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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A Class Act

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’ve just returned from a great weekend away at the Malice Domestic conference where Mary Higgins Clark received a richly deserved lifetime achievement award. From the first moment I met her in the elevator I was struck by both her graciousness and her humility. In all her speeches and panels she provided wonderful advice with an air of total professionalism. She was, in short, a class act.

Although almost everyone else I encountered was similarly professional I did witness, on occasion, behavior that convinced me it was time to address the delicate subject of ‘conference etiquette’ (or as I like to subtitle it ‘how not to make an ass out of yourself’). My draft rules of etiquette (and believe me, I’m hoping for your comments to add and refine these) are as follows:

  • Remember, if you happen to be a published author of any ilk, that arrogance like pride, usually comes before the fall. I couldn’t believe how some authors treated aspiring authors (or even other published authors) with barely concealed disdain – as if that somehow made their work seem superior. I know it’s a cut-throat industry but dissing others will not get you ahead.
  • Remember that marketing does not include foisting your book on a reader without their permission. I was actually at a session where I was told to ‘write my name’ on a slip of a paper only to realize (I was never told) that this meant I was now in an enforced raffle for someone’s book who was not even a participant on the panel I was attending…People need to be asked if they want your book or marketing material….
  • Remember the basic common courtesies – don’t push in, cut people off, ask rude questions (and yes, demanding to know some person’s print run may constitute a rude question if they don’t know you!) or crash other people’s parties.
  • Smile and be generous to those who are waiting on you at functions, serving you coffee, helping with the AV or volunteering. The snafu is rarely their fault…
  • When on a panel do not hog the mic, be rude to the moderator or generally act as though you are far too superior to impart your esteemed knowledge on the attendees (believe me, I actually saw all three occur!)
  • Remember the unwritten code of published and unpublished authors – we’re in this together – so never denigrate, belittle, bitch about or undermine a fellow to author to anyone else, least of all an editor or agent!

So those are some of my initial rules… What would you add or amend? What conference faux-pas/ breaches of etiquette/ acts of unbelievable rudeness have you ever witnessed?