7 Ways to Be Professional

Guest Blogger: Mary Demuth

We’re all friends here, right? Yes – but it still pays to present yourself as a professional. I wish I’d known these seven things when I started out in the publishing world.

1. Make sure your paper products are professional. Don’t print business cards on your printer. (Go to gotprint.com and have them professionally printed.) Keep everything consistent. One of the things my former agent told me (right after he decided to take a risk and agent me) was that I had very professional presentations. It made an impression. Here’s a picture of my professionally-designed circular business cards.

2. Continue your professionalism into the Internet. Don’t have a website if you can’t have it look amazing. Try to move beyond an everyone’s-using-it template. If you blog, be consistent with the timing, length and theme of your posts.

3. Look professional. When you meet with editors, agents, publishers, wear business attire or “business casual.” Shake hands. Look folks in the eyes.

4. Always, always, always write thank you notes. Always. Whether they’re via email or postal service is up to you, but when you meet someone in the industry who has made an impression on you, a handwritten card is a huge surprise. Don’t send gifts, though. (Um, Mary, really? No gifts??? ~Rachelle)

5. Be cautious about spouting off. This is a small industry and word travels like wildfire. Don’t gossip. Don’t burn bridges. Be courteous, kind, and teachable. You don’t want to have the professional reputation of being difficult. Often the person you’ve had difficulty with moves around to another publishing house or venue. Treat everyone with respect.

6. Answer email quickly. This shows you care about the person sending it. It will endear you to editors and agents. And yet, don’t be too needy, expecting immediate response. Give grace. (If you’re buried in email, I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s excellent post on the topic.)

7. Invest in a good author photo. Hire a photographer. If this is prohibitive, find someone who’s great at taking pictures. My daughter took my latest photo. Also, Rachelle blogged about this with some ideas.

Q4U: Have you made mistakes in any of these areas? What other ways can you think of to be perceived as a professional? 

Mary DeMuth is an author and speaker whose latest book is 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking. Today we’re giving away a free copy of the book to a randomly chosen commenter who puts “150 Questions” in their comment to today’s post. Comment must be posted by Friday at midnight.

Mary blogs at http://www.marydemuth.com/.

Twitter: @MaryDeMuth
Facebook: facebook.com/authormarydemuth

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  8. Nikole Hahn on March 30, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    >I got my business cards printed at vistaprint. It's all I can afford at the moment. But they are professional looking and neat. Very handy. I take them with me to my writer's group and my Word Weavers group just in case. Good advice on the other stuff, too.

  9. Linda Hoye on March 25, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    >Thank you once again, Mary, for your words of wisdom. I appreciate your generosity in sharing what you have learned along the way.

    And thank you, Rachelle, for hosting Mary.

  10. Mary DeMuth on March 25, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    >I agree with the person who said don't pick a fight with an editor!

  11. Mary DeMuth on March 25, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    >Pen name question: I'm not a fan of pen names, and I'm not sure what to say for advice. Rachelle? What would you prefer? Their biz card with a pen name or without? Or both?

  12. Mary DeMuth on March 25, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    >Here's the direct link to the business cards:


  13. ElizaO on March 25, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    >What wonderful thoughts Mary! Thanks so much for sharing some of your insights. I feel like I'm probably at that halfway point where I'm okay on some but need to look more at others. I would also love to be entered in the giveaway for 150 Questions.

  14. Jill on March 25, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    >Does business casual include cowgirl boots?

  15. Beth K. Vogt on March 25, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    >Practical, applicable, and to the point! Great post, Mary!

  16. Jennifer Fromke on March 24, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    >Great tips. I might add another: We come across as professional when we know who we are and we're comfortable in our own skin.

    I know the terror of the 15 minute appt. with an industry professional. My nerves were probably visible a mile away. But when I began to talk about my project, I grew comfortable because I believe in it and I know it shows who I am as a writer.

    150 Questions sounds great-enter me, please!

  17. Jane on March 24, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    >Mary, these tips are so helpful. Hearing your thoughts on a professional website/photos/business cards reinforces my movement in that direction. It seems like a financial risk when I'm not super busy, but I suppose you have to have one to help get the other. (…well, that and exceptional writing! 🙂

    I'd love to win your book! It's perfect for our stage of life!

  18. Ishta Mercurio on March 24, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    >"150 Questions" looks like a great book, so enter me, please!

    And this is a super post. I feel a little swamped by email at the moment, so I'll be checking out the link to Michael Hyatt's post. Many thanks for the advice!

  19. Caroline on March 24, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    >Great tips, as always, Mary!

    I definitely need to improve the professional look of my blog. I'm slowly tweaking it here and there, but I'd love to be able to have a professional design — hopefully sooner than later!

    Mary, you always have such useful and honest advice to offer. If I ever got to meet you at a writer's conference, I know I'd have 150 Questions to ask you… but, I promise to not bombard/scare you. I'll limit those questions to an appropriate and respectful amount.

