Working in the Publishing Industry: Conduct Yourselves …

By Tracy Ruckman

We live in such difficult times, don’t we?

When I was invited to write this post over a month ago, I was both honored and terrified. Honored because the subjects of respect, character, integrity are such an important part of our lives, and terrified, honestly, because they ARE that important. I began praying fervently for the Lord to allow the right words to flow – and to give me wisdom as I outlined my thoughts.

Then, for almost an entire month, I procrastinated.

Normally, that would be funny, but instead, today I find myself rather sad because in the past month, I’ve watched the Christian publishing industry – and Christianity as a whole – grapple with allegations of sexual harassment by well-known agents, publishers, editors, authors, pastors, and priests. The news has been heartbreaking on many levels from many angles, and I’ve observed all sides trying to make sense of it all.

As Christians, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation today. As Christians, we should be living our lives above reproach so that this kind of behavior isn’t even in our repertoire.

In the second chapter of his letter to Titus, Paul provides instruction on how we should live. Two verses sum up the teaching: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” ~ Titus 2:7-8 ESV

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, where sin runs rampant. None of us are immune, and while that is not an excuse to “go sin some more,” it should serve as a wake-up call that we must – at all times – be on the alert, to guard our own behavior and to be aware of the behavior of those around us.

I can’t and won’t cast the first stone at any of the alleged perpetrators, or question any of the victims, as some observers have suggested. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have times in our pasts when we’ve not lived as a good example of Christianity.

My own life is like that, and I thank God He changed me. He forgave me, mercifully, and has made me a new creature. Because I am a new creature in Christ, I make different choices for myself and I try to always think of others as I make those choices.

We cannot change the past, but we must change the future.

Today, I want to discuss some of my observations as a publisher, editor, and writer for the past thirteen years and offer some basic guidelines for writers as they navigate the publishing world of today.

Respect

While it should go without saying, I offer a gentle reminder to always be respectful in all your interactions with those in our industry.

Respect the time of professionals. Even though many/most writers, and some agents, are freelance, this doesn’t mean they work 24/7. Unless they instruct you otherwise, communicate with them during office hours, and please don’t expect them to respond to your e-mails in the wee hours of the morning. And for the sake of all our sanity, do not EVER include your publishing pros in a group text at 3 a.m. (Or any other time. Group texts are of the devil.)

Please, please, please do not follow pros into the restroom at writing conferences to pitch your project. Yes, it has happened to me, and to numerous friends. Even if your story is the next bestseller, pitching it in the bathroom won’t make a favorable impression.

Listen, with respect, to advice provided by the pros. They’re pros for a reason, and their experience can help you become a better writer. Listening, and actually hearing, what the pros are telling you about your writing could help more than you realize. Students willing to learn are rare, so soak up as much information as you can and apply it to your writing. Editors will love you.

Respect the confidentiality entrusted in you by publishers and agents. Yakking all the details of their business deals will put you in a bad light.

Respect YOURSELF. Don’t dismiss your own morals and values to acquire a publishing contract, or to “protect” your career. Leave your career in God’s hands and respect yourself enough to walk away from anyone who attempts to tarnish those morals in any way, whether it be sexually, contractually, or editorially.

Character, Ethics, and Integrity

I read an interesting article on character as I wrote this one. “People of good character are guided by ethical principles even when it’s physically dangerous or detrimental to their careers, social standing, or economic well-being. They do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay. … Character is ethics in action.”

Another article explains the difference between integrity and character as this: having integrity means recognizing a problem and refusing to do the wrong thing; character means recognizing that problem and doing something to correct it or stop it.

Your communications and interactions with industry professionals will reveal your character. Are you negative or positive? Are you harsh or kind? Are you demanding or understanding?

Do you choose your friendships based on what that person can do for your career? Do you ignore the receptionist or the janitor while gushing over the agent or publisher? Do you berate editors for changing a comma? (Yes, it’s happened.)

Click to Tweet: Act professionally, even when you don’t think it matters – because it actually does.

As Christians, we must operate with the utmost respect and integrity, because our character – and our witness – as Christians demands just that.

“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” ~ Philippians 1:27 NASB

Tracy Ruckman owns TMP Books where she coaches beginning writers with notepad scribblings all the way through to a finished book.