The Importance of Professionalism

On Sunday at 10AM Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta presented a program called Five (5) Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me in the Writers’ Track.

Moesta opened the program by noting that an author’s interaction with other people is more important than talent in getting work. “Talent might get you job one,” she said, “but it won’t get you job two.” The gist of the program was that a professional writer behaves like a professional. Everything else she and Anderson discussed fits under that heading.

In other words, a writer should never be a jerk, ever, in any forum, including online ones. Writing is a community, and word spreads. Writers, editors, and publishers talk to each other. Authors should treat others as they would like to be treated.

Anderson shared some of his experiences editing anthologies. He mentioned that his and Moesta’s publishing company publishes anthologies from time to time. These anthologies get many submissions because they pay. The most recent one, Merciless Mermaids, which is open at the time of this writing, has received over 600 submissions. On the spreadsheet of submissions, Anderson marks authors who are professionals and have established that they’re easy to work with. He does this because the biggest problem in putting together anthologies is dealing with authors. If someone is “a pain in the butt” once, he doesn’t want to work with that person again.

Moesta noted that the Dragon Con rules start with, “Don’t be a jerk.” She added that authors should dress, speak, and behave as professionals. Creating a consistent look, like Neil Gaiman’s fondness for black clothes and aviator sunglasses or Jonathan Maberry’s Hawaiian shirts, is a form of branding. Authors don’t need to emulate a particular look but should create their own. They should also be sure their clothes are comfortable.

Other recommendations included observing basic hygiene and respecting people’s space. Moesta added that a professional image doesn’t include lots of cuss words and does make sense grammatically.

Picking up on the grammar theme, Anderson pointed out that query letters should not be full of bad grammar or insults (or emojis). A query letter is a first impression, and an inarticulate one will be eliminated.

Anderson also stressed the importance of meeting deadlines and doing so with material that meets editorial expectations. Hs shared a story about editing an anthology for a major publisher and having it turn into a headache. One story was almost four months late and twice as long as expected. This caused headaches for him as the editor and for the publisher, who had already printed cover flats and formatted the spine to fit a certain length, and ate into the budget. He stressed that the repercussions of sending a story that was months late and much too long didn’t affect only the writer but rippled through. People who are unreliable, he said, don’t get other jobs.

On another anthology, which was supposed to be humorous horror, he received a submission that was very violent and not funny at all. The author later admitted to not having anything funny and to have submitted the story anyway because it was the only one they had. The submission had wasted his time as editor.

Other advice included not whining, especially over rejections, which are part of the writer’s job. They happen to everyone. Begrudging another author’s success also isn’t professional. No writer’s success is a threat to any other’s. Anderson noted the Harry Potter series didn’t hurt the YA market but instead brought in adult readers who’ve continued to read YA. The Star Wars books have a huge chunk of bookstores’ science fiction sections, but they also tripled the size of the section. Brandon Sanderson’s recent multimillion-dollar Kickstarter “blew open” the site and made doing a Kickstarter to raise funds respectable. Sanderson then turned around and supported all the writers on Kickstarter.

Moesta pointed out that professionals support each other. They don’t make enemies or start feuds. Anderson also recommended not posting about politics on social media, noting that “flaming rants” make an impression of being a jerk, and that not posting was doubly important regarding guns and elections. He also added that “buy my book” should be about one post in eight, not a constant stream. Moesta agreed, adding that it’s important to be kind to everyone. Everyone is a potential fan, and writers never know who might be helpful with research or recommendations.

Anderson added that the two things writers must always be certain to handle correctly are horses and guns. He closed the program with the advice, “Always do your best. Don’t phone it in.”

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.