The Professional Problem (with bonus quiz)

Ah, the needless tempests-in-teapots that rise up in our genre from time to time. The thing about them—like Lisa Morton’s post at the HWA blog this past weekend—is that trivial as they are, they can still get under your skin.

Morton’s blog entry is all about professionalism. This is an issue that comes up quite a bit in genre writing (or at least in the kinds of genres that have conventions and clubs and so on). And it’s generally been an issue of exclusivity. Writers who are selling their work to certain markets, possibly but not necessarily making a living at it, belong to the club of professional writers. Other writers, who are selling their work at a lower rate, or publishing it themselves, or are just dilligently trying to crack those or any markets, don’t.

The line at the edge of that club is clearly drawn, generally respected and occasionally, jealously guarded. Usually, those who do so are gracious enough to make it all seem exclusive–and not exclusionary. Sometimes they aren’t.

 Which brings me back to Morton’s blog. It offers up a 10-point quiz, to determine whether a writer is professional enough to pass muster. You want to answer yes to all of them. A passing grade’s eight out of 10.

For the record: no no no maybe yes no yes no no no. And based on that set of answers, I’m a hobbyist. With five books, thirty-something short stories, an old TV deal and a handful of awards, some nice (and not-so-nice) reviews in newspapers and publishing industry journals for many of ‘em.

It’s okay. I’m in company with Brian KeeneJohn Scalzi and really, every other professional writer I know.

It is possible that Morton’s ideas about writing as expressed on the Horror Writers Association’s official blog  miss the mark in, um, certain areas. As my partner, author Madeline Ashby pointed out on the weekend, Salieri would pass this quiz with flying colours. Mozart? Hobbyist. As Laird Barron (who got the call-out ball rolling on his Facebook page) put it: “The distinction between pro and non pro writer is mainly useful if one wants to join a club with particular membership requirements, or when engaging in pissing contests.”

No worries. I have come up with my own 10-point quiz that is at the very least, every bit as helpful and descriptive of the habits and foibles of our little profession…
1: Would you take a moment from writing a middle chapter in a novel that’s a month past its due date, to click refresh one more time on Novel Rank, and see if your last book has sold another copy yet on Amazon?
2: Once Novel Rank tells you that you’ve sold a copy of your last book on Amazon, is it appropriate to go check the Novel Rank score of your worst enemy’s poetry collection, to make sure that it has still not sold any?
3: Would you cut short a discussion of the role of exposition in science fiction stories with your writer’s group in order to read aloud the unkind review of your worst enemy’s poetry collection in Quill & Quire?
4: Do evenings with friends often get cut short for reasons you can’t fathom?
5: Is 11 a.m. a fine time to crack open the second bottle of Merlot?
6: Is your designated Creative Time, set aside to finish the middle chapter of the novel that’s a month overdue, set to begin before 11 a.m. or after 11:15 a.m.?
7: If your worst enemy’s unkindly-reviewed poetry collection is not yet listed on Novel Rank, is it a good use of your afternoon Creative Time to go and set up a listing for your own gratification?
8: Do you use writing as an excuse not to do any housework during Creative Time?
9: Have you memorized the last review you received on Goodreads? Is it better than the last review of your worst enemy’s poetry collection? (If you don’t know, automatically fail)
10: Have you checked your Novel Rank listing at least once over the course of answering this quiz?
Didn’t get at least 80 per cent of those questions right? Well, you’re no pro. But the good news is, you’ll probably be okay.

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