Have you ever had one of those days when you look around and wonder if the world has gone mad or if it’s just you? That’s sort of how I feel this morning. It isn’t because I have some real life issues that have been persistent pains in the butt of late. Nor is it even the fact that my muse has hit me over the head again and changed how I write, at least for this current WIP. No, those actually make sense compared to a couple of other things I’ve been reading about this morning.
First things first. Brian Keene has a post up about professionalism and elitism. It seems a quiz was posted on the HWA site to determine if you are a professional writer. According to the quiz, neither Keene nor many others qualify as a “pro” writer. Here are the questions and my answers.
1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?
No. My immediate work place gets messy as I write because I have scraps of paper with notes written on them and reference material. There will also be at least one coffee cup and can of Coke. But the rest of the house will be vacuumed every couple of days as well as dusted. The immediate work area is the way it is, not because time cleaning would take away from writing but because it is how I work. The coffee mug and Coke can disappear at the end of the day.
2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?
Hell no. Not unless I am in the middle of a scene that would suffer by the interruption or I’m working a deadline. Writing may be my job and my passion but I also know that to stay sane I have to get out of the house once in awhile.
3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?
This is one of those “sometimes” answers. I usually need background noise on in order to write. That noise is often the TV because music too often pulls me into it and I find myself listening to the music instead of working. Of course, it also depends upon the project. Some of them demand not only music but specific music. Those times, however, are usually when my muse is being particularly malevolent and makes me listen to artists or songs I would normally never listen to. And, in case you’re wondering, the muse stands back and laughs hysterically at those times.
4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?
If I am still in the creative phase of a project — ie, the writing and editing phase — yes. That’s what critique groups and beta readers are for. It also depends upon your definition of useful criticism. My issue comes when that criticism comes after the work has been published. Then the so-called useful criticism too often falls under personal preferences. There’s too much cursing or not enough sex. Your characters can’t do that on Planet Snarf because they couldn’t do it on Earth. But then, that’s just me.
5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?
What’s a vacation? And no. I may write while on vacation but if I plan one around writing, it no longer is a vacation. At least not in my mind.
6. Would rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?
No. While I do talk about the business of writing when I get together with other writers, that is only a small part of the conversation. We also talk about our families, jobs — if we have besides writing — homes, kids, politics. We are, or at least try to act like — gasp — real people.
7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?
No. I have bills to pay — some of which I’m trying to figure out how to handle right now. When I worked outside the home, the job was something I wanted to be doing and the pay was more than I needed. But, because I liked my job (until the last few months when things changed for a number of reasons), I was better able to write. Taking a job that would add more stress to my life would be counter-productive.
8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?
That’s sort of like asking, “Do you still beat your wife?” This is one of those questions that drive me absolutely crazy. First of all, it depends on what you call a “nice home”. Then you have to look at what time you spend writing. For those writers who get up an hour before their kids so they can write early in the morning before getting the kids off to school and going to work at the office, etc., you are asking if they are willing to take on a second, or even third, job. If you write full-time, then you have to take into account how much you make from your writing and how much you could make if you worked outside of the home. Finally, you have to ask yourself if you are satisfied in the home you’re now in. For me, I am. So yeah, I’m more than willing to give up the “nice home” because I’m in a home right now that I like in a neighborhood I enjoy living in.
9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?
Huh? No and no and no again.
10. Are you willing to live, knowing you will never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?
OMG! Do you know what my first ambition was? To be a writer. Then it was to finish something. Then it was to sell something. Then it was to sell enough of something to be able to buy something I wanted. As I progress in my career, my ambitions change. Why do they change? Because I am learning what this profession is and what I can do in it. I see the marketplace changing and am learning to adapt with it. Do I still have unfulfilled ambitions? Hell yeah. I still want to sell something to Baen Books. I want to write something with Sarah. I will achieve at least one of those ambitions, God willing and the creek don’t rise, in the next year or so. Selling to Baen, I don’t know. But I will keep trying. So my answer to that question is that I don’t know that I will never meet my ambitions for the simple reason that I’m not trying to be a best seller. It would be nice, but I know what it takes to be on the NYT best seller list and it has nothing to do with my craft. It has to do with the old machine and pre-orders. I can live without the sort of abuse that comes from that sort of publisher/author relationship. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve cracked the top 100 on Amazon on several occasions already, on both the paid and free e-book lists.
