It’s feels a little weird that people are starting to come me asking for advice about how to break into a writing career. I still consider myself “just a mom” with a relatively small blog. I’m not a NYT best-seller or anything. Yet. (UPDATE: Heck yes I am! I Just Want to Pee Alone, the book I co-authored with several other bloggers, made the New York Times Best Sellers List in 2015.)
However, the past year has brought unbelievable blessings to my career as a writer. I started writing print articles for a local magazine and receiving actual paychecks. I signed 3 book contracts in 2013, met my professional goal of being on the Huffington Post (multiple times), and was featured on The Today Show’s blog, so I guess I’m getting there.
I was invited to participate in our library’s Local Authors Week this year. When I shared on my Facebook page that I would be talking about transitioning from writing as a hobby to writing as a career, a few readers who are not local requested that I share some tips here on the blog. So here you go, my Top 3 Tips for Aspiring Writers:
1. Start a blog, a professional Facebook page, and an author website TODAY.
This is not optional. When I did eventually sign with a publisher for my children’s book, after about 7 years of sporadically submitting manuscripts and getting “no thank you” letters, these were the first things they wanted to see. Buy the domain for your name and create a separate website. A blog provides you with the opportunity to find your authentic voice and practice writing to and interacting with an audience and it also gives you the opportunity to start monetizing your writing and other skills (graphic design, photography, and social media development are all things I learned through blogging that have brought extra income to our family) building a following, and making professional connections.
2. Put yourself out there.
About 20 percent of the work I do is actual writing at a desk. The other 80% is publicity, self-promotion, and paid work for other people like designing a button for someone else’s blog or doing a family photo shoot. Send resumes to local media, look for opportunities to guest post for other blogs, send press releases about your blog or your self-published book to radio and tv stations, send a blurb to your alumni newsletter, etc. Aim high (but also be realistic) and set goals.
Last year I sent a resume to the editors at our local paper. I knew I wasn’t the least bit qualified to be a professional journalist, so I expected to be rejected and, not surprisingly, I was. But the editor promised to pass along my resume. He actually did do that and a few months later I was contacted by a local women’s magazine and they offered me two articles in their next issue. Now I’m a regular contributor. Even rejections are connections. Don’t let them upset you and don’t take them personally, try to use them to your advantage. Ask, “If I’m not a good fit for you, can you give me a name of a different publication/website/editor where I might be a better fit?”
My professional goal this year was to get noticed by the Huffington Post. When you are pursuing a goal like that, be strategic and ask questions. I asked people who had been featured on HuffPo how they got there. I tried their techniques one by one. Not all of them worked, but eventually I found one that worked for me. (Although, it’s important to note I tried not to inundate them with self-promotion. You don’t want to wear out your welcome before you even get an invitation to the party.)
One of the best tips I can give about self-promotion is to know that not everything you do is news-worthy, but you can spin just about anything to be relevant to a certain time frame or holiday.
Know how you will be seen. I am a “mom blogger,” whether I like the title or not. I sent most of my pitches this year out just before Mother’s Day when publishers and readers had moms on the brain. We also tried to use this time frame to our advantage and get as much media attention as possible while we were promoting I Just Want to Pee Alone. In the past I’ve gotten my blog featured on the local news by sending press releases around the holidays about projects that could make great homemade Christmas gifts. They came to my house and filmed an entire segment about it.
It is impossible to be successful in this field on your own. Your writing is a product and you are going to need buyers. You need friends. Be friendly with other writers in your “niche” and support their book or their blog. It seems counter-intuitive because they are your competition, but it’s not. If readers like someone who has a similar style to yours then they will probably like you too. (How many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of, “Oh, you liked The Hunger Games? Then you will love this other book I just read by a different author!”) Capitalize on the connections those other writers have and share your contacts with them. Contacts are key. Don’t be secretive about your writing or it will never be successful.
I’m naturally shy, so this part doesn’t come easy to me, but it’s the most important part on the road to success. Don’t try to walk alone. You need connections and lots of them. If you want to make money you need your hand in several different pies. Even if you get a book deal, it will probably not make you rich and the money you do make will be fleeting. I’ve read that over 90% of professional writers do not make enough money from book sales to support themselves. You have to plan to supplement. To have a steady income, you will need as much freelance work as possible, preferably from local sources where people get to know you and your writing can lead to other paid opportunities like speaking engagements.
The most common question I get is, “But how do I make those connections?” Talk to people and be friendly. It really is that easy, but it takes time. Comment and email bloggers you love telling them why you love them. Don’t ask them for anything, just consistently show your support and they will remember you. Start a local group on Facebook or go through Craigslist to connect writers in your area. Email editors of local websites or newspapers and introduce yourself as a local blogger looking for freelance opportunities. Include links to relevant posts you’ve written in your email. Carry business cards and act like a professional in any other field. If someone asks you what you do tell them you are a writer and hand them your card. Tell people what you do and they will be interested. Sell your stories the same way you would if you sold life insurance or Pampered Chef.
One of the best ways to network is at a professional conference. I happen to have founded one of those. 🙂 We’d love to have you at BlogU this year!
“But I write for me, not for other people and definitely not for money.” That’s awesome. If that is your goal, I have no problem with that at all. In that case, all you need is a notebook and a pen and you can ignore everything I just said. That’s not my goal.
My goal is to have a career as a writer. I want to use my stories to connect with people, share my faith, stay home with my children and still contribute to my family financially. It took a while, but I’m actually making more money now than I did when I was working part-time away from home. Eventually, I’d like to earn as much as I did when I was working full-time. I try to do one thing per day to work towards that goal. I might email an editor, search for writing jobs on Monster.com or Craigslist, submit a query, etc. Right now I’m planning ways to monetize The Cookie Jar Parable, using it as a fundraiser to help schools and churches. You have to be willing to WORK and recognize that very little of that work is the actual writing you will do. I’ve found that being consistent and intentional in treating my writing as a career has been very beneficial.
I know that’s a lot in of advice to stick in one blog post! Thanks for reading!!