Thursday, September 18, 2014

How to Get Writing Jobs

I'd like to apologize to my regular readers for taking last week off. You see I was busy being kicked into the gutter by Google, and the boot prints haven't quite worn off yet. The full account of what happened (and the rather bloody financial shape it left me in) can be found at this post right here, and I would encourage all readers to please check it out and help out if you can.

Now then, I'd like to talk to you all about the secret to getting writing jobs.

What is a Writing Job?

While the name should be pretty straightforward I'm going to clarify the types of jobs I'm talking about here. I don't mean getting a book published, or starting your own blog. I am not referring to joining a website where you can put up whatever content you want either, since that is essentially you getting up on a platform and trying to gather your own audience. What I am talking about are "traditional" writing jobs; where your employer pays you a fee to create content according to his or her needs.

Rocking it old school.
The advantages to traditional writing jobs are pretty obvious. They provide you a steady source of income, you have something resembling job security (or at least you know how much money a given project is worth), you can put the job on your resume, and you may even manage to get a reference for future jobs out of an employer.

In short you get all of those things that you don't get as someone who's independently employed, for lack of a better term. Not only that, but you can still run your own projects on the side while paying rent.

Step One: Tune Up

Before you even think about looking for a writing job you need to make sure you've taken a whetstone to your craft, and your words are sharp enough to shave with. If you were trying to get a gig as a lead guitarist you wouldn't leave the basement until you could shred your potential employer's face off; being a writer isn't much different.

This is actually how I write most of my editorials.
Once you've got your voice, style, and rhythm down you need to compose a couple of sample pieces. While it's more impressive if these samples have been published (it doesn't matter where, just so long as they've been published by someone), publication isn't always a necessity. You should have at least three completed pieces to hand out as samples, but the bigger a variety you have the better.

Step Two: Kick In The Door

I've had a fair number of writing jobs, both traditional and non. I've written for two college newspapers, two local newspapers, I've contributed to a now-defunct magazine called College Gentleman, run blogs on a steampunk website, been a columnist at Kobold Quarterly, edited stories for Jupiter Gardens Press, and I've contributed content for Paizo publishing's Pathfinder roleplaying game. While those jobs sound like they're all over the board (because they are), I got each and every one of them with the same, tried and true method.

I would like a job, please.
When you get a traditional, non-writing job there's a formula you follow. You fill out an application, submit it to a manager, wait for an interview, and hope you get a call back telling you when to start. When it comes to writing jobs, even "traditional" ones, things tend to be a little faster and a whole lot dirtier. As such the best way for you to get the job you want is to take the initiative, and kick in the door. Most of the time your future employer will be shocked by the splintered wood hanging off the hinges, and impressed by your initiative. If you're asked to submit some samples, then you have a more than fighting chance of getting the job.

This isn't just tough talk either; getting a job as a writer is largely in how you present yourself. If you show up with a ready portfolio, an eye-catching business card, and a firm handshake then prospective employers will mark you as someone to try out. You probably won't receive a contract and a corner office on the spot, but you might get picked up as a stringer for a newspaper, a pinch hitter for a magazine, or you'll be asked to submit a smaller section of a bigger project in a game booklet. Once your employer sees how you respond to pressure, how you work with a team, and how your quality stands up, you can expect to see more work come your way along with a potential for that full time gig and retirement package.

Just remember that you want to seem enthusiastic, sincere, and qualified. If you're sending an email then be sure you've read it a dozen times, and that you've made it very clear what you want and why you should be given a chance. If you're showing up to an event like a job fair, a convention, etc. then you want to make sure you've got copies of your resume, plenty of business cards, and that you've practiced how to pitch yourself without sounding like you're pitching yourself. In short you want to sell your future boss on the idea that you will be a valuable asset to have on speed dial.

Step Three: Repeat

I'd like to say there's a big secret to getting steady work as a writer, because if I could I'd have a best selling book on the market and I'd never have to work again. Sadly being a writer is a lot like being a sculptor or a painter; some of us land cushy jobs where we can skate by with plenty of time and effort for other projects, and most of us end up patching together a collection of odd jobs and pennies to pay rent.

A lot of us do things we aren't exactly proud of.
The difference between the writer who has enough work to pay for insurance, a new car, and the occasional cheese burger on the weekend is not usually a matter of talent or skill, though. It's usually decided by who is willing to get back up and come out swinging in the next round. If one job prospect doesn't work out you thank them for the consideration, and move on to the next company. You go to the next convention, the next job fair, the next publishers' event, and you dive in with a sharp smile and a business card in hand.

Most people think it's the fastest or the strongest fighter who's left standing at the end of the day. More often than not though it's the person who refuses to go down.

On that note, for those who'd like to help support me and The Literary Mercenary, please consider checking out my Patreon page and becoming a patron.

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