16 Lessons (2 of 4)

5)    Professional is as professional does.

Some people define “professional” solely in monetary terms.  A professional is someone who makes a financial living from his or her work.  And I agree with that assessment (to a degree), but I find that definition too restrictive.  Professionalism is about more than money.  Are college athletes less professional because they’re not being paid?  Was Stephen King somehow more professional the day after he sold Carrie than the day before?  No, of course not.  Getting paid for your work is important, yes, but more so is the manner in which you conduct yourself.  More than anything else, professionalism is about attitude.  I’ve seen bestselling “professionals” act dismissively toward their fans or be derisive of fellow authors.  I’ve witnessed “professionals” make fools of themselves at writing seminars and booksignings (alcohol is often a culpable culprit on these occasions).

6)    Editors do remarkably little editing.

This one came as a shock.  The very profession conjures a specific vision in my mind:  a grizzled gentleman with a red pencil tucked behind one ear, his sleeves rolled up as he tackles a mountainous stack of manuscripts on his desk — Farnsworth Wright or Maxwell Perkins incarnate.  The truth is that many of those editorial responsibilities have been turfed to lower-level publishing employees, line editors and proofreaders mostly.  They are the ones who fix grammar and point out inconsistencies, while “acquisitions directors” (executive editors) focus on a book’s developmental issues.  I’m sure some editors remain in the Perkins mold; unfortunately, they’re the exception rather than the rule.

7)    You don’t pick your readers — they pick you.

Don’t try to predict who will enjoy your work; you’ll guess wrong as often as you get it right.  See that kid loitering outside the public library, the one in the Godzilla t-shirt?  He may have zero interest in reading your horror novel.  But that blue-haired old woman sitting on the bench beside him is potentially your biggest fan.  I know a certain nonagenarian who’s a Richard Laymon fanatic.  She loves his novels (in all their gory glory) and raves about them.  Whodathunkit?  If you don’t want readers judging a book by its cover, then you should extend the same courtesy and never prejudge them.

8)    Every project presents a unique set of challenges.

I’m told every pregnancy is different.  I’ll never experience that firsthand, so writing a novel is the closest I get to that gestation process.  You spend all that time, energy and hard work (about nine months’ worth) to bring a manuscript into being, then you send it out into the world . . . where some asshole anonymously trashes it on Amazon.  Whatever.

For some books the challenge comes in the plotting or research stage.  This is especially true of period pieces.  Others may be a bitch to write, the rough draft taking a seeming eternity to complete.  Or perhaps trouble befalls you during the rewriting phase.  However it works out, rarely does a project go smoothly from plotting to publication.  Just ride out the bumps and know that it gets better.

Check back throughout the week as I post more lessons.

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