Building a Reputation: Getting Noticed
Follows: Getting Started
Successfully transitioning from a person who writes to an established writer requires a reputation, and to gain one—and therefore get paid to do what you love—you must become noticeable.
By this point you should have at least a handful of followers on your social media accounts and a few pieces of writing publicly available—whether stories, poetry, articles, blog posts, or some combination of these—which you have shared online.
1. Focus on you
You should have an idea of what kind of writer you want to be: are you a poet, a storyteller, a novelist, a journalist, or something else? Whilst dabbling in different disciplines is beneficial and advantageous, remember to pay more attention to your primary goal.
If you are writing or have written a novel, short stories are a great way of building a readership, as are essays and non-fiction pieces on writing and your experiences, but should not occupy your full attention. If you want to write a poetry collection, get some poems out there and also attend open mic events and poetry readings, even if you don’t think of yourself as a performer. If you are a performance poet, make some videos but also get some written poetry online. Whatever your goal, set some targets to help you achieve it and work towards each one in turn.
2. Focus on others
Along with sharing your work on blogs or self-publishing websites, you will hopefully have got one or two things published. It is unlikely that the first few places that accept your work will pay, simply because you will still be honing your craft. By all means aim high—you may well get through the slush pile at the New Yorker, unlike 99.9% of the other writers who submit there—but keep your options open and be prepared to accept publication for free. Offer your writing to new and fledgling publications and your reputation will grow with theirs. It is not about the money, not yet, and having an editor read your writing and say yes is a huge achievement in itself.
Keep submitting, even if the yes you are looking for is still elusive. Research different publications and competitions—there are thousands of them—and target ones that are looking for the kind of thing you are preparing to submit. There is no point sending a science fiction story to a literary magazine, in the same way that submitting a piece of flash fiction to a contest with a 5,000 minimum word count is redundant. Play the odds, simultaneously submit if you are able, and keep track of where you have contacted and with what.
Gaining a local reputation is different to achieving a national or international one, and whereas worldwide you want your writing to appear and speak for itself, within your area it is much more advantageous to support others. By putting others first, instead of trying to take all the credit, you will garner goodwill. Obviously this is not the reason you support your local writing community, but a useful side-effect. Offer to write for local magazines—you may even get paid for your words—and invest in your geographical area (or places you have a strong connection with). Look up the local scene, get to know other writers locally, go to events, try reading or performing, send articles to the local paper, submit to local publications like Thanet Writers, get involved in fundraisers, network, join a writing group, meet people, integrate. Try blogging about local issues or reviewing the writing scene in your town. Take photos of poetry open mics. Set up chairs at events. Do whatever you can to be supportive.
3. Focus on writing
Increase your writing output as much as possible by writing about anything and everything you can. Your masterpiece may be a work-in-progress, but you can still write an opinion article about the latest political development, or a guest blog post discussing a forthcoming computer game. Use your other interests to your advantage, write about what you know and share your thoughts and ideas. Tell stories from the farthest reaches of your wildest imagination or concoct poetry about local landmarks. Be inspired by everything and channel all your thoughts and ideas onto the page, then—once redrafted, revised, edited and polished—send your writing out into the ether.
Don’t discard old pieces but continue to submit them. If, after twenty rejections, you re-read that short story and spot a glaring plot hole, revise it and start submitting it again. That poem you wrote a few years ago might resound with someone, so if it is yet to be picked up, put it on your website. Keep track of everything that has been published and catalogue it somewhere, even if it is just a list. Look over it and you will see how you are progressing, the moments when you were given a break by someone, how much you have grown in your writing career. If you get your name in print, save a copy of the magazine or newspaper or anthology. Better yet, save two copies. Build a vault of all your completed writing to date—whether published by others or self-published—and keep sharing on social media.
Getting noticed requires momentum, and just like pushing a car you need to get going slowly first. It is easy to stop, but then you need to start again from standing. By continuously pushing at whatever pace is suitable and appropriate for you, the acceleration will gradually increase. Eventually, the momentum will be able to sustain itself enough for you to take a breather, then carry on without losing too much speed. Sooner or later you will notice that people are noticing you: instead of pitching articles, you will be asked to write them; rather than trawling through countless rejections, your stories or poetry will get accepted more often; rather than a handful of followers, you will have amassed a solid and substantial crowd who will be paying attention to what you are writing.
Be proactive, be positive, and be dedicated. The portfolio you are building is your leverage for negotiations, and that is how you progress to the next stage and begin to earn from your writing.
Next: Getting Paid
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© 2018 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.