Being a professional writer means different things to different people. In the writing world, some writers have come to define professional as qualifying for membership in a professional writing organization. This often means you have to have been published by an approved publisher or magazine paying professional rates.
I’m going to be up front for a moment. I do not believe you can solely judge professionalism based on who someone’s publisher is or what magazine they were published in. How many of you, for example, consider Snooki a professional author? She would absolutely qualify for membership in one of those professional writing organizations.
Just sayin’… 😉
But the fact is this: if the IRS makes you pay quarterly taxes on your writing income, you’re a professional. Period. No, I’m not really talking hobby income even though the IRS will gladly take their cut there, too. I made a hobby income on my writing from 1996-2009. It amounted to a few thousand a year begotten in small increments. A few hundred for an article there or fifty bucks for a short story here. In 2010 my writing income increased again with the release of some new books, and finally went over 10K. My accountant came to me and told me I needed to start itemizing deductions and keeping receipts, but I never considered myself a true professional until last year when several of my books took off, and my writing income surpassed the salary of my full-time day job (x 2.5). So I’m not talking hobby income. I’m talking a real, livable wage.
That’s when I was forced to admit that I was, in fact, a professional writer whether or not other writers or professional organizations thought so, and whether or not I “felt” like a professional. Trust me – I feel like a complete outsider. But the IRS certainly thinks I’m a professional because my accountant now insists that “Writer” is the proper job title to put on my tax returns.
Others will say being professional is in your behavior. I do agree that being professional does require one to behave professionally, dress professionally, and present their work in a professional manner. This also includes not confronting your critics.
Now please don’t take it to mean my lack of want to belong to a professional writing organization (and not using that as one of my criteria as a professional) is any reflection on those writers who do want that validation of their writing skill. I know many writers who have worked hard to get the credits to qualify for memberships like that. I used to be one of those writers working toward that goal. Any professional organization like that is all about helping writers get help with contracts or group health insurance etc… and that’s not something I currently need. Everyone’s needs are different.
As someone who works almost exclusively with small presses and who does a lot of indie (as in, independent of a publisher) stuff, I don’t qualify for memberships in most pro organizations even though I make just as much from my writing (if not more) as some of the authors who have gained membership. Despite my lack of a big six contract, I’ve worked hard to earn the audience I have. I’ve been working toward a professional career since 1991. Before that I wrote for fun. Overall, I’ve been writing for over thirty years now. I am, at this point, a professional writer whether I, or anyone else likes it or not.
This, of course, brings up the question as to whether or not I think professional writing organizations are going to have to change with the times. I think the answer there is yes. More and more authors are learning that just because they haven’t gotten the big-six contract doesn’t mean they actually suck. It simply means there are more decent writers out there than the big-six can publish. The readers are ultimately the ones who decide who has a professional career or not. On that note I heard a rumor RWA has started accepting self-published authors into their organization. If this is true, I am willing to bet a lot of professional writers organizations will eventually follow suit. But we can talk about this more next month when myself and the FM Witers blog about the state of the publishing industry. Until then…
Check out my previous post about Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing to learn more about my thoughts on professional writing and the state of the publishing industry.
About The FM Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour
Today’s post was inspired by the topic What “Professional Writer” Means to Me. This month’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read their thoughts on writing professionally, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. I blog with this tour the 25th of every month. Up next on the tour: Becky Pratt!