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Lakeshore - Pro-ness
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Jay Lake
Date: 2006-09-30 00:47
Subject: Pro-ness
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
It occurred to me tonight that writers talk a lot about being "professional", but I'm not sure we all have meaningfully overlapping definitions of that word. Ruminations for tomorrow or Sunday, methinks, but in the meantime, what does "professional" mean to you, in the context of being a working genre writer?

ETA: If you are interested, there's a much more extended rumination from me on this topic here.
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SJ
User: hundakleptisis
Date: 2006-09-30 08:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keeping to deadlines, being nice to folks you work with,even if they piss you off with the minor stuff, doing the best job you can, accepting critque and editorial comments without demanding to have your own way (lol big one sometimes).

really just a whole bunch of common sense revolving around good manners.

S.J.
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2006-09-30 09:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I'd agree with this, especially the business about deadlines. Usual stuff about returning emails promptly, submitting material in correct formats etc.

And further usual stuff about not sleeping with your editor/authors, not getting embarrassingly drunk at publishers' parties and throwing up in pot plants, (hard one, this), not gratuitously insulting people, not starting fights, not grabbing women's breasts in public. That sort of thing.

I realise this might rule out a substantial part of the genre community.

Among female writers there's usually a lot of discussion about what constitutes professional dress (I mean suits or casual, BTW, not THAT kind of professional).

I think you also have some sort of duty to yourself as regard personal organisation, writing discipline etc.
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SJ
User: hundakleptisis
Date: 2006-09-30 16:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Heh yep, it surprises me sometimes how some authors I've met behave. My wife is an editor and some of the stuff she goes through is enough to torque a saint.

Me, I'm going to stick with just writing... it's safer.

LOL

S.J.
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2006-09-30 10:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
what does "professional" mean to you, in the context of being a working genre writer?

(warning: it's 6:30 am here, and I haven't had any caffeine yet...)

Pretty much the same thing it does in any career: Working hard to hit deadlines, exceed expectations, and satisfy the person(s)who sign your paycheck (in this case, both editors and readers). Not sticking your foot in your mouth so far you can't recover is good but not essential, as has been proved time and again. Accepting that being talented only covers so much, and that hard work often more than compensates for a lack of genius. Knowing that it's not enough to get there, you have to work to stay there, wherever "there" is for you. Doing things that may not be as much fun, because they're needful for the job.

In short: remembering that it's a job. It's the best job I can ever imagine, but it's still a job.

There's often a lot of conversation about professional behavior at conventions, etc. The convention circut, to me, is as much my 'office' as my office is. I may not always be perfectly dressed, or stone cold sober, or in the best of moods, but I remain aware that I'm being observed and judged -- and that humans prefer gossip to fact, so you might as well give 'em something to have fun with (I am reminded of my first year on the crcut, when Something happened/was said by one of our authors, and I was horrified. My then-boss laughed and said "something new will come along that will be worse, trust me." And so it did, and so it always does. See above comment regarding feet and mouth.




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Jess Nevins
User: ratmmjess
Date: 2006-09-30 12:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Meeting your deadlines, keeping the promises you made to publisher/agent/editor, promptly returning e-mails and letters to publishers/agents/editors, being polite to every fan, doing your best on the panels at conventions...

...buying your fair share of rounds in the hotel bar at conventions, of course....
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: softcore nerdporn _ heres_luck
User: matociquala
Date: 2006-09-30 13:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:softcore nerdporn _ heres_luck
You can't *be* polite to *every* fan. :-P But!!!!

You can *start off* polite to every fan.

Oh, and deliver a quality product.
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Jess Nevins
User: ratmmjess
Date: 2006-09-30 13:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I dunno. I'd like to think that I could manage to politely disengage myself from a fan who was acting rudely. I may be fooling myself, though.
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2006-09-30 13:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sometimes it requires a Teflon scrapper and an able assistant to disengage. And sometimes it's not a fan who is being rude, which required a whole nother level of professional skills (what do to when: a fellow writer is rude. An editor is rude. A publisher [not your own] wants to play grabass. etc.).

