Hands up all those who’d like to have a successful writing career.
(What’s that you say? What do I mean by ‘successful’?)
All right, I know all writers are individuals. To some, ‘successful’ might mean just getting one article published. Others want a string of best-selling novels, recognition in the supermarket and megabucks in the bank account. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ll define ‘successful’ as “achieving regular or ongoing publication credits in tandem with a growing income”. That income should increase as you become more recognized and popular as a writer.
Now for the crunch. How do you achieve success? How do you win a growing readership? And the biggie: how do you make sure you get paid for your efforts?
There’s a simple answer. You need to INVEST in your career. Think of your writing as a fledgling business. Wise investment will help it to grow – and help you to get the results you want.
- You need to spend a buck to make two (or more) bucks
- You need to prioritize your spending
- You need to invest time as well as money
- You need to invest energy
- You need to surround yourself with wise advisors and positive people
- You need to plan, review, and plan again
1. You Need To Spend A Buck To Make A Buck
Every craftsperson needs to have good tools to get the best results. A writer is no different.
- You can make do with a typewriter – but a computer is better. (Why? It’s easier to edit your work; you can connect to the wider writing community via the Internet, and editors are increasingly asking for manuscripts and proofs to be emailed to them.)
- You can make do with looking up publishers in the Yellow Pages – but the latest edition of a Writer’s Marketplace is better. (Why? It gives you much more industry-specific information – and it’s a darn sight more convenient.)
- You can make do with business cards and postcards to promote yourself – but an email address/website address is better. (Why? The take-up rate of Internet users is phenomenal – people can reach you or read about you easily and conveniently.)
It’s easy to talk yourself into “making do”. And it’s true that writers can spend almost nothing on tools of the trade. However, successful businesses know that in the end, you have to spend money to make money. That doesn’t mean waste money – it means you carefully plan your spending.
2. You Need to Prioritise Your Spending
There are three main things you need to think about when you’re prioritising your spending on your writing career.
- What will help me improve my skills?
- What will help me to do my job more effectively?
- What will help me to become better known and to market my work?
Look realistically at your income and expenditure, and decide what you can spend on your writing career in the next 12 months. Don’t make this the least possible you can manage. Think of it as ongoing costs in building an effective business. (And remember that many start-up businesses don’t expect to make a profit for the first 3 years!)
Here are a few ideas:
(a) What will help me improve my skills?
Books on writing for your professional library – a writing course – a writing workshop or program – a writers’ seminar or conference – membership of a writers’ centre – writing software – a critique service
(b) What will help me do my job more effectively?
An up to date computer – a good-quality desk and chair – an internet connection – a directory of writers’ markets – a separate room for writing – a reduction in working hours in my outside job – a fax and/or good printer – a better word processing program
(c) What will help me to get known and to market my work?
Attendance at writing talks/seminars/workshops/groups – local functions and social groups – internet discussion lists – my own website – submission of articles to industry magazines/ezines – run my own seminars and workshops – business cards – regular column for local paper – radio chat show appearances
These are just a few ideas. Brainstorm a list of your own, then rank the items on each list in order of importance to you. What is the wisest use of your money at this point in your career?
3. You Need To Invest Time As Well As Money
You have probably already noticed that many of the career-boosting strategies that involve investment of cash also require an investment of your time. The importance of giving time to your career cannot be overestimated.
- It takes time to read up on markets and draw up a submission list.
- It takes time to keep records about where your work has been and where it needs to go next.
- It takes time to go to seminars, workshops and regular group meetings.
- It takes time to read up on techniques to build your writing skills, to use them, and to get feedback on how well they worked.
- And of course – it takes time to actually sit down and write!
In writing, as in any field of endeavour, there are far more ‘gunnas’ than achievers. “I was gunna write for an hour every day, BUT…”; “I was gunna do a chapter this week, BUT…”; “I was gunna go to that seminar, BUT…”
It’s far easier to find excuses for not doing something than to get out there and do it. With every excuse, your writing career stalls again. Sure, we all have times when everything that could go wrong does go wrong – but we need to be careful that this enforced ‘time out’ doesn’t stretch from weeks to months, or from months to years.
4. You Need To Invest Energy
An energetic approach to achieving success in your writing career is just as important as spending time and money. You can spend thousands of dollars and you can sit down at the computer for four hours a day seven days a week – but if you don’t invest energy then you are diluting the effects of both.
Example #1: You can go to a seminar and sit by yourself the whole time (or nod off because you’re bored/tired)… or you can make an effort to talk to other writers; ask questions of the panel; introduce yourself to an agent.
Example #2: You can skim through the posts on an internet discussion list… or you can join in and toss around a few ideas (and get to know the others on the list).
Example #3: You can sit at your desk for 2 hours and write a page, play 10 games of Solitaire, answer your email and chat on the phone to a friend for twenty minutes… or you can write a scene, print it out, read it out loud for pacing, analyse the dialogue, then rewrite it – in short: be proactive about using your writing time.
5. You Need To Surround Yourself With Wise Advisers and Positive People
It has often been said that writing is a lonely occupation. It certainly can be, if all you do is sit in front of the computer for hours on end, lost in your writing world. It’s even lonelier if you seem to be the only one who believes that you’ve got a chance of making something of ‘this writing caper’.
Am I saying that it’s a bad thing to become really involved in your writing? Not at all – but you do need balance. You also need to surround yourself with the right kind of people to help you move forward – (1) the right advisers and (2) positive people.
Who are the ‘right advisers’? People who know something of the world of writing. Usually, these will be other writers or professionals connected with writing: agents, editors, writing centre personnel, and experienced members of writing groups (online and offline).
What about ‘positive people’? This is easy. Getting published is hard enough without the doomsayers undermining your confidence. If your family is not supportive, look for others who are. Talk about writing with people who care. Beware of published writers who launch savage attacks on the publishing industry without offering any constructive advice (sometimes they have a hidden agenda).
You love to write. You want to make a living at it. You want to know how to make this a reality – not be told how awful and impossible it all is.
Naturally, you shouldn’t close your ears to sage advice. If there’s an editor everyone hates dealing with, you want to know about it. If there’s a publisher who takes ten months to respond to a manuscript, doesn’t take calls and is slow paying contracted authors – you want to know about that too. But overall, mix with positive people. Your enthusiasm and effectiveness will soar.
6. You Need To Plan, Review, and Plan Again
A well-run business reviews its performance regularly. As you invest time, money and energy in your career, stop periodically to review the effectiveness of your strategies.
- What did you learn from that conference/workshop?
- How much return will you get from your investment in that book on technique or that directory of writers’ markets?
- How much difference has your investment in an internet connection made to your knowledge and contacts?
- What is the next step in your career?
- What do you need to invest to take you to the next step?
Plan, review, then plan again. This should be an ongoing process in your campaign to establish yourself as a successful writer!
By employing these 6 high-yield strategies to investing in your career, you’ll notice a definite change in your attitude and your results.
Does this approach work?
Well, for over a decade now I’ve had a career based solely on writing and writing-related activities. It pays well in both satisfaction and dollars. I’ve always invested time, money and energy in my career. I’ve tried to surround myself with good advisers and positive people. And yes, I do plan, review then plan again! I’m constantly updating my knowledge, tools and contacts.
These 6 high-yield strategies have worked for countless other writers. They’re based on (1) common sense and (2) good business sense.
Give them a try, and watch them work wonders for you.
(c) copyright Marg McAlister