When I first started out as a writer, I admit, I wanted my career to focus around my love for fiction and poetry. I wrote short stories, I had the beginnings of a novel (over 50,000 words) and 100’s of poems that I thought for sure would be the foundation of a lucrative writing career. I felt confident that I could submit my work, get it in front of an audience and it would be smooth sailing from there.
Yeah right. To dream is a wonderful thing, but I had a reality check coming my way.
After the 100th rejection or so, I realized that this was not an easy business to crack. It was late 1998, I was frustrated and I was sure I’d never make it as a writer. I had to rethink my plan and swallow the fact that I had a lot to learn. It was time to get busy.
The first on my growing list of things to learn was: what sells? It was hard for me to listen to this bit of advice from a seasoned writer: fiction is marketable for some, but non-fiction is your best bet for building a sustainable career.
Why? Why can’t I be the next great American novelist? Why? I had to accept the reality that there are hundreds of thousands of writers out there with the same dream I had and, in reality, I couldn’t compete. That’s not to say this is true for all writers, but it was true for me. It’s not that I didn’t have original ideas or well written material. The facts for me were that I needed regular income streaming in weekly and fiction wasn’t going to get me there.
Now that I had an uderstanding of what to write, non-fiction, I created an idea file and maintained it regularly. A small notebook was kept with me at all times and organized into this file by topic. I regularly sifted through my files, making note of what could be fleshed out into an article and deleting what couldn’t.
Okay, I had ideas and I could flesh them out into articles. Great! The hard part is done, right?
NOPE. Another reality check was on the horizon. Part of the reason why my work was frequently rejected in the past was because my queries weren’t written properly. I had no idea there was proper format and that key information needed to be included. I had no idea that your query needed to be as strong as the writing you planned on submitting to the market. I had a lot to learn. If you’re in the same boat I was in, look at these resources to learn how to write a strong query letter:
1: How to Write a Query Letter
2: Articles to Help With Your Query
3: How to Write a Successful Query
4: Seven Worst Opening Lines For a Magazine Query Letter
5: Writing Non-Fiction, Jenna Glatzer
In addition to looking to the web for how-to resources to improve my skills and try to master this craft, I found magazine subscriptions (Writer’s Digest and The Writer) and books to be extremely valuable. I wanted to know the in’s and out’s of every aspect of this field, so I was a frequently visitor of bookstores and libraries. I once read that a writer reads more than they write, so I was putting that to practice. I couldn’t get enough! Of the many resources I used, examined and considered, the ones I used the most are:
1: The Writer’s Market (I buy a new one each year.)
2: Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, by Jenna Glatzer
3: Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stillman
4: Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg
5: The Write-Brain Workbook, by Bonnie Neubauer
Now that I was on my way down the “learning” path, I felt I was ready to make my way down the “career” path. I had my “author tool box” full and developed a firm understanding of the writing life by visiting the AbsoluteWrite.com forums and the WritersWeekly.com forums. Between both of these sites, I was able to find discussions covering just about every topic of writing that came to mind, in addition to the ability to build some interesting friendships and network connections.
Finding work was next on my list of things to do. I had made a goal to query daily and would use the following sites to accomplish this:
2: absolutewrite.com: I used the newsletters and the forums to find leads
3: craigslist.org: I visited every major city.
4: writersweekly.com: the newsletter, the markets section and the forums are very valuable.
Some of these links produced repeated results, but I didn’t mind because I was able to find unique opportunities at each of them. There are many other sites containing links to freelance writing work, which can be found by doing a simple search. The list I’ve shared with you above is where I’ve found measured success over the years.
Subscribing to various newsletters has also been to my advantage over the years. Not only did it keep me up to date about new writing opportunities, it also presented fresh content about topics I needed brushing up on or that was new to me. I don’t always have time to seek out these topics, so having them delivered directly to my inbox has been very beneficial. Here are some of the newsletters I subscribe to:
1: Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Pub
2: The Absolute Write Newsletter and Markets Newsletter
3: Julie Hood’s Writer Reminders
4: Write What You Know
5: Coffee Break For Writers
6: Writer’s Weekly
7: Write What You Know
Putting all of these tools together and using them regularly will help get you on your way. Remember, this is a very basic over-view of the steps I took to build my writing career. Keep your goals written down, actively search out new markets, update your idea files, continue to improve your skills and don’t give up!