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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: david bowie black tie - sosostris2012
User: matociquala
Date: 2006-09-30 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:david bowie black tie - sosostris2012
Coming in under time, on budget, and exceeding expectations. Not grabbing anybody's ass unless you ask first. Not lying to your professional colleagues.

Ethical business behavior, as practiced in any business.

We just get to do it drunk, in Hawaiian shirts.

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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2006-09-30 13:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
We just get to do it drunk, in Hawaiian shirts.


Or, in my case, Hawaiian pareos.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-09-30 16:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In either case, huzzah for that answer!!!
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Ken Scholes
User: kenscholes
Date: 2006-09-30 13:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think I'll just say "ditto." These are all pretty close to my definition of professional. If it's not up there already (I've only had my first cup of coffee and my brain requires a minimum of two) I would add writing to the best of our capacity, talent and skill, harvesting fiction from our imaginations in a sustainable yield manner, taking care of ourselves and our relationships even in the fog of a wordslinging frenzy. Then putting that fiction out into the world with some kind of business strategy in mind.

For the record: If asked politely, I am likely to permit ass grabbing.

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User: nancylebov
Date: 2006-09-30 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Doesn't professionalism also include knowing that you're in charge of your career so that you don't let bad situations drift on indefinitely?
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2006-09-30 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, I'd agree - checking the small print of your contracts also applies, I think.
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Nick Mamatas: frito bandito
User: nihilistic_kid
Date: 2006-09-30 13:49 (UTC)
Subject: I use Mat Coward's definition:
Keyword:frito bandito
...though to a certain extent it depends on pretending that what you mean by "genre fiction" is likely broader than you mean:



1 To make a living.




2 To make a living without killing yourself, without letting the job take over your life and screw you to death.




3 To be an honest trader. That is, not to write lies without sufficient reason; not to kowtow to the bosses more than you really need to; to maintain whatever degree of independence you can from the system of production; to engage in solidarity with your fellows. In other words, to behave as any other class-conscious worker.

4 And it’s only when I get this far down the league table that ‘writing something really good’ comes in, because frankly there are more important things in a writer’s life, in a human’s life, than writing great stuff.
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desperance
User: desperance
Date: 2006-09-30 16:56 (UTC)
Subject: Re: I use Mat Coward's definition:
frankly there are more important things in a writer’s life, in a human’s life, than writing great stuff.

I guess that depends on the life, or else on the writer. For some of us, frankly, not so. At least, I would breach all of your rules 1 through 3, if it meant I made a better book.
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Mindy Klasky
User: mindyklasky
Date: 2006-09-30 13:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In a perfect world, "professional" also means (to me) preserving the profession - mentoring and being mentored by individuals who know more or have a broader or different range of experience.

This preserving-the-profession aspect can be institutionalized (e.g., providing blurbs when asked - with the usual caveats for actually liking the material and not alienating one's own readers) and it can be structured (e.g., writing courses such as Clarion or other writing centers), but it can also be informal (e.g., emails to friends saying, "have you ever dealt with this situation.")

I find this transition - from protege to mentor - to be one of the most satisfying of my professional career. Of course, I still look for a lot of mentoring myself, particularly as I branch into new/tangential genres!
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Sherwood Smith
User: sartorias
Date: 2006-09-30 13:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've always had trouble with that term with its implied elitism. I tend not to use it--it equates in my mind with "customer service representative" and suchlike.

But not everyone uses it that way. The people I respect who use that term tend to use it mean a combination of common sense and doing one's best.
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Swan Tower: writing
User: swan_tower
Date: 2006-09-30 15:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing
See below for my approach to it. I think it's interesting, the attitude toward "professionalism" and a "professional organization" such as SFWA in our particular sandbox -- seems to me that the egalitarian nature of the fan/pro spectrum (many pros are unabashed fans, fans become pros, many people feel they could be pros/desire to become pros) sometimes produces a certain resentment of anything that . . . not sure how to put it . . . marks the latter group as different? That's not exactly it. I personally have no problem with a professional writers' organization establishing minimum entry requirements, but I've heard people complain about SFWA's elitism in that regard. Likewise, I see nothing elitist in the concept of professional behavior -- it's an obligation on those who wish to make a living in this field, not some kind of prize.
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2006-09-30 17:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ditto the ideas of "lady" and "gentleman": I dislike the elitist implications of the terms, but that doesn't stop me from using them as role models while attempting to avoid elitism in myself.
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kvaadk: gencon
User: kvaadk
Date: 2006-09-30 14:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:gencon
Responses seem pretty uniform here.

I want to preface by saying there was one instance in my career when I tried to be "clever" which resulted in my screwing up both a nascent friendship and a potential professional relationship. So from personal experience, I know trying to be "smart" is both unprofessional and stupid.

My rules for professional:
1. Hit the deadline.
2. With a quality product.
3.Be transparent. Keep communications open: respond quickly when asked; ask when you need to know; advise those relying on you when conditions arise; and never, ever "go dark."
4. Be courteous with everyone, from editors to fans.
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2006-09-30 14:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have a warped view of professionalism, insofar as my first career involved my qualifying for membership of a formal professional body established and regulated by law (namely the Royal Pharmaceutical Society).

So use of the term "profession" means something quite different to me. Put it another way: I've never heard of anyone being arrested and sent to prison for falsely claiming to be a professional science fiction writer, but if you falsely claim to be a pharmacist or a doctor or a lawyer that's what you're risking.

(And it always narks me off something rotten when someone starts plugging the term "professional" in front of something that clearly doesn't pertain to statutory bodies with oversight committees ...)

Having gotten that off my chest, I mostly agree with what everybody else is saying.

1. I write because I enjoy writing, but I'm also a professional writer because I write for a living.

2. A professional attitude involves fair dealing, giving value for money, prompt and efficient service, and either hitting your deadlines or re-negotiating them in advance of any slippage.

3. It also involves behaving politely, even to oafs. After all, it's a small field and you intend to be working in it for decades to come. The annoyingly nerdy fan you tell to piss off today could grow up to be an urbane, widely-admired Hugo winner in twenty years'time. Or they could be your next editor. Or worse still: your marketing manager.

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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2006-09-30 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>The annoyingly nerdy fan you tell to piss off today could grow up to be an urbane, widely-admired Hugo winner in twenty years'time.

Autopope is right. This did actually happen to someone I know - he was that nerdy fan, is now established writer. He tells the story against himself, to his great credit, however.
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Swan Tower: writing
User: swan_tower
Date: 2006-09-30 15:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing
Since others have already hit the specifics, and since anthropologists love to try and find underlying principles, I'll suggest this as an umbrella: professional behavior entails meeting certain standards of courtesy and reliability that facilitate a smooth working relationship.

The standards will vary depending on the situation; they might mean meeting obligations of public promotion or not, frex. But I think most of the things listed above fit somewhere under that umbrella.
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anghara
User: anghara
Date: 2006-09-30 16:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, that would cover it for me, too.
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2006-09-30 16:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In addition to what everyone else has said, I'd add the application of "professional" to one's attitude to the craft. My critique group doesn't require that its members be "pro writers" (in the usual fannish sense of "published in a professional venus") but it does require that they have a "professional attitude." This includes: writing with the intent of professional (non-subsidy, non-vanity) publication, understanding the needs of the market, critiquing and responding to critique in a professional (open-minded and non-judgemental) manner, completing and submitting manuscripts, and continuing to submit until the manuscript sells. Basically, we've set the filter to exclude those who only want to be able to say that they've written a novel (or whatever) and are content to let it sit in a drawer -- an attitude that puzzles me, but which I know some writers have.
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Swan Tower: writing
User: swan_tower
Date: 2006-09-30 21:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing
My own writers' group has, after its first death, resurrected itself as under the primary guideline that the people in it must be working toward an eventual goal of submitting and publishing their writing. We got tired of inconveniencing ourself (schedule-wise) for the people who weren't committed to begin with.
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