Talk Back: What is a professional writer?

On my Kindle: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Talk Back – Tell us how you write!

A few weeks ago the web was abuzz with writers discussing the definition of “professional writers” after a horror writer wrote a controversial blog post on the subject.

Now I don’t want to add to the fire but since I didn’t hear much from writers I know (mostly romance writers) on the subject, I thought I’d come out here and ask you, wonderful Musetrackers:

How do you define a professional writer?

And do you feel the need to label writers in this manner?

I was a little disturbed to see some authors viewing professional writers as only those who are paid to write which basically implies only contracted writers and people on staff at newspapers and magazines qualify.

Because most of us write then hopefully get paid after making a sale or self-publishing, and a lot of us may take quite a lot of time between sales or may not be able to fully pay the rent yet, does this means we are not quite yet “professional”.

And does it matter?

So what do you think? Do you consider yourself a professional writer? What does it mean for you? Is it a question of work ethic or monetary compensation? Do you label other writers as professional or not?

Let’s hear it!

Much love,
Marie-Claude xoxox

Location:Seattle

23 Responses to Talk Back: What is a professional writer?

  1. I used to be a technical writer, which when people asked, my contemporaries and I always responded we’re technical writers–a half-step up from accountants.
    Now I get paid for writing interviews, but regular cash on the side that doesn’t cover rent=freelance, and does not earn the coveted title of journalist. (Plus, I’m conservative so I don’t think I want the title anyway. Ha!)
    When I sell a book, in my mind I will be a professional AUTHOR. Complete with the ‘seal of authenticity’ that my book is actually stocked in a bookstore.
    Ahh, to dream!

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  2. ps
    Love the copper tone pic! All grown up,

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  3. pibarrington says:

    After swearing I wouldn’t touch this subject with a fifty foot pole, I have to say that this is one of those annoying philosophical questions to which there is no correct or conclusive answer. It’s the same as asking if you do not receive an Oscar but act in community theater are you still an actor? It all depends on perception and point of view. I was a journalist and was both paid and held accountable for what I wrote so in that sense yes I was a professional in both behavior and payment. I am also published by several publishers and self published. In that instance, I work with others whom I consider professional who have chosen my work to represent them and consider my work good enough to publish. Yet I also published a novel on my own so which defines me as a professional author? I define it myself. In the end I think that is pretty much what all authors have to do.

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  4. For how silly it might be, I considered professional writers those who don’t write exactly what they like, when they like. They write what their profession require: a tech manual, an article on a newspaper, a review, etc.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with having enough money to support your family or yourself. It is your “work”.

    Writing is an urge, and you can be as professional as it is possible, fine tuning your pace and flow, searching for the most appropriate word, and sell a book here an there.

    You say: ” Because most of us write then hopefully get paid after making a sale or self-publishing, and a lot of us may take quite a lot of time between sales or may not be able to fully pay the rent yet, does this means we are not quite yet “professional”. ”

    I don’t believe the above has anything to be with being ‘professional’ or not.

    I sell books every day, and receive royalties every month. It does not make me more ‘professional’ than someone who sells a few books per month, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a “professional writer.” Maybe the distinguo would rather be on author vs writer, but to me “professional writer” and “writer” are two separate ‘professions’. 🙂

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  5. Incidentally, to add more controversial thoughts, even some traditionally published writers have become… “professional writers”.

    With other Indie writers and readers we were discussing how certain writers have lost it and now became a brand, producing the same story over and over again, use ghost writers and slam their name on it so the book sells… This is one of the replies from a reader that might give some perspective:

    ” […] you are so right about James Patterson, Danielle Steel and many others I once enjoyed reading but they are the same and no longer worth reading.

    I get so much more from you Indie writers. I like the fact you are not so limited in what you can write and how you can have several genre that will fit one book. It is not “ditto” with you Indies. Your books are far more fun and entertaining to read. They have so much more depth and superior to anything I could have ever imagined and I am so happy I found you. It has made such a difference in what I enjoy reading and I am much more versatile in what I enjoy reading now that I have found you great Indie writers. It has truly been and enlightening experience, as well, as lots of fun to find so many great books.

