What do you do when someone tells you that you can’t do something? “Oh, you’ll never sell anything you write. That would be a miracle. It just doesn’t happen to people like us.”
Me? I go do it just to prove them wrong.
But easy doesn’t happen to many people, that’s true. Even Stephen King, who’s sold more bad books than anyone in history (and a few very good ones), even he didn’t walk right through the door. He sold short stories first to magazines like Cavalier. (Many of those stories became part of Night Shift.)
I’m guessing that it is possible to be a darling of the literary crowd overnight. Granted, it’s not probable. But possible.
But it certainly didn’t happen to me. And I know lots of writers that being an overnight success never happened to, either. Very rare thing. Oh, you can be a celebrity and someone else can ghost write your book, but that does NOT make you a writer.
So, how do you get the plum writing assignments if you’re not immediately picked up or a star? How do you make editors like your stuff enough to buy it?
Want the truth?
You work your ass off.
Seriously. The first thing you need to do is study, the business, as we’ve mentioned before. Figure out what makes a manuscript look professional, and trust me, it’s NOT having it bound.
And the other tip is to practice writing for some small publications. Many writers have the opinion that they should be paid for everything they write, and I agree with that to an extent. Everyone else is paid for their work, why not writers? Right? I mean, I see their side of it, as I was an editor for a while for a small newspaper and that was aggravation enough.
But how will you get your chops?
You may have to write for free or very little.
I remember the first thing I sold. It was a 750-word short story and I sold it to Guide Magazine for $75 way back in 1993. It thought that was totally amazing. I remember driving to my mother’s house, anxious to show her that I was then a professional writer. I was paid. I know she wanted me to be successful, but well… Mom was skeptical about a lot of things. That check was validation for me, and it felt really good, you know?
But it wasn’t the money that was important. It was the writing credit. That’s the second tip… you need credentials. You need a writing resume, just as you do for any other job. So, you may have to start building it with some smaller newspapers and magazines until you have a decent record of making writing sales built up. Even if you want to write for kids ultimately, having credits in adult publications doesn’t hurt. I wrote for newspapers before I started writing for kids. I had varied experience.
Remember how we keep mentioning how editors are overworked and don’t want to work with newbies? I mean, can you blame them? They don’t have the time to teach you what you need to know, so the big-fish editors want to see that other littler-fish editors have found your work to be satisfactory over time. It makes the job of promoting your writing much easier and people with no time (our editor friends) like easy.
Make it easy for them. Don’t shy away from writing for free or for just a writing credit. Those add up and really pay off in the long run.