So you can see, according to this quiz, I’m not a professional writer. Funny thing though, as John Scalzi pointed out, the one question that isn’t asked on the quiz is if you get paid for your writing. I do. In fact, my last novel has made more in one quarter than SFWA requires as an advance to qualify a writer as a “pro”. But since it is an e-book and there was no advance, SFWA doesn’t recognize me as a “pro” any more than this quiz does.
Sorry, but a pro is someone who works at her craft, improving and learning and pushing forward. This bit about having to put writing ahead of every other aspect of your life makes about as much sense as having to suffer for your art. Give me a break. Writing is a profession as well as a passion for most of us. If you treat it as such, well, you are in all likelihood a professional. Just because you have to work at another job doesn’t take away from that. Neither does having a life outside of writing.
As if that wasn’t enough to get my hackles up this morning, there’s the ongoing Apple/DOJ battle. In case you’ve been visiting Pluto or Io over the last month or so, Apple lost the price fixing suit filed against it by the Department of Justice. Since then, the DoJ has filed a motion seeking what Publishers Weekly calls a “comprehensive injunction” against Apple. Now, I’m no fan of government interference in business. Even though Apple’s track record is anything but sterling, I’d probably have been willing to side with them when it came to the DoJ’s proposal simply because the DoJ wants a much stricter oversight and punishment than it agreed to with the publishers it also charged with price fixing. The only difference was that Apple went to trial and the others opted to settle.
But where Apple lost my support was with its response to the proposal: “Apple does not believe it violated the antitrust laws, and, in any event, the conduct for which the Court found it liable has ended and cannot recur as a result of the publishers’ consent decrees,” the brief concludes. “In light of these facts, no further injunction is warranted.”
So, Apple is basically saying that because five publishers have agreed not to engage in the conduct which caused the DoJ to go after them and Apple, Apple won’t act in the same or similar way in the future. Does that mean Apple only wants to deal with these five publishers? Or that Apple was a victim of these publishers and would never, ever have done anything wrong? Sorry, but the evidence pretty much shows that Apple, and Steve Jobs, instigated the collusion between the parties and not the other way around.
Does this mean I think Apple should be punished more than the publishers? I’m not sure. Even when the judge in the case made it clear in pre-trial motions that she wasn’t sure Apple could prevail, Apple refused to settle. When the named publishers settled, Apple refused to. Throughout the trial, Apple refused to settle. Instead, it tried to play smoke and mirrors, attempting to put Amazon on trial. At the very least, Apple should be required to pay all the costs entailed in the trial. If the judgment does show Apple was the instigator, it should receive a more stringent punishment than the settling parties. I’m not sure the DoJ’s solution, especially the 10 year oversight, is appropriate. But Apple chose to take part in an activity that went well beyond MFN pricing. For that, it needs to be punished.
But then I’m just a writer, maybe a pro and maybe not, depending on whose definition you use. The fact that Apple makes it more difficult than it should be to get into iTunes than any other outlet does probably has something to do my attitude. Of course, I’ve never had much patience for those who think themselves better than the rest of us and that is the attitude I get from Apple on this particular issue. It, and Steve Jobs, wanted something and either you agreed or you would be tromped upon, no matter what the fall-out down the road.
Well, that attitude sometimes comes back to bite you in the butt — something Apple may soon discover.
So, in order to prove I am a pro:
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.
Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.
Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.
Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.
In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.
Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.
Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.
I saw a recent study that showed iStore customers spend, on average, 2$ a year on books as opposed to 16$ a year on music.
Which isn’t much per customer. I think I’ve purchased maybe one book through iTunes — but I’m not sure it was a “real” purchase. I think it was a freebie. I like having all my books in one e-reader program and, of course, backed up on multiple platforms. My issue with iTunes is I know how much music I’ve lost by having mp3 players die, etc. It isn’t as bad now, but that left me with a bad taste in my mouth that has yet to go away.
iTunes lost me when I got a new computer and they blocked an album I’d bought on iTunes, because I couldn’t remember the password I’d used. Amazon didn’t blink about flopping the files, neither did the indi musicians’ I’ve bought from.
Well, by the quiz’s standards, I stopped being a professional writer when I turned in the manuscript for my second non-fic book and went from “what life?” to “some life.”
Yeah. I loved that you can’t allow yourself to do anything but write if you are going to be a “professional” by those standards.
The fact that Apple is being punished more than the publishers doesn’t really bother me that much, for the simple reason that they DID opt to go to trial. That’s the way it always works: Take a deal, get less punishment. Go to trial, get more.
In some cases, it bothers me that companies take deals rather than go to trial, because it encourages frivolous lawsuits, but after the judge told them that the result might be bad for them, and they decided to go to trial anyway, tough.