    Your creativity is awesome and I have been so impressed with what I am reading. Keep up the great work. Your talents are milestone above what I used to read from the old book club. And I do enjoy reading much more on my Kindle. Set the font so I can see and I can read all day and not have to worry about where I will keep all of them. I am so possessive with my books, I cannot bring myself to give them away oro even trade for new ones.

    I have the entire Collection of Danielle Steel and James Patterson’s women murder club but have not read the latest ones and not bought any this year. I finally gave them up.

    I still read Dorethea Benton Frank since she writes about the Low Country of South Carolina and I live in Columbia, SC, and find the accurate but just like all the rest her latest work is not her best. We used to talk by email but when I pointed out a book she wrote about a year or two ago that I did not like the style she became very offensive.

    I do not enjoy having to buy the large print and have no room for more books, even though I have all of hers as well. But, I refuse to pay what she charges for an ebook. They are as expensive as the hard cover and I think that is too much and will not buy them. Not that she will miss my one purchase…lol

    Best Wishes.”

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  6. Hmmm…I was contracted for my first short fiction last year and it just went into release over the summer. If that makes me professional, well, I’m not feeling it. At this point, I’m still unsure and overwhelmed at the process. Even if I’m fortunate enough to contract fifty books, I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable referring to myself as professional. It seems a cold and analytical description of what we do and takes the romance out of being a writer

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  7. Hello, Elaine. I’d say that makes you a trad-published author instead of an Indie author. I don’t think even Stephen King would describe himself as a professional writer. 😉

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  8. Thank you all for the great food for thoughts everyone.
    Two things come to mind from reading your comments.
    One – the word: freelance (because it has the word free in it which is great))
    And two – also the fact that in this day and age perhaps defining people with labels and set jobs is over, especially in the creative fields. When people can do much in so many ways now, labeling people no longer apply. We all have are own niche label for what we do.

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  9. Gerard Quain says:

    live and let live ,every one has their own idea, why label

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  10. The term doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t actually think I’ve ever heard of it used in Romanceland.

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  11. Ella I wonder if its because of lot of romance writer have in their mind the RWA definition of Pro as someone who has submitted one manuscript for publishing (although I wonder what that means now since some writers chose the option of self-publishing right away)

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  12. I don’t know. On the other hand, the term doesn’t sound supportive, and the romance world definitely is. I am continually amazed at how we all help one another.

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  13. Ellen says:

    The word “professional” means meeting the standards set by the industry and other professionals. Not just making a buck on a sale. Under that definition, a self-published writer is not a professional for having not involved themselves in the actual profession, meeting standards established by the industry. “Meeting standards” does not include clicking an “Upload” button. It means being accepted by those already accepted in the field as professionals. Do you want an electrician who decided to call himself an electrician without having met the standards of other licensed electricians? How about the contractor building your home? I don’t think so. I think you want a professional who has met the standards of their industry.

    You aren’t a professional until you uphold the standards of other professionals, work with professionals on your products, sell your work to legitimate publishers, and other professionals in your field say you are a professional. But I do see a lot of aspiring and hobbyist authors who believe if they made a buck on a book, they are now professionals. And the real industry and readers laugh at this. That’s the reality of it.

    No doubt many will disagree. I’m glad when I tell readers I’m an author, and when they, with nasty smirks in their eyes, ask me if I’m self-published, I can say, “No. I have a legitimate publisher.” That’s what separates the professional authors from hobbyists. The respect of one’s peers and having met the standards of the industry and other professionals in their fields. That’s earning your stripes. Not typing one’s name and clicking an “Upload” button.

    Typing anything, clicking an “Upload” button, and your best friend buying your book does not make you a professional author. Sorry.

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  14. Alisha Paige says:

    Stephen King does not consider himself a professional writer? REALLY? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve read today.

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  15. Interesting feedback.
    @Ellen I do agree with you about standards but in writing who define standards? I’m science and teaching, which is my day job, standards are easy to define: you need the degrees to be a professional. But with art, it’s is not that well defined.

    @alicia actually about the initial controversial I talked about, Neil Gaiman and many others, tweeted that they were not professional writers according to the definition of this particular article (which had to do with not eating and cleaning the house and such in order to write)

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  16. PLEASE let’s keep this discussion kind and informative. Thanks 😌
    What do you see as professional behavior for a writer at all stage of their career?

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  17. Ellen says:

    Marie-Claude,
    Fiction publishers define the standards of their industry. Nonfiction publishers define the standards of their industry. If a hobbyist wishes to be a professional fiction author, then impress a fiction publisher. Same with an aspiring nonfiction author impressing a nonfiction publisher.

    With the flood of self-published authors writing under no standards and having impressed no one in this industry, they are destroying the love of reading in readers and destroying this industry. When the reader buys a book, and it is simply the worst thing they’ve ever read, that reader will not be very quick to buy from a new writer, hobbyist or professional.

    If you are a self-pubbed author, do everyone a favor, including yourself. Follow the steps to legitimate publishing. Become an author, don’t just write a book. Study your craft, enter the industry in honor. If not, there will be no audience left. Don’t think so? It’s already happening. The audience is not impressed.

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  18. Indeed, SK considers himself an author, nuance.

    And, you confound Indie writers with trash-publishing. Some Indie writers have *refused* publishing contracts because today, unless you publish for someone giving you a 6 digit advantage, going with a little or medium publisher does not mean you are a “real” writer, but a writer having no technical skills and accepting to pay others to do something that is FREE.

    Publishing industry can still make starting writers believe they *need* them to be read by readers, and starting writers can indulge themselves in believing they are the ‘best’ because a little publishing house gave them 15% of the royalties and a meager $2000 cheque. LOL, the level of prejudice is borderline with stupidity.

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  19. Ellen, it is amazing to believe that an Indie writer just writes and click publish. Do everyone a favor, educate yourself.

    Granted, the slush pile is also published now with self-publishing, but that has nothing to do with Indie writers.

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  20. Ms Mahler says:

    After a lot of thought, I have decided that professional/unprofessional is a useless distinction. I prefer to think abou tand talk about, people for whom writing is a business (Maybe ti’s a start up business and hasn’t paid back the initial investment, maybe it’s a part-time business, lots of ways to make it a business) and approach it not just in creative terms, but also with a focus on marketing, customer service, profit vs expense, etc; and people for whom writing is not a business (maybe its a hobby, a vocation, a fun sideline, lots of ways and reasons to write without it being a business), for whom writing is enough.

    This eliminates the derogatory meaning behind ‘unprofessional,’ but leaves the useful meaning of unprofessional – ie ‘behaving in that way is counter productive to a business person b/c it is hurting your business/customer base/etc’.

    @Ellen: I think you are badly misunderstanding what a professional organization is. While it is true that in many (though not all) who is or is not a professional is determined by professional organizations, those organizations are made up ofthe professionals in question, NOT the people who pay them.

    Thus professional standards for screenwriters are set by the SWA, not Hollywood producers, professional standards for doctors are set by the AMA, not insurance companies. Professional standards for massage therapists are set by the AMTA, ABMA or NCBTMB, not the spa owners association. Thus, for writers the dictates of ‘professional’ as laid down by professional organizations would be the standards of the SFWA, RWA, Freelance Writers Association, etc. NOT the publishers.

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  21. Suzan Harden says:

    Unfortunately, the horror writer in question accidentally penned something incredible insulting that I’m sure sounded much funnier in her head.

    Accordingly to my answers to the ten questions she established, I am a hobbyist. However, my fans are happy with my work and are willing to pay for it. The phone company, the electric company, the water company, etc. are happy that my checks don’t bounce. All of which make me happy to the extreme.

    All of this is to say Gerard has an excellent point. To paraphrase Doc Brown: “Labels? Where we’re going, we don’t need labels.”

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  22. Suzan Harden says:

    And it’s time to take a nap since i can’t spell. LOL

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  23. […] Talk Back: What is a professional writer? | MUSETRACKS […]

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