Practice, Persistence, Professionalism

Nancy J. Cohen

Usually when I’m giving advice to aspiring authors, I name the 3 P’s as Practice, Persistence, and Professionalism. In his recent post, James Scott Bell mentioned his 3 P’s for writers: Passion, Precision and Productivity. These are all valid and equally important.

It helps if you set a daily word count or page quota and a weekly quota, then put yourself on a strict writing schedule. This gives you definitive goals. Keep moving forward. If you get stuck, either you haven’t laid the proper groundwork or you are letting outside distractions snag your attention. Don’t get hung up on self-edits until you finish your first draft. It’s easier to fix what’s on the page once the story is complete. The point here is to write on an ongoing basis. Then follow James’ advice about Precision by learning how to hone your skills. Attend writing conferences. Read Writer’s Digest. Enter contests with feedback. Join a critique group. Go to meetings of your local writing group and sign up for workshops. And keep writing.


Persevering at this career despite rejections, bad reviews, poor sales, and other setbacks is critical to success. If you drop out, you have only yourself to blame. Keep at it, and your skills will improve along with positive responses from readers, critique partners, and editors. “Never give up, never surrender.” That holds true for a writer same as for the crew of Galaxy Quest. Have faith in yourself. If you have the drive to write, you can improve your craft and learn marketable skills. The more books you have out there, the more chances you have to gain a following. Keep going despite the odds, and be versatile. At times, you may have to try something new and different. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Whichever route you take, quitting isn’t an option.

Always be polite and gracious, even when you get a bad review or a rejection. It’s hard not to take these personally, but they’re aimed toward your book and not you. You don’t want anyone saying you’re a gossip or you bad-mouthed your publisher or you made condescending remarks toward another author. It’s better to be known as someone who shares her knowledge, is helpful to her peers, and is a consummate professional in her dealings with editors and agents. If you need someone to hold your hand, turn to your critique group and not your publisher or agent. With their busy lives, these people don’t care to take on needy writers. They want career authors who will persistently turn in polished manuscripts, who establish and maintain a platform, who are active online, and who understand the publishing world. Act toward others as you’d wish to be treated. You never know when a writer friend from today might become your editor tomorrow, or an editor might become an agent, or a reviewer who raked your previous books over the coals might give you a rave review. The old adage, “Don’t burn your bridges,” holds true here, too. Be polite, courteous, and helpful at all times.

shaking hands

Follow the P’s along the track of your writing career. If you have to step off for a brief interval, be sure to hop back aboard the train before it gathers speed and steams ahead.


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16 thoughts on “Practice, Persistence, Professionalism

  1. Thanks for the advice. Thanks for the link to the Booklover’s Bench July contest. Now back to that first P – Practice, and my quota for chapters to edit this morning.

  2. Being polite is always a smart thing. An author I know tells the story of he and his wife sharing a cab with a stranger while at a conference, picking up the tab, since he was going to pay for the cab ride anyway, and it was an expense account item. The conversation turned to books. His rider had never heard of him, but some time later, showed up at a book signing with a bag full of his books she’d gone out and bought. He contrasts this story with one about an author who refused to sign a person’s book “because it was an out of print book from a used book store and he hadn’t made any royalties on it.”

    The only thing I’ll disagree with in your post is not editing until you’re done … every writer works differently, and I’m an ‘edit as you go’ person, and find I end up with a cleaner copy for my final edits. Do whatever works better for you.

    • Yes, that’s true Terry. My point is more that you should finish the book. Some people get hung up with making the book so perfect that they never get to the end.

    • By all means, finish the book has to be the primary goal. Even though I edit as I go, I don’t consider the book “done” until I’ve given it considerable editing time as a whole. Linda Howard, on the other hands, says she fixes as she goes, and when she gets to the end, it’s ready to send off. I’m not in her league by a long shot.

  3. Love the “p”s, love the quote from Galaxy Quest. I try to live by that motto, and do pretty well with it most of the time. In some ways, publication/promotion is like a war zone. You have to consistently hold your positions while at the same time reaching out to land on new beachheads. I’m going to add a new “P”: patience. It doesn’t pay to be in a rush to edit or promote. Rushing often leads to sloppiness which brings you to unprofessionalism. All of these “P”s are interconnected. It’s best to honor them all. Great post, Nancy!

  4. Excellent advice for both aspiring and midlist authors, Nancy! I’ll be sharing this great post with my clients and on social media.

  5. I used to a website for an actor, and it formed my grounding for being online with writing. We were representing him and his career, and we were all too aware that if we weren’t professional, he might miss out of a role.

    And it’s hard, because the internet doesn’t have the emotional cues you get talking to people. It’s easy to go way too far and not be able to recover from it. At one point, I had picked up a book because of publicity surrounding a plagiarism lawsuit. I was just into one or two chapters when the lawsuit was settled. I posted a link to a news article on my blog — not even a commentary. I just noted that it had been settled. Losing author zoomed in and posted a sour grapes comment on my comment. It made me look at him further, and I found his website. His publisher had gone bankrupt, so he wasn’t getting royalties, but the book was still being sold on the shelf. Everything else on the site was a rant-fest against this other author, who had simply used the same source material. I came away from it, not only not wanting to know this guy, but not wanting to read his book. And I stopped reading it immediately and never picked up another book of his. If I’d enjoyed the book, I might have bought other ones. Instead, he lost a reader by being very unprofessional.

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