Notes On Professional Writing
The proper goal
for a professional writer is to make a decent
living from the words she writes. The proper goal for a literary
writer is to master the material. We focus on the professional
writer because the path is much more easily marked out. If you
are a literary writer you need to work up a huge mountain of
obstacles that have nothing to do with money and will not pay
the rent. It's a huge sacrifice and you are either prepared or
not. Pray that you are prepared for it.
The professional writer must understand the marketplace, the
nature of editing a publication, how to inject life into a piece
without losing focus of communicating with an audience, how to
take rejection with aplomb, how to turn over rights to increase
profits, how to improve whatever craft abilities you may have
at this moment and so forth. You are at all times dealing with
other human beings who don't want to be BS'd. Who don't want
to be tricked. Who simply want your honest, best effort that
comes from what you know and believe. And if you can do that
you'll connect with some aspect of the marketplace.
The strongest attitude the professional takes is this, "I will
go on, I will get better, and I will leave yesterday for today."
In other words, don't wallow in failure or success, simply
move on to the next project.
There is no real formula for a successful, professional writing
career. It is no different than anything else. Be grateful for
what you have. Think of your goals lightly and in terms of
a happy conclusion, and look for opportunity. Especially the
last term. Be ever vigilant for the opportunity that is in front
of you but which you are overlooking for one reason or another.
However, you can only be an opportunist if you understand the
variables of the marketplace in which you are working. Study
the publishing industry. Read about, talk about, think about it.
All writing is "approved" by someone in the publishing industry.
Think about who approves it and why they do. On the otherside
of the marketplace is an organization trying to maximize its
profits while delivering excellent content to readers. Those
responsible for that delivery are ravenous for good content, especially
from unknown writers who they can pay less. Therefore, the more
known and successful you get the more you need to focus on the
high-end of the market.
It's tough to get the first sale but then there is a time when
it appears success is like a flowing river; it will never end.
And then it dries up. Why? Your success has made it difficult
for smaller publications to publish you and so you must
migrate to higher and very competitive markets. In this way
writing is no different than any other profession. Both
success and failure are pressures forcing you into channels
that you must swim in.
Writing is a young person's domain because you need a lot of energy and
resiliancy. As a writer ages she exchanges experience for energy but has to
continually keep up on the changing marketplace.
Where does the Internet come into play in this? The principles
are no different. Develop respectful relations with editors, know the
marketplace, and expect to get paid for any and all pieces of writing you do.
The only difference is a psychological one.
Writers still have a hard time conferring legitimacy to the
Internet as a publisher. The overwhelming majority of writers
want to be published in print, especially with a title that
has heft. No matter how many writers see themselves as lone
sharks every single one of them wants to be identified with a
credible publishing entity that confers authenticity on his
or her efforts.
In some ways, though, the writer should totally ignore all of
that and focus on the professional skills that allow her to
analyze a publication, it's writing and editorial bias, and
to ask herself if she can deliver something as good or better.
It doesn't matter whether that is the National Geographic or
Have a very cold view toward reputations and you'll be a lot
better off. Respect, yes, but don't get sucked into the
reputation game. Build, instead, a very critical view toward
everything that is published and go with value; your value
and the value you put on professional writing. You can't go
wrong with it.
I have a lot about digital publishing at The Digital Writer.
In print publishing editors and publishers are looking at
space limitations and trying to balance out the editorial
and advertising to please those who pay the bills; mainly
the subscribers and advertisers. The space is limited because
pages in books, newspapers, magazines, and newsletters costs
money. So, the editor must fill that space with what will
satisfy the readers demand for information, entertainment,
and satisfy the advertisers that they are reaching the right
On the internet there is more flexibility. It's generally true that readers
don't want long articles but the editor can put enormous amounts of stuff on a website
because there is very little cost in doing so.
Habits will eventually determine a good deal about these publishing systems. What
the professional writer needs to do is approach both systems with eyes wide open and
try to figure out how much work they can do and the revenue that will bring them.
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