by Anna M. Clark
Twelve years ago I bought a book called How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business. Still not sure what moved me to do it. Until that time, I had put little thought and even less action into writing or, for that matter, building a business. The decade that followed was fraught with the ups and downs of leaving corporate America for the great unknown of entrepreneurship. But the spine of the shelved book remained a clarion call of a possibility that I might explore someday.
Someday came in 2006. Four years later, I’m a published author and featured blogger and I still haven’t opened that book. Some things are best learned by doing. So, based on my experience, here are ten essentials for carving out a career as a writer:
1.Write. J.K Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, has been writing since she was six. Harry Potter was an “overnight” success that was two decades in the making. It takes years to find your voice. If you haven’t been consistent, you have a fantastic excuse for not being an instant hit. Begin by writing what you know even if you think it’ll be boring. Nobody has to see your first drafts. Besides, you have to grease the wheels and turn out some rubbish before the good stuff can flow.
2. Start a blog. With WordPress, building an online presence is simple and free. Many an author has been published on the strength of her blog following and content. Social media guru Seth Godin explains, “Your book should be a souvenir from the trip.” Think of your blog as the travelogue in which you chronicle your adventures along the way. From an organizational standpoint, your blog is the hub of your communications platform. It’s also place to store videos, sell books and e-books, and link to your articles.
3. Make friends with other writers. Get several writer buddies to act as sounding boards. Add them to your blog roll and ask them to link to your blog, too. This will improve your SEO and bolster name recognition. This support network will also help you stay connected and motivate you when it seems like nobody else is reading your stuff.
4. Share your posts on Facebook. I didn’t think my friends would be into my stories about electric vehicles, but some of them surprised me. When I started to write about faith and other more personal things, I noticed I got some new people responding. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, so let them know you care by responding and engaging in conversation. For every one that comments, many more will not. That doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.
5. Network with similar thinkers. Comment on their blogs. Join social networking sites related to your field.
6. Get on Twitter. Imagine wandering into a room blindfolded and you are supposed to find common ground with folks after exchanging about 10 words. Sounds impossible, but with links to your blogs, you can build a community of like-minded acquaintances. Warning, you may hate Twitter at first. You may not even like it the second time. After that it becomes indispensible for attracting new readers.
7. Become an online contributor. Websites need fresh content to stay relevant. They want news, stories and opinions. Why not yours? Make a “Top 10” list, email the editors, and pitch your material. That’s how I got a regular blog on Greenbiz.com. I named it Eco-Leadership and started finding leaders to interview. You’ll be surprised at who you can get in front of when you have a platform to offer them.
8. Pitch your best work to editors at print publications or high-traffic websites. As you gain experience, you may desire more visibility, especially if you are trying to sell books, products or services. Make a list of places in which you would like to see your work appear. Search for the names and email addresses of editors. Track their interests. Send them a paragraph describing what you want to write with a link to your blog.
Note: If you have Type A tendencies, you will probably get your ego wrapped up in this. Prepare for rejection because you will get a lot of it – and that’s if they have the courtesy to answer you at all. To keep it from crushing your creativity and enthusiasm, you might pitch one round every 3-4 months. During the waiting period, keep on writing.
9. Hire an agent. Go online and look for literary agent listings that match your subject matter (fiction, non-fiction, self-help, faith-based, sci-fi, children’s and so on). A good agent costs nothing upfront but makes 15 percent on works that are sold. My agent has been a tremendous help to me in terms of coaching, moral support, and getting a book deal. If you want to go down this road, understand that the agent’s motto is “help me help you.” Be prepared to do most or all of the above steps on this list, write up a formal book proposal, and put substantial time into marketing.
10. Get real. To write well, you have to expose yourself, or at least a unique viewpoint. It’s not for the faint of heart. As Hemingway put it, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If this process deflates you, then focus on the fun and forget the rest. Unless you are dedicated and dogged, gifted or lucky, trying to write for money can sap your satisfaction and creativity. Moreover, there are not guarantees; you can do all of the above and still fail in the marketplace. Even relatively successful writers often gain more esteem than money.
So with all the ancillary work, potential for rejection, and odds stacked against us, why do we do it to ourselves? Notable reasons such as self-expression, contribution, community, contact, transformation and transcendence keep many of us going.
Author Jack London, one of the most financially successful writers who never tried to be, summed it up like this: “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”
That, my friends, is why we write. Even better than money, isn’t it?