What Business Do We Have Being Writers? - Guest Post by Blake Atwood

In “What I Earned (and How) During My First Year of Full-Time Freelancing,” publishing guru and writing expert Jane Friedman shares her exact income breakdown from her first full year of working for herself as a writer.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the reality of what’s required of many working writers today: we can’t just rely on that one huge advance from a traditional publisher. (Even when we could, you still had to be one of the lucky chosen few.)

So, what’s a writer to do these days if they want to make a career out of their calling?

What business do we have being writers in the twenty-first century?

The Business of Being a Writer

Thankfully, Jane has compiled her decades of experience into The Business of Being a Writer, an accessible and overarching book that looks at the many avenues and possibilities that exist for today’s working writers.

In many ways, we live in a Golden Age of Publishing. You can self-publish online in seconds. But just because technology makes publishing easier doesn’t mean it’s made the business of being a writer any less so.

In fact, with so many voices wanting to be heard (and often for free), how can we ask—even demand—that we be paid for a commodity that’s become as plentiful as air?

Although we should always strive to become better writers, your writing skill won’t necessarily result in a writing career. (I’m sure there are thousands of stellar blog posts that have never led to paid writing work.) But, when you’re able to marry your writing talent to your business sense, that’s when a world of possibilities opens before you.

Jane wrote The Business of Being a Writer to address what she saw as a fundamental flaw in our system of producing writers, from MFAs to self-published authors. We lack a knack for business. We may know how to spot a dangling participle or critique others’ work, but we generally don’t know how to turn that hard-won knowledge and experience into something that produces income.

My Business of Being a Writer

Maybe it’s stereotypical—I certainly live down to it—but our artistic sensibilities tend to trump our business sense. It wasn’t until I took The Creative Class that I learned how to run a freelance business. It wasn’t until I joined a couple of close-knit online groups for editors that I learned how to garner leads. It wasn’t until I spoke to my CPA wife about what I charged that I learned I was devaluing what I offered.

In other words, it wasn’t until I admitted to myself that I was not a business-minded writer that I finally found myself incorporating BA Writing Solutions LLC—a business run by a writer.

I had (too much) confidence in my writing and editing, but I didn’t want to admit my ignorance on the business side. However, once I realized how much I had to learn, and how much I could gain, from getting real about my severe lack of business knowledge, that’s when my creative calling became my career.

I’m four years, dozens of books, and seventy-plus authors into my freelance work. Though my numbers aren’t quite like Jane’s (yet!), my pie chart breaks down in similar ways, through editing, writing, ghostwriting, book sales, affiliate sales, course sales, and teaching. In the last year, I’ve also added speaking to that assortment.

I’ve come to learn that Jane is right: “Despite ongoing transformations in the publishing industry, there are fundamental business principles that underlie writing and publishing success, and those principles are this book’s primary focus. Writers who learn to recognize the models behind successful authorship and publication will feel more empowered and confident to navigate a changing field, to build their own plans for long-term career development.”

I still doubt myself from time to time. I’m a writer, after all. But, after amassing paid experience across multiple avenues that all have writing as their foundation, I do “feel more empowered and confident” to keep doing this crazy thing we all love to do and secretly—or not so secretly—hope to get paid, and paid well, for doing.

If you want to get into the business of being a writer, join me for eight weeks every Wednesday from May 30 to July 25, 2018 (excepting July 4) from 7–9:30 p.m in my class The Business of Being a Writer. We’re going to work through Jane’s new book, and I can’t wait to learn even more about what’s possible.

Blake Atwood is an author, editor, and ghostwriter. He leads seminars and classes for Writing Workshops Dallas, co-leads the Dallas Nonfiction Authors Association, and hosts All Apprentices: Quick Editing Tips, a short podcast for writers seeking to become better self-editors.

On Self Promotion & Not Apologizing For Your Work, by WWD Instructor Tori Telfer

For a long time, I felt guilty posting about my writing on the internet. And then I just stopped. I’m here to tell you that you should, too. (Stop, that is. By all means, keeping posting.)

I felt guilty because for a long time, I absorbed some not-so-helpful lessons from some not-so-helpful people, and one of those was that people shouldn’t promote themselves, that women shouldn’t promote themselves, and that “artists” certainly shouldn’t promote themselves. I was not innocent, either; over the years, I’ve cast my share of judgmental looks on people who are just out there hustling and trying to get eyes on their work. And I regret that.

