Notice I didn’t use the word published. You’re a writer whether you’re published or not. Professionalism doesn’t involve books on a shelf. It’s an outlook, an attitude, an inner code of ethics about how you relate to and interact with the writing/publishing business and those that inhabit that realm.
The only thing constant about the publishing business is change. Publishing houses come and go. Editors and cover artists and models come and go. Trends change. What’s hot now is different from a couple years ago. Guidelines and requirements, preferences in POV and genres, first vs. third person. Marketing has evolved. E-pubs. Online review sites. Blogs. Facebook. My Space. Twitter. Chatrooms. Instead of letters we send emails. Instead of “The Call” we get “The Email.”
The trees are jumping for joy.
Professionalism is how we handle that change. Do we whine and complain or do we take stock, learn more, and adapt? Do we look at closed doors as open windows? If a house closes or a genre vanishes, do we grab a new pen name and try something new?
So here are what I think the Top Five Signs of a Professional Writer Are (in no particular order of importance):
1. A professional writer is informed. Someone once noted that you only have one mouth but two ears, so you sould listen twice as much as you should talk. A professional writer never stops learning. Classes, conferences, reading industry publications. They are abreast of what’s happening. They do not speak out of turn without having the facts at hand. They weigh the pros and cons, they see both sides, decide their own stance.
2. A professional writer is involved. They are members of writers organizations and loops. They participate in chats. They lead. They volunteer. They look at leadership as a networking opportunity, a change to share, a chance to give back. That spills out in other facets of their life. They’re on the PTA. They coach T-ball. They teach Sunday School. They go to town halls meetings and sign petitions and vote. They are a vital force in their communities, whatever those communities are, whether geographic or interest-related.
3. A professional writer is a peer. Writing can be an isolated business, but a professional writer never lets themself be isolated. They participate in loops. They go to chapter meetings and conferences and workshops. They teach workshops and speak at chapter meeting and conferences. They celebrate the ups and commiserate with the downs. They are critique partners and mentors. They ask and answer questions. They share tips and information.
4. A professional writer is a positive force. They support their fellow writers, whatever stage they’re at. They never lose sight of the fact that they are a part of a greater whole, that everything they do can be seen and judged and measured by others. They decide how they want to be thought of and remembered. They decide not to be a source of negativity. Undermining another is not an option for a professional writer. It’s a small world with a long memory.
5. A professional writer not only adapts to change, they engineer it. They see the big picture. They adapt to the needs of their world. If they disagree with how things are, they work out an alternative plan and work for change. They think on their feet. They see the open windows. They make sure to be on the team. They do not sit back and let the forces of industry drag them where it will. They help mold the industry into it’s next phase.
And I can think of a couple more – they’re easy to work with and hold to their personal standards and ideals. Strength of character, not easily led by another. Professionalism and ethics go hand in hand. Be the person you want to meet. Be the helper you wish you had.