Four Rules of Conduct for Professional Writers

When you sold your first book, you became a professional writer, a participant in the business of publishing. That means you are not in this alone anymore.

You’ve become one of a team that includes you, your editor(s), and your publisher. Critique partners, all the information you got from writers’ conferences, books about writing—none of it matters as much as the people on your team. You’ve signed a contract. They own part of your work and have a vested interest in making it the best that it can be.

Imagine yourself sitting with your team around a conference table. Here are four rules of conduct for a professional writer:

1. Be confident, but not overconfident. Hold onto confidence in your writing ability, but don’t be so overconfident that you bristle and balk at constructive criticism. More than a few authors have been tagged by editors as “difficult to work with” because of how they react to criticism.

2. Limit how much you rely on critique partners. When you sold your first book it was like getting a pilot’s license. You no longer need someone in the co-pilot’s seat boosting your confidence. You build confidence by having confidence in your own ability.

Imagine Stephen King sitting at the conference table with his editor and publisher. The editor offers suggestions to improve a chapter, and King says,” But, when I shared that chapter with my critique group, they really liked it!”

If you run into a big roadblock with a WIP, then consult a trusted partner for advice, but if you share just to boost your confidence, think before you act.

Now that you are published, there is another good reason to limit sharing your WIP with others: Every other author is your competitor in the business of publishing. Guard your ideas. This is especially important if you do work-for-hire writing and have confidentiality agreements with your publisher.

3. Trust your team. You have confidence in your writing, and now you should have confidence in the abilities of your editor and publisher. They are experienced professionals. Your publisher knows how to market your book and your editor understands the publisher’s vision. Trust an editor’s changes unless you strongly disagree. A good editor sees things in your writing that you don’t. He/she knows how to tweak your writing to make it even better. Trust your team. Learn from them not only how to become a better writer, but also about the business of publishing.

mqdefault4. Stop Whining, Complaining, and Over-Reacting! That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But it is so important that it requires a strong statement and an exclamation point. What sort of reputation do you want as a professional? It matters how you react to criticism, frustration, tight deadlines, and other roadblocks in the process of getting your book into print. No one enjoys listening to someone whine and complain. Whether it’s with your team or elsewhere, think before you act, take a deep breath, calm down, and have confidence that “this too shall pass.”

Imagine again. Stephen King is mentoring a student, and he’s brought the student with him to a meeting with his editor and publisher. At the meeting, the editor asks King to do some extensive rewriting on a very tight deadline. After the meeting, King unloads all his frustration on his student: “I’m so upset that I feel sick. I don’t know how I’m going to get this all done on time. The editor called me yesterday, and she said, . . . .”

Remember: others are watching you, learning from you, and, yes, judging how you react as a professional author. 

You will continue learning for as long as you write,
but you aren’t an amateur anymore.
You’ve sold your first book.
It’s time now to think before you react,
and then act like a professional.


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1 Comment

Filed under The Business of Writing, working with editors

One response to “Four Rules of Conduct for Professional Writers

  1. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I wish I had read this a few years ago.


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