I’ve been in the “pro” science fiction biz for almost 3 years. In that time I’ve become used to the idea that not every writer or editor is a professional — in the sense that what “professional” means in the world of the arts can often be very, very different from what it means in the every-day world working world that most people are familiar with.
In my military career there are very strict standards and expectations: of behavior, of decorum, of how we each speak to and treat each other as uniformed servicemembers. There are lines you don’t cross. Or if you do cross them, there are defined consequences. This is also true in the professional healthcare and business sector. Both major hospital networks I’ve worked for have had very specific rules regarding what could be said, what kinds of behavior and even attitude were to be tolerated — or not tolerated — in the workplace. And so forth. Again, with defined consequences for crossing the line.
There’s nothing like that in publishing, from what I can gather. And especially in science fiction — which is its own little (sometimes strange) niche of the publishing world — behavior I’d recognize as “professional” according to my civilian and Army standards, sometimes seems tough to come by. People are . . . eccentric, to use the kindest word I can think of right now.
Which is why I very much appreciate it when I see true professionalism displayed (waves enthusiastically to my Analog editors and Dell Magazines, as well as Edmund at IGMS, and Co.) and why I also note it when it’s specifically lacking.
Notice I name no names on the last count.
We have (unfortunately) a notable collection of writers and editors in science fiction who have taken it upon themselves to act as exemplars of unprofessionalism. And why not? This is an “art” field after all. Some people revel in the fact that they can be 100% unprofessional in practice, manner, speech, attitude, and interpersonal interaction, because this is the badge of the artiste. Hey, if people still pay them and they still have sycophants, who’s going to tell them they’re doing it wrong?
I say bull. Unprofessional is as unprofessional does. People who wallow in their bad habits, bad manners, bad tempers, and bad attitude will sooner or later develop bad reputations. Perceived status within the field is no protection, either. One day cock-of-the-walk, the next, a feather duster. Be an unprofessional often enough, to enough true professionals, and people won’t want to work with you anymore.
Now when I run into someone who is an unprofessional I say to myself, “Ah, your days are numbered, sir.” Because even in an artistic field, that kind of crap has a way of cumulatively catching up with you. Whether you’re a writer or an editor or an artist. You may be brilliant, but if you’re a cantankerous pain-in-the-ass, or a snob, or you like to pick fights, or you’re simply prone to displaying uncivilized behavior, this kind of stuff builds negative karma. Little by little, publishers and writers alike will steer clear of you. I can think of half a dozen notable examples right now. Again, I name no names. They know who they are. And most of my friends in the biz know who they are too.