How many of you have noticed, in recent years, the near extinction of such social courtesies as the hand-written thank-you note and willingly waiting your turn in line? How many of you are bothered by it? Well, it bothers me plenty. A couple of weeks ago, while waiting in the checkout lane at the grocery store, I was appalled when the person in front of me had the nerve to complain that the elderly lady ahead of him was taking the time to put her change in her wallet before moving out of his way. Really? Have we become so self-centered and accustomed to instant response that we have completely lost our sense of basic social pleasantries and caring for the feelings of others? I had to wonder.
I was still hopeful until a week later, until I found myself in an online chat where the topic of discussion was author acknowledgments. The moderator posed the question “have you ever been left out of the acknowledgments of a project to which you contributed, and how did that make you feel?” My response was something to the effect that it is best to give without expecting anything in return, but that I did feel differently about an author who overlooked professional courtesies like thanking people who contributed to their success. Sounds reasonable, don’t you think? Wow, was I unpopular.
The backlash was swift and snarky, let me tell you. And a week later, frankly, I am still shocked. One chatter even asked me if I was advocating that acknowledgments be required writing. Really? I still don’t know if it was the question itself that stunned me, or the fact that someone needed to ask.
As I had been mulling thoughts around a blog post on publishing culture and professional behavior, the experience was timely, if not a little disturbing. On reflection, I came to the conclusion that there is just no excuse for the man in the grocery store checkout lane. None at all.
But as for the writing community, I was reminded of a conference session on business etiquette my friend and colleague Jennifer McCord and I presented at several writing conferences and publishing trade shows a few years ago. We had discovered in our dealings with writers who were hoping to be published that many (if not most) had somehow failed to realize that in seeking to become published they were also taking on a new profession. Precious few had recognized that becoming a career writer was no different than becoming a career anything-else. Like all professional disciplines, there exists a culture in which a certain code of conduct is beneficial to building your career. Likewise, failing to adhere to said behaviors can also kill a career dead.
Here’s the thing. Social media and the ginormous stores of data collected (and preserved) by search engines have put us all on display. Everything we say and do is witnessed by and accessible to a vast and largely unknown audience. Worse yet, it is un-erasable. Paying attention to what used to be considered basic cultural norms of respect and courtesy will save you a lot of heartache, and also earn you a big bag of social, and business, capital. Trust me, you’ll need that one day.
My philosophy has always been to follow a few simple practices. Nothing you haven’t heard before, I’m sure, but if you aren’t already following these basic rules, I encourage you to give them a try. I have enjoyed a lot of gifts from the universe that I can directly attribute to playing nice in the sandbox.
1) Do Unto Others as you would have them do unto you. This was the foundational rule by which my father lived. He didn’t always succeed, but it was probably the single most important thing he ever taught me. How you treat other people is a direct reflection on your own character. Be gracious in every encounter—no matter how casual or fleeting. You never know who that other person may know, or where they may go in their own career. Be inviting and inclusive. The more friends you have along the way, the easier your journey will become. So, fellow writers, when you publish that book of yours make sure you include an acknowledgments page and thank everyone who deserves it—and a few who might not, but would be thrilled that you thought of them. Only good can come from it.
2) Share & Share Alike — Deepak Chopra tweeted a quote recently: “If you want to get something, give something”. Knowledge, experience and skill are hard earned and sharing your wisdom can sometimes feel like giving away treasure. Not everyone is comfortable with that, because they are afraid that if they give it away they will have nothing left for themselves. In my experience, the opposite is true. The more I give, the more I get, and the greater my resources become. The more favors you grant, the more you will be entitled to request when you need one. When you see an opportunity, offer to help –for no other reason than you can. Reach out and be generous with your support. And above all else, never ask for anything without offering something in return. Essentially, what I’ve just described is feel-good networking. And it works. One day you just might need to approach a well-known author for an endorsement. It’s a lot easier if you have built a web of relationships based on mutual generosity and courtesy.
3) If You Can’t Say Sumthin’ Nice… then puhleez keep your fingers off the keyboard. If you’re in a real world social setting, zip your lip. That doesn’t mean don’t offer your honest opinion or speak out when something rubs you the wrong way. Being a writer is all about having something to say. But the mark of a truly great writer is in his or her CAREFULLY chosen words, appropriate context, and impeccable timing. Bite your tongue when you get that scathing review and put mittens on your claws when a peer challenges (or disdains) your ideas. Rise above the haters and resist the urge to smack down the internet trolls. Refer to rule number one, and all will be right with your world—more or less J.