The Horror Writers Association toughened its membership standards recently to become a more professional organization. I can remember when I joined the organization back in the late 1990s, and one of the standards for being classified as a professional (and thus given Active Member status and voting rights) was to sell three short stories for at least three cents a word. Other standards existed for nonfiction, film, and poetry. When I joined, I believe I was already close to meeting the story standard. I honestly cant remember; I wanted to sell pro-rate stories because I wanted to be a professional writer, not because a writing organization would pat me on the back. And, obviously, making $100 bucks a story does not allow one to quit the day job.
I think about professionalism a lot. I observe the way writers conduct their careers. I try to emulate those I admire, such as Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and avoid the rot spread by bad apples. I learn from my mistakes and, though every writer's road is unique, I note what works for others in their careers and bring it into my own bag of tricks.
To me, professionalism is an attitude, not a measure of having earned some money. The real professionals learn the rules of the game, hone their craft, seek out respected allies, and judge their worth by the quality of work they put outnot by how much it earns. Though I believe in submitting only to the top-paying markets, thats not the sole sign of professionalism. Though I believe in getting rich, there are some costs that are too high. Pride still has value.
Its difficult to measure heart and talent in the new, untested writer. Ive been lucky to encounter some whose initial writing efforts didnt break the bank or earn much notice, but who stuck with their work and struggled through the difficult learning stages. Others who earned overnight commercial success never seem to improve, because they figure their work has already proven itself good enough. I dont begrudge them success, because any audience is hard to find and its even harder to make a buck with a hatful of words. I knew very early that my career path would be long and slow but ultimately rewarding. Some don't stick with it long enough to ever find out if they have what it takes--not realizing that sticking with it is EXACTLY what it takes.
The professional writes when sick, when everybodys favorite TV show is on, when his or her friends are partying. The professional submits to respected markets and accept rejections as marks of progress, not as stupidity on the part of the editors. The professional smiles politely whenever goaded into a potential message board flame war. The professional, even if reclusive, appreciates being part of a community, and brings a sense of wonder and joy to the keyboard.
In short, the professional always wins, even if the work never gets published. The professional is never finished, even if the work gets published.
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