“Professional”. I have… feelings about this word.
So often when I see it bandied about – particularly as it pertains to the publishing industry – it seems to have most or all to do with appearances. Writers are told to look professional, as if professionalism were an aesthetic. That rubs me wrong, because it sounds so superficial and snotty. Look like what the infamous They have decided counts as professional, or you’re assumed to be lesser than.
I’ve always understood professionalism to be more a matter of competence, and of attitude. My “professional” means punctuality and promises kept. My “like a pro” evokes skill and confidence. In my world, the pros are the ones who know what they’re doing. …Or the ones who fake it like whoa.
You want professionalism in publishing? Treat it like a profession. Sure, that can in part mean showing up in your power suit – your fancy book cover, your elite-approved font, your slick BigShotDomain.com with the killer coding. I’m not knocking those things. No shame in putting your prettiest face forward. That is, after all, exactly why I ran that GoFundMe campaign: To pay the photography and design professionals to make my next Outlaws of Avalon novel looks its beautiful best. But that stuff’s hardly number one on the list of “must do”s, if it belongs on the list at all.
Writing’s never struck me as a power-suited position. Dressing for the job I want involves an assortment of hoodies. And possibly a wizard’s robe. …or a Dark Lord’s.
You want to come off as a professional writer? To me, that’s like math homework: Show me your work.
I’d rather not see a slapdash cover, an illegible font, and a messy web presence not because it says “automatic amateur”, but because it makes me question how much time and care you put into it. I want you to demonstrate that you take your work seriously, whether or not you’ve yet come to the realization that neither you nor any of the rest of us have a clear clue what we’re doing. More than the visual itself, that means a sure command of language. That means engaging with your peers and your public with basic levels of courtesy. That means giving your writing career the best you’ve got.
And personal bests will vary – from person to person, and from Past You to Present You to Future You. Some people will like some bests more than others. That’s individual opinion, which everyone’s got a right to. That’s subjectivity, which for better or worse is the name of the game, in the arts. That’s why I don’t want you telling me or anyone else what their work has to look like to count as professional. Go for what you’re going for, and give it your 120 percent.