Recently I was asked what I meant when I termed something a ‘professional courtesy’ so I’ve decided to use my spot on Take Five Authors to explain it.
I’m an author. I consider myself a professional and I try hard to act professionally. In the course of my work I’m in contact with readers; publishers; agents and rights managers; promo and PR team members; bloggers; writers; conference, event and course organisers; booksellers; librarians; writing organisations; journalists and presenters; and a huge number of social media users. Obviously, all of these people can help or hinder my career but I’m not professionally courteous to them just because they’re useful to me – it’s because anything else would mean that I’m not doing my job well.
But the fact is that making myself easy to work with is advantageous to my career.
It’s surprising how much a professional discourtesy can rankle. And for how long it can be remembered. Professional courtesy might be ingrained in us if we are employed, particularly employed by a large organisation … but it can slip when we become freelance. There’s nobody to write our appraisal, after all!
I think professional discourtesy can cover anything from downright rudeness to not observing etiquette. Here are a few examples of discourtesy from a writer to another writer/reader/other publishing industry professional that I’ve observed:
- Taking positive reader messages for granted and leaving them unanswered.
- Making a private conversation public without clearing it with the other party.
- Sharing a photo that puts the subject in a poor light, again without permission.
- Rudeness, whether face-to-face or via email. Writers ought to be capable of summoning up enough non-confrontational language to get their point across.
- Ranting, ditto.
- Stepping outside of your role and onto somebody’s toes. Group events, such as panels, are open to this – for example, one participant hogging the promo/available time or telling the chair how the panel should be run.
- When involved in a group conversation, stating a point forcefully then leaving the conversation (also known as ‘flouncing off’), especially if we then broadcast our version of events.
- Overrunning allocated time, for example at a literary festival or at a one-to-one opportunity during a conference.
- Lack of reciprocity. The obvious one is not ‘sharing’ as generously as we expect our posts to be shared on social media or only sharing when we’ve got something of our own to promote. Sometimes a political element creeps in, for example not sharing someone’s posts because they’ve left the publisher we’re with. But if anybody’s ever professionally generous, such as putting our name forward for something advantageous, let’s remember our manners and reciprocate if we can.
- Failing to remember that, at festivals or within writing organisations, many positions are voluntary. If someone is working to our benefit for £0 then they shouldn’t be rewarded with an ungracious attitude.
- Tone: demanding rather than asking; throwing out objections instead of suggesting alternatives.
- Forgetting to thank or acknowledge those who help us.
- Writing negative reviews about another author while hiding behind an alias. Most of us would think this more than mere discourtesy, of course, but I felt I had to include it.
- ‘Forgetting’ to take our turn on a group blog because we’re busy or we don’t have a book to promote right now.
- Not answering emails.
- Having to be asked three times to supply material such as bios or author pix. When I’ve been in the position of having to ask for these I’ve been impressed that the busiest and best-selling authors have been the first back to me with the requested material.
- Treating other people’s time as less precious than ours. Pretty much any of the above could trigger this!
I’m not shining my halo, here. We all let our professional courtesy slip from time to time but doing so never has a positive effect. We make ourselves hard to work with and therefore nobody wants to work with us.
That’s not good for the ego or the bank balance.