This whole writing-for-profit thing is weird.
I’ve been a writer my entire life, so it’s counter-intuitive how new I am to the publishing world. Especially since there are a million different ways to enter the world of being a Paid Writer, especially when your end goal is Paid Novelist.
For example: you can do freelance writing, which is the route I’m trying. You put a lot of content out very quickly and get paid sporadically. You can self-publish, which isn’t a route I’m a big fan of: while it definitely works and I may try it again in the future, I feel like it’s really easy to publish work that isn’t as polished as it could be. There’s the writing-as-a-job route: get work as a newspaper journalist or something, which means steady pay but not a lot of flexibility.
And of course, there’s the tried-and-true slush-pile route, which I think is steadily becoming obsolete. In the world of quick cash, e-books, and publishing opportunities at your fingertips, it’s hard to justify sending in a manuscript and cover letter to editor upon editor. It’s hard to justify waiting months upon months for yet another rejection letter. In the age of the Internet, we want our rejection to come out fast and soon. The waiting is probably worse than the rejection itself.
So as a new writer– just out of college, with a load of writing skills and life experience but hardly any publications under my belt– what the hell do I do next?
This is what I’m thinking, complete with sources.
First Route: Freelancing
There are a ton of options to find freelancing work. If you want to get paid as a freelancer, you can get paid as a freelancer. There are tons of sites out there. Hell, there are even communities available for support.
The problem is finding interesting work, or work that pays well, or even making a steady income at all. And a lot of those sites require more money than you may earn; Freelancer, at least, never shies away from asking you for money. There are limited bids you can make on a non-premium account. And you have to put in some way to get paid, which I’m always a little wary of. I’m not a big fan of keeping any sort of banking information online.
There’s old-fashioned freelancing, of course, which is something I don’t know a whole lot about. You can pitch stories to magazines and newspapers, see if anyone will pay you to write them– but good luck doing so without a portfolio to back you up.
Second Route: Self-Publishing
I actually know quite a few self-published authors, and with work this method can be fairly successful. But it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that if your book is good, it’ll go straight to the top with no further effort. Self-publishing is easy, right? Upload your manuscript, write a description, and wait for the money to roll in.
Self-publishing means self-marketing. It means figuring out how to get good reviews, how to craft a good online presence. It means you’re your own agent, unless you get lucky and someone else comes along. And you still have to be at least a passable writer, preferably an excellent one.
And because it’s so easy, there’s a huge danger: publishing before you’re ready. Once you publish, it’s out there forever: no take-backs. If you go into self-publishing, you need an editor. You need someone to tell you, “shut up, no, it’s not ready yet. Get back to work and make it the best it can be.” This, more than the marketing, is why I’m not a big fan of self-publishing: it’s too easy to just publish something because you’re sick of it.
Third Route: Writing Jobs
I put this one in here because it’s a route to Becoming A Writer, but I have absolutely no experience with it. If someone else does, please hit up the contact page and feel free to tell me.
Fourth Route: The Slush Pile
As a kid, this is the route I always thought I’d go down: you send out your work and a cover letter, and (if you’re the 16-year-old me), an editor reads it and recognises its brilliance, takes a chance on you, and you find yourself whisked away to fortune and fame.
Since I’m 23 years old, living with my parents, and substitute-teaching for a living, that clearly didn’t work out too well for me. Here’s the thing I didn’t realise as a teenager: when a publisher takes you on, they’re taking on more than just a “good book”. They’re hiring you. They need someone who can meet deadlines, produce content, market themselves… All that stuff 16-year-old-Alex knew happened to “sellouts”.
And she was right, in a way. Terrible books like 50 Shades of Gray are so popular because they’re marketed well (see this amazing Reddit post on how that happened). Teenagers hate “sellouts” because it can go horribly wrong, but writers have to understand that the “slush pile” method is horribly inefficient. Even if you’re an excellent writer, unless you have some other qualities the editor’s not going to take that risk.
Here’s a great podcast about overcoming this hurdle. I haven’t read his book, so I can’t vouch for that, but the podcast is great.
So once you learn about all these hurdles, all these problems you’re going to face, what the hell are you supposed to do? Most of this probably elicits a “no shit, Sherlock” response from those in the business, but for someone just out of college who’s trying to break into this world it’s all a fairly new challenge. At least, it is for me.
I don’t really have an answer for that question. Or any of these questions. It’s what I’m trying to figure out right now myself. But I’ll deal with a lot of this stuff in upcoming posts as I figure it out.
If you have any thoughts on this, please, let me know below or on the About Me page. I want your input.