Welcome to the first day of Write Nonfiction in November! The title of this blog post reminds me of all those timed tests I took in high school. I hated taking those tests, but hopefully you won’t hate the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge. It’s supposed to be fun, educational and productive all at the same time. I love it, because it forces me to stop procrastinating and actually start and finish a project in just 30 days – something I don’t normally do. (More often than not I either don’t start at all or I start and don’t finish.)
Plus, this year, as I promised, I’ve got some great guest bloggers joining me, so I’ll be learning some new things along with you. Last year I did a massive brain dump and offered up as much nonfiction writing advice and information as I could think of at the time. I still have a bit more in my head to share this year, but it will be nice for me to read what other writing and publishing experts have to say and to gain some new tips from them. Plus, even I can get tired of reading my own writing – or listening to myself speak, as they say.
On that note, I thought I should start off with a bit of a bang and broach a topic that may have brought some readers here to begin with: writing for pay or for free. (If you don’t know what I’m speaking about, check out the post titled “Forced to Blog Before November.”) I did mention that everything that needed to be said about the subject had been said already in the post titled “To Blog for Free or Not to Blog for Free, That’s the Question,” but I really said that in reference only to getting paid to guest blog. And guest blogging seems to be a different animal all together. So, let me tell you what I think about writing for free or for pay when it comes to other types of writing.
Going back to my early beginnings as a writer, or would-be writer, while I was in high school and in college I often wrote for local publications for free. Why? I’m sure you can guess the answer: to obtain those coveted bylines or published clips that would one day get me paying assignments and, hopefully, a full-time job when I graduated from college. Yes, indeed, in the world of journalism, a newbie writer does sometimes (not always) find herself choosing (if not forced) to write for free to show she can write well enough to get a paid gig.
While in college, however, I had a lovely professor named John Keats (not THE John Keats, mind you, although this one wrote some best sellers), who taught me never to write anything unless I knew in advance I was getting paid for it. In other words, always send out a query letter; never write the article first. Always send out a book proposal; never write the nonfiction book first. For many, many, many years I headed his advice. I also didn’t make a lot of money as a freelance journalist. Till this day, however, I won’t write a reported article without a contract from a publication telling me I will get paid for that work.
Yes, it’s true (despite what some might think). I firmly believe that if a writer wants to take on a reported article or a nonfiction book, they should, in fact, know in advance they are getting paid for that work. Why bother going to all the trouble unless you know you will make some money?
The clips I accumulated – both paid and unpaid – helped me land full-time editorial positions on regional magazines right out of college. They also helped me get freelance writing assignments that did pay. However, later on I wanted to branch out into essays, and I found it much harder to land assignments with a query letter. So, I began simply writing the essays and sending them out with a cover letter. I admit it; I did the work and did not know I would get paid for it. This resulted in many more paychecks showing up in the mail. I learned from this experience that it is easier to sell essays when completely written – at least when a publication doesn’t yet know you or your style as a writer. These days, several e-zines, for instance, accept my essay ideas and agree to pay me for them prior to me writing them. When I approach a new magazine or e-zine, though, I still write the whole essay first and risk the rejection, which means no pay for my time and effort.
As I became interested in writing nonfiction books, I soon learned that I needed a “platform” before a publishing house of any size would even consider publishing my work. A platform comes down to how well known you are and how this affects your ability to publicize and market your book. In other words, how easily can you help sell copies of your book once it is published via your mailing list, web site, blog, talks, classes and teleseminars, connections, partnerships, etc.? (We’ll be talking a lot about platform building this month…) I began working on building my platform. The easiest way to do so seemed to be on the Internet by placing articles in e-zines and Internet article directories. This drives traffic to your web site and gives you exposure on line, which results, hopefully, in great Google ranking and increased contacts on your mailing list.
However, while a few e-zines, magazines published on line, do pay writers, many do not. And, as we know, many bloggers are looking for content but won’t pay. The way to get exposure for you as a writer and earn expert status (part of building platform) comes in writing articles – for free – and placing them – at a cost to yourself – in article directories that make them available to anyone who wants them. (For more information on this topic, see my booklet Using the Internet to Build Your PLATFORM One Article at a Time.) Right…They don’t pay you; you pay them. In fact, there are many services that will distribute your articles for you at a cost to you just so that maybe someone somewhere will print it and give you some free publicity. (You may think I’m crazy now, but just wait. You’ll hear more about this from some of the experts who will be blogging here later in the month.)
Of course, then comes blogging. If you think bloggers only blog for fun, think again. Blogging provides great publicity for aspiring authors and writers of all sorts. If you blog a lot, that’s a ton of content for the bots and crawlers (or whatever they are called) to discover, which moves you up in the Google rankings. And that’s what you want. Plus, whole books have been blogged and then discovered by agents and published. And a blog serves as proof that you can write even if you have no published clips. And providing guest blogs exposes you to someone else’s readership, which, in turn, hopefully sends them to your blog (and gets them to sign up for your mailing list, etc.).
But if you think the majority of bloggers – let’s be more specific and say the majority of average writers who blog – get paid for what they do, think some more. The average writer, like me and you, blogs because in this day and age you have to have a website and a blog. It’s part of the publicity you need on the Internet. Period. (Now, if you have enough readers, you could include ads on your blog. If you are lucky and people click on them, you could make some money. But you won’t be getting paid for your writing.)
So, do I believe in writing for pay. By all means, yes, I do. I make my living as a writer and as an editor. I want to get paid for what I write just as much as the next guy or gal, and I want to get paid well. Do I sometimes write for free – and encourage others to write for free? Again, yes, I do. In some cases, writing for free remains a necessary evil, especially in today’s publishing atmosphere.
Okay. That should rouse a few feathers and maybe a few comments. Tomorrow I’ll let one of my guest bloggers have a turn. In the meantime, happy writing. I’m off to figure out what I’m writing during Write Nonfiction in November…booklet or book. I still can’t decide. I want to be sure to finish what I start!