Building a Reputation: Getting Paid
Follows: Getting Noticed
Becoming a reputable writer requires a positive and noticeable reputation. To get paid to do what you love, you need people to pay attention to you; you need a voice and a platform, and you need to be able to negotiate.
There are always stories of publications paying writers who have no visible portfolio on the strength of their query letter, but in reality this is extremely rare. Why fight the odds when you can weigh the dice slightly in your favour? By now you will already be getting noticed within your circles, either locally or within online communities or magazines. You now have an element of leverage you can capitalise upon.
1. Focus on you
At this stage your reputation is still fragile. One misinterpreted tweet can cost you, but a timely and apt one can, to some degree, go viral. Be aware of the persona you have created for your writer self—and it is just that: a character—and play to your strengths. If politics hasn’t played well for you, perhaps leave it alone. On the other hand, if you have gained followers (and lost some) and got good interactions from commenting on previous political happenings, why disrupt the habit? Your followers will be expecting you to behave in a certain way, so don’t break character.
Pay attention to what you have achieved and keep track of it. Are you now published? Have you already been paid—whether in a big magazine or a local publication like this—for a piece of writing? Have you won or been placed or shortlisted in any competitions? Are your words in print, either in a physical magazine or paper, or a book or anthology? Have you already featured at a local event? Do you have any quotes about your writing from readers, magazines, critics, other writers or your contemporaries?
Collate all this information then distil it until you have a statement about yourself that, frankly, makes you sound amazing. Use that statement in cover letters for submissions, queries to agents or publishers, pitch emails to magazines, on your website, wherever you can. You have earned the right to show off a little, and you need to. This is your CV, your résumé, your portfolio summary, your blurb. This is what you will use to prove why you should be paid.
2. Focus on others
Refer back to your goal, as now you will be in a position to target it. If you want to get a book published, and need an agent, you can use your reputation to demonstrate your ability as a writer, increasing your chances of gaining publication. If you are planning on self-publishing, you will now have an audience ready to invest in your book, as they will have read your stories and articles. If you are releasing a poetry collection, you have a range of poems available to show what readers can expect, along with a local following from events. If you want to headline poetry events, you will have appeared at enough of them to be known as a reliable performer, which you can couple with a video or two of you performing and a few written poems to justify asking for a fee. If you want to make a decent income selling short stories, research higher paying markets and start to understand different rights to make sure you can sell the same story several times to different publications over a period of years. If you want to write non-fiction, use your reputation and specialisms to step up to magazines or newspapers with higher circulations than the ones you currently write for, whilst maintaining your existing relationships. Leverage your newfound reputation.
At the same time, do not forget where you have come from. Remember to still submit the occasional item, even if it is a reprint, to local publications like Thanet Writers, and still go to local events or groups when you are able. Don’t expect a hero’s welcome, but instead stay the same as far as your contemporaries are concerned. You are all on the same road, but everyone moves at their own pace. Yours may be faster or slower than someone else’s, but there is no need for jealousy or gloating.
3. Focus on writing
As your output and reputation increases, so too should the quality of your work. Your skill should correlate with your success, within an adequate margin for error. Remember to keep writing, to keep getting better, and to keep learning. A step up does not mean all the knowledge in the world, but just a slightly higher view. The step above can see further still, yet you are unable to access that perspective until you reach it, so absorb everything you can from those who have already been there. Read, study, absorb, learn.
You may find your direction has changed slightly, and you are now being offered paid work to write things that are not what you would ideally choose. You can say no. Turning down paid work to focus on what you actually want to write is allowed, as long as you don’t need the money, so don’t quit the day job straight away, even if you are earning. You need to write, and write, and write. Keep your sights set on your end goal and line up your targets accordingly. Write what you need to, what you have to, in order to get there.
Remember why you started writing to begin with. If you are planning on becoming a millionaire, and that is why you write, you will be sorely disappointed. Yes, you might get lucky and therefore get rich, but that shouldn’t be your reason for becoming a writer. If you want money that much, go play the stock market. Writers write because they love to write, because expressing through words is their medium of choice. Writing is a balance of craft and art, an output of logic and emotion, a want and a need.
Getting paid for doing something you love should always be a bonus, not the driving force. Work towards it, reach it, achieve it, but never rely on it. If you get to the point where you can quit your job, make sure what you are writing is what you want to be writing. Be sensible, be positive, be brilliant, and be happy. Most of all: be a writer.
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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.