We can all recite a long list of names of famous authors who are almost as famous for the way they comport themselves as for their writing. Please don’t attempt to mimic their antagonistic behavior. If you do not have name recognition in the popular imagination (i.e. Your books aren’t being sold at bookstores), you must hold your pride at bay, and conduct yourself like a person, not a walking spectacle.
The following are common errors related to professionalism that novice writers often make. These mistakes must be avoided at all costs:
1. Don’t rush the writing process along. Plot out your story. Fix the errors. Make sure the prose is sharp. Your first draft is just that – don’t send it out immediately to publishers. Spend some time ensuring that your work is as tight as it can possibly be before submitting it.
2. Pay attention to submission guidelines. There’s nothing less professional than not following submission guidelines. Doing so will almost undoubtedly lead to a rejection, and worse than that, it will color you as a careless writer in some rather influential people’s minds.
3. Write an appropriate cover/query letter. Think of this like a job hunt. Don’t be the person sending 100 resumes a day with the same generic cover letter. This is insulting to editors and publishers. Show that you are actually familiar with the work they publish, and that your writing would be a beneficial addition to the press or magazine. Do your best to find out the name of the person that you are addressing.
4. On that same note, make sure that your work is an appropriate match for the content of the journal or publisher. Don’t send a genre piece to a literary magazine. Don’t send a noir manuscript to Harlequin. Do your homework.
5. Don’t be goofy or edgy in your communication. Your work may be satirical or hardboiled, but your approach to publishers and other power players must be professional. You’re a writer – you’re not a clown or sociopath.
6. Never respond to a rejection (unless there’s a clear lead in to do so from the editor, which is extremely unlikely). Just don’t. Certainly don’t respond to any rejection with inflammatory remarks. The literary world is small. You want your name to be talked about, but certainly not for this reason.
7. Respond to acceptances from literary journals. Thank the editor for selecting your work. Be humble and gracious.
8. Get involved beyond your writing. Offer to volunteer as a reader for a literary journal. Start your own literary magazine. If you have the money to do so, pursue an MFA to show your dedication, network, and learn from masterful authors.
The takeaway: Never underestimate the importance of professionalism for authors. Conduct yourself in your literary career in the same fashion as you would in any other professional sphere.
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