The Prosperous Writer - Professionalism

This week Christina Katz tackles professionalism in The Prosperous Writer.

Most of us would never ask a professional to do their work for free.  Writers are often told they should write for the love of writing and money should be a secondary concern.  How many times are poets encouraged to “give” their poetry to a magazine or journal for the “exposure”?  How often do people ask authors to give them copies of their books as if the work they  put into creating their work is somehow less important than other jobs?  I think this mentality can create doubt in the mind of the most productive artists.  We, as artists, have a tendency to go along with it rather than stand up and say “I worked hard on that.  Is the time, effort, research, and skill I put into creating that product worth less than the work you do each day?”
When I published my novel, All She Ever Wanted , I was bombarded with people wanting free copies.  I heard every reason in the book.  Mostly, it boiled down to two things.  One was that it was “just a book”.  The second was their relationship with me entitled them to a freebie.  What this said to me was that the people didn’t see me as a professional.  So, I tried to respond as professionally as I could by telling them I had a policy to not give away books because writing and selling books was the way I earn a living.  For some people, this was enough.  Others were offended.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard “But it’s me… It’s just one book.”

This experience prompted me to look at my attitude.  Was I projecting a professional attitude?  Or was my attitude apologetic for my choice of career?  Or was my attitude projecting a lack of confidence?  I thought I felt professional.  I thought I acted professional. I thought I projected professionalism.  Yet, this question continued to plague me.

I finally got up the courage to ask one of published friends if people acted this way toward her.  She said some did, but that she didn’t take it personally because people are always looking for freebies.  I realized that the more I’d been asked the question, the more I’d allowed self-doubt to creep in, and self-doubt bred a decline in my professionalism.

After our talk, I started projecting an attitude of professionalism again.  I started selling books again.  People started placing value on my other writing as well.  I’m not saying people stopped asking me to give my work to them, but it happened less frequently.

Sometimes people think professionalism is about being perfect or never letting the world see you have faults.  I’ve discovered this isn’t true.  Sometimes the most professional people are the ones who can acknowledge a fault or a mistake.  They are the people who are human but avoid taking their bad day out on someone else.  They are the ones who can say “I don’t have that answer, but I’ll find it and get back to you.” instead of making up some answer all parties know is untrue.  They are the ones who can say “Oops!  I made a mistake.  Let me fix that right now.”
Another point to being professional as a writer is to put value on your work even if no one else is yet.  If you don’t value your time, effort and product, how can anyone else?  I’m a strong believer that if we can’t see our own value, no one else can either.  Think about your work and what it means to you.  Think about what you’d pay for work similar to your own.  I write a marketing and publicity plan for every book I write, so I can see who the audience is, what value my work offers to the world, and who potential publishers may be.  Mostly, it lets me know if the work is ready for publication - or at least submission.  This helps me hone in on its value.
In order to be professional one must project professionalism.  I believe one CAN be professional in attitude even if one isn’t earning a living through one’s writing. The more genuinely professional one is, the more seriously one is taken, and the more money one makes from his/her work.

Professionalism is about behaving in a way that gives other people confidence in your abilities and your work.  Professionalism builds out of the confidence you feel about your achievements.  If you feel pride in the work you do, professionalism is much easier to feel and project.  If you are ashamed of your work or if you see yourself as “struggling”, you will continue to struggle.  You must be able to see yourself as you want to be in order to reach that goal.  So, if you don’t feel professional today, imagine how it will feel to be professional and embrace that.  Figure out how you can feel like a professional writer every day.  Then do the work to achieve that goal!  And, don’t forget it starts with placing value on your own work!!!


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