I agree, Wayne. The fact, too, that the evidence (as I understand it) shows Apple was the instigator is another reason I don’t mind them getting a steeper punishment. I’m not sure oversight five times longer than what the other parties is getting is right, but after Apple’s attitude in its response (as well as it developing tech that will allow the feds to block videotaping of public events with Apple products) makes me lean more toward agreeing with the proposed punishment than not.
I was always under the impression that ‘professional’ meant doing something as job (for money) rather than simply as a hobby for fun. I can understand the varying definitions of some saying if you get paid regardless of how much you are a professional, while others saying that you must make your living, or at least the majority of it by writing to be a professional. But somehow I never thought that professionals must suffer and make less than they could elsewhere to be considered professional.
Quick way to put the above quiz in perspective. Everybody agree Alex Rodriguez is a professional baseball player? (hopefully the answer is yes) Substitute baseball player for writer in the above questions. Would A-rod answer yes to all the above questions? That pretty much shows the relevance of the above quiz to reality.
I think it may be due to the ambiguity in how “professional” and ”professionalism” are used in common language. Intuitively, I think one’s profession ought to be one’s main source of income. But does that alone make a “pro” writer, like money, skill, and membership in a “professional” ball club makes a pro baseball player? They’re apples and iphones, folks. They might sound alike, but in reality they just ain’t all the same.
Someone with *professionalism* takes pride in their work, does it to a certain (usually internally governed) standard, and treats their work with respect. Perhaps one’s chosen profession does not allow them to support themselves and their families (bills, and debts, and obligations…) alone. Michaelangelo had to start somewhere, and so do we. Heck, the only author I can name off the top of my head who went *straight* into professional writing as their sole income is Brandon Sanderson. Heck of a writer, I enjoy his stuff, but that’s not the only way to go.
I’ve not read all the discussions on this, but I did read the article that tipped off this mess. *snort* Miss Morton can keep her opinion, and those who agree with her the same. I find it rude and insulting, but I’m not about to get all perturbed because somebody, somewhere Is Wrong on the Internet. I will say, however, that I find it lacking in *professionalism* to go airing that sort of snobbery and talking down to folks she has and has not met. It shows a lack of respect.
Respect and acceptance by one’s peers is great. It feels good to get positive feedback from other people who understand (that there is kind of a universal meme). From the other side, as a reader, what makes a good writer, a professional writer, though?
A good story. That’s it. A good story, one that people like and want to read and share with their friends, that sells. I see the name on the cover or the spine, or the front page of the ebook, that tells me “professional writer.” Here amongst the bits and bites of other people’s brains, though, professionalism can gain interest, too. I found Sarah Hoyt through Baen’s Bar and her blog, and have recently got a couple other people hooked on her work. This stuff is publicity too. And maybe part of being a pro is acting like one when it counts.
Pardon if that sounded a bit preachy. *grin* I don’t mean to be.
Morton’s comment about competing against people who are (by her definition) professionals caught my eye. I wasn’t aware that there was a limited pool of readers that writers had to fight each other over. That’s probably not what she intended to say, but it says a great deal about how she sees the writers’ world.
Well, to be fair, there is a limited pool of readers. It’s just that it’s functionally limitless for the writer with boots on the ground. “Everybody who can access my writing” just keeps. getting. bigger. Thank you, technology. Ave, Bezos the Conqueror.
There are 328 million people who speak English as a first language, not to mention the number that speak it as a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) language.
The whole Harry Potter Series has sold 450 million books (which would be 64 million buyers of the entire series, plus change, if we made the blatantly untrue estimation that all books in the series sold equally… and misses all the people who bought some books used.)
No, I don’t think the pool of readers is small enough that writers need to think in finite pie economic theory.
Not only that, but new readers are popping up all the time. The zero sum game has never quite rang true for me.
Quite the opposite, I find that good books feed my appetite for more good books.
I am devastated. I am not a professional writer. And there I thought being a professional merely meant you did it for a (principle) source of income, which effectively requires writing quite a lot. Dave’s professional or want to be list 1)Do you earn- or try/plan to earn a living from writing?
2) Do you write to please yourself or an audience who will buy your books?
I like your list much better, Dave. At least under it I am a pro.
