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We’ve all been there, right? Daydreaming about that moment when our words grace the pages of a published book, or when an editor from a leading magazine drops us a line. But let’s be real for a moment. Turning passion into profession? That’s a climb, and not everyone’s ready for it. But you? You might just be. You’re here, ready to learn, and that’s the first step.
1. Understand the Landscape: Writing Isn’t Just Writing
If you’re anything like me, you have said (or certainly heard other writers say) “But I just want to WRITE!” And “just writing” is a fun fantasy…but it’s just that for most of us. A fantasy. For most of us, we learn to focus instead on a dream we can actually work toward.
You want to write full-time? Fantastic. YOU CAN…but it’s going to involve a whole lot more than writing. So I guess how I should really phrase it is this way: if you want to make a career as a writer, you’ll learn that you have to be far more than just a writer.
Step into the world of professional writing, and you’ll soon realize that it’s vast and varied. From freelancing to fiction, journalism to journals, the opportunities are endless. But here’s the catch: with each avenue comes its own set of rules. Your job? To master them.
Remember, this isn’t just about crafting words; it’s about understanding the industry. Dive into blogs, books, and courses. Knowledge, dear writer, is power.
A professional writer needs to be an industry professional. You need to understand the major cogs in the publishing machine. You need to develope skills to work with each people filling those roles. And you need to learn how you fit into that machine.
2. Building a Portfolio: Your Ticket In
Let’s talk about your showcase. Every piece you pen, every article you draft, adds to your repertoire. Think of your portfolio as your writer’s resume—a tangible testament to your talent. Whether it’s guest blogging, short stories, or even those articles you wrote for the college magazine, it all counts.
And here’s a little inside scoop: consistency matters. A publisher or potential client isn’t just looking at the quality of your work, but also at your ability to deliver. Remember our chat about consistency? It comes into play here, too.
Now, I know this sounds tricky for those of us whose aim it is to write books, especially fiction, where being an expert in our field isn’t even possible before we’re published, right? But it isn’t. You can still build that readership up through short pieces, whether fiction or articles. And you can write book after book, to learn your own rhythms and capabilities. Each book you write helps you become a better writer, and you can approach publishers with valuable knowledge about a publishing pace that you can keep up with. Working with critique partners gives you a taste of what an author/editor relationship will be like, even. All these “first steps” are valuable training for the “real deal,” and don’t try to take a short-cut! You NEED those steps.
3. Navigating the Network: Making Connections that Count
Ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”? While your skills are your arsenal, networking is your compass. Attend workshops, webinars, and writer’s conferences. Connect with fellow writers, editors, and industry professionals. Your next opportunity might just be a conversation away.
In today’s world, it’s super easy to find writers conferences at reasonable prices online. This gives you the chance to take classes and learn from industry pros, to network with other authors, and often even to have a virtual appointment with an agent, editor, or mentor. Take advantage of these opportunities!
It’s through conferences that I signed my first agent and met several of the acquisitions editors I ended up working with. It’s through my networking and years of friendship-building that I eventually found a project that would work for their house. It’s also through those same conferences and organizations that I met critique partners and some of my dearest friends.
Don’t try to walk this path alone! Find the people who will walk beside you, who will have your back, and who will guide you forward.
4. Thick Skin, Resilient Heart: Handling Rejection
Let me let you in on a secret: rejection is part of the game. Whether it’s a declined pitch or a manuscript that didn’t make the cut, it stings. But remember this: rejection isn’t a reflection of your worth.
Take feedback, learn from it, and move on. And when doubt clouds your mind, remember why you started. For the love of words, for the stories only you can tell.
Do NOT get hung up on that one project that didn’t find a home. Work on another. And then another. “Write another book” is some of the best advice I give to writers, and one of the marks of a true professional. Only amateurs spend years and decades thinking it has to be this thing or nothing. Professionals in EVERY field know that to make a career of something, you have to be flexible, creative, and nimble. You have to try new things and chase new ideas.
5. Be More than JUST a Writer
Most people who make a living in the publishing industry aren’t just writers. They’re also selling merchandise…or doing paid critiques…or mentoring…or designing covers (raising my hand here!)…or editing…or agenting…or, or, or.
Why? Because making a living at JUST writing is hard. But it’s also doable. And bestsellers rarely happen by accident. Even if you’re not doing any of those other things to supplement, you’ll likely have to learn about advertising, marketing, and audience-building to get sales enough to support you. You’ll have to develope a fantastic website and a newsletter that readers are waiting for. You’ll have to produce regularly and consistently, knowing how to deliver exactly what your audience wants.
In other words, you won’t just be part of the publishing machine–you will be a publishing machine. And honestly, if you’re not willing to take the time and put in the effort to learn all those aspects and master them…well, chances are really good that this gig won’t support you. It can still be the most rewarding side-hustle in the history of the world (because you get to WRITE! and make some money while doing it!), but becoming a full-time writer means putting the same amount of training and learning into THIS career as you’d expect someone to put into mastering another.
Think about that. Most careers require years of training. Thousands of hours of practice before mastery is achieved. For a writer, that’s true not just of the writing itself, but of all that goes into supporting it. But there’s good news! When you love writing, then that love will spill over into the other aspects of it. View it all as creative, part of YOUR story. And then walk that path with confidence!
Stepping into the professional writing arena is both exhilarating and daunting. But with the right mindset, a dollop of determination, and a sprinkle of strategy, it’s a journey worth embarking on. So, lace up your boots, writer. The path from passion to profession beckons, and it’s a journey like none other.
If you’re ready to take writing from passion to profession, these classes may be useful!
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If you want to make a career in publishing, you need to know the industry inside-out. Prolific writer, designer, editor, publisher, and teacher Roseanna M. White peels back the layers and shares what she’s learned about every role and why it matters.