It sounds like the sort of riddle you'd find in a fortune cookie, doesn't it? Akin to the classic, "to go forward, first, you must go back." It sounds both obvious, and like nonsense, all at once. However, if you're a writer, this is one of the most important pieces of advice you can internalize. Because if you want to get recognized, you need to show off your skills to the world. You need to get your name out there, and you need to sink your hook into readers. You need to prove that your stories don't just exist in your mind, but that you can (and have) put them on the page.
|Choose your weapon.|
You Have To Do, Before You Can Earn
Being a writer is one of those jobs where you are paid based on your skill, and your ability to finish the job. The difficulty is that, even if you're one of the most talented writers in the world, you need to have examples of your work to prove that you can do what you say you can. And you need those examples out there, in the public eye, where potential employers can see them in order to evaluate your skills.
So, back in 2013, I was given an opportunity to pitch myself to Paizo to write one of their Pathfinder Tales. At this point in my career, I didn't have a lot of work on the market I could point to as an example of my style and skill. Several pieces had been accepted by small presses, but none of them were out yet. All I had were a couple of short stories I'd published on Yahoo! Voices (which is now defunct). Even though I felt like I was shooting myself in the foot, I sent along the links to see if the company's head of fiction would give me a shot.
I wasn't too far wrong. When the editor saw the links I'd enclosed, he almost tossed my email in the trash sight-unseen. But he decided to give it a look, and after reading the two short stories I'd put up on the site, he decided I was just the kind of author he wanted to give a shot. So I pitched him an idea, and a few weeks later, Paizo accepted my short story The Irregulars.
That is not the only time I got an opportunity because of something I'd already published, either. When I decided to write character conversion guides for the Pathfinder roleplaying game on my blog, several clients approached me to contribute to their RPG books. Partly because those guides were popular within certain parts of the RPG community, but largely because they allowed me to demonstrate that I understood how to write game mechanics in a way that readers could understand, and implement. Several times I've gotten emails from publishers I've worked with before because they need someone to contribute a story, or they want to know if I'm interested in being part of a book.
Part of that is networking, but another part of it is that these are people who have seen my work. I've demonstrated that I can do the job, and they have an idea of what they're in for. And while I haven't written a popular series or bestselling novel, I've spoken with some authors who've done one, the other, or both. If you have that kind of accomplishment under your belt, you often find the velvet ropes that keep out lesser-known or untested writers simply don't apply to you. Because people have seen your work, and they know the kind of market share you have (even if it's a smaller niche than your Rowlings and your Kings).
Publish Or Perish
A writing career is a lot like an avalanche. It can't happen without snow. Everything you publish is another snowflake. The more of them you stack up, the bigger the chance that unstoppable force will be unleashed.
But if you never put any snow out there, you'll never get your avalanche.
|Especially not if you give up at $3 and change.|
That doesn't mean you need to work for free. But it does mean you need to put out a lot of work. You need to submit reams of short stories, publish drifts of articles, and throw out manuscript after manuscript for novels. You need to submit to anthologies, submit to publishers, and submit to agents, but if that doesn't work, you shouldn't be afraid to put it out there yourself.
Those ideas in your head? Those perfect utopias filled with thrilling stories and impossible visions? They're all worthless. Your writing can't do anything until you get it out of your mind, onto a page, and in front of readers. Whether you're selling copies, collecting ad revenue, or getting patrons to fund your work, you need to put it out there. Because it isn't until your name is floating in the stream, and people have some idea of who you are and what you can do, that you can start opening up the doors to more prestigious assignments, and high-paying contracts.
So, you do need to go backward to go forward... at least in terms of how most people think a writing career is supposed to work.
That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully folks out there find it helpful! If you want to keep up-to-date on my latest work, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And, if you'd like to toss a little change in my tip jar, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 per month to help, and to get some sweet swag from yours truly as a thank you.