Independent Author’s Toolbag: Professionalism


Earlier today I made a mistake.  In one of the emails I sent, I attached the wrong file, and off it went.  No biggie, right?  Just a simple mistake?  No.  And I’ll tell you why.  Writing is a profession.  As with most professions, your reputation is essential.  Skill, yes, is vital, but professionalism is the difference between writing excellent stuff that no one ever sees and making those essential connections that lead to being successful.  Professionalism is defined as the competence or skill expected of a professional.  The key parts there are obviously competence and skill.  Writing is a skill set that all authors develop.  Some are born with a higher level while some of us have to seriously work at it.  Competence on the other hand, is more complex.  Competence means a lot of things.  It means behaving in a way that denotes professionalism.  It means following through on the things you say you’ll do.  It also means buckling down and writing when you would rather watch the Super Bowl, sleep, or even file your taxes.

Back to my screw-up.  I attached the wrong file, why is that such a big deal?  It’s the kind of screw up that people do often, so why should it matter?  Well, it matters for a variety of reasons.  Attention to detail is a vital necessity for authors.  It’s the difference between there, their, and they’re.  It’s writing a novel without changing the main character’s name midway through.  Another essential aspect of being a professional is not wasting someone else’s time.  The fellow I sent that wrong file to was basically doing me a favor, and I wasted his time when I hit send without checking.  Among a number of other reasons, one more in particular stands out: what does that say about the importance I place upon my own work, when I don’t stop to verify that I’ve completed it correctly?

So why does this frustrate me and what can you, dear reader, learn from my mistake?  Well, it frustrates me because I knew all of that and I made such a stupid mistake anyway.  After eight years in the US Army, I know the importance of professionalism.  I know to check a job is done right.  In a profession where a ‘simple’ mistake can cost lives, it is ingrained in me to act professional.  Yet somehow that lesson didn’t stick as well as I’d thought.  Granted, writing is somewhat less high risk, but to be certain, there is high value in doing things in a professional manner.  People want to read stuff from a professional, not some screw-up who happens to occasional write something worth reading.

What can you learn from this?  First off, think things through, stop to consider repercussions of your actions, especially in how you interact with your fellow writers.  Independent Authors are seldom so popular that they can afford to come across as unprofessional.  We are, as a rule, barely on the edge, some make a living, but a lot of us are just breaking even (or not even that).  Second, pay attention!  Most unprofessional actions are mistakes because, well, us writers tend to have our minds on something else.  Avoid those mistakes by putting your mind on the matter at hand.  You can resolve the plot or character interactions when you’re not trying to make a good impression with someone.  Last, if you do make a mistake, always try to follow through, make your apologies, try to correct it, and if you can’t… well, then I guess just suck it up and move on.

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