You are not special. If nothing else, this is the takeaway. You are not special. I’m not saying you don’t matter as a person or even that your book isn’t any good. Jesus Christ, stop crying… this is the tough love we all need. Lots of folks have written books. Lots of folks have talent. These things are neither rare nor unique. I’ve written books and I promise you I’m loads happier knowing how unspecial I am.
All that is to say that as writers, we need to get over ourselves. Because you know what will serve you better and longer in this biz than any amount of specialness? Professionalism, that’s what.
“But Lola?” you might ask. “Why should I listen to you?”
And the answer is that you probably shouldn’t, but here are a few reasons why you might want to.
- Writing professionally for 10yrs with 4 published books
- Teaching/Editing professionally for 7 years
- Bookseller for 7yrs
- Publisher for 4yrs
- Wrote a college admission essay for a kid. A freelance gig that, while ethically dubious, got him into Cornell and got me $1000USD
See? Aren’t I special? The answer is no. Always no. But am I qualified to speak to the fundamentals of professional competence as a writer? You bet your sweet ass.
“Cool story, Lola. But maybe you could arrive at your point sometime before 2023?”
Right, I’m getting to it.
While my tentacles bristle at anything deemed to be a rule, I really like the idea of blasting MY rules into stone, so here they are.
Lola Silkysocks’ 10 Commandments of the Professional Writer
- Though shalt read all information and guidelines provided by the folks you hope to work with, be they publishers/agents/editors/reviewers/booksellers. Trust me, we know if you haven’t read the material and it displeases us.
- Thou shalt acquire basic computer literacy. “I’m not good at computers” will not fly. Get good at them. And trust me, if you have the wherewithal to go on Facebook and spread vaccine misinformation, you can email a high-res image file of your front cover.
- Thou shalt not talk shit about rejections on social media, even if they’re anonymized. Rejection is not fun for anyone, but it is part of the job. So be cool.
- Thou shalt accept critique gracefully. Once your work is out there, people get to have thoughts about it. Any thoughts at all. My advice? Stay off Goodreads.
- Thou shalt not hassle people for reviews. I get it, algorithms and all that. You can ask politely, but if someone bought your book, they’re already supporting you, so don’t be a dick about it.
- Thou shalt read. I’ve said this before, at length, and with a lot of profanity. But read, or listen, to a fucking book once in a while. I’m quite serious. We all have ADHD and dyslexia, but find a way. Reading is essential professional development for a writer.
- Thou shalt support others. Locally and virtually. Go to literary events, tweet up your fellow inkslingers, spend some money at an indie bookstore because they are a vital part of your cultural community.
- Thou shalt learn to compose a clear, concise, and pleasant email. It AMAZES me, ASTONISHES me, and has me UTTERLY SHITTING MY BRAIN how many grown-ass adults don’t know how to communicate professionally by email. I could write a whole detonation about this. I still might.
- Thou shalt meet thy deadlines. Yes, life happens and we’re all doughy flawed humans blah blah blah. But deadlines aren’t put in place for funsies. As the name would suggest, projects live and die on the basis of deadlines, so the second you’re aware that a deadline is in peril, you communicate that shit.
- Thou shalt cultivate the ability to speak in public. Don’t give me that look. I get it. Extroverts suck so why would you want to be one? But this is something you must be able to do. A professional writer gives readings, answers questions, and has the capacity to exist in front of a crowd without fainting. I’m not asking you to change your fundamental nature, just like…suspend it for half an hour. Do what you have to do to make it happen. Don’t torture your audience by making them sweat through your anxiety attack.
Don’t be overwhelmed, this is good news! These commandments require no talent at all and will ensure you’re putting your best foot forward in a business that turns entirely on first impressions. Maybe some writers are special. For sure some are lucky. But whatever pacts they’ve made with their devils, the fact remains that nothing will shut a door in your face faster than behaving like a boob. You want to be a pro? Then goddamn well act like one.