by Meg Dowell
Everyone wants to be a writer.
Not just any kind of writer, either. A successful writer. Everyone wants their name on the New York Times bestseller list. Everyone wants to add “author” to their Twitter bio. Everyone wants to take what they enjoy doing and make a career out of it.
Which means, no matter how much you love to write, no matter how good you might be at writing, it is not very easy to launch a career. Especially when you’ve exhausted all other options and are trying to do it all on your own.
I started Novelty Revisions in March 2015 to give writers just like you advice on how to “make it” in this competitive industry. Here is a compilation of things I have done my best to teach you since then, just in case you need a pre-New Year’s Resolution refresher.
1. Be online
Many writers don’t like this advice. “I’m a writer; why do I have to interact with anyone on social media? It takes away from my writing time.” Refusal to adapt to new technologies is going to get you one thing: your own cloak of invisibility, no strings attached.
Promoting your work, and your brand as a writer, is absolutely essential if you ever want to get paid to write. There are many, many, many writers just like you out there. You have to use social media to differentiate yourself from them, or you WILL get lost in the stream.
2. Be selective about who you write for
Pitching articles anywhere and everywhere just for the sake of plastering your name all over the internet is not attractive. Starting a pitch with, “I’m really interested in writing more so I’m looking for more opportunities to write for publications” is not attractive.
Quality over quantity is an absolute must. You could be writing 10 articles per week, but if they’re not good articles, you’re not going to impress anyone. Write fewer articles about things you are actually interested in writing about, and that passion will shine right through every word you publish.
3. Highlight your passions ahead of your accomplishments
Writing queries, cover letters, and proposals of any kind requires doing something most of us aren’t good at: talking ourselves up. WAY up. You have to tell an agent, editor, publisher, whoever you’re writing to why they should pick you over someone else. The tricky part is, it’s still not about you. It’s about what you have to give, and how you are able to showcase that.
So instead of listing off all the publications you’ve written for in the past six months, try phrasing your “self-pitch” a little more like this:
“I am passionate about health and wellness education, so I contribute weekly to these related publications in order to help their audiences learn _____.” Also, mention the fact that you plan on doing the same thing for the publication you are pitching to, if your pitch is accepted.
4. “Finding your niche” does not mean “squeeze into someone else’s mold”
The way to be successful in any kind of industry is to stand out, which would be great advice all by itself if everyone wasn’t trying to apply it simultaneously to their own lives.
There are way too many ingredients that go into this process. You have to figure out what you enjoy writing about, who is interested in articles about that, where they are, what they’re looking for, how you can prove to them you’re the perfect candidate in only one writing sample…it seems impossible.
But everyone has their own unique angle on writing in the same niche. You have to adopt and embrace that, and hard. What will make you successful is what makes you different than everyone else. Even when everyone else is trying to be different, no one is exactly like you.
5. Be prepared to make your own way
There is nothing wrong with traditional publishing, but if that just isn’t working for you, you have a choice to make. Are you going to close the book on your dream career, or plow forward even though you have absolutely no one backing you up?
Don’t shy away from self-publishing an ebook or short story collection. Don’t downplay your success just because you don’t have a “real” publisher. In this industry, if you’re not stubborn enough to make it happen when everyone keeps telling you no, you’re just not going to make it. That’s the reality and it’s completely your own decision to make.
Writing is hard. Getting published is hard. I am figuring it out, one day at a time, and so will you.
You CAN do this. Set a goal and get to work. It will take a long time. You will not always be able to write your best work. You will fail once, twice, 20 times. But one way or another, you will be successful, as long as you refuse to give up.
Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.