A common problem many writers have is being unable to see themselves as professionals. I have had the pleasure of speaking with quite a few authors, both traditionally published and self-published. The problem is more common in self-published authors, but is prevalent in traditionally published authors as well. Regardless of the amount of books they have sold, they still tend to see themselves as just someone who wants to be a writer.
The problem is that the new world of publishing has everyone scrambling to re-establish a standard, especially publishing houses. Authors no longer need to go through a long process of publishing to make their work available to the public. Publishing houses don’t have control over what is released into mainstream culture. A lot of scholars are even re-evaluating the meaning of textuality (if you’re interested in that subject, I recommend Radiant Textuality by Jerome McGann. He can be a little full of himself at times, but he brings up a lot of really valid points). So what does this have to do with authors not viewing themselves as professionals?
It’s the lack of validation by a third party. Many self-published authors were raised in the traditional-publishing world and have wanted to be authors for a long time. They have spent their lives understanding that there is this locked gate into the publishing world and they keys are held by acquisitions editors who will throw out your piece if there is a spelling error in the first few paragraphs, if they read it at all. So then self-publishing comes along, and suddenly being published is relatively simple. A lot of work still needs to be done to make a professional looking book, but it can be done, usually by one person. And so many writers who are sick of dealing with the traditional publishing field, (common knowledge: being rejected by a publisher doesn’t mean you are a bad writer) decide to publish their work on their own.
When a self-published book is made available, there is no gate. No barrier. This means that a lot of great work can be published. Also means a lot of terrible work can be published. The point is that now, authors (almost all of whom are self-conscious about their writing) have no validation of their text. Unbiased reviews can be difficult to get. The same goes for traditionally published authors of small presses, who feel they may be less “legitimate” than the big publishing houses. Not seeing yourself as accomplished or as a professional can be discouraging, it can even cause you to stop writing.
You’re a Professional.
Done. Simple. No gimmicks. You are very much so a professional. It has nothing to do with the medium of publishing, in fact it has pretty much nothing to do with being published at all. Being a professional is a mindset. If you work in an office, you know there is someone who’s greatest strength is advertising causal Friday. Is that person capable of more? Absolutely. Do they do their work? Maybe, maybe not. Their hair is probably messy, their desk unorganized, shirt only tucked in when the boss is around, etc. That person is not a professional. Being a professional is about taking your work seriously, it is about holding yourself and your work to a higher standard. It is all about mentality. Do you want to be a professional writer? Take it seriously. Take pride in your craft, make writing your job. I am not saying quit your 9-5, money is a necessity. But when you think of yourself, are you a sales representative or a writer?
We aren’t talking about roles like being a parent, a friend, or a mentor. Because in my opinion those go right along with being a writer, they are roles that define you. Being a professional means that your role defines you. I know fathers who are not fathers. They do not let their responsibilities change other aspects of their life. They are not professionals, because a professionals work is obvious in everything they do.
What You Can Do
You can take yourself seriously, you deserve it don’t you? You have worked hard on that manuscript or that screenplay. That book of poetry didn’t write itself. You need to make the conscious decision that you are a professional. Schedule some time to write, make it a job. Give your work quality checks. Focus on your craft. Improve as a writer. Have pride in your work. Get involved with your audience, get some feedback, and think of yourself as a writer.