Professional behaviour

A couple of weeks ago a link went around some of the forums I’m on. The site was a blog where the blogger reviewed books. He’d given a review which the author wasn’t happy with, and she responded very unprofessionally.

Whether the review was fair or not isn’t the point here. The point is that as writers we usually hope for publication. That’s PUBLIC-ation, as in, the public sees it. And sometimes the public, or some sections of it, aren’t going to love what we did. There’s nothing at all we can do about that, and the sooner a beginning writer realizes and accepts that fact, the more tranquil her or his life will be.

Sure, we all gripe about a bad review. I have, too. If you’re going to do that, do it in your diary, or over a bottle of wine or a few beers with a sympathetic and discreet friend. Don’t do it on your blog. Don’t do it in an open forum. Don’t do it, in other words, where you will be heard in public. You can delete the post, but chances are you won’t get it done before someone reads it, and maybe someone you’d rather didn’t see it.

Agents, publishers, editors, people we want in our corner also surf the internet. And guess what? They read things about writing and authors. Who knew? What a surprise! I know it’s hard when you’re pissed that someone didn’t get your point. I’ve been annoyed about that a few times myself.

Fortunately for me, I was annoyed in the pre-internet days; shooting off your mouth was just a little harder then. I had to write an angry letter, address an envelope, put postage on it and go and mail it. Before I got to step 2, I realized it wasn’t going to do any good.

I had a cheap lesson in professional behaviour years ago, when I was in radio. I’d gone into a donut shop for a coffee. In the press of people at the counter – this was before they instituted lineups – I was overlooked for several minutes, while people who came in after me were served. I wasn’t happy. Finally a young man asked if I’d been served yet.

Instead of saying something angry, which is what I felt like, I said calmly, “No, I haven’t, and people who have come in after me are being served.” “Let me get you what you want right away!” he said, and hustled off to get my coffee.

Before the words were out of his mouth, three people, including one of the counter staff, had turned towards me. The man beside me said, “Are you Elizabeth Creith? I hear you all the time on the radio!”

“Yes, I am,” I said. The woman behind the counter said, “Oh, I loved your last piece about sheep!”

It was pretty cool to be recognized. And it was also a little scary to realize my voice was so distinctive. All I could think was, “Thank you, whoever was watching my mouth, that I didn’t say something snarky!”

There’s an obligation, when you have a public profile, to behave professionally at least some of the time. That “some of the time” is in public. Blowing your cool where everyone can hear you is going to do damage it’ll take time and effort to undo.

Remember how we learned to count to ten before we said something angry? It’s still good advice.

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