An Integrity Checklist

We’re told over and over that writing and publishing are rapidly changing—and they surely are.

But some things, such as writers’ professional standards and ethics, don’t change over time. Professionalism and integrity look very much the same today as they did 50 years ago—and as they will look in the year 2059. Our tools, media, and language will continue to morph, but we must not alter our commitment to earning the trust and respect of readers, editors, and one another. Here are some expressions of these timeless standards and ethics:

* Be straightforward and honest in all your business dealings.

* Be civil and businesslike at all times—in person, on the phone, and in letters, faxes, and emails—even if the person you’re dealing with is not.

* Be clear about what you want, need, and expect.

* Don’t expect editors and other publishing people to be perfect. Do expect them to treat you fairly, honestly, and with respect. (If someone doesn’t, your best course of action is usually to stop working with them.)

* Ask for, expect, and, if necessary, insist on reasonable fees, terms, and deadlines.

* Never agree to anything you find unacceptable. If a publisher isn’t willing to negotiate a reasonable deal, it’s better to have no deal at all.

* Live up to whatever commitments you make—and expect editors and publishers to do the same. Meet or beat all deadlines.

* Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

* If you see in advance that you’re not going to be able to deliver what you promised by your deadline, let the appropriate person know immediately.

* When you make a mistake, miss a deadline, or cause a problem, apologize promptly and do what you can to make amends.

* Be willing to make reasonable compromises—but refuse to make unreasonable ones.

* Accompany all submissions with well-written cover letters.

* Properly cite your source whenever you use someone else’s words or ideas.

* Quote all sources as accurately as possible.

* When doing research for a piece of writing, be as thorough, careful, and detailed as necessary.

* Present your credentials truthfully and accurately, but in the most positive light.

* Keep at least one backup copy of everything you write. Ideally, keep three copies—one on your hard drive, a backup on an external hard drive or flash drive, and a paper copy in a file.

* Send a manuscript to editors only when you feel it’s genuinely worthy of publication.

* Do proper market research for each piece you plan to submit for publication.

* Read every publication contract thoroughly, negotiate it carefully (if necessary), and save it in a location that’s easy to access and remember.

* Always make clear, unambiguous agreements—preferably written ones—to cover the publication of your work. If you do make an oral agreement, jot down the terms as you talk; then promptly send your editor a letter, fax, or email that details those terms. Add something like this: “This is my understanding of what we’ve agreed to; if your understanding is different, please let me know.”

* Keep accurate records of all of your submissions, acceptances, and publications.

* Keep an accurate, ongoing account of all your business expenses. (These are normally tax-deductible on your Schedule C. If you have little or no writing income, these deductions can usually be used to reduce your total income from other sources.)

* Don’t be afraid to try new topics, genres, forms, approaches, or markets. If a new or unusual (but worthwhile) opportunity presents itself, go for it.

* Be patient and persistent. The people who succeed in the writing business are those who keep at it for years—often in the face of setbacks and rejection.

* Never threaten a lawsuit except as a next-to-last resort. (The final resort, of course, is actually suing.)

* Never throw away anything you write.

* Write as well as you can.

* When offered advice on a website for writers, consider it seriously—but don’t take it as absolute, unwavering truth.

This list was adapted from my book 30 Steps to Becoming a Writer, which is part of The Complete Writer’s Kit, published by Running Press and copyright 2005 by Scott Edelstein.