Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Are you "Professional" ?

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, based on another opinion piece. The views expressed herein are those of the author of this blog and do not represent the views of any organization, association, political party, TV station, institution, modeling agency, or girl scout troop the author may or may not be a member of. 

Many authors when they're just starting out, are curious for some kind of benchmark. Some goal to reach that tells them they are an actual author. For many, that benchmark is as simple as seeing their first work in print. For some, it's the mark of the tenth book, or the royalty check which denotes their first $1000 earned by their writing. For others, it can mean being accepted into an organization such as the HWA. Recently, an article was brought to my attention which claims to separate the "Professional" authors from what the writer of the article terms, "Hobbyists".


To sum up though, there are ten questions, and if you want to be a professional in the eyes of the author of the article, you have to answer "Yes" to each one. (Or at least 8/10). So I'm going to state my answers to these questions. 

1. Is your home/work messy because the time you would spend cleaning it, you feel is better spent writing? 

Yes and no. I try to keep my space somewhat organized. That being said, when I'm working on a piece, I tend to have notes, reference books, snacks and just general flotsam laying around within easy reach for whatever reason I may have. 

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings with friends because you need to be home writing instead? 

Eh. Routinely? My friends might say yes, and I certainly have turned them down before, but I don't know if I would say Routinely. 

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write? 

Yes. Pretty easy question there.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise. 

Yes. I would rather take the brutal, honest truth, than polite praise from someone who is worried about hurting my feelings. 

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities, such as research and/or networking? 

I haven't had a real vacation in several years, so I can answer this one however I like. For shits and giggles, let's say yes. 

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than small talk with a good friend? 

This is the only definite NO I have on this list. Networking is important, but to choose networking over spending time with people that actually care about you is just stupid. Or you don't have any good friends left to have small talk with anyway because you do stuff like this. 

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid you less money because it offered you more time to write? 

Honestly, I haven't, but I would. I am currently job-hunting, but one of the criteria I judge a job by before deciding to apply is whether or not it would give me time to write. 

8. Are you willing to give up a nice home you know you could have if you gave up writing for a more lucrative career? 

Really, I deign to answer this question, on the basis of how badly it's worded and under the small detail that I would have to think about it. 

9. Have you done all of the above for the past 5 years ?

So, we finally have a set question which effectively states "You are not a professional writer unless you've been at it for a minimum of 5 years". My answer to this is currently no.

10. Are you willing to live knowing you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold onto those ambitions nonetheless? 

Er. You want to know if I will keep trying for my dreams even if I KNOW I will likely never reach them? Probably not. If it's actually a given that the dreams are unachievable I will probably move onto a different dream, or at least alter my opinion of what success towards that dream means. 

Off-hand, I'm going to guess you're having the same reaction to these questions that I had. It's complete bullshit. With that said, I would like to introduce you to the author of that piece, if you haven't clicked on the link and put the pieces together. 

That article was written by Lisa Morton, the Vice-President of the Horror Writer's Association, and the article was posted on the webpage of the HWA's Los Angeles chapter. 

The article has triggered a fair amount of backlash from authors who feel is is condescending and elitist. Even from such authors as Brian Keene and John Scalzi. Now, there are a lot of issues here to look at, that I'm going to address here. 

First off, the tone of the piece is without a doubt, condescending and elitist, but you know what, that is one person's opinion and they are entitled to it. 

Second, this piece was written by the VP of a major writer's association and posted on that association's website. The average person reading that is likely to assume that is the stance of the organization itself. Whether that is or is not the case is almost irrelevant. Because of who the author of the article is, their position in the organization and the place it was posted, people will assume that it is policy, even if an un-written policy. There is a discussion of this on the HWA's facebook page that I was privy to and one of the official stances is that the members of the board and other position have every right to voice their opinions without it being the opinion of the organization. I'm sorry, when you hold a position of authority, you have to watch what you say. People will take it, twist it, put their own spin on it, and mis-interpret it to heaven, hell, and back again. Mrs. Morton has her own website on which she could have posted her article, but instead she chose to put it up on the page of the association she is only a few steps below being in charge of. If she didn't want her opinions to be attached to the HWA, there were better places to post it. 

Which brings me to my next point. Now that all this hooplah has erupted around her article, Mrs. Morton has started claiming it was meant in satire and to promote discussion. Because after all, she doesn't even pass her own test (tee-hee). Scroll back up and read that article again. Does anything in it sound satirical? Does it read like something meant to be thought-provoking? I've seen some people claim they can see it after having it pointed out, but most agree there is nothing in the article to give that impression. These claims that the article isn't meant to be taken seriously are nothing more than typical political back-pedaling. She wasn't expecting to poke a hornet's nest and now that she has, she wants to claim she didn't mean it. For someone in a position of authority as she is, I find this more foul than the article itself. You made a mistake, own up to it, accept it, and fix it if you can. The fact that the organization is standing behind her only makes it worse, as it is promoting unaccountability for it's higher ranking members. Seriously, if they weren't working so hard to down-play it, it would probably blow right over. 

While this is the internet, and once things are posted they tend to stay that way, there is a few things Mrs. Morton could do to alleviate the situation. I doubt she's going to pay attention to a small-timer like me, but here's my own little list of what I think she should do. 

1. Submit a public apology on the HWA's website for any author she may have inadvertently insulted with her post. 

2. Take the post down. 

3. Mrs. Morton and the members of the HWA's administration should do their best to refrain from commenting on any discussion of the post. Just as authors should never comment on negative reviews of their work.

There, done, simple as that. There will still be discussion for a week, maybe two, but then people will move on. There will always be some people who remember, but beyond them, it'll quickly become a non-issue. 

Of course, this is all just my opinion, and I'm just a "Hobbyist."

Disclaimer #2: I've made my views of the HWA's qualification requirements public in the past, and despite this little PR hiccup, I must say I've been very impressed with their facebook page, which is run and moderated by none other than the current president of the HWA himself. Him and I have actually butted heads on the page during discussions over the qualification requirements and this incident, and while I am still at odds over these issues and feel some of his replies have been a touch political (meaning round-about bs), I have to respect and applaud his high visibility and connection with members and potential members. I may yet join some time in the future (assuming I don't get my ass banned before-hand), but not before they stop promoting Traditional publishing as the core means of qualifying for membership.

~ Shaun

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