How to Be an Author: Lessons in Professionalism for a Writing Career

The article How to Be an Author: Lessons in Professionalism for a Writing Career appeared first on The Write Practice.

If you want to know how to be an author, it starts with knowing you’re a writer. But there’s a difference between being a professional writer and a hobbyist.

Professional writers publish for a specific audience, and they publish often. Hobbyists write for themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you’re aiming to be a professional writer, it’s going to take more than writing skills. There are certain things you should do as part of your writing lifestyle and ways you should act when dealing with other industry professionals to become a successful author.

In this article, I’ll give you some general tips on what’s expected of you as an author in the writing industry and outline how to act like a professional so you can have a smooth working relationship with other industry professionals and continue to publish throughout your career.

From a Hobby to a Career

When I started my writing career, I began writing short stories. I dabbled. I wrote when I felt like it and didn’t have a writing process, mainly because I didn’t know there was such a thing. In short, I was a hobbyist.

When I decided to try to become a writing professional, I wanted to submit one of my short stories to a publication. But I panicked. I’m the type of person who will shy away from any situation where I might end up looking like an idiot.

So I did as much research as possible, but I still wasn’t coming up with much in the way of how to conduct myself. I didn’t know how to address an editor, how to format my story, or even how to respond if I got rejected. (Rejection was the one thing I had been virtually guaranteed when I was doing my research.)

I thought I had a good story, but I was worried I would be laughed at for not knowing how to proceed. It made me frustrated and nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I needed insight about the publishing process.

I’ve since learned the standards of writing industry professionalism from experience and talking with other writers and editors. Professionalism is largely how you act, both in your own writing process, and in the way you interact with other industry professionals.

What Does “Professional” Mean?

For the purposes of this article, the term “professional” is used to describe how a writer acts rather than what success they’ve achieved. This article is about the daily things you can do to move toward success as a writer, including how to interact with other professionals in the industry. Professionalism is part of how to become an author.

Here’s what a successful writer, a professional writer, does.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Your first short story, book, or poem is not a masterpiece.

As the years go by, you will learn more about writing, you will develop your own voice and style, and you will produce more stories.

A professional writer is someone who constantly strives to improve their writing craft. And not just by reading and writing craft books (though those can be useful), but by actually writing.

This is very much an industry where you learn by doing. Every rough draft, every revision is a learning experience.
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Don’t underestimate the value of feedback, either. Join a writing community so you can get input from other writers. You can’t improve if you don’t know where your writing needs improvement.

Pro tip: Not all stories are worth publishing. Sometimes they help you get an idea out. Other times they get the creative faucet running.

Practice, in other words. It’s perfectly normal to have a junk drawer full of stinkers. Just write another one. Repeat.

How to Be an Author: Treat Writing Like a Job

If you want to get your work out there consistently, you need to treat this like a job.

Most often, that means setting work hours.

Writers don’t write all day, every day. (Which is a relief to hear, huh?) Develop a writing schedule and stick to it, just like you would a part-time job.

During those hours, write.

Why the strict boundaries? Because everything has a tendency to be “more important” than writing for a lot of writers. Writers want to write, but we are also huge procrastinators. Dishes, a random phone call, exercise . . . really anything can come between you and your writing.

Tell your family and friends you’re a writer. After you set your writing schedule for the week, make sure you let everyone in your household know the hours you’ll be writing. And most importantly, stick to it!

Pro tip: At the start of the week, set your schedule.

Things come up—doctors’ appointments, lunch with friends—and that’s fine.

Schedule your writing time like you would any other activity. This will help you prioritize your writing.

Know the Industry

Before you submit anywhere, whether it’s to an anthology or to an agent, do some research.

Querytracker.net is a great place to research agents. The publication’s website lists info on anthologies, ezines, or wherever it is you’re submitting to.

Know what they like and how they want stories submitted to them (and follow their guidelines).

Also, read your genre. Read in general, but especially read your genre.

Know the big names right now, the award winners, the bestsellers. Professional authors know the tropes. They know what’s trending.

This is your job and you need to know where your writing fits into the industry.

Speaking of the industry, you need to have some awareness of what’s going on with that as well.

You should try to keep up with things like which publisher bought out which other publisher, what famous person’s book got pulled and why, what books are making a splash, and what publications aren’t the most reputable (and which ones are awesome).

You don’t have to know every little detail, but you should keep pace with the broad strokes, especially when it comes to the genre you write.

Pro tip: Try these four ways to keep up with the industry:

  1. Following hashtags and topics on social and in your news feed can help you keep up without too much effort on your part.
  2. Goodreads and bestseller lists are good places to see what books are popular in your genre.
  3. Publishers Weekly, Poets & Writers, and Writer’s Digest are good places to keep tabs on industry news.
  4. Most genres have professional organizations. Following and/or joining those can help keep you in the loop. See the big ones here.

Treat People with Respect

Being professional in this industry requires you to act like a professional.

These days, it seems normal to say whatever you want on the internet, but keep in mind this industry isn’t actually all that big.

Everyone talks.

If you’re rude or downright nasty, others will hear about it.

I’ve heard horror stories from ezine and anthology editors about writers who yell at them for rejections, blast them on social media, or ignore requests for information.

I’ve also talked with writers who have worked with publications who don’t respond to emails, don’t pay on time, or go out of business and don’t notify anyone.

So yes, you may run into examples where others are acting unprofessionally, but in all the instances I’ve mentioned, other writers, editors, and agents get upset and spread the word when it’s a pattern.

No one wants to be jerked around or insulted, especially not when they’re trying to have a successful career. Keep it professional and treat everyone with respect to avoid missing out on opportunities because of negative interactions.

Pro tip: Some other things to keep in mind when approaching editors/agents:

  • Don’t write emails full of emojis, slang, or misspellings. (Shows you’re not serious and indicates your writing probably isn’t great.)
  • Don’t talk back. (This shows that you’re difficult to work with.)
  • Don’t insult other writers, editors, agents, cover designers, etc. (Shows lack of professionalism and is just rude.)
  • Don’t take forever to respond to requests, especially when returning contracts. (Shows you’re unreliable and difficult. Plus, you’re holding up the entire production.)
  • Don’t spam editors/agents via social media asking them to buy your book, read your story, etc. unless they ask writers to do so. (Shows you can’t follow instructions and have zero respect for their personal space.)

Doing any of these is a red flag to other industry professionals, and they won’t want to work with you.

You might not get blocked from all publications over one minor faux pas, but if you continue to act in an unprofes

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