Practicing Professionalism: Some Author Do’s and Don’ts

The book business is a tough business. Authors like me may work for a year or more on a manuscript and, after it is finished, not be able to sell it. This brings us to the topic of professionalism. Can you pitch a book and remain professional? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot, as I try to market the two books I wrote last summer.

According to the dictionary, “professional” means you are competent, expert, or a consultant. “Professionalism” is defined as professional character, spirit, and methods. As I identify and follow marketing leads I try to be professional. Some days it is a challenge because I want the sale so much. Yet I try to be professional in my contacts with publishers.

Courtesy still counts in an electronic world. Many business transactions are conducted with cell phones, tweets, emails and blogs. That doesn’t mean we throw courtesy out the window.  Acquisitions editors are swamped with manuscripts and courtesy can make their days easier. One publisher referred me to the senior editor of another publishing company. I emailed her and received a reply two days later. Though her reply was not what I hoped to receive, I thanked the editor for her promptness and for getting back to me.

Proofreading is part of professionalism. Before you send an email, book query or proposal, you should proofread it carefully. This is hard for me because I wear bifocals and my eyes are sensitive to light. If you have similar problems, ask a family member or colleague to proofread your work. Katharine Sands discusses proofreading in her book, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye. Recommending proofreading may sound ridiculous, she points out, but it is critical. “I’m constantly surprised by the carelessness and breeziness of some letters and proposals I receive,” she comments.

Correct formatting shows your professionalism. The public library may have books about manuscript formatting. Electronic submissions are different, however. Moira Allen tells why in her article, “A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format,” posted on the Writing World website. Use a readable font, she advises, and avoid bold, underlining or italics. “Most email programs don’t translate these well,” she explains.

Following submission guidelines demonstrates professionalism. These guidelines are listed in the Literary Market Place, the Writer’s Market, and publishers’ websites. Michael Larsen’s book, How to Write a Book Proposal, is also helpful and I have used it often. Writing a proposal for my latest book took me a week. I let it “percolate” for a week and went back to it. Then I took the time to put the pages in protective sleeves and glue the cover design (which I paid for) on the cover of the folder.

Persistence factors into professionalism.  You need to be persistent in order to sell a book. But there is a huge difference between being persistent and being a pest. After I have queried a publisher I try to avoid re-contact, yet sometimes it is necessary. For example, the expert who was going to write the Foreword of my book is unable to do it and referred me to another expert. This is something a potential publisher needs to know.

I know professionalism works in my favor and that is why I work at it. Time and professionalism are on my side.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson http://www.harriethodgson.com

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 35+ years and is the author of 30 books. Her 26th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon. Centering Corporation has published several of her books, including “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life,” a companion journal with 100 writing prompts, “The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul,” and “appy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss”

Hodgson has two other new books, “101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey” and “Real Meals on 18 Wheels: A Guide to Healthy Living on the Highway,” Kathryn Clements, RD, co-author. Both books are available from Amazon. Please visit Harriet’s website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

By Harriet Hodgson

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