Building a Reputation: Getting Started
Whilst anyone who writes can call themselves a writer, transitioning from a person who writes to a reputable writer requires, fairly obviously, a reputation. Simply demanding to be paid for articles or short stories, or expecting to headline poetry nights or readings, is unrealistic, arrogant, and appears amateur. To be successful—and therefore get paid to do what you love—you must become noticeable. People need to pay attention to you, you need a voice and a platform, and to do that you first need to lay the foundations of your own reputation.
1. Focus on you
The first step is to embrace being a writer. Stop saying “I write,” start declaring “I am a writer.” Then, settle on a name for yourself.
Many writers prefer pen names, as it affords them some anonymity in real life, whilst others use them for improved search results. Others go with their real name for any number of reasons. Whichever you choose, it is sensible to do a quick internet search before finalising it to make sure no one else has already been published using that name. In other words, if you happen to be called Clive Barker or Maya Angelou, you might want to think about a pseudonym.
2. Focus on others
After you have your name, buy a website domain. You may not need it now, but one day when you have a book about to be published it will be necessary so people can find out about you. I bought sebreilly.com before I had anything worth publishing or shouting about. It sat empty for months until I had a short story I could put on there, and then for almost a year that was the only content. Now it is a hub of all my writing, linking to everything I have ever written, but at first it was nothing. Even so, I knew I had it; it was a wise investment as it is now paying off.
Next, set up accounts on social media. Get a Facebook page, Twitter handle, Instagram account, join YouTube, create a Google+ profile; reserve your name on everything. You may not use all of them, or even know how they work, but just like your website you need to safeguard your name on them. Upload a good photograph of yourself (one that you own the copyright to, either because you took it or the person who did has given it to you) and add your website link. Invite your friends to follow your accounts and connect with you.
3. Focus on writing
Now you need to think about putting some writing online. Some writers set up blogs, which is fine whether you commit to contributing to it regularly or if you are more sporadic; after all, blogs can be updated as and when you feel like it. What you should never do is use the first few paragraphs of every post to apologise for how long it has been since you wrote the last one. Instead, write about things you are passionate about, and then share the posts to your social media accounts. Be positive, be inspirational; project the image you want others to see. Don’t complain publicly that no one is reading your writing, or that your submissions keep getting rejected, or that those agents you sent queries to haven’t responded and it’s been six months already and they must have read it by now. Imagine yourself two years from now, established and with some degree of success, reading back on your rants. Think about how unprofessional it looks. Be better.
As well as writing for your own website or blog, or for self-publishing platforms, you should also be trying to get published. This, importantly, is not to get paid. If you can get paid, great, but being published by someone else actually shows that your writing is good enough to be published by someone else. It is a demonstration of your abilities and skills. It is proof that you have talent. It is the evidence that you will bring with you later in your career.
Write as much as you can. Send out work to different places; submit as far and wide as possible, from local publications like this one to international magazines, competitions to responses to prompts. Make sure you follow the submission guidelines and are familiar with the terms you are agreeing to on each occasion. You will get rejected—a lot—but that is all part of being a writer. A rejection means your piece wasn’t right for that publication, but it will be right for another. Don’t rely solely on blogging and self-publishing, but earn your reputation.
Whilst getting started may seem daunting, in reality it is just testing as many avenues as possible to see what works for you. Experiment with short stories or poetry; try out non-fiction or opinion articles. Instead of focusing on building the foundations for a shed and getting it up as quickly as possible, set out a mansion. Dig deeper, work harder, aim higher. It will be worth it in the long run.
Next: Getting Noticed
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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.