Why the Term ‘Professional’ Should Matter to Writers

writersI have just read Susan’s response to Michael Koslowski at GoodeReader, and I would like to offer another perspective for both readers and authors to consider. I will state first off that I have no particular axe to grind with either Michael or Susan; I have worked with Susan a few times during our respective tenures here at Teleread, and I read and enjoy Michael’s blog.

But I think that Susan’s plaintive ‘why does it matter?’ is a little disingenuous. It does matter. Let me give you an example as to why. We have a family in our school community who shares my ethnic background, and it’s one that is not particularly well-represented in our little community. Unfortunately for me, this family is a somewhat higher up on the whackadoodle extremist scale than I am, and there has been more than one occasion where I have had to listen to a co-worker gleefully relate the latest weirdo thing they said or did, and then gently explain to them afterward that for goodness sake, not all of us feel that way.

I hate doing that. I hate that some people are going to look at these people and make judgements about me just because they’ve never seen any other but us two to judge from. And I think this might be where Michael is coming from on the professionalism issue. If you’re the guy who is honing your craft, paying an editor, having a cover professionally done and doing all the right things to get yourself taken seriously, it must gall to have a prospective reader download one free sample from someone less careful than you, conclude that all self-published books are crapola and then go off to buy the latest Grisham. I can see how you might want to take that reader by the hand and, as it were, explain to them that not all of us feel that way.

The distinction between amateur and professional may be too subjective to draw with any guarantee of accuracy. But I do think that authors who do employ the marks of true professionalism and put out a product that meets higher standards—employment of an editor, for instance, or affiliation with a small press—should deserve to promote themselves as the professionals that they are. Of course, they can’t stop anyone else from calling themselves whatever they want to. But I don’t think it’s vain or selfish—or pointless—for them to try and carve that out into a distinction.

3 Comments on Why the Term ‘Professional’ Should Matter to Writers

  1. michael kozlowski // March 8, 2014 at 7:24 pm //

    I am glad you wrote on this. I just wanted to draw a line in the sand on what constitutes an author. Its a term batted around a bunch by people who have published one book, or 10 books. Everyone claiming to be an “author” does not make sense. We need to be able to quantify writers and professional authors. Anyone who does not earn their living solely from publishing is a writer.

  2. David Blevins // March 8, 2014 at 8:33 pm //

    Professional does “it” for money, Amateur doesn’t get paid, (except for a lot of athletes)

    And sorry, “does not earn their living solely from publishing is a writer” isn’t even close: TV & Movie rights may pay more than any royalty the “publishers’ deign to pay. Many writers still have a “day job”, e.g. Kathy Reichs. And “mostly” doesn’t work either: how about authors who penned only one or two great books.

    BTW why does any difference anyone may come up with really matter any hoo? There will always be the bottom feeders, ignore them.

  3. The only quality that you can control is your own and it’s important to remind authors that quality does matter and it impacts their brand (name, self publishing name). There is an ISO 9000 quality standard for manufacturing where you have to certify that you have the processes in place to meet the standard. It would be possible create something like that for authors but it’s too much overhead to manage and the cost/benefit ratio wouldn’t be there. Trying to build up a brand like “author” and pretend that it has some quality association to it is pointless. I recall that you live in Toronto so you can understand how difficult it is to maintain a quality association to a brand like “mayor”. (I know cheap shot)

    Authors need to focus on what they can control (their own quality) and stop worrying about things they can’t control (the quality of their peers).

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