Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Professional Writers Know How To Monetize Their Work (That's What Makes Them Professionals)

I've met a lot of folks over the years who have told me they want to be professional writers. Some wanted to be bloggers, some wanted to write novels, others wanted to write comics, and a few wanted to contribute to roleplaying games, but all of them wanted to quit their day jobs and write full-time. In my limited observation, there was a major factor between those who saw at least some success, and in those who never even got onto their tiptoes.

It was, what I like to call, the Rumpelstiltskin factor.

Let go of the Benjamin, or I will destroy everything you've ever loved!
You see, most of the folks I talked to had ideas. Some of them had outlines, and a few of them actually had words on the page. One or two of them had complete projects just laying around. Out of that "most" group, people seemed to lack the understanding that all the straw they'd made wasn't going to spin itself into gold. They understood the writing part, but either didn't know (or didn't want to know) how to monetize their work once it was done.

That is, when you get down to the brass tacks, the only difference between the professional and the amateur.

Wanting To Do Something Is More Important Than Knowing How

Quick aside here. Have you ever known anyone who smoked? I mean a couple of packs a day, does a decent impression of a Mack truck smoking? You have, good. Well, if you wanted to make that person quit smoking, what do you think would be a better solution? A gross ad campaign showing diseased lungs and all kinds of raw tumors? Or short vignettes explaining how to actually quit?

If you guessed the second one, you're tragically wrong.

Well, shit.
Motivation to do something is often more important than knowing how to do it, as Cracked pointed out in 5 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Own Life (Without Knowing It). If you want to lose weight and get in shape, you will figure out how to make that a reality. Even if you can't afford a gym membership, and have limited resources to cut out in your diet. If you want to quit smoking, you will do your own research, and figure out what you need to do. As long as you have someone pointing a mental gun at you to get it done.

I point this out because a lot of folks who want to write professionally claim they don't know how to take their talent, and turn it into money. That's a fair point, especially if you're just starting out. However, if you have access to the Internet, you should have a pretty firm grasp on your options with about a month's worth of research (and that's being generous). Figuring out how Amazon's Create Space works only takes about half an hour (with an hour or two tacked on if you read the entire manual, cover to cover). There are places on Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and god only knows how many other social media sites where you can pop up, and ask the community to throw how-to resources at you. Resources like Questions Beginning Writers Ask (That Experienced Writers Are Tired of Hearing), or 5 Signs You're Dealing With A Vanity Publisher.

A week of dedicated reading will make you as expert as you can get. Without actually doing the job, that is.

Go In, Guns Blazing

Something that isn't often touched on, I think, is that being a professional writer is more than just getting paid to indulge yourself all the time. You aren't writing a story, and only when it's complete asking how you're going to turn it into a rent check.

That's something you need to know (or at least have an idea about) before you put a single word on the page.

It's an easier habit to get into than you think.
As an example, let's say you're writing a hard sci-fi novel. By the time you finish the pre-writing/outline phase (everyone's got their own process), you should already know where you're going to send this manuscript once it's ready for print. If you're going for traditional publishers, you should already know which ones will accept your genre and estimated word count, and you should have at least three or four back-ups in case the first one says no. You should also be familiar with your self-publishing options, and how those options work, in case you choose to go that route instead.

You can swap out the variables here, but it's pretty much the same process. If you're writing an article for a website, you should know how it will be categorized, and have some idea of the popularity of the search terms and subject matter you're touching on. If you're putting together a comic pitch, you need to know who you're going to reach out to for an attempted sale. If you've got a script for a film, you need to have a list of people you're going to call once it's ready for a reading.

This gets a lot easier once you've got some published pieces under your belt, and you start getting a feel for the publishing world's rhythms. But that experience is a lot easier to get when you sit down at your desk, not as an auteur, but as someone who is here to do a job, and sell a product. Because, at the end of the day, that's what you're doing. Standing on the side of the information superhighway, with your hat on the ground, trying to tell people a story.

The Job Is Never Over

Some folks say that they don't want to write anymore as soon as they think of it as a job. Once it's something they have to do, rather than something they want to do, it's just work. That's an important thing to know about yourself before you take a swing at this industry.

Because, as the song says, it's a fun job, but it's still a job. And if you come to work, you're going to get much better results than if you come to play.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. If you like it, and you want to keep up on my latest, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to toss a little coin in my cup, check out The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is a post of at least $1 a month, and I'll be sure to send some swag your way as a thank you!

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