Friday, June 19, 2009

Do we think of writing as a career?

It makes a difference how we think of ourselves in how we approach our writing. If it is something we just do when it is convenient because we enjoy doing it, that’s pretty much the definition of a hobby. If we carve out the time for it and protect it, if we study and grow and improve our skills, if we attend conferences and get in critique groups, that is more like a career.

The bottom line is, we take it seriously, and a professional writer doesn’t pin all their hopes on one book. When they finish one, they move on and keep writing. I’m amazed at the number of people who keep trying to sell the same story year after year instead of moving on to a new project. A large number of writers will sell another book before they do a deal on the first one. And some never sell the first one, I know I didn’t.

A pro writer carefully targets submissions. They do the research and if they send it to an editor or agent they know they have the proper name, they know what they have been working in so they are sure they are a real possibility for a submission and not just a name pulled out of a market guide. They look at submission guidelines and are sending exactly what the person wants to receive in the manner they want to receive it. We never get a second chance to make a first impression so it is important to do things right.

A pro writer never sends anything that isn’t as ready as they can get it. The last thing we want to do is to trigger an editor into copy-edit mode, noticing the things that they would have to fix, instead of enjoying and evaluating the writing.

There are differing opinions advanced on whether a platform is important or not, but I’m getting more and more submissions returned saying “Not a bad project, but the author just doesn’t have enough platform.” Put me down on the side that says it is really vital. A pro works on improving their platform, building networking, coming up with new ways to have exposure to groups and contact points that might aid book sales. They have a good marketing plan that spells out exactly what they can do to help a publisher market the book. In today’s economy these are more than just a paragraph we have to have in a proposal.

And a pro does have a good, well formatted proposal that contains the information the person they have targeted wants to see. It contains comparables to books that are written for the same readers they hope to sell to. Not books written LIKE their book, but books that help define the reader base in a way that the editor will see exactly what it is.

A hobbyist just wants to write. The professional does all of the things necessary to support and present their writing. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but if we claim to be a professional then we need to back it up with our actions.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Want to write full time?

I just finished doing a full day workshop for the Centex chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers at Round Rock, Texas, outside of Austin. Even though it had some general topics which changed by the hour it was a Q & A format so the content was pretty much controlled by the questions of the participants.

The topic that seemed to command the most interest was how to be a full time writer. Many, many writers aspire to simply stay home and write. I don’t have the actual figure at hand, but I believe something less than 5% of those actively writing and publishing are able to make a living simply from writing books. Most of those who are writing full time do so by a variety of writing efforts and I’m no exception.

I make money from books, but not a living. I make money as a literary agent but it’d be a sparce living as well and that income is certainly not a steady stream. I do also write articles and short stories, I just finished ghostwriting a book for a publisher and I’m adapting a Christian screenplay to be a companion novel to the movie. I do a lot of conferences and workshops and sell books and materials online. None of these activities or others are a living but together it works nicely to allow me to do it full time.

Others also do editing and work as book doctors. They write greeting cards, online content and custom blogs for companies that want changing content. They write copy and do press releases. There are a number of ways to find out about some of these freelance gigs but one is where you can subscribe to a daily newsletter of opportunities delivered right to your inbox. Once you do a certain amount of this work you find editors contacting you to do work for them.

There are other good reasons to add short work to your mix if you are just trying to write books. The average time from starting a first book to seeing the published copy in your hands is six years. Once the first one is out the time gets shorter with each success, but getting that first one out can be daunting if not outright discouraging. Writing and selling short work can be a great ego boost by giving you interim success. It can help build writing credentials to bolster your credentials, it can get you feedback from editors that will help your writing, teach you to be more economical with words, and you may be surprised to find out that a successful freelance writer will just make more money than the average book length author.

Being a professional writer is a business, and diversifying your product mix has always been a successful business strategy. Want to write full time? Do it with a mix of writing products and focus your primary effort in the avenue that is producing results at the time. During different times of the year or different times in your writing life that direction may and probably should change but the result can provide a comfortable living.