How to Be a Professional Writer

The best advice for anyone who aspires to be a writer is this:

“Stop aspiring and start writing.”
 -Alan W. Watts

The second best advice is this:

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”
 -Lisa See

But, let’s say you’ve got these two prerequisites figured out. What then?

Writing can be difficult, scary, lonely, and frustrating. Being a professional writer typically doesn’t pay well, and the moments of glory are short-lived and far between. Writers today are more undervalued than ever, due to the amount of free content available online and the emphasis on quantity and “clicks” demanded by the Google economy.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, there are three strategies to avoiding feeling underappreciated and being underpaid as a writer today, and I recommend doing at least 2 of them:

  1. Challenge yourself to take on many and varied projects, and don’t spend $1000 worth of time on a $100 piece.
  2. Spend more time on marketing.
  3. Be very very good.

Strategy 1: Write Everything and All the Time

If you want to get paid to write, it’s not hard to find people who will pay you today. But, you’ll get paid very little until you establish a reputation and, likely, a niche.

Strategy 2: Promote Yourself Like Crazy

The second strategy is to self-publish your work and then become a fierce marketer. Even if you do get published by a “real” publisher, they’re highly unlikely to do much to promote your book. It’s up to you to show the publisher that your book has an audience by working your network and expanding your network (see Carole Jelen’s book, Build Your Author Platform).

Strategy 3: Be the Best

The third strategy is the most difficult. If you’re not the best, you’re competing for attention with thousands of other very good writers. Being among the very best writers in your chosen genre or niche is achievable, but it takes a long time and may require you to focus for years on just the first two strategies (write everything, and market yourself).

People who are capable of simultaneously implementing more than one of these strategies are rare. Even if you implement these strategies, success as a writer is still far from guaranteed. In future articles I’ll talk about my experiences and continuing efforts — both successful and not — with each strategy.

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