Peoples’ motivations for writing fiction are as numerous and varied as the writers themselves. In my estimation, those who write for the sheer joy of creating have already succeeded, regardless of broad commercial success. Conversely, those who are in it for the money have missed the point entirely and will never enjoy that same level of success.
That said, there’s an apparent gap between those who write as a hobby and those who write for a living. That’s not to say that there’s any less satisfaction to be derived by the hobbyist. In fact, for the hobbyist, the lack of pressure to generate income can be liberating. Amateur or professional, both are valid pursuits with very different points of view.
Professional Mystery Writer
As you’ll see from my bio, I’ve written mysteries and speculative fiction since my formative years. In the early years my lofty notions of being a professional writer were, I suspect, like most writers. For more years than I care to say, I operated under the misconception that if I just wrote that perfect story, I’d achieve the recognition I sought. Many years and many rejection letters later, I’m still striving for perfection. And of everything I’ve learned, one thing is clear: perfection don’t feed the Bulldog.
In the early ’80s I wrote mostly Sci-Fi, Dark Fantasy and Horror, submitting to all the mags, entering the Writers Of The Future contest every quarter, without fail. It was in one of the WOTF volumes, I found an article on professional writing by L. Ron Hubbard.
Here’s a guy who wrote for the pulps in 1930s, during the Great Depression. He sold his work for roughly a penny a word. It seemed incomprehensible to me. How in the hell could a guy make a living on a penny a word? The title of his article is “The Manuscript Factory” the first line of which is, “So you want to be a professional.” He had my full attention. This was my first hard look at writing as a business and I took it to heart.
What Professionalism Means To Me
In essence, professionalism is an attitude regardless of one’s profession. Writing fiction, much less mystery stories, is an art and requires mastery of the craft. Writing professionally, expands the scope of the activity to include ALL the important aspects of any business: Organization, Production, Marketing and Sales.
The old saw “attitude is everything” applies. Beyond the business, the craft, and the art of writing mysteries, professionalism manifests itself as a reflection of one’s personal integrity, getting along with fellow writers and contributing to the profession as best one can. We’re all in this leaky boat together, rowing for all we’re worth.
Here’s the thing: As a professional mystery writer, I can’t buy and/or read EVERY book out there, but I read a lot. And when I look for new books to read for my own enjoyment, I look to the works of my author friends, first. I also enjoy posting my reviews all over the place, if I like the work. However, if I don’t, I will not post an unfavorable review. And if I have a constructive comment to share with the author, I send it privately. While I will always give my honest opinion if asked, I won’t post negative comments, period. I know how hard it is to write anything at all, much less have the work shredded by careless comments that fail to shed light on how the author might improve. I view these common courtesies as my obligation as part of a community of professional writers. I think most of us professionals are the same.
Your take on professionalism is of interest. Please feel free to leave your insights, experiences and tall tales in a comment or two.
My mystery books Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, Flight of the Tarantula Hawk, and Grey Daze are available on Amazon. Cut-Throat Syndrome, the newest Lance Underphal Mystery is in progress and will be released later this year.
You may also check out the book trailers for Dark Side of Sunset Pointe and Flight of the Tarantula Hawk on YouTube.
For more on the mystery writer, Michael Allan Scott, and the Lance Underphal mystery series, as well as free short stories and book excerpts go to michaelallanscott.com
If you’re interested in my reading tastes, please join Michael Allan Scott on Goodreads for my reading lists and book reviews.
Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Michael Allan Scott and a clickable link back to this page.
I loved what you had to say, especially about not leaving negative comments in reviews. I have read novels that just didn’t capture “my” attention, but some of my friends absolutely loved. I would hate to hinder anyone from reading someone elses work, just because it didn’t resonate with me. Thanks for this wonderful post…. Kelly
Thanks for the great post Michael. Love your concept of professional courtesy. Honest, constructive feedback is important for any writer, but I agree that it is better done in private with careful thought. I think it takes great skill to review another’s work in a well-thought out way (careless shred-jobs are easy to do, but help no one). Thanks for reminding us about the power of words and our obligation to show fellow-writers the common courtesy of thinking before posting.
[…] altogether. Although I’m busier these days, I haven’t changed my policy on reviewing books (see earlier blog). I do it only when a book moves me. And Joe R. Lansdale has managed to do just that with his crime […]