Usually I spend this space discussing the nuts and bolts of writing. I like to talk about craft. I prefer, in fact, to discuss and share things I’ve learned as it relates to becoming a better writer. (The surest way to getting published and finding success is to, well, be a good writer.)
But today, I want to talk about what it means to be a professional, why you should consider yourself a professional, and why you should be annoyed when anyone tries to treat you like you’re not.
Writing is a professional job.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Let me say that again: writing is a professional job. I do two kinds of professional writing: copywriting (for a variety of purposes, such as marketing initiatives, technical documentation, and website copy), and fiction writing. Both of those are professional-type jobs that require professionals to perform them correctly. (Many fiction writers start as amateurs, and that’s fine. But working with editors, delivering manuscripts on time, and listening to critique–that makes you a professional.)
Would you hire a guy with an iPhone off the street to photograph your wedding? Never! You’d hire a professional wedding photographer, because wedding photography is their specialty. You have at least a good chance that they’ll do it right, and that they’ll treat the job as a professional job: show up on time, organize shoots with the wedding party, edit the photographs, and deliver them in a timely manner. (You probably noticed my caveat, you have a good chance, because there are plenty of “professionals” out there who make excuses, deliver things late, and don’t do their job correctly. There’s no perfect formula. People like that still make me sad, though.)
Writing is no different. I know plenty of lovely, talented people who are not amazing writers. I don’t expect a wedding photographer to be a great writer, either. That’s not their specialty. That’s not the skill they’ve honed, labored over, perfected. In fact, a wedding photographer who really cares about their online presence could probably do with investing in a professional copywriter to provide fabulous, appealing content for their website, newsletter, and advertisements.
Why? Because a professional writer will get the job done right. The photographer gets more jobs by having good ads and content, because it makes them look professional, and it provides visitors with well-written, pertinent information. Hiring a professional to do a professional job is an investment in your business.
Professional work doesn’t come for free.
Writing is my livelihood. Like any other job–graphic design, photography, heck, even personal training–I expect to get paid for doing it well. That’s why it frustrates me endlessly to see things like:
“Submit your short story for our anthology! We won’t pay you, but it’ll be good exposure.”
NOPE. If my short story is good enough for your anthology, then you should be professional enough to pay me for it. If you’re not making any money on that anthology with which to pay the contributing writers, you’re doing it wrong.
“I wrote a quick blurb for this product myself, I’m just going to post it on the website now.”
Is that so? Have you ever written a product blurb before? Do you know the format it should have, and how to appeal to customers, and how to upsell product additions?
I know how to sell things with words. That’s my job. I spend every day honing my skills, keeping up with the industry, and researching the products I’m writing about, to deliver the best possible copy. I’m not a wedding photographer; the most I’ll ever do at a wedding is take a snapshot with my phone during the ceremony and put it up on my Facebook. I don’t walk around offering to professionally photograph people’s weddings, because I’ll probably not do a very good job, and I respect what wedding photographers do.
It’s not a bad idea to start your professional career by doing work for free, or for a lower hourly rate than more experienced professionals. But always protect yourself. Don’t respond to ads asking for work-for-trade or work-for-exposure, unless you are absolutely positive that whatever you will get out of it is worth it.
Just because we do creative work, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to get paid for it.
Protect your job–and all of our jobs: ask for fair compensation for your work. Sure, we writers love what we do, especially when it comes to writing short stories and novels and all those other great things.
But you deserve to get paid for doing a professional job.
Act like a professional.
Don’t be late. Don’t make excuses. Deliver on time. Set reasonable deadlines. Pay up when you’re supposed to, and expect to get paid.
Hire a professional to do professional work. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like one. Because you’re worth it.
(If you want to see more examples of the kind of thing to watch out for, check out All Art, No Pay, a blog that catalogs work-for-free Craigslist job postings. Warning: Some profanity.)