I don’t know what changed last August—I suspect that, fueled by a dangerous amount of coffee and sweaty from shadowboxing, something within me just snapped—but out of nowhere, I decided to simultaneously promote my work as much as I wanted (Facebook! Instagram! Insta-Stories! Facebook again, one week later!) and to stop apologizing for all of it. It was a little bit nerve-wracking, because I heard voices in the back of my head: Ugh, she thinks she’s so-o-o impressive with her ARTICLES and her stupid BOOK. But I forced myself to ignore the voices and to just keep plugging along. Check out my latest. Come to my book signing. I believe in the article I just wrote. I think you’ll like it, too.  

It was actually an incredible relief. Suddenly, I was done: done feeling guilty that some people thought it was “weird” that I was writing about murder, or the law, or sickness, or people who believe in strange realities. Done feeling that I had to hide certain aspects of my work so that insecure people could feel better about theirs. Done with the weird freelancer apology dance: “Sorry for spamming you but here’s another article, it’s kinda long, no need to actually read it, LOL! Oh and while you’re at it, curious when my paycheck will arrive, not to bug you but it’s been four months, sorry for being a nag!”

Self-promotion for a writer—and especially a freelance writer—is nothing to be ashamed of, though plenty of people will try to make you feel ashamed, and small, and indulgent for doing it. Somewhere in the ether there’s this idea that art is made impure by the vulgar stuff of self-promotion. Of course, all that attitude does is keep a lot of artists firmly in the “starving” category, but I’ve seen people use that argument to justify their own lack of success, too. If you never go hard for your own work, you can never fail spectacularly, and you can convince yourself that the world simply doesn’t understand you.

But the hard-but-liberating truth of the matter is that no one is out there thinking, “Man, if I could just find a really great and kinda cute and self-deprecating writer to hand this fantastic opportunity to…” It took me a long time to truly realize in my bones that no one was carefully watching me from afar, waiting to hand me a trust fund/staff writer position. Quite the opposite. Last year, I found out that a man I once interviewed is in talks with a producer to have a movie made about his life. Another girl that I interviewed went viral because of my story and is now an international model. In both cases, I, the writer, was simply the conduit. Which I’m happy to be! (I don’t think I deserve to be an international model! I think often the writer should only be the conduit!) But both of these situations reminded me that, career-wise, I have to be my own best spokesperson. No one’s going to read my article and approach me to write the screenplay; they’re going to go straight to the source. I have to be my own mouthpiece; I have to create (and argue for) my own value.

As a freelancer, as a writer, as a woman who is frequently assumed to be just kinda vaguely available all the time, it is vital that I’m in my own corner. I have incredibly supportive people in my life —and not a day goes by when I am not hugely grateful for it all—but I don’t have a company behind me, or any source of income that is not a direct result of my work, or any safety nets other than the love and coffee-making skills of my family and friends. I have to be my own publicist, financial advisor, and racker-up of hustle stats. Like most writers, I am a one-woman show: there’s just one slightly overwhelmed woman over here doing all the pitching, writing, editing, copywriting, press release crafting, social media posting, newsletter sending, Excel spreadsheet-keeping, tax paying, financial plotting, goal-setting stuff of it. Because of all that work, my business generates product. I won’t apologize for the product’s existence, or the fact that I’m trying to get eyeballs on it.

Of course there are ways to promote yourself poorly: constant spamming, tasteless posts screeched in the middle of national pain, the time Lindsey Lohan posted a sexy selfie and then tried to write about ISIS in her caption. But over all my attitude toward art, which is to say work, is that the best thing to do is to do it really well and really shrewdly. The hustle, the self-promotion, the self-confidence, the paycheck then allows you to craft the sort of life you want, donate to the causes you believe in, pour energy into being a good partner, family member, and friend, COMPOST EVERY SCRAP OF FOOD WASTE YOU CAN, and generally help others. So go ahead, post that link on Facebook, and then in your newsletter, and then again on Twitter. Your work has value—and let’s be honest, we’re all too broke to afford a full-time publicist. So get out there and promote it.

