[quick edit - this will turn into a two-part post because I tend to focus on the downside of being unprofessional, and I think there's a corresponding upside as well]
The topic of professionalism by people who are selling game materials as opposed to giving them away seems to have come up a couple of times recently; directly, in the case of Austrodavicus's posts about a dust-up with Pacesetter Games a year ago, and indirectly in terms of how it's dickish to attack a free publisher, as is the case with this most recent situation where a blogger pulled his blog because of an attack by another blogger. I won't go into that one because I'd rather not draw attention to the attack blogger: "don't feed the troll" is the way to handle trolls.
And another set of things that have brought it to my mind; (a) I forgot to send Pete Mullen a check and was a month late, and (b) I have been non-existent on the net for about a month.
This leads me to something that I've often said about myself, but wouldn't expect anyone to have been hanging on my every word about it, so I'll mention it again. I don't make any claims to be professional about what I do. That might sound, well, unprofessional, but the fact of the matter is that I don't have the capabilities to be professional, and I try to work around that instead of banging my head against a limitation that's too much of a stretch for me. That's a weakness, especially since I probably spend more time, although not in the last month, on D&D than many of the other publishers out there. With bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder, I don't hold down a regular job, and I basically look after the kids and the house. Not only is my free time probably somewhat more than others have, more importantly it's flexible time. I can get on the computer when I want to, not just when a 9-to-5 is done with. So I really ought to be striving for a higher level of professionalism, and I don't. This really applies to the business side of Mythmere Games -- I focus everything on the quality because I can do that, but it's because of my limitations that I print things POD -- I avoid taking money for pre-orders, I avoid having to mail checks as opposed to using paypal, and I let lulu or RPGnow handle money, printing, and mailing.
I have had a tendency to tweak books after the initial publication, thereby screwing over the early adopters. I often miss emails from people, or fail to remember that [internet name] is the same person as [real name], is the same person as [email address]. I am perennially late on Knockspell deadlines. In some cases, I have totally fired off some vicious public attacks on people who make personal attacks on me like calling me a liar or saying that I publish stuff to make the boatloads of money they envision me to be making. Those are flaws, and (with the exception of trying not to tweak books) I try to work around these rather than fixing them.
The reason for not fixing them is that it would be a change to the whole reason I am in the online oldschool community. I'm a hobbyist, not a real publisher. I don't pretend otherwise. I always try to warn people that at some point I will drop off the net for months at a time because I'm in one of the downside swings in the bipolar cycle. Another example, from a smoking-area talk with Rob Kuntz -- he took me to task initially for the fact that while I agree maps work best in a module when they are separated from the rest of the booklet, my maps are included in the back of the book rather than being separate. His point was that I am publishing something that I admit is less than perfect. He changed his mind, though, from the answer -- publishing separate maps requires using a traditional publisher. You can't do it if you're using POD. And I am not willing to climb that mountain by dealing with the whole raft of additional issues involved with dealing with printers, taking money, and mailing things. I have always tried to get partners to handle that side -- whether that's Frog God Games, Black Blade Publishing, or lulu. I work around the weaknesses, and try to warn people about this, rather than making huge changes in my life that are difficult for me just in order to be more professional.
This isn't as much of a cop-out as it sounds, since if I tried to do that side of things I would absolutely leave people waiting for things for months. I would be bad at it, and it's better to recognize this head-on. I just try to warn people ahead of time about where my particular failings are -- the areas where I simply don't measure up, and where I know I don't measure up.
I think -- and definitely hope -- that the matter of professionalism is really a matter of telling people up front and in advance that "these are the areas where I fail, and can be expected to fail from time to time, and either cannot or will not improve."
In other words, I try not to make anyone think that I'm anything more than somewhere in the gap between a true publisher and a hobbyist publisher.
This isn't, by the way, a response to anything anyone has said about me, it's a response to finding Pete Mullen's check still on my desk instead of mailed. And reading Austrodavicus's post about a publisher other than me, and also the fact that I didn't post anything for a long time over the last month or so. But occasionally the emphasis people place on professionalism in our little publishing world makes me very uncomfortable because I don't claim to be one or live up to that standard. I do what (a) I can, and (b) am too lazy to make huge changes in my personal life in order to be what I'm not.
I do try to be honest and up-front about it, though. Hence this post.