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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 Podunk News.

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 audience.

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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