Welcome again to another Author Etiquette. We created this series to help authors navigate the highs and lows of the publishing journey. There’s lots of pitfalls, and we’d like you to survive and thrive.
Being an author is tough. There’s way too many things you never knew you needed to learn.The instruction book that gets you from the bottom of the slush pile to the best seller list somehow got lost in the mail. If you want to get noticed, you will have to do some promotion on your own. Any advice that you get, you need to have second and third thoughts about because, while it might work for one author, it might not work for you. Add the need to keep the professional and personal sides of your personality separate in correspondence, and things can become a mess.
Wait...What? Keep your professional and personal separate? That’s a thing?
Yes. Keeping professional conversations separate from personal ones is important. Whether it’s email, phone, voice, or video conversations, it should be clear who and what position you are talking from. This way, things don’t get confused and streams don’t cross.
Now for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain.
When you email someone, you are either speaking as an individual (YOUR NAME) or as (YOUR NAME) author/editor/creative. And while most of the time these things go hand in hand, when it comes to business, you might have to set one part aside for a bit.
It’s easy to make great friends in the speculative fiction community. There’s a lot of great people out there who are friendly, smart, and charismatic. They are easy to be friends with. These are the people you share their posts, and congratulate them when they receive a sale, or something good happens. They often return the favor.
However, many of these people also wear other hats. They may also be an editor or a publisher or artist. They might have to make decisions based not on you but your work. It might not always be in your favor. (Please, please realize that rejections and business decisions do not always correlate to you as a person.)
For instance, when you as an author talk to your publisher about your contract, no matter how much you like the person, sometimes you will have to make decisions that makes sense for you as an author. This is a professional decision and all discussion in an email or on the phone should reflect that.
On the other hand if you are talking to the same person about cats, then those discussions are personal. You and the other person are no longer speaking about business--unless it happens to include cats--and have stepped into a personal discussion.
See, professional and personal conversations. Everyone following? Good!
The biggest issue is keeping it separate.
We are human, and we don’t always keep things separated like we should. When we don’t, it can lead to confusing situations such as an author giving the impression they are speaking for a publication, or miscommunicating important information. Things like that can get messy quickly.
How do you keep professional and personal conversations separate?
We’ll discuss emails first, then go to phone and voice/video conversations next.
Emails. When you receive an email from a person who could be wearing either a personal or professional hat, first decide what the email is about. Is the email discussing a story, edits, submissions, or other professional items? Or, is it a friendly email on personal issues? Or, is it both?
If it is a professional email, then answer or discuss the matter, but keep the discussion on topic. If there’s something else to discuss that isn’t professional—meaning pertaining to some sort of business—then make a note to start another email.
Yes, start another email with the personal discussion or opinion.
The same with a personal email. Keep the email in the personal sphere. If things drift towards professional or business make a note and again start another email.
If the email you receive is both, inform the other person that you will be separating the business and personal that way things don’t get confused.
A mixed email could look something like this:
Would you mind changing the main character of your story into a toad?
Also, I was thinking of getting a dog and your little precious is so cute. Could you tell me more about this breed?
Jane would be very smart to reply to this email and separate the professional conversation—changing the main character to a toad—and the personal conversation—talking about dogs—into two separate emails.
Making distinct separations in emails helps you in a number of ways. First, you will be able to search out that email (or file it) in relation to what is being discussed. Second, there is no confusion as to who you are speaking as. Whether it be (YOUR NAME) or as an author, editor, or artist. Third, there’s no confusion in the conversation. There is no crossover of personal conversations and business matters.
Phone, video, and voice chats are a little different.
There’s a flow to a conversation where you hear someone else’s voice and it’s a lot easier to change gears from professional to personal. Unlike emails though, you don’t want to end a conversation and then call back. You can continue the conversation; however, you should always be aware and make sure all other parties are aware of the change.
Most of the time, once pleasantries are out of the way (this is the hello portion btw) most conversations move on to business first. It could be a long or a short discussion depending on the subject. Once all of that is out of the way, then the conversation can move to personal topics. Simple phrases such as, “Now that business is taken care of,” or “Now on to personal matters,” signify the change in mode. No matter what signal you use, always remember: make sure that all parties are aware that the professional or personal discussion is over. If it happens to switch again, (which hopefully it won’t) again be sure that all parties are aware of what is happening.
Remember, it’s in your best interest to keep personal and professional matters separate. It makes things easier to track and helps keep you out of some sticky situations. Don’t cross the streams!