    (I'd love a copy of "150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking," by the way. I was trying to come up with a slightly creative way to include "150 Questions" in my comment. The above paragraph is my current attempt.) 🙂

  20. CraftyMama on March 24, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    >"150 Questions"! I'm not very creative. 😉

    I'm still working on that professional photo. It's really all a matter of taking the time to make myself look nice, and then finding a nice setting for the picture.

  21. Ava@AvaWrites.com on March 24, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    >Helpful advice. Thank you!
    One thing I would add: Don't speak for God. Don't say God gave you the words you wrote and you won't edit a word – regardless of whether you've broken every rule in the Chicago Manual of Style or whether your material fits the agent's or publisher's submission guidelines.
    If you do, be prepared for the agent or editor to say that God may have told you to write it, but He didn't tell them to publish it!

  22. Michelle Massaro on March 24, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    >Great article, thanks! I'm cracking up though, Mary–are virtual flowers, chocolate and money ok? lol

    I'd love to read your book! =)

  23. Joy Nicholas on March 24, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    >Ohhhh… I feel terribly convicted about the blogging regularly comment. I have good reason, but this past month has been a low point in my blogging history. Must. Do. Better.

    Thanks, Mary. (And, of course, Rachelle.) Always full of good advice and ideas.

  24. John Wiswell on March 24, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    >If only more people followed Rule 6…

  25. Jeanette Levellie on March 24, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    >Oops, forgot to say, "Please enter me to win 150 Questions" and thank you for offering it!


  26. Ashley Graham on March 24, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    >Thanks for this!

    (I love that business card, by the way.)

    After reading a few of Rachelle's posts on the subject and a few others, too, I've been trying to convince my hubby there's no better time to start building my brand than now, since I've entered the querying stage. I've been wanting to invest in an author photo and start building my website, using a fantastic idea for some custom artwork, and he thinks it's a waste of time until I'm agented and/or published.

    I'll be directing him to this post.

  27. Kathleen's Catholic on March 24, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    >Terrific post.

    As a former editor from Random House and Rodale, I can tell you there's one more tip writers need to know. That is, don't argue with an editor…ever.

    One day, a man called me cold (at RH, Inc.) to ask what I expected from a book proposal. Apparently what I told him didn't suit him. I took the time from my busy day to help him out, and he actually argued with me.

    That's a big no-no, even if you know the editor well. Don't make her job more difficult. And remember, writers are published at an editor's pleasure. And it is a pleasure. We love our work.

  28. Peggy Jean Kennedy on March 24, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    >My junior in high school is already talking about scheduling her senior pictures. Maybe I'll have to make two appointments, one for me, too. Best of luck with "150 questions."

  29. Charise on March 24, 2011 at 12:48 PM

    >I enjoyed this post a lot. I've personally experienced the benefits of being a professional on all levels. Writing is my passion but publishing is a business and I try to bring all the business-like habits from my day job to my writing "job" too. I also would like to think what goes around/comes around because I enjoy working with professionals too.

    I would love to win the book!150 questions should get us through a few car trips! Thanks again.

  30. arbraun on March 24, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    >I've tried to have a professional attitude, only to have my peers say, "You are a horror author. Just say it." But you're right, it does pay to be a pro.

  31. Jan Rossi on March 24, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    >I went to a book author show last night and while the authors were informative I could not understand why the book covers were so boring. The same person published the books and it all looked very generic. I think if you put a lot of time into writing a book, you should have an awesome cover. Remember, the cover is what people see first on Amazon! Spend the money for an awesome cover and don't take anything that looks like everyone else's. Stand out.

  32. Jeanette Levellie on March 24, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    >I love that you have your photo on your business card, Mary. When I heard you speak at the WTP conference in 2009, you gave this as your #1 tip in a panel interview. I have since added my photo to my cards. Thank you!

    But I refuse to quit giving gifts. In my heart, I am not bribing, I am saying "Thank you for your time." An agent's or editor's time is worth some chocolate and a pen to me!

    Your daughter is a great photographer.

  33. Delia on March 24, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    >Wonderful advice! A quick question, though. If you're a writer using a pen name, which do you put on your business cards? You real name, which prospective work contacts would know, or your pen name, since that's how you'd like to market yourself to the public?


  34. L. V. Gaudet on March 24, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    >Great advice Mary!

    I try to never forget that everything online is open to the world. It is a part you your identity to everyone outside of yourself. This includes friends, family, employers, co-workers, possible future employers, co-workers and friends, strangers, psychos, fans or future fans, and everyone else out there.

  35. ET @ Titus2:3-5 on March 24, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    >I can't get the business card to load either, but I sure do want to see it! A circular business card?! Very cool.

    I love the advice, Mary. The one thing I'm lacking is an actual website (just a blog right now). But I'm working on rectifying that situation very soon!

  36. Michael Offutt on March 24, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    >I can't seem to be able to load the picture of your circular business cards. I tried a number of times 🙁

    Thanks for the tips.

  37. Tracy on March 24, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    >LOVE the practical tips from Mary!
    And would love a copy of "150 Questions" too!

  38. Melissa on March 24, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    >Would love to have 150 Questions to Get Your Kids Talking. I have three girls, one quickly approaching teens. I want to talk with them, not at them. What a great idea!