And, in the interest of self promotion, I'm teaching an ONLINE class for Writing Workshops Dallas on Longform Journalism that starts on April 16th. Check it out here.

 PS: Follow me on Instagram. (“No! Days! Off!”)

Tori Telfer is the author of Lady Killers, published by Harper Perennial in 2017.

AWP 2018 Day 2 Recap: Author Readings and Conversations, Reported by Frank Caliri

Frank Caliri is a Dallas-based Fiction writer attending AWP for the first time. He is also a former Writing Workshops Dallas student. Check in each day for a recap from Tampa until the conference is over, and find Frank's AWP Day 1 Recap here. Read to THE END of this post for a special discount code for 10% Off any seminar, class, or editing service that we offer.

AWP 2018 Recap

One of the gems of the writing industry, and attending AWP, is listening to your favorite authors read from their work and engage in conversation. At AWP, think of this as attending a local bookstore reading, but on steroids. Throughout the day, and into the evening, the conference keeps on giving with dozens of well-known and even famous authors who, in addition to reading their work, share their writing wisdom. Some readings were arranged by theme, such as, “Poetry, Myth and the Natural World,” or “Writing Place, People, and Culture: Nonfiction at Its Finest,” while others stood on their own, such as this year’s keynote address by George Saunders. Whether of regional, national, or international fame, I searched out the authors that have resonated with me over the years, putting me under their spell, at least temporarily, to live in the worlds they have created through their storytelling. Similar to the panel discussions highlighted yesterday, I was not disappointed with AWP’s author reading selections.

The Keynote Address by George Saunders was, as expected, fantastic. Saunders recently won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, and, as someone new to the profession, I could hardly wait to absorb what he had to say. Pen in hand, I wrote down each pearl of wisdom, intent on bringing it home with me, sleeping on it or with it (author’s preference J), and applying it to my own writing life. You know what I mean…shamelessly mirror and steal from him…all that fake it until you make it blah blah. So there I am, scribble scribble scribble, when Saunders admits that as a writing student he’d tried to “climb Hemingway Mountain, working diligently to turn himself into Ernest.” Unfortunately for him, he stumbled, fell down the mountainside, and had to pick himself up again, which is what he did, just before charging up “Kerouac Mountain,” only to arrive at the same non-scenic view of his unsure self. The point being, it took Saunders a long time to find his voice, which, for a new writer like myself, resonated close to home.

Raised in New England, I longed for home and popped into the New England Review 40th Anniversary Reading. Carolyn Kuebler, NER editor, gathered some of the journal’s distinguished authors over the years to share their work. Hai-Dang Phan, whose poems can be read in The New Yorker and Best American Poetry 2016, read “My Mother Says the Syrian Refugees Look Like Tourists,” which contrasts the refugee crisis in Syria with that of his mother’s immigration to the U.S. during the Vietnam War era. Very poignant and illuminating. But what really caught my attention was Kate Lebo’s essay, “Loudproof Room,” which was anthologized in Best American Essays 2015 and tells of Lebo being partially deaf and, as a result, teased at school, which is why she used to cry so easily. As a child, Lebo had difficulty hearing conversational tones and for a long time tuned out the world around her, lived in her own space of books. Curiously, though, her condition allowed her the unique ability to listen to the insides of her body, such as hearing her eyelids blink. What a fascinating world. Older now, and with a new hearing aid, she shared an intimate moment when “a man cups her face with his hand and kisses her, the pressure of his fingers against her ear setting the [hearing aid] speakers off.” Lebo’s reading of “Loudproof Room,” was a brief saunter into the beautiful and sometimes scary world of the deaf.

Next, I attended a reading and conversation with Nathen Englander & Lauren Groff, Sponsored by Penguin Random House Speakers, moderated by Colette Bancroft, the Tampa Bay Times book editor. Here, Pulitzer Prize finalist Englander admits that he took so long to write “Dinner at the Center of the Earth,” a novel about the insoluble Israel and Palestinian conflict, that when people ask him what he does for a living, he often responds, “I write a book.”  Funny, or not, consider this inspiration for those of you slogging through your drafts and revisions. The conversation with Groff and Englander also highlighted some similarities between the two authors. For example, when starting a new book, they often write in the opposite direction of their previous book, e.g., from serious to funny, or happy to sad. The intent is to kill the fear, exhaustion, and anxiety they’ve accumulated while working to finish their novel, and open up mind-space to create once again.

