February 15, 2016

Commandment #4: Be Professional

Writers, if you can't present yourself as the kind of person people want to work with, you can't expect them to be interested in representing you. Your writing itself may be great, but if you're rude or flat-out insulting, nobody will want to work with you (whether beta readers, agents, editors, etc.).

Let me tell you a story.

Many years ago, I attended a writers' and editors' retreat for Circlet Press, during which we held a party for anyone associated with the press to join. This was a great social networking opportunity—face-to-face networking, to be specific, which is still an incredibly important aspect of getting your name out there and getting others interested in you. At this party, I was schmoozing with various people when a man looked at my name tag and said, with a sneer, "Oh, you're one of the editors here? I bet you're one of the editors who rejected me."

How this man thought this was an appropriate way to approach me I will never know. Both as an editor and a writer, I understand the pain of rejection and the inclination to take it personally. From an editor's perspective, I can assure you that a critique or rejection is never a personal attack, though sometimes it might feel like it from a writer's perspective. It's okay to feel resentful, or angry, or hurt—in private—but it is NOT okay to express those feelings in public, or on the internet, or to the person you think might have been your editor. (For more on this, see Anya's post on Finding Your Coping Mechanism.)

For the record, this man had never submitted anything to me. Regardless, starting off a conversation with an editor (an editor you might be submitting your stories to in the future, no less!) with a bad attitude and an accusatory tone is NOT going to incline them to think well of you.

I assured this man that if his story had been rejected, it certainly wasn't meant to be a personal attack; his story may have been amazing, for instance, and might have just not fit with the theme of the anthology. But (speaking of personal attacks) he went on to make a snide remark, saying that he was writing before I was even born—the implication being that what did I know, he was older and thus more knowledgeable about my job than I was. So I bit my tongue, made an excuse, and left the room.

The need to be professional seems obvious to me, but, judging from this man's behavior, it isn't. Here's the thing about social networking, no matter what field you're in, whether you're interacting in person or online: every word you say, every smile or sarcastic or rude remark, is representing not only you but also your work. It's true that some famous writers are rude in real life, but I guarantee you that those people, when they were starting out and first trying to impress editors and agents, turned up the charm and kept their snide comments to themselves.

Don't forget that for every bridge you burn, that bridge has told one, five, or ten other bridges to avoid you, too. The publishing industry is a small place; if you don't treat others with respect, don't expect them to treat your work any better.


Have you ever had to deal with someone acting unprofessionally? Tell us in the comments!

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