And as for Apple… I am a firm believer in equality before the law. They’re once again saying ‘rules and law are for little people. We have lawyers to prevent that affecting us’ – It has IMO long been a part of large corporate strategy to do this, because it sets different standards -meaning they got away with conduct that Joe Ordinary could not. Some of the publishers seemed to think they too were nobility, but that seems to be fading a little. If the little folk -like moi – got that sort of ruling (proportional to our income etc.) we’d have little choice but to comply, even if we’re unhappy about it. I think it is necessary to ensure that multniational companies start to find they aren’t special, and I can’t really think of a better place to start than Apple.
Dave, you’ve got to quit applying logic to situations, much less suggesting something as radical as fairness and equality 😉
From the quiz’s standards, it sounds like their ideal of a “professional writer” is someone who lives entirely in the bubble, doesn’t come out for fresh air, and is willing to suffer alone for years with little/no reward.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with being a workaholic, if one’s constitution is up to it. I don’t necessarily object to the idea of investing time heavily early to learn the ropes, when one is young and doesn’t have children.
If the work is worthwhile, the positive feedback can lead to situations where, long-term, one has invested so much in it that one accidentally neglects to put time into other things. These other things can have all sorts of unexpected adverse consequences that end up also wrecking the main investment.
A single all consuming investment as a state of being seems perhaps objectionable to me.
No, there’s nothing wrong with being a workaholic except as it impacts your health and the lives of your family. That’s not what I was referring to, though. It was more like your closing thought about it being the default state of the job is for it to be your “everything” and yet keep you nothing but treading water at best.
(Of course, your thought might have been a tangent – in which case, carry on! I know from tangents.)
I found it both interesting and backasswards that from the quiz’s standards a professional COULDN’T earn a comfortable living; if they did they weren’t considered a professional. Huh, wanna run that by me again?
There are occupations considered professions. Lawyers, doctors and engineers, for example. I find it fun to ask these questions of hypothetical examples of those. Especially for the occasional answers that correlate with what they are expecting.
a) Engineering student might choose to avoid social activities in favor of working on homework.
b) An engineer capable of both management and technical work might experience a lower salary if they pick sticking with technical over going into management.
c) If you’ve heard some of the recent noise about the value of a law degree, the ‘intangible benefits’ school sounds a whole lot like the ‘loss in income’ thing here.
For some reason the mess as a whole sounds like attempts to justify suspect investments of time.
One definition of professional I can agree to involves disciplines with professional societies which set standards that help the general welfare. This probably describes, say, CPAs much better than writers, because a dozen or so CPAs who are incompetent loons doing a full amount of business can probably do a lot more damage to society than the same number of fiction writers who are just as inept, mad, and able to pass for competent among laymen.
Another definition of professional is someone who, whatever they do, does what they agree to do, when they agree to do it, without fuss, or muss. Someone honest, using best practices, carrying out their contracts. Someone you can relay on to get done what you want done.
Related but different is where the person’s bread and butter come from. Someone organized and dedicated enough to be able to stick to their deals come whatever will make sure their bread and butter is taken care of. If someone is digging ditches for food and shelter, no matter how capable they are, they probably can’t at the same time run a medical practice.
Actually, having taken a look at the assumptions underlying the questions in this quiz, I simply decided that it was much easier to develop my own version. Now, as Scalzi points out, the questions are still oriented towards the process, not the product, but I think they are a bit more reasonable:
1. Do you manage your writing time?
2. Do you manage your writing space?
3. Do you solicit and listen to feedback on your writing?
4. Do you do research, networking, and publicity for your writing?
5. Do you try to understand the business of writing?
6. Do you provide time and opportunities for” filling the well,” thinking and collecting material for writing?
7. Do you have a career plan for your writing?
8. Do you have a long-term commitment to your writing?
9. Do you understand the benefits and costs of your writing?
10. Are you willing to make that investment in your writing?
Basically, this boils down to have you thought about your writing, both the creative and business sides of it, and do you have plans for the various parts of a writing career? Reminding us to think about what we are doing as writers is not such a bad idea.
I like that much better, even if, when I substitute my own occupation for writing, I’m not satisfied by my answers.
I’m not sure any of us are satisfied with how much time/energy/etc. we are investing in thinking about our occupation, but I think raising questions about it can be useful. Trying to convince people to drive themselves, as the original questions seem to be slanted, I don’t think is so useful.
Your version is much more reasonable and accurate as a way of measurement. This is direct, thoughtful, and divorced from the romanticization/glorification of the garret-liver.
Yeah, I tried to leave out all the “are you suffering enough for your art” parts. I don’t really see that as part of being a professional writer. That myth has gotten a lot of play, though.
Well, it is a narrative that plays well with the traditional publishing industry. Providing suffering is easy, cheap, and so gleefully accepted, after all. 😉