When the time came for NBCC Presents: Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore, and Dana Spiotta, I arrived at the auditorium early and secured a seat up front. I love all three of these authors and wish I had time to give you all the juicy he said/she said details, but time is not our friend. So, dwindling it down, Moore was the standout and had the audience laughing in their seats with a soon-to-be-published personal essay in which she recalls with depressing, melancholic humor, her decision to get married. The essay is set around the couple’s journey to City Hall as they obtain a marriage license, which, as if to “question the success of the marriage from the very beginning,” the clerk tells them they only have, “45 days to do the deed.” Along the way, Moore considers the relationship as one in which “love went without saying, so we didn’t say it.” She reads like she writes and enthralled the audience with the lugubrious and humorous telling of how her marriage began.

AWP delivered this year on author readings and conversations by bringing serious writing talent to the table, allowing us mere mortals, for at least a while, to dream the dream and to put other’s wisdom into practice. It was great listening to some of my favorite authors, as well as hearing from some of the industry’s wonderful up-and-comers. I left the readings inspired and encouraged to know that with perseverance, talent, and authenticity, I too can achieve my writing aspirations.

George Saunders AWP 2018

Now, where to next? Oh, yes, off to the AWP Bookfair to meet up with friends and to surround myself with the sights and sounds of North America’s glorious literary journals, presses, and writing programs. Until next time.

If you're looking for a community of writers, we'd love to have you join our community at Writing Workshops Dallas. Browse our course offerings here and apply discount code AWP at checkout for 10% Off any seminar, class, or editing service that we offer.

How to Develop Memorable Characters, by WWD Instructor Amber Royer

I'm leading a seminar on March 11th called Writing Characters People Get Attached To, which you can register for here. I've got a few things to say about this because I'm obsessed with great characters as a reader and a writer.

If you're an avid reader, you know that feeling when you get to the end of a really good book – or worse, the end of your favorite series – and you want to read slower just to avoid having to acknowledge that you’re about to reach the last page. When you close the book, you know you'll be sad, no matter how it ends for the characters, because while you can presume they will go on with their fictional lives, you won’t get to share in any more of their adventures. 

So what is it that gives fiction the ability to affect us like that? Why do readers write fan fiction, cosplay as their favorite characters, petition writers to return to a fictional world or keep a series going? In short, why do we get attached? 

And, more importantly, as writers, how can we write the kind of fiction that will generate that kind of emotional response? It all comes back to character, of course.  It’s been said that character is story. We don’t care about brilliant world-building or lush, gorgeous prose if these things aren’t affecting someone we have bonded with. And chances are, if we haven’t bonded with the protagonist of a story the first time we meet them on the page, we’re never going to get properly attached. 

I know that sounds like a lot to ask for from a first meeting. But is it really

Say you meet someone in real life at a cocktail party. They’re having a bad day, and they come across as mean and nosy (or a braggart, or disorganized and incompetent). How hard does that person have to work to overcome a negative first impression?  Super hard, right? That’s because our brains are hard-wired to make judgments, and we’ve learned the hard way that wasting our time cultivating relationships with the wrong people will only leave us betrayed and disappointed (or at the very least, annoyed). 

Let’s take as an example Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Imagine that this scene is our first view of Emma, which shows her calling Miss Bates, an awkward woman of a lower social class, a fool just to get a laugh from her friends (this is actually the low point Emma reaches, fallout from which makes her think she has lost her love interest). The entire group has gone on a picnic together, and they are trying to entertain themselves, but the conversation is lagging.

"It will not do," whispered Frank to Emma; "they are most of them affronted. I will attack them with more address. Ladies and gentlemen—I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse to say, that she waives her right of knowing exactly what you may all be thinking of, and only requires something very entertaining from each of you, in a general way. Here are seven of you, besides myself, (who, she is pleased to say, am very entertaining already,) and she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated—or two things moderately clever—or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."

"Oh! very well," exclaimed Miss Bates, "then I need not be uneasy. 'Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I?—(looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)—Do not you all think I shall?"

Emma could not resist.

