Tuesday, 24 September 2013

If You Don’t Know What Professional Means…

Look it up!

If you are a writer putting a book out there, or an editor offering editing services to writers, then you are purporting to be a professional. I say ‘purporting’, because that’s the expectation, but not always the reality.

If you are putting yourself out there as a professional, then you should be holding yourself to a professional standard. There are some obvious issues that always get bandied around in these discussions, including:

  • Having a book cover that doesn’t look like it fell off the back of a truck;
  • Ensuring the book has been edited to within an inch of its life;
  • Making sure the book has been thoroughly proofread;
  • Ensuring the book is properly formatted, particularly ebooks, where all sorts of formatting pitfalls await; and
  • Having a professional website (for writers and editors).

There are, however, two issues that are less discussed:

  • The way you comport yourself – this means behaving with a certain level of dignity in the public sphere. It doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with someone, but for god’s sake, don’t get into flame wars with trolls; and
  • Conflicts of interest.

Public Behaviour
This means don’t engage with someone regarding a review they wrote of your book, or a book that you edited. Don’t attack them. Don’t mass your fans to attack them. Don’t call them a troll. And if any of this happens completely independently of you, demand that your fans stop. If it’s your editor who attacks a reviewer, then rein them in!

Part of being professional means that you accept that the work you wrote, or edited, is out there in the public eye. You can’t stop people reviewing it. You can’t stop people giving it bad reviews. Just accept them with good grace, learn from any valid criticism that may be contained therein, and move on. Your book should have been through so many beta readers, editors and proofreaders that your skin should be thicker than dragonhide. If it hasn’t, then there’s every chance you deserved those bad reviews. 

There may be rare occasions where it is appropriate to address someone’s concern but do it in private, and with due courtesy and grace. Never engage in a shit-throwing contest in a public forum.

Conflicts of Interest
What are they, and what should you do about them?

A conflict of interest is where you have some personal stake that influences your judgement or assessment of something in a way that is contrary to the making of a proper assessment or judgement.  In the writing arena, this usually relates to reviews. If you write a review, and something influences the way you review that book other than the actual merits of the book, then you probably have a conflict. 

 Some conflicts should be avoided all together, and others need to be managed. 

Here are some examples of conflicts of interest:

  • Writing a review on a book you were paid to edit – because you’ve been paid, you are predisposed to give it a good review. Impartiality is difficult (or impossible). I would suggest that you never do this;
  • Writing a review for money – even if you aren’t guaranteeing a particular outcome (which is just dishonest, misleading, and potentially fraudulent) again the fact of payment may influence you to write a more favourable review than you would have if you weren’t paid. This one can usually be managed by disclosing the payment (prominently) so then the reader can assess the review in light of knowing that a payment has been made. Legally speaking, this practice may not be allowed at all in some jurisdictions. If you are posting the review on a site other than your own, you should check the allowable practices;
  • Review for review arrangements – as bad or worse than being paid for a review. Writers have been known to hold reviews hostage until they get a good review for their own book, and even honest writers may be motivated to write a good review for someone else to avoid receiving an undeserved bad review of their own book. Should be handled with care;
  • Sponsored blog posts – if someone pays you to write a blog, you may be inclined to say nice things about them just because they are paying you. Like a paid review, the fact of payment should be disclosed. Check any applicable legal requirements in your jurisdiction;
  • Reviewing the book of a friend or family member – you are unlikely to be completely honest for fear of hurting the writer’s feelings;

You might look at these and think there’s not necessarily a conflict. For example, an editor might be capable of being honest about a book they edited. This is true, but:

  • Even if the editor can be honest, there is still a perception of a conflict. A perceived conflict is just as bad as an actual conflict – remember, perception is reality.
  • An editor might not give a 5 star review, but they might give 3 stars, instead of the 2 they really think it deserves, because they don’t want to upset their client, or because they hope to get repeat business from that client.

If you aspire to be a professional, then you have to think about conflicts. 

What sorts of unprofessional behaviour have you seen from writers? Can you think of more examples of conflicts?


Justin Bog said...

I love the writing life, warts and all, and bad reviews are part of the game, and come from all sorts of people. I do comment on Goodreads to anyone who takes the time to read my book---and I thank them, for good or bad, for taking the time to read. It's a huge commitment for any reader---even if they received the book for free! I wouldn't ever get into a flame war with a reviewer; a reviewer's opinion, even the negative ones, are interesting, and, are just as valid as the positive reviewer's opinion. I don't respond on Amazon: too scary (hehe), but Amazon now runs Goodreads (I've heard they have just instituted new "anti-bullying" policies there). Most book reviews are really book recommendations, that's what I call what I write. I want to recommend good books to readers. I don't write negative reviews since there are already so many who have that ground covered. If someone doesn't like a book, any book, even mine, they have every right to say so. It's my job to write something better, something that will entertain readers. I love what I write, first and foremost, and maybe there will be one other reader who also loves it. It's the risk any creative artist, writer, musician, painter, dancer, takes in putting original work out there to be criticized. Best of luck to all who toil away.

Tom Stronach said...

Wise words that more people should read and not just on twitter or publishing, but in life and especially in the work place. All to often people see a critique as a personal attack on them and respond by attacking the individual. I recall not so long ago Alexandra Sokoloff did a blog post on the Tom Cruise/ Jack Reacher debate (just after it was announced the deal was done). Reacher fans, who were already incensed turned on her like a baying crowd at a public execution of old, ridiculous

A wee wise old head on your young shoulders Missy .....

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Indeed they are. Any writer has to expect bad reviews, and accept that as a reality.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Tom, and you're right, this is for all walks of life. I've had junior employees who couldn't handle me correcting them - but that's my job, and how will they get better if I don't?

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