  39. Linda Steinert on March 24, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    >I would love a copy of this book..

  40. Yvonne Blake on March 24, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    >Thanks, Mary. I always enjoy reading your tips on writing.
    (I'd love to win a copy of your book.) Where do I send the roses?

  41. Mary DeMuth on March 24, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    >Oops, I guess you can send Rachelle gifts. She likes plastic dinosaurs, old tires, and homing pigeons. FYI. (You can thank me for these insights by sending me flowers and dark chocolate and money.)

  42. Cynthia Herron on March 24, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    >I'm guessing that this means, as writers, we can no longer remain in "stealth mode?" ha ha

    Seriously, boning up on some of these things allows us to not only network, but create first and lasting impressions, as well. So important…

    Would love to win a copy of your book, Mary!

  43. Amber J. Gardner on March 24, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    >My biggest mistakes with this is keeping a professional blog. Mine isn't. I really need to work on that.

    Also, this is the second time I've heard about giving out thank you notes. I will do this. Thanks!

  44. Susan Panzica - EternityCafe on March 24, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    >Thanks Mary – and Rachelle – for the great advice.

    As Christians, our primary motivating factor in professional, respectful behavior is that we represent Jesus. So in everything we do, business or otherwise, we ought to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the King of Kings.

    The book sounds great. I actually would like my kids to stop talking. Just kidding! They are now in college and our relationship is wonderful.

  45. EmilyR on March 24, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    >Great picture, Mary! Thanks for your suggestions. And, with 3 kids in the house, I'm eager to read "150 Quesions"!

  46. Rick Barry on March 24, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    >I might add that maintaining discretion in written correspondence, especially in emails, is vital. Sure, you can use cutesy abbreviations (e.g., "R U busy l8tr 2day?") with friends and family, but when colleagues I barely know immediately lapse into this stuff, it raises my eyebrows concerning their professionalism.

    By the way, Mary, I recently enjoyed listening again to one of your ACFW workshops from a couple years ago. Thanks for the post!

  47. Marla Taviano on March 24, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    >Rachelle–do you have an updated Wish List or are your gift ideas still the same? 😉

    Great list, Mary! My web designer husband designed my business cards, and I get more compliments on them than I can count. They're 2×2 squares and look just like my website. Super cute, super professional.

    I want 150 Questions!

  48. Kelly Combs on March 24, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    >150 Questions – enter me to win!

    Great advice from Mary, and I am looking forward to meeting her at She Speaks in July! I will, however, when meeting Rachelle disregard Mary's no gifts statement. 😉

  49. Grig on March 24, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    >Now that's what I call a useful article. 🙂 I'm new at this blogging business, and this sort of information is incredibly useful. If the "150 Questions" book is anything like this post, I would love to win it!

    Thanks for doing this giveaway! 🙂 If I win, my email is grig at gmx dot com

    *crosses fingers*

  50. Sandy on March 24, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    >Thank you Mary! That is one thing as a photographer I don't have is a self picture. Always behind the camera. Your book looks interesting, so I will post "150 Questions" to Get Your Kids Talking in my comment! Thanks!

  51. Sue Harrison on March 24, 2011 at 6:53 AM

    >Thank you, Mary. These are all terrific suggestions!

  52. Karyn on March 24, 2011 at 6:33 AM

    >Thank you for the advice Mary. I think it's always a great reminder that this is a business first. As an author, we are presenting a business idea, and part of the package is the author.

    I'd love to win a copy of 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking! 🙂

  53. Katie Ganshert on March 24, 2011 at 5:12 AM

    >Great advice, Mary! A couple summers ago I tried to make my own website and had it up for a couple months before realizing how lame it looked and promptly taking it back down.

    I'd LOVE to win a copy of 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking. 🙂

  54. Anonymous on March 24, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    >Oops, I seem to have skipped a lot of these things. I don't have business cards, a website or a twitter address, and I dress casually at best. I don't have any photos of myself and said I didn't want one in my book. I wanted to be judged entirely on my work. It didn't seem to hold me back.
    That said, I do always try to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, in life as in business.

  55. B. J. Robinson on March 24, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    >Interesting. I need to invest in a headshot. Thanks for the tips. BJ Robinson

  56. Rosemary Gemmell on March 24, 2011 at 4:17 AM

    >Thank you, Mary, for these great tips. The one I really have to attend to is the author photograph.

    Courtesy works both ways. The editor of a UK magazine took the trouble to email me yesterday to tell me my very short book review (of another author's book) was in the issue now out and they would be posting me a copy of the mag. I was really touched at her bothering for such a short piece in a short story magazine!

  57. Tana Adams on March 24, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    >I really want a better photo. I love your twitter pic Mary! I might need to go out and get pink jacket for my photo shoot. =)

    And I really want this book ;150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking! So I'm hoping you will randomly pick me!

  58. pattisjarrett on March 23, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    >This is a timely message for me. Thanks!

  59. RumorsOfGlory on March 23, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    >Mary, through the years you've always offered such practical advice. Thank you.