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once."

Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.

As readers, we would see Emma as cold and callous, prone to mocking others. When we meet Knightly, the love interest, we would consider him a fool for thinking so highly of Emma and sincerely hope that he realizes his mistake before it is too late and he proposes. Everything we see Emma do after that would be colored by our assumptions about her self-centeredness, and we would be waiting for Knightly to see the truth, too.  Which is not at all the story Austen wanted to tell.  She wanted to talk about a good-hearted young woman who doesn’t realize the dangers of matchmaking, and can’t see the love right in front of her that can fulfill her own life.  Our hypothetical Emma wouldn’t be nearly as memorable. Why? We wouldn’t trust our impressions of her. Even though technically it would be the same character, we wouldn’t be able to attach to her in the same way.

We can sometimes overcome a bad first impression in real life by building up a course of future actions that show who we really are. But fictional characters? Readers assume that they are in the character’s mind and heart on the page, so they’re also going to assume that the impression they are getting is accurate (which is why unreliable narrators are so hard to pull off without the reader feeling tricked). It will take a lot to change that. This is why you have the “Save the Cat” moment when introducing a less than likable character. (This is a technique from screenwriting, popularized by Blake Snyder, in which the character shows kindness or the glimmer of being a hero -- sometimes literally saving a cat from a tree.) Our first impression of the character needs to show her potential for positive change, if positive change is going to be part of her arc.

But what if the character ISN’T a nice person? How do you get the reader to attach to an anti-hero? That’s just one of the things we’re going to talk about in my seminar on March 11th, Writing Characters People Get Attached To. We'll also focus on understanding character agency and character arcs, and creating characters that feel like real living, breathing people.  I hope to see you there!

Zap, Pow, Bam: On Writing Flash Non/Fiction, by WWD Instructor Cara Benson

Zap, Pow, Bam!

Those words exploded on the screen of my youth (and maybe yours, too) during the famously cheesy fight scenes in the Batman TV series. I loved them. Their primal colors and expanding letters syncing with horn blares, punctuating the show with such onomatopoetic pleasure – who could resist? It was the psychedelic 60’s on the heels of the afrofuturism that began in the 50’s, and the art and streets were in full rebellion against, well, you name it.

This is an oversimplification, of course, times and people being what they are — complicated and variable. Besides, I didn’t know any of that then. Heck, I wasn’t even born when the episode at the bottom of this post first aired. But I am looking back on those scenes, overlaying them with colorized scrims of meaning for myself.

Why am I doing this? Because I’ve been ruminating on small packages of words that convey a lot with a little. In a word, I’m thinking about FLASH. Also known as sudden, micro, mini, prose poem and hybrid, flash pieces are writing of up to about 1500 words. We might think of them as works that make their own small screens and then fill them. My first book, (made), is a concatenated collection of such writing. Bhanu Kapil called a it “magical dictionary….It’s not trajectory. It’s not narrative. It’s vibration.” (Thanks, Bhanu!)

In these shorter works, the words do extra work. They do vibrate together. And so we must pay extra attention to how they are fitting together. And yet, we can also shoot out of the cannon without worrying we will fall to the ground before hitting our target because we do not have to go as far as we do in the short story or essay or novella or, god forbid, the book. So much possibility in brevity! Which isn’t to say that we need to think of truncating our expression; hardly. We can think of it as an explosion onto the page.

That’s one way, anyway. I also adore flash that sneaks up on me. Or quietly and kaleidoscopically turns around its subject creating prisms on the walls in the room in which I’m reading. There are so many modes for making in this form. I’m back to working on a few of them of late as helpmates to the multimedia novel I’ve been writing for a handful of years now. They serve to give me a sense of completion while I spend the majority of my days with the sense of leaving everything unfinished each time I shut down my computer.

And so I decided to share my process. To that end, I’ve created a Flash Writing workshop for Writing Workshops Dallas. Come write with me! You can respond in fiction or CNF (creative non-fiction). It’s online so you can join in from anywhere. We will read, write, critique, and discuss these gems and also cover avenues for publishing. A one-on-one consultation with me on your work is included.

All the details are here at Writing Workshops Dallas, which starts on April 9th.

GUEST BLOG POST by Cara Benson originally appeared on her Blog.