Just What Is a ‘Professional’ Anyway?

Writing has always been part of my life. Ever since I was young I can remember writing tall tales and weaving stories out of thin air. They’ve not always been great and sometimes not that original but the desire to write has remained with me always, no matter what form it took. I remember when I was younger being enamoured with the possibility of being a professional writer, of crafting stories which people then paid to read. As I grew older and entered the often depressing world of work, my interest in doing so grew but it was tempered with the crushing reality of how hard it was to become a professional writer. Life ticked on, I continued with my day job and yet the writing remained, always a desire, never to be realised.


This all changed with the advent of self-publishing of course. I remember with some amusement a lecture I attended at university where a publishing professional poured scorn on what was then called ‘vanity publishing’ where people would pay thousands just to get a book in print, regardless of its quality. Now the technology is available to allow anyone to self-publish, to move from being just a writer to being an author, a person with actual, digital books to their name. I only took that step a few months ago yet it has led me back to my earlier ambition and left me with a nagging thought: am I now a professional author?


For years my definition of that title was stupidly simple, that to be a professional people had to be willing to pay you for your work. Sure enough, people have, lovely people who decided to part with their hard earned wages in order to experience my flavour of filthy writing. The money is nice of course but I’m not in a position to quit the day job just yet. Perhaps if I were able to, then I could say that writing is my living and therefore I would be entitled to lay claim to the professional badge. However, I think there’s something more subtle going on here.


The very first thing that inspired me to look at self-publishing was a novel I bought from a sci-fi and fantasy convention about five years ago. The author was selling it from a stall and he was a thoroughly nice chap who had clearly sunk a lot of time into his story and its cover. However, it was not his effort that made me want to have a go myself but his lack of effort. Paragraphs were laid out poorly, spelling errors littered the manuscript and simple conventions on how to lay out dialogue had been discarded in favour of putting it into italics instead. In short, despite his many efforts to present a professional looking book, the dreadful layout and grammar made me give up trying to read it half way through. It still sits on my bookshelf and were you to look at my frighteningly large collection, it would not stand out as a self-published book until you attempted to read it. It stays there as a reminder of what not to do, of how an amazing, epic novel can be rendered dead by poor typography.


When I decided to traverse the murky waters of erotica, I thought it only sensible to do some research and so I went on a bit of a spending spree, trying a little of this and a little of that. I was somewhat surprised to find that similar habits were rife online. The same errors and some new, even worse ones were littered over many peoples’ writing and I was slightly taken aback that anyone would put their work out for purchase without some care and attention to how they were presented. Any author is guilty of a few spelling errors and typos no matter how many edits they go through, I can hardly claim to be perfect in that regard but nonetheless, I was still a little amazed at the poor quality that could be found online. In a way though, this led me neatly back to my initial question: what is a professional author?


The answer that I find satisfies me these days lies in the attitude with which one approaches creative works, especially those that are intended to be sold. The market for erotica is saturated and if we want to stand out, we need to be able to subscribe to the same standards of professionalism that a major publisher does. We might not be able to afford the professional covers, the mass publicity and hundreds of editors (hell, I’m working out of my study here) but we can still strive to ensure that our typography, our spelling, our grammar and layouts are as good as we can make them. There’ll always be a rogue typo but I’ve spotted some in many of the paperbacks that litter my home. Our desire to take our work seriously and to sell our readers something worthwhile and enjoyable should extend to every aspect of our writing and publishing careers. Being courteous in our tweets and interactions with our followers should be second nature, delivering a story to our readers that is polished and well-presented should be a natural extension of our desire to write. In short, we shouldn’t let our passion for writing end when we finish our first draft. It should be in our editing, our presentation and our marketing.


It doesn’t matter whether I can call myself professional in any academic sense, what matters is that I want to be and continue to strive to that standard with everything I do as an author. If we write amazing stories but then fail in our presentation and interactions, then we’re pretty much shooting ourselves in the foot.