What does a career in writing look like?
Take these examples:
- Author A: Has served in a leadership role for a writing organization for many years and is an inspiration to many people. She has published three picture books with major publishers. But in the end, she hates the sales and marketing part of writing, the need to constantly push for attention. She now uses her hard-won skills to be a writing coach and is excited that she’s found a comfortable place to use her skills and help people, her real passion.
- Author B: Has written thirty non-fiction books for educational publishers and stays steadily busy with the education work. She supports herself with her work and while she hopes to break into bigger publishers, she’s happy with her steady stream of books.
- Author C: Has written about a dozen series work-for-hire books, has now moved on to writing her own novels for smaller publishers and is working to break into a major publisher. She hopes for a breakout novel sometime in the near future.
- Author D: Writes for local newspapers, company newsletters, and any other freelance work she can find. In her spare time (Ha! What spare time?), she has written a humorous YA novel and found an agent who sold it to a major publisher. She is trying to work on a second novel, but her family needs the income from the freelance work, so it’s hard to work in the time for fiction.
- Author E: Has sold four picturebooks to major publishers and they’ve done well. But her heart is in novels–she sold one which didn’t do well and now, she can’t sell to another to anyone. She spends lots of time writing novels which don’t sell and a little time writing picturebooks which do sell.
- Author F: Has two nonfiction books out with a major publisher and hopes to do more with them. She dabbles with picturebooks, but can’t get the voice right.
- Author G: Worked eight years for a major publisher as an editor. She has now sold two YA novels and quit work to spend more time with her growing family and on future novels.
- Author H: Has sold some non-fiction and a couple novels to a small publisher and, while she still submits to larger publishers now and then, she is happy to stay with the smaller publisher because they give her more attention.
- Author I: Has sold over 250 magazine articles to children’s magazines, taught writing, and worked with local authors. But she can’t sell that first book.
- Author JK: Her first book, about a boy wizard, hit big time and has become a world wide phenomenon, and many other books in the series. JK is a millionaire.
Well, as you probably can see, these are descriptions of people I know. Which career would you rather have? It may be easy to put down on paper what you want your career to look like, but the everyday pressures of family and other jobs may hamper how easily you can fulfill those dreams.
Add to that the realities of a crowded marketplace, where your writing has to shine. What is realistic?
How do you plan a career?
First, it is reasonable to write down your career goals. Don’t be shy about dreaming big or about being content with a smaller, slower career path. Then, decide what needs to happen for that career dream to become true? For example, let’s say you want to have a novel out in five years. Then, you’re on the One-Page-a-Day plan. For this plan, you write one page a day, five days a week (Saturday and Sunday off), fifty weeks a year (two-weeks vacation). At the end of a year, you should have 240 pages written, or a nice sized novel. Then another year for revisions and eighteen months to two years for marketing. What Plan will help you meet your goals?
Decide what help you need and plan ways to attend workshops or conferences where you can get help with characterization, plotting, setting a scene, etc. If a favorite editor will be at the conference and you can get a manuscript critique with them, do it. Find ways to do what it takes to make your dream-career come true.
Plan for success. But along the way, honor EVERY success: honor every decision of what direction to go next; honor every honest effort to write; honor each writer for finding a way to use their talents, whether in encouragement, teaching, writing work-for-hire, writing educational nonficiton, writing trade nonfiction, writing for magazines, writing fiction for any size publisher.
No two careers will ever look alike, of course. What will your career look like?