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We All Float Down Here, Georgie…

Professionalism In the Industry

I was originally going to talk about plot holes and how to avoid them this week until something reached up and grabbed my goat. Hard.

Professionalism in today’s writing market is all that separates the professionals from the vanity press. The ability for a publisher to be able to communicate and deal with a multitude of authors and agents with varying degrees of personalities is a challenge to say the least. Agents who sometimes coddle their clients oftentimes find that they are gently cajoling the writer into producing more material while babysitting them. Authors who deal directly with editors remember that these editors have the book in their hands.

It’s hard, believe you me. When you have a complete stranger dissecting your baby, it’s painful to watch. Worse still is when it’s back in your hands and the proverbial red ink is slathered across half the MS, with the note attached to it saying “Corrections needed”. Resisting the urge to scream, should and knock down a door to vent your frustration is very important here, because you never know when you’re going to have to work with that person again.

I know from experience how hard it is to maintain a professional approach when dealing with certain people. Too often I have run across an editor or (as an editor) author who makes comments or treats you as if you are lower than the scum at the bottom of a pond. It’s so, so hard to smile, grin, and continue to have a working relationship with that person. We do it every day in our workplaces, you might be thinking to yourself. Why is it any different in the publishing industry?

Well, there’s a few reasons for this. In the regular working world, you can treat your employees like crap and, for the most part, get away with it. They have to grin and bear it, with a select few who start out to look for new and gainful employment. You have a boss of your own, but for the most part you simply run your staff the way you choose.

But in publishing, your clients are the authors, the people who actually produce what you need to survive. A good author who produces more than two quality novels a year is very, very difficult to find. An author who produces that much and has great sell-through (% of novels sold compared to number of printed) is even more difficult to find. Therefore, a publisher (or better still, an agent) not only treats this author with courtesy and professionalism, but also regularly corresponds with them. If a publisher, say Baen Books for example, called David Weber (author of the Honor Harrington series, among others) a no-good hack and verbally ripped him a new one, it’s very doubtful that David would ever work with Baen again. If David talked a lot of smack about Baen, they’d probably not work together any longer as well.

Professionalism aside, it’s just rude and stupid to slam the people who either produce your product or are ensuring that people across the world get their grubby little hands on it.

So if you’re looking to be published, remember that professionalism works both ways. If you’re a nobody (like me!), then you need to remember that the publisher is more or less your unofficial god until you have a contract in your hands. But you don’t need to be a push over and take everything they call you or say to you. A good publisher, you will find, will oftentimes make suggestions over demands when it comes to your novel. They’ve already contracted it, remember. They want it to be published as much as you do, otherwise they wouldn’t have purchased it.

Go forth and professionalize…

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