Here we go! It’s time to answer the fifth and final question asked on my Facebook page several weeks ago:
Carey, that’s a great question. Simple in principle but a bit difficult to answer in just one blog post. The information below is far from exhaustive but I’ve tried to provide some basic pointers to get you started. I hope this helps!
- Start clipping! A common conundrum at the beginning of any type of career is that you need experience to get a job but you need a job to get experience. It’s not much different for writers, though it’s easier than you might think to get experience. It’s important to build up a portfolio of publishing credits (or clips) as soon as possible. You may need to write for free for local newspapers or non-profit newsletters to start with. Published letters to editors also count (they had to be good enough for the publications to run them, after all). And now, in the Internet age, it’s super-easy to set up a blog and write to your heart’s content. Write well and write often and you’ll soon have a solid body of work to show potential editors.
- Read, read, read. The best way to improve your writing is to read good writing. Read widely (varying the genres, eras and topics) and read often. Take notes when you come across writing that speaks to you. Look up new words and practice using them.
- Study the markets. There’s no use in being a good writer if you don’t know who would publish your work. There are market guide books in bookstores and libraries and you can find them online, too. Read through the categories until you’re familiar with them and know where your article, story or book fits. Then read through the listings to find out who publishes what you’re offering. Then learn how to write a good query and start sending out your story ideas (following the specifications of individual publications).
- Invest in your professional development. I can’t over-stress this. Most of my success is a direct result of networking with editors and other writers at workshops, writers’ conferences, press events, etc. Attending an out-of-town conference can be expensive but, if you make the most of every minute of it, you can reap benefits that far outweigh the expense. I often tell people that I cannot afford not to go to the annual event I attend. The freelance and book contracts I have picked up over the last decade have more than paid for the costs of going. If money is really tight at the beginning, find a local writers’ group or connect with people online. Go to the library and read books. But invest whatever you can afford to (a) improve your craft and (b) make connections with people who can help propel your career forward.
- Be irresistible. Successful writers need more than great writing skills. They need great personalities. Being skilled in the craft of writing is obviously essential but, from my experience, it’s not enough. If you’re a lousy person to deal with, editors will hesitate to work with you. Here are some tips for improving your chances of success:
- Be professional. Meet your deadlines, proofread and fact-check your work before you send it in and treat your editors with respect. They are the ones who are going to make you look good on paper. And remember that editors are people, too. Don’t pester them and don’t talk down to them. Say thanks when a project is finished.
- Be creative. Editors love receiving fresh articles ideas that show you’ve gotten to know the publication and are thinking ahead. Keep your editors hungry for more of your work.
- Be teachable. Don’t let an editor’s criticism get to you. Take it, learn from it and move on. (You can start screaming after you hang up the phone.) Will the editor notice your patience? Probably not, but he or she would certainly notice your lack of it. An inability to deal with criticism is the mark of an amateur writer.
- Be a joy to work with. Almost nothing beats a good attitude and a cheerful spirit. If you are enjoying the process, those working with you will enjoy it, too, and they’ll want to work with you again.
Well, these are some of my own tips. I encourage anyone who’s really serious about writing and getting published to take the time to study more about the business, because that’s really what it is. Sure, writing is a creative activity and a form of art. But getting your work published is business and you have to be willing to work at it and be professional about it.
Here are several excellent resources that will give you a lot more information than I could possibly cover in this post. (There are certainly many more websites and a plethora of books that can help you, but these are my favourites.) Have fun! (Because, really. . .If you’re not having fun, you’re probably in the wrong career.)
- Writer’s Digest
- Daily Writing Tips
- Jane Friedman’s Writing Advice
- The Renegade Writer
- The Publication Coach – Blog
In closing here’s a fun riddle:
Q. How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. But why do we have to CHANGE it?