Are You a Professional?

“When can a writer call herself professional?” a woman asked at a conference.

Does it come after 10 sales? 50? 500? When we make $1,000 a year with our writing? $10,000? More? Is this label earned by how many hours a week we spend at the task, how many years we’ve been writing, or how many rejections we’ve received?

Professionalism is an attitude. While some would say that, technically, if you’ve ever been paid anything for your writing, you’re a professional, I believe we achieve the level of professional when we take our minds off ourselves and what we want to write—and focus on the editor’s needs.

Writers are salespeople. We offer a service (writing) for sale. Think of the last time you dealt with a salesperson. Before trying to sell a product, a good salesperson will focus on the buyer’s needs—not on his or her personal desire to make a sale

I recently had to buy a new computer. I use complex typesetting software and do a lot of Internet research, so I needed a machine that could handle those tasks. The salesperson helped me discover what models would best meet my needs.

That’s the necessary attitude for professional writers. We’ve not yet arrived if we’re writing because:
we have a story we want to tell
we need to sell something to prove to ourselves that we’re writers
we want to feel important by being printed in a certain magazine or achieving a certain number of sales.

Professionals have learned to take the focus off themselves and hone in on the buyer. No matter how long we’ve written, we’re professionals when we take the story we want to tell and figure how to shape and sell it to an editor who needs it.

Though the motivation to write comes from within (and above), we need to direct it to the practical ministry of meeting needs—the editor’s and the reader’s.

Yes, tell the stories you need to tell. But focus them for the right audience and write for others—not just because you have something to get off your chest. As you focus on that, everything else will fall into place and you’ll realize, “Yes, I’m a professional!”

Jeanette Gardner Littleton, a CWG mentor, has written for many Christian publications and edited for several magazine and book publishers.

Photo credit: jannoon028

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