What defines the hobbyist writer?
1) Hobbyists write for the joy of writing.
If money comes, it's gravy—
the way winning a money prize at the local club tournament is for a golfer.
2) They can write in any genre
Or they can happily cross genres—
with no worries about the marketplace. They can write memoirs, zombipocalyptic dystopians, Christian romance, and Star Trek fan fiction and still use the same name, or have 47 pen names if that's more fun.
3) They don't need to spend money on advertising or publicity.
Or, if they're fabulously wealthy, they can spend tons and hire a marketing team, even if they only have one book, written in Klingon, with an projected audience of two hundred readers. Hobbyists don't need to look at the bottom line.
4) They don't need expensive websites.
And they don't have to obsess about branding or platform or spend any more time on social media than is enjoyable. In fact, they can ignore social media entirely and leave their manuscripts on random bus seats, sail them into crowds as paper airplanes, or write them on birch bark and make them into canoes. There is no wrong way.
5) They can give themselves a big old launch party, no matter the cost.
Or they can splurge on a conference or book fair even if it means spending more money than they'll ever make on the book, because parties and conferences are a blast and this is something they do for pleasure.
6) They can write only one book
Some hobbyists spend decades working on a memoir and never write another word. It's very tough to make money on just one book, but if it's your hobby, that doesn't matter.
7) Hobbyists no longer have to publish with an expensive vanity press
In the pre-digital age, vanity presses were the only way most hobbyists could get published. These presses charged thousands of dollars to put a few copies of your book into print. But now, even paper copies can be self-published cheaply through CreateSpace, BookBaby, Lulu, or Lightning Source.
Unfortunately, some of the Big 5 Houses have teamed up with the old vanity presses
and offer overpriced packages that exploit the uninformed writer's "overnight success" dreams. A smart hobbyist doesn't go there.
They learn the ropes of self-publishing or use reliable, inexpensive self e-publishing assistants like Smashwords
, and Draft2Digital
. These self-publishing companies offer inexpensive services and even keep track of your royalties for you. (Lots of professionals use them too. Smashwords is one of the best ways to get a book into the global marketplace. More on that next week in a guest post from the EBookBargainsUK guys on "Going Global in 2014".)
8) They don't waste agents' time (or their own) on the heartbreaking query-go-round.
A query is a job application for long-term employment in the publishing industry. Don't go there if you don't want the job.
At best, you'll get discouraged by the rejections, and at worst, you could end up signing a cut-throat contract that takes a piece of your rights in perpetuity or hobbles you with a "non-compete clause
" that bans you from ever publishing books in your genre, even if the publisher or agent rejects it.
In these days when it's the hybrid author, not the traditionally published author who makes the most money
, a non-professional writer who goes the traditional route could end up losing the possibility of making money from a book any time in the future (or even your children's future.)
Not everybody wants to do that. Don't let anybody push you into it if you're not ready or you don't feel the need. The fact you're not "going pro" doesn't devalue the quality of your work—and it doesn't mean you shouldn't work to make your writing the very best it can be.
- If your goal is a traditional publishing career, you need to educate yourself in the industry and learn how to present yourself as a professional…and take care of yourself like a professional. (see #12 below)
- If you have long-term plans to make writing your primary career, whether you publish with the Big 5, go with a small press, or self-publish, you're more likely to succeed if you approach it as a business.
That means writing becomes the main focus of your work life, even if you have another job.
How do you become a professional?
No, you don't need an MFA (in fact that won't impress many people in the industry
.) But you do need to educate yourself about the business side of publishing.
Here are some things to do if you plan to be a professional author:
1) Learn the basics of the industry
: the jargon, the names of big players, important conferences, etc. Read Publishers Lunch
and Galley Cat
, and subscribe to major industry blogs. Pay attention to what sells and what's overdone and on the way out. Join professional organizations in your genre, like SCBWI and RWA.
2) Keep up with the latest technology,
as well as social media and contemporary marketing techniques. Start following business news, especially in the tech industries.
3) Treat your writing as a job.
Show up for work on a regular schedule. Treat it as your #1 job, even if you have others.
4) Lose the magical thinking.
As Porter Anderson
says, just lighting a candle to St. Amanda the Hocking won't sell your work. Don't expect your first novel be discovered in a slushpile if you've never published anything outside of the church newsletter. Don't expect a 600,000 word zombie romance time-travel western based on your psilocybin hallucinations that time in Baja to be a million-seller, no matter how many times you Tweet about it.
5) Always think in terms of "Return On Investment
". Estimate the income
you can realistically expect to make, and factor in ROI when you plan your marketing strategy. Don't pay for expensive marketing until you've got enough titles out there to bring in the income to pay for them. (Remember what I said about launch parties.)
6) Have a career plan.
Know where you want to be in a year, and five years, and ten—and budget your time (and money) accordingly. Make getting successfully published and establishing yourself as an author your #1 goal. That means submitting to magazines and contests and getting known in your genre in order to build a solid writing resume.
7) Develop a personal "brand
" and platform (yes, platform still matters
), and use social media regularly but with care. Keep religion and politics out of your online activity unless it is related to your writing. (For instance if you write Christian romance, it's fine to talk about religion—in a respectful way—or if you write about LGBT issues, promoting marriage equality is good. But don't share every far-right or far-left petition that lands in your inbox: you're eliminating half the market.)
8) Know your genre
and realize you'll be expected to stick to it. Some authors do write in multiple genres, but fans don't like it when you switch. If you do, you may have to use a pen name and double your platform building.
9) Pay for professionals
to edit, design and format your book unless you know how to do these things on a professional level yourself—or find a traditional publisher.
10) Don't try to publish a first novel
or a single title in a genre. Have at least two finished and more in the pipeline before you launch a career. Yes, writers have launched careers with a single book, but writing the second one is tough while you're busy promoting the first—just ask Jay Asher, who got a fierce case of writers block
after his first YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why
became a #1 NYT
11) Learn the basics of journalism
and content writing. Even if you prefer to write fiction, you'll need to write tons of articles, web content, and blogposts. A professional novelist is expected to write lots of nonfiction.
12) Learn something about contract law
or have an intellectual property expert on speed dial. (See #8 above.)
13) Know there's no such thing as "overnight success."
But if you don't choose to be a professional, don't let anybody put you down for it. Does a golfer have to join the PGA tour to make playing the game worthwhile?
Maybe we over-value "professionalism" these days.
Consider this quote from Alexandra A. Palmer
, who blogs as "The Happy Amateur"
"I want to engage in life as a favorite pastime, not a profession. I want to remain… a novice who is hungry for knowledge and humble at the same time. I want to be a constant devotee and admirer of life. In other words, I want to be an amateur."
Or this from UK businessman Nick Glaves
"Sometimes a happy amateur can get the better of the over-competitive, self-obsessed and grumpy professional."
I fear I'm a grumpy professional sometimes, and there are things I miss about being a happy amateur. But I was an amateur at a time when that meant nobody but a handful of writer friends and the 50 people who subscribed to an obscure literary magazine would read my work. These days, a hobbyist writer can reach a worldwide audience.
And who's to say that Klingon birch-bark canoe novel based on your 'shroom hallucinations won't be the next Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
That would be some nice gravy.
UPDATE: Jami Gold has written a fantastic post expanding on this subject. She's also made a significant improvement. Instead of using the word "hobbyist", which I got from Hugh Howey, she calls the first path "Artist-Authors" and the second "Professional-Authors". I think the change helps clarify my point, because it avoids the stigma the word "hobby" carries for some people.
You can read Jami Gold's post here: KNOW YOUR GOALS: ARE YOU AN ARTIST-WRITER OR A PROFESSIONAL-AUTHOR.
What about you, Scriveners? Are you a grumpy professional or a happy amateur? Or are you a professional who's also having loads of fun?Any other suggestions for people who prefer to keep their amateur status?
Next Week: The EBUK blokes are back, this time telling us how to "Go Global in 2014". They say this is the year to get your work into the international marketplace.
Books of the Week
All the Camilla Randall Mysteries are on sale this month!
No Place Like Home
"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles
The Camilla Randall Mysteries
Boxed Set: 33c per book!!
"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky
and Sherwood Limited
are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess
FREE HOUSES FOR WRITERS.
Yes, you read that right. With its "Write A House" project, the city of Detroit is giving away houses to writers. If you're a promising writer, AND a responsible homeowner (who's handy with tools) and want to be a proud member of the Motor City intelligentia, check out their website for details
. Applicants will be asked to submit a writing sample, a resume, and a brief description of why they think they should receive the Write-a-House award. Applications taken starting in Spring 2014.
Here's one for you: AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB FICTION WRITING CONTEST
NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one short story, maximum 2,000 words. Entries can be on any subject, but must feature a dog. (But it can't talk) Prizes $500, $240, $100. Deadline January 31.
IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January only.
2014 BETHLEHEM WRITERS ROUNDTABLE SHORT STORY AWARD
$10 ENTRY FEE. Submit 2,000 words or fewer on the theme of "Food Stories". In addition to a $200 prize, the first place winner's story will be considered for print publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group's next anthology or as a featured story in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. Their last anthology won Indie Book Awards for Best Anthology and Best Short Fiction. Second place will receive $100 + publication in the BWG Writers Roundtable. Deadline January 15th.
Geist Literary Postcard Contest
Canada's favourite writing contest is back! Enter now
for your chance at literary fame and fortune! How it works: Send a story and a postcard—the relationship can be as strong or as tangential as you like, so long as there is a clear connection between the story and the image. If you’re not sure where to look for a postcard, you can make your own or visit Wikimedia Commons
. The story can be fiction or non-fiction; maximum length is 500 words
. For a classic example of a postcard story, read "How to Survive in the Woods
" or "Death in the Family.
" Prizes of $500, $250, and $100 CND $20 fee. Deadline February 1st