Trying to be Professional

How professional are you? What impression do you make with potential editors, clients and other writers?

Last year I joined up with a well known online community (Note: When I originally wrote this I named the site. I decided not to name them in the newsletter thanks to advice from subscribers to my InkSplatters list) to write a regular column about the Internet. It took almost a year for my application to be accepted. This was mostly due to it being misplaced or forgotten. I’m still not sure what happened. Eventually, I was accepted to write the column. The editor wanted me to be especially careful with grammar and punctuation. She wanted each column to be professional.

When I wanted to go into the site and update the column, add more links and all the other stuff you do when you write a column for a website, I couldn’t access anything. I had no editor screen. I emailed asking for help. She replied that I must be doing something wrong and gave me a list of instructions. However, I still couldn’t get to any editor screen. It just wasn’t there. I emailed with a few other people at the site about the problem but got no further. Months go by and a new editor starts to head up the Internet/ Computer section of the site. He writes to ask if I’m interested in doing the column or have I forgotten it. To make a long story short, you can still see my dead end column up at that site. The spammers are making use of it.

The point to this is not bad mouthing anyone or any site, it’s showing how people can be unprofessional at all levels. You don’t have to be some newbie writer to be unprofessional. But, you should watch for it and do your best to look like you know what you’re doing and you know how to do it well.

One way to be professional is organization. If you have a few balls in the air make sure you know where they are, which one you need to catch next and when the next one is ready to be tossed. Don’t lose track of important details. I’m not good at this myself. But you can always improve. Just cause you messed up one day doesn’t mean you can’t do better the next day. We’re human and adaptable for a reason.

Another way to be professional is to learn, find out what the expected standards are and use them. Write a query letter without irrelevant personal comments. Save chit chat for friends and people who are interested in what you have to write. Don’t forget or be too timid to include your terms, your contract, along with the ideas you are submitting. Make it clear writing isn’t some hobby you do without pay. It’s more professional to present yourself as a professional, showing what you can offer and what you expect back for your work.

Are there ways you could be more professional? Read some of your past business correspondence and see how you could improve. Did you find any typos? Did you chit chat a bit too much? Was your proposal specific enough? Know what you need to fix so you can write a better query next time. Also, if you get into the habit of being professional it becomes easier and it will leak out into all the aspects of your writing career. One other plus, the more professional you are the more you will feel like a writer and less like someone trying to be a writer.

Create Yourself in Your Own Image

We know about presenting a good, professional image and using effective body language. If you work in fiction you’ve likely used body language, style and first impressions to create a character. But, do you present a good image of yourself?

If you are in a professional situation do you know how to appear professional and confident. Do you look at people when you speak to them? If you look at someone’s eyes while they speak they will feel you’re really listening. Don’t sit or stand with your body scrunched or folded up. Good posture counts. Also, don’t sprawl and have people tripping over you, but – don’t be afraid to take up some space. When sitting, standing or walking don’t appear small and intimidated, talk with your hands a little, rest your arm on the arm of the chair.

Is your conversation full of slang, do you tend to use any bad language (anything you wouldn’t say in front of a 4 year old)? Coach yourself to speak clearly and avoid pauses with “ummm” and related phrases. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, sounding nervous, stop. Take a breath, a sip of water and remember you’re talking to a fellow human being not a rabid skunk, relax.

Can you carry a conversation, do you have some prepared chit chat? Avoid talking about the weather, politics or religion, come up with something a bit more interesting and uniquely you. If you have hobbies try working them in. Don’t go overboard talking about yourself, just enough to break the ice is fine. Ask questions about their own interests to pull them into the conversation. You don’t have to be full of yourself, you don’t even have to be genuinely confident, but you should appear to know what you’re doing and be at ease.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Do you have at least one ‘interview suit’? If so, do you feel confident when wearing it? If you don’t go shopping for something that flatters you and makes you feel good when you have it on. It should be comfortable to wear so you aren’t distracted by a tight jacket, a colour that makes you feel mousy or any other of a hundred problems that can come up. Yes, you want to be dressy but you don’t want to feel unnatural or inelegant. If your style of dress is casual try finding something casual in a dressy fabric. Or something dressy, like a tailored suit, in a casual fabric.

Of course, you are groomed, have brushed hair and teeth, lathered up (recently) in general. Make sure your fingernails are clean. Give yourself a check over just before the get together. Anything stuck in your teeth? Did that garlic at lunch stay with you? Any dirt, strings, or very tiny aliens, hanging from your clothes?

Writers already have a small image problem. People tend to assume writers slack off and have it easy. We work at home, may not even get dressed or out of bed all day. We don’t work at a ‘real’ job. Don’t assume another writer or editor or publisher will know better. Dress for success. Create the image you want people to have and then be there.