No Instant Magic Formula to Writing Stardom

There is an interesting little article by John Scalzi over at his Whatever blog, where he details why you're not going to have a career just like his. I find it an interesting read, because even at my very moderate level of writing achievement, I've gotten phone calls and emails and meetings where I've been begged to reveal the magic secret to my ability to gain paid writing work. The messages poured in even more frequently when I revealed work with a byline rather than my vague talk of ghostwriting for businesses. There appears to be a lot of folks that love the idea of making money off writing, and even more who like to see their name in print. I can't really blame them, because it is a blast and sure beats asking if you want fries with that. It also appears that many of those people seems to think there is a magical formula to follow or that I've uncovered the dark secret to paid writing work.

Like Scalzi said, you can't just follow the path of one writer and hope mimicking them will you bring the exact same success. Because it won't. In the case of Scalzi, you have someone who has got two novel published that where originally put up on his blog. He's also had another non fiction book published that contained many of his past blog posts. He's also been able to sell many of his old blog posts to magazines or sites. But does that mean that posting stuff up on your blog is the road to mountains and mountains of cash? Probably not. The fact is, most editors and publishers are looking for fresh and new content, and are less likely to fork over cash for something that has already been read by several people for free. As far as they know, those people may have been the only people ever interested in reading those particular articles or stories or books. Blogging in an attempt to get noticed by publishers isn't the most solid strategy for monumental success. In the case of Scalzi, he never wrote anything on his blog that he thought he was actually going to be able to sell, but rather he just ended up lucky enough that something he wrote caught a publishers eye. It is rather risky to think the process can or will ever be repeated. Besides, it's best to remember the stuff he posted was just for his own amusement rather than any legitimate strategy to get published (plus he has already been published and had a writing career when he started blogging -- so he wasn't trying to catch a break through this medium).

So, if you pass on Scalzi then you may think Stephen King might be the best writer to emulate. After all, the guy is a millionaire and has been popping out bestsellers for over 3 decades now. Again, you're stuck looking at a career that is rather hard to emulate. In the 70s, he was working at an industrial laundry and writing short stories for men's magazines to supplement his income. At one point, he was finally convinced by his wife to complete the manuscript for a novel and try to sell it. This ended up being Carrie, which essentially launched his career into the stratosphere. You're going to have a lot of problems trying to copycat that success. First being, I am not sure how many industrial laundries are out there or if you'd really be interested in working there while you write (you'd also have to live in a trailer home at some point). The bigger problem from a writer's perspective is that men's magazines don't really publish many short stories anymore. Actually, not many magazines publish short stories, period. At the time, King was getting $200 to $500 a short story, and now, you'd be doing a happy dance to get $50 on one of the online sites. Yes, some of the glossier mags have short story anthologies and they do pay a decent price. But they're usually reserved for the already established writers. It is a different time now, and you can't expect to get the same opportunities with short story writing. As for making it big on your first novel? Well, let's just say you probably don't want to quit your job until you find out your advance and get an idea of how the sales will be. The fact is, King's story is a once in a lifetime tale rather than what you can expect as a writer. It's rather foolish to ever assume or think your novel will land you millions (or even thousands).

Now, it takes you to me. I won't ever think of comparing my career to either of the writers above. First of all, I don't have any novels published. More importantly, I'm nowhere near the tax bracket that those two fellows are at (not to say that they share the same spot themselves). But I've made money writing. I've made enough that I was able to take the plunge in April and make my writing business the main source of my writing income and time. I do still have to do some work outside of writing, and I'm quite a few tens of thousands short of making six figures. But for a newbie freelance writer, I'm happy enough where I am. I've landed enough success that people are trying to gain bits of writing wisdom from me.

Or more specifically, they try to find out the exact thing that I did to land a writing job. Because they seem to believe there has to be one all powerful secret to success.

If you totally missed the point of my two examples above, let me now inform you that there isn't.

I end up disappointing all these people by basically telling them my advice is to write. Then after you're done, you write some more. At some point, you then have to grab yourself a Writer's Market and find a publisher to sell your writing to. Or you can jump on a job board and find out what businesses are looking for a freelance writer. Then you contact them and write the best cover letter and resume you can. Usually, they'll want some writing samples too, and so if you don't have a portfolio, you might want to write up your own samples. If none of that works for you, then you can write up a sales pitch and start sending it out to local businesses. Or you can start calling local businesses and try to convince them that they need a writer. And of course that writer needs to be you. They'll likely say no, but if you're talented and have some decent (and relevant samples) you'll get that yes eventually.

The thing with all that advice is that none of it contains magic. It isn't quick. It is actually a lot of hard and time consuming work. But if you're good, then it eventually pays off. Or at least, you get a job that might pay for your coffee for the week. The good thing about landing a small job is that you have a real clip now, and you can use it to promote yourself to other prospective and better paying clients. Again, it means work. Clients rarely just start calling you.

I have had the occasional person come to me. That is only after I've marketed myself or had a previous client refer me to them. I've also got lucky and had a few come to me based off what I wrote here. For 90% of my work, it has been through contacting the client and trying to pitch them a story or my services. You have to put yourself out there. You can't expect wishing upon a star to solve it.

Then again, everyone's writing career is different. Which is the main point here. You can't follow one person exactly and think you can get the same success. You can learn from their career. I do think it is beneficial to see what several other writers have done to achieve success. In the end, your success is up to your hard work and any amount of luck that comes your way. The luck will find you more easily if your actually writing and working hard.

Speaking of writing, I've got some more of that to do. I'll leave you alone now.