Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Professionalism, Part II

Spend any significant amount of time reading an agent or editor’s blog, and you’ll detect a common theme: they deal with un-professional people, of which un-agented authors compose a majority of the unwashed masses.

On these blogs and other social media such as Twitter, they will occasionally post what not to do and how to do the right things. This is handholding. They are, in a sense, training the newly connected to the business world of today.

In twenty years (or less!), these agents and editors will not have to expend so much effort in this area, as social media Darwinism sticks a fork in those who are mired in selfishness. The basis of unprofessionalism is lack of empathy and selfishness, which leads to feelings of entitlement. Rarely it is an honest mistake.

Agents, in particular, are at the forefront of this cultural shift, they are dragging the online writer community kicking and screaming to their standards. This handholding is more than a survival instinct--it’s also efficiency. Every person trained to operate and act a certain way touches other people through the same social network.

Purging the malcontents completely, alas, will never happen, but the cultural shift is happening right now. A soccer mom with a gift of the literary, knowing nothing about the book industry, can easily find out how to submit a book project with a worthy novel, and do it without looking like a dork.

This cultural normalization, painful as it is, will be akin to a well-oiled machine. Outstanding writing goes in, books come out, with nary a pile of BS in between. This is the future.

How exciting!

There is another level of professionalism you can obtain, be you writer, agent, editor or other industry person. Some things transcend industries. In a way, the publishing industry is behind the times. For example, the publishing culture is engaged in business behavior that other industries were coming to grips with in the ’90’s. Twenty years ago.

This post isn’t about those things, although that would make an interesting essay. If I had a smidgen of credibility as anything other than a hack writer, I would indeed dive into it, right here on this very blog on a rainy winter Wednesday.

No, this post, long-winded and broken up into several parts (tune in next week!), is about going beyond the advice you see on blogs and such. I assume we, the readers and authors of this blog, all get that you’re not going to send Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner a query to “Mr. Gardner.”

Before I talk to this, let me talk about my day job.

A Digression into the World of the Anthony
I am a consultant in the computer industry. Literally. I work for an international consulting company. I am not an agency temporary, although on occasion I will happily play that role for a valued client. My job is to consult with clients on finding solutions to problems.

I am a project manger based consultant, specifically for software projects. In addition, I have a wide background in business analysis and, the real fun part, research. While we don’t base our contracts (for consultants like me) on an hourly rate, if I translate our fees into an hourly standard, my agency may charge anywhere from $55 to $250 an hour for my services. The upper range is defined by some really hairy stuff, such as IT disaster recovery.

I’m not trying to toot my horn here, but I do bring this all up to make a point. My livelihood, the mortgage, and the food my kids eat--it all depends on my network. For a consultant, the network is everything. It is how we find new business and grow. It is how we have fun and meet new people. It is how I connect with people in my field. It is the fun part of the job. The Network. It pays my bills, let’s me go on vacation, indulges me in my desire for the occasional glass of scotch, and ultimately is the foundation for my leisure time.

The basis of this network is money. I get paid, the consultant company gets paid, the clients spend money on our fees and either avoid wasteful spending based on our advice or spend large amounts of money on a new project, also based on our work.

When you’re talking about lots of people working towards a common goal, with lots of money involved, things get pretty exciting. Sound familiar? It should. It suspiciously sounds like a a certain industry we all like to obsess about.

In this exciting world of software projects and finding solutions to major problems, it is not enough to be professional. A consultant has to excel at it. There are things you only get one shot at. Avoiding shooting your own foot is not a fine art, but cultivating your relationship with people on your network is.

Rule One: Believe in Karma aka, Don’t be a Pimp
The number one rule of professionalism and social media, and networking in particular, has been stated before a number of times: it’s not what people do for you, it’s what you do for people. Unconditionally.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I just prattled on how my consulting network was money based. Yet here I am talking about working for free? What up, dude?

I'm not talking about the benefits of doing outstanding work with minimal fuss. That's a given. If you're lazy, your network will know this. If you do great work on-time and under budget, your network will know this too. That's the basics, and not what takes cultivation effort on your part. Those are the things you do not to get fired in the crappy economy.

You’ve probably heard the message before. In a nutshell, I'm talking about:

Karma.

People can sniff false enthusiasm a mile away. If you don’t believe in the fundamental universal process that good deeds beget good deeds, then consider the other universal rule more grounded reality: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. No one likes to be pimped.

How does this translate to social media?

I’ll take a stab at that question by offering an example: this blog.

When the lovely and talented Alex Moore approached me about contributing to this blog, I spent all of thirty seconds worrying about the time commitment. I almost said no. I have a day job, I have a family, I write, I have my own blog, etc. On my own blog I keep my own schedule, here, I would have to post every Wednesday.

But I didn’t say no. I didn’t say no because Alex asked me. I’ve never met Alex in person, but we’ve exchanged email and chatted quite extensively about writing, my writing in particular. If I said no, she would have understood--all us adults are intrinsically aware of time pressure. She knows I have a family.

But I wanted to say yes. So I did. Not because I want to return the favor, but because I just like Alex. Alex is cool. When you surround yourself with positive people, it’s energizing. It’s electric. It’s… your network!

If your social media network isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

As an aside, I’m glad I said yes. I love reading what the other writers have to say, and I love the comments people leave. It’s awesome.

Next Wednesday, I’ll go over How to Avoid Being an Unintentional Condescending Asshole. Which should be a good trick, considering the whole point of these series of posts is about Professionalism. I hope I can pull it off!

6 comments:

  1. Great post, Anthony. Spot on. It never ceases to amaze me when I get a call from someone that starts, "Hey, we met a few years ago. I'm putting something together and I immediately thought of you."

    Cast your bread upon the waters. The times it comes back to you tenfold more than make up for the times when you just get soggy bread.

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  2. I'm a big believer in Karma - life is cyclical in so many ways. Still, it is easy to get busy in our day-to-day constraints and forget these little (though important) things. This post is a good reminder for me - thanks.

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  3. wow -- so much to respond to here. first, i'm so glad you said 'yes' :) talk about synergy!

    I'm also intrigued by the dynamic evolution of the publication industry. You are so right: many agents spend a great deal of precious personal time offering advice and training; There is an abundance of information available for any aspiring writer; whether this improves the quality of writing or not remains to be seen. But at least our professionalism and our query letters are getting better ;D

    And finally, karma: the cynical like to think it's not what you know, it's who you know. Another way to look at it, however, is through the lens of karma: networking with positive, energetic, and electical people sparks ingenuity, creativity, and enthusiasm. And that's a winning combo. Who wouldn't want to work with someone like that?

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  4. I am absolutely certain you can pull it off. What a great title for that next post!

    I enjoyed reading this! It's so important to stay professional in everything we do, especially online where everyone can see what we say.

    Having a good work ethic, being honest, and loving what we do is a great start to the professionalism you talk about here. When Davin Malasarn from the Literary Lab asked me to join his blog in conjunction with Scott Bailey, I didn't even bat an eye. Like you, I wanted to be involved with these awesome people. Networking is an awesome, awesome thing.

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  5. I appreciate this post. Thanks. I especially like the comments about surrounding your self with cool/positive people. I agree, it is energizing, and I'm glad you signed on with the blog and have stuck with it.

    The comment about karma is also much appreciated. Yes, heard before, but somehow hearing it again has helped.

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