Defining "Professional"

We hear this word thrown around a lot, but many people seem to miss the mark on what it means. While the literal definition of a professional is just someone who gets paid, being “professional” encompasses more than that. In that case, let’s dig into what the publishing world considers to be a professional:

  • Dressing properly when required.
    I’ll edit in my fuzzy bunny slippers and PJ pants because there’s no one around to judge me, but I wouldn’t wear jeans to a black tie affair. Also, when meeting clients or engaging in business deals I dress up, shower, do my hair, etc. It’s important.
  • Punctuality.
    If you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something in a specific time frame, then you should probably do it. It marks you as someone trustworthy and dependable. If, for some reason, you can’t do it, communicate as soon as possible.
  • Politeness
    This is a tough one sometimes. We’re conditioned to bleed on the page, but we need to know when to keep our mouths shut and smile. It’s never easy to do that when you’re dealing with a situation you can’t stand, but it’s important. Being polite also carries over into any public interactions, including social media. People really DO judge you on that.
  • Business Acumen
    While you may not have a degree in it, understanding when business is business and personal is personal is big. I’ll talk more on this later.
  • Having quality marketing materials, covers, websites, etc.
    This isn’t unique to writers, either. Having good-looking business cards, websites, fliers, and other such communication materials is a defining mark of a professional in the world beyond just writing. This means that just because you “can” design your own website you maybe should rely on someone with professional credentials. These things are your face to the world.
  • Literacy
    No joke, the fewer typos, the fewer mistakes, and the more attention you pay to your writing and communication, the better you look.
  • Email Etiquette
    Do you know how to write a proper email? What’s your email signature like? Are you using frilly colors in order to “get attention”? Is your font easy to read and clean? All of these are important.

Knowing these qualities and seeing what is expected can be a sobering experience for some of us when we realize we don’t quite measure up. The thing is, behaving professionally (even if you aren’t making money yet) is important. This also includes how we treat our professional colleagues (editors, publishers, etc.) as well as our readers. If you see a poor review of your book, do you jump on the thread and make a bunch of unfriendly comments? Or do you thank the person for their critique and move on with your life? There are many ways to address things, but if we want to be taken seriously and regarded with positive esteem, we need to realize that epitomizing (or at least aspiring to) the qualities I listed above is a major part of it.

Professionalism is one of the defining factors in whether or not you’ll get anywhere as a writer. I know we all wish it were just about whether or not we can put together a good story, but that’s just not the case, unfortunately. We have a lot of things to consider when we are looking at our success, and many of those factors have nothing to do with what we put on the page.


One thought on “Defining "Professional"

  1. Wonderful advice. I can definitely see where it applies to the publishing world, but it really applies to all walks of life. Too many individuals do not seem to understand what being “professional” means these days. It is really a necessity to, at least, give the impression you are one, even if you aren’t yet.

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