Today’s topic is business behavior. Creative writers might mutter, “Why do I have to know about business etiquette? I’m a fiction writer. I don’t write for corporations or marketers.” Well, yes you do. A publisher is a business. So is the agency that represents you. Just because you’re an artist or craftsperson doesn’t give you permission to be unprofessional in your demeanor when dealing with these people. And if you’re a freelancer, your behavior will win or lose you clients.
The general rules of good business behavior incorporate communication and presentation. Writing is a business like any other, and writers would do well to remember them.
- Dress appropriately. If you work from home, a dress code probably isn’t necessary, but for appointments and meetings you should wear something polished and classy. Once when I was a kid, I asked my mother why we dressed up for church. God doesn’t care what I wear, I argued, so why can’t I wear shorts? She replied that sloppy clothes were disrespectful. Now God isn’t signing my paycheck, but the same rule applies. If I showed up to a meeting in raggy shorts or jeans and a t-shirt, sneakers and no makeup, the implication is that I can’t be bothered. That won’t make anyone eager to deal with me.
- Be on time. Don’t be late for appointments and don’t miss deadlines. If you must, call. A phone call shows more personal care than an email or text.
- Don’t make it hard to find you. Make sure your contact information is at the bottom of your email, and speak it clearly when you leave a voice mail. If someone calls you and leaves a message, return their call in a timely manner. Their time is as valuable as yours and it’s rude to keep people waiting. If they need an update on something and you don’t have one, don’t ignore them. At least let them know there is no change.
- Manners. Be polite like your mommy said. Say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me.” Don’t be rude back to thoughtless people; answering poor behavior with your own only makes you sink to that level. Dealing with clients and customers can be infuriating, but they are your bread and butter. Try to see their side of things before making any snap judgments.
A common saying is “The customer is always right.” I don’t think that is true. There are some customers who, no matter what you do, will never be satisfied or always demand something extra out of a sense of entitlement. If it’s too stressful or expensive to deal with them, remember you can fire your customers. You have no obligation to do business with them, especially if they don’t pay their bills or are underhanded in some way. If you must let them go, do so respectfully. Don’t burn bridges.
- Give your all. Polish, polish, polish and edit, edit, edit. You should be spending nearly the same amount of time editing as you did writing a piece. Check and recheck your work for typos, etc. No one is perfect and sometimes they will slip through, but if you make a list of things to look for and habitually follow it, checking your work will become second nature to you. Then you’ll hardly ever hand in something less than your best. If you don’t know how to format your queries and submissions, get on the Internet and find out. There’s no excuse these days for not learning the rules of the game.
In the writing world, your competition is fierce. People who are serious about their careers will take the time to learn how to properly present their work and themselves. Your messy, misspelled and smudgy letter or submission might stand out, but not the way you wanted. The inappropriate clothing you wore to lunch with your agent or client (and you were late, too) tells him or her you don’t have it together. Who wants to work with someone like that?
Please share any other rules I might have left out in the comments.
this is outstanding advice that like yesterday is applicable to anyone really. If one is writing to make money, then one is in business and needs to behave like a business person. Often writers what to be considered as artists, but my question would be successful artiist or struggling artist?
A lot of people need to read this post.
Thanks, Lee. From what I’m learning about the business, writers can’t sit on their butts at home anymore; they have to get out there and deal with people.
I agree completely with your post. Sometimes something as basic as following submission guidelines throws people into a tizzy. Nice to read some great advice on the profession of writing.
It’s scary and intimidating, but there is good help out there for people if they don’t know how to do something. Before the Internet there were books, and still are. But I love my Intertubes and instant gratification! ;)
Excellent, excellent post. When I was a 9-5er, I used to see some guys (and girls) who thought that working from home was an excuse for dressing sloppily, and just saying that you were a writer made you ‘intelligent’ and someone who wouldn’t discuss ‘cricket’ with you.
It’s time we broke at least some of these weird ideas, no?
Exactly, Roy. One should always be presentable and what’s up with people who think they are better than others for any reason?
I don’t know much about cricket, but sports are a great icebreaker topic when you’re nervous about meeting someone in a business setting.