of chaos in their wakes.
I have no idea how these people finish anything. Or complete their contracts. And, of course, the publishers nightmare is authors who don’t, won’t or can’t finish.
My take? There’s no room for flakes. Quality writing demands quality attitude. Publishing is a business. If you work professionally, you’ll earn respect and publishers will come back for more. If you aren’t, they won’t. Same’s true of your readership
Want proof? Take a look at my publishing list. A lot of that’s due to hard work, but it also comes from the attitude I take to writing and the way I deal with people in the business.
The trick is to step back from the personal side. Yes, you’ve made a huge emotional commitment to the writing. That’s what writing is, if it’s good. It’s you trying to evoke emotions in others. But it’s also important to be professional. To me that means doing things particular ways:
1. Act with integrity – be absolutely straight in your dealings, up-front, honest and reliable. Do what you say you will. Own your mistakes and don’t try to hide them. Fix the problem and move on. Do not get emotional when dealing with people.
2. Be businesslike – which means understanding the business first. How publishing works, why it has to work that way, and what the costs are when it doesn’t. Figure out how to make what you are doing meet the needs of the publishing business.
3. Set quality standards in your work and stick to them, even if it means throwing away material and starting again. A reliable and consistent output is crucial to a professional repute, to your repute as a great writer among your readers – and to your brand.
4. Do not compromise (1-3).
Needless to say, I expect the people I deal with to demonstrate the same standards. Particularly integrity.Most do. And those that don’t – well, that’s their problem, but if I complete a professional arrangement in good faith and the other party doesn’t uphold their part, well, that’s a fairly epic fail by my standards.
So how do you see professionalism in writing?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011