Against Professionalism

Behaving in a professional manner, for writers, is really quite easy. Professional behavior basically means writing publishable work, meeting deadlines, not plagiarizing, and not libeling anyone with one’s work. The problem with discussions of professional behavior is that this brief list really is pretty much it, and if one is not yet writing publishable work then none of the rest matters. Well, that’s no way to become a publishing guru, or to sell aspiring writers all sorts of goods and services! And so was born “professionalism” which is running especially rampant in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

Professionalism is a complex of supposedly mandatory and proscribed behaviors that makes a writer “professional” regardless of their ability to write interesting material. Recently, at a science fiction convention I met a former student of mine, and he was very concerned about…his blog. Which he does not have. He was told, however, that today professional writers must all blog, but that these blogs must not offer up controversial political opinions, or negative reviews of popular books, or “ruffle feathers.” Everything must be “politically correct” he believed—to use that famously meaningless term I try so hard to get my students to stop using. I’d told the class Ronald Sukenick’s famous dictum, Use your imagination, or someone else will use it for you over and over.  Maybe one day it’ll stick. So, what to blog about? he wondered. What does a professional blog look like, and how does it lead to publishing deals? I recommended that he concentrate on finishing his book first, and making sure it was as good as it could be.
Continue reading

When Publishers Do Bad Things

It doesn’t happen that often, thankfully, but sometimes publishers do bad things, things that go beyond issues of incompetence or lack of organization. Usually these “bad things” have to do with non-payment of royalties or advances, the cancellation of books for specious reasons, and/or poor or abusive treatment of the author during the editorial or publishing process. (Granted, repeated cancellation of books may just indicate poor initial decision-making on the part of a publisher, but is still an important factor when considering what publisher to go with–assuming you have a choice.)

What are usually not valid excuses for bad behavior?

—Blaming sudden growth for non-payment of monies because of supposed ma-and-pop corner store accounting practices. Most all publishers, large and small, deal with distributors and wholesalers who keep records of books sold. It would be unlikely that any publisher would not have a fairly good idea of book sales for an individual title, no matter how busy they are. Publishers have to communicate with the entities that help them sell their books in order to keep publishing. This requires them to stay in the loop.

—Suggesting communication issues as a generic catch-all reason that absolves particular individuals of responsibility, especially in cases where it is quite clear that those who have been ill-served have been attempting to communicate and simply have been ignored. In this case, the excuse is simply an effort to stave off negative publicity.

—Putting the onus on the individual writers published by the publisher to come to them with any issues or problems related to non-payment.
This suggests a less than proactive approach on the publisher’s part and may simply be a delaying tactic.

Always remember that by the time individual writers are willing to say bad things about a particular publisher, this is usually just the tip of the iceberg, to use a cliche. Very few writers feel comfortable bad-mouthing their publisher, for fear of being seen as difficult. In cases where several writers have spoken out, you can almost always guarantee that many of those who haven’t spoken out also have issues with the publisher.

When considering a publisher, be sure to check with a sampling of writers published by that publisher, to get a sense of how consistent, honest, and fair the publisher is in dealing with writers. From a writer’s point of view, a publisher is only as good as the average experience that can be expected in dealing with them. Every publisher will have highs and lows depending on personalities and issues beyond anyone’s control.

Also remember that indie presses in particular have their eccentricities, and that each press has its strengths and its weaknesses. This is not the same thing as “bad behavior”–these are simply the quirks writers have to deal with, just as the publisher and acquiring editor are agreeing to put up with your quirks, in a sense, and you will have to decide which quirks you don’t mind and which make a publisher unattractive to you.

Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [Part III]

Today is my last visit to BookLife and I want to thank Jeff Vandermeer again for asking me to contribute this week. It’s been fun parsing thoughts about the Olympics through the lens of the writing life and I appreciate all the support and comments I’ve received. Remember, I can be found at Writer’s Rainbow at any given moment; this weekend I’ll be adding the March monthly dispatch, an introductory discussion into the three basic building blocks of a writing platform, so drop by sometime, check it out, and leave a comment! I wish all of BookLife’s readers a solid 2010 filled with inspiration and prosperity. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming… I left my favorite observations for last. I live in the Puget Sound area, so the fact that I’m a huge fan of Apolo Ohno should come as no surprise. I do appreciate a golden child whenever he or she does come along (complete with awesome attitude), so I must also confess a fondness for snowboarder Shawn White. How can we not live in awe of these two Olympians? Here is what I took away from each of them over the last couple of weeks. Continue reading

Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [series Part Two]

On Monday, I brought up some thoughts inspired by 10 days spent watching the recent winter Olympics in Vancouver on TV. Here are two more lessons I culled which offer relevance and perspective for writers:

Expect to earn your medals every time.

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis kinda blew it in Torino. She hotdogged her way to a second place in women’s snowboard cross when she had the gold medal practically around her neck on that last slope.

Jacobellis has had to live that down for the last 4 years and went to Vancouver hoping to redeem herself. It didn’t quite happen